Brazil nuts, which are native to the Amazon basin, are becoming well-known around the world for their high nutrient content and health benefits. They help regulate the thyroid gland, strengthen the heart and brain function, and support the immune system.
However, even in consumer countries that already appreciate the benefits of Brazil nuts, like the Republic of Korea (South Korea), it’s unlikely that many buyers know that their purchase might come from the Madre de Dios region in southeastern Peru, blessed by abundant rainfall, where the trees that produce this prized fruit grow over 600 meters (200 feet) tall and can live for 500 years. They’re even less likely to know that to reach markets like Asia, the United States, and Europe, Brazil nuts must first travel over 800 miles by road to Peru’s capital, Lima.
Brazil nuts are an opportunity for Amazon communities to grow an alternative crop that helps reduce deforestation. Production can be inclusive and sustainable, as communities themselves are involved in every stage in the chain.
17 Amazonian products with great export potential
A recent study commissioned by the Integration and Trade Sector of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has identified products that can be produced without damaging the Peruvian Amazon. This would enable the country to make the most of its competitive advantages through targeted interventions that boost its exports sustainably. The study focused on 6 of the 15 departments that make up the Peruvian Amazon: Loreto, San Martín, Madre de Dios, Ucayali, Huánuco, and Amazonas. These represent 88% of the country’s forested area, account for 6% of GDP, and are the site of 71% of total deforestation in Peru.
The study found that Brazil nuts aren’t the only product with excellent prospects: it identified 16 other products around which Peru could build a competitive advantage through targeted interventions. These interventions should be implemented as part of public policies that align with recommended timeframes to achieve export volumes while mitigating the risk of deforestation, taking into account the data available on destination markets.
To carry this out, some of the public policies, programs or activities that could be implemented include the promotion of good production practices, facilitation of access to quality certifications, identification of external markets, international positioning of products, development of adequate logistics for export, dissemination of technological packages, creation of policies that correct asymmetries and allow the internalization of environmental externalities, among other actions.
Interventions must be time-bound and based on a series of criteria, such as the marketability of the product, current and potential demand, and impact on deforestation. This is particularly true for coffee, cacao, and palm production: the study recommends establishing concrete actions to mitigate the environmental risk associated with these three products.
The export value of 11 of the 17 products identified in the study currently amounts to almost US$400 million, taking into account sales from Peru to more than 30 destinations,1 notably the European Union (35%), the United States (11%), and Chile (10%). Peru’s five main trading partners for its Amazonian biobusiness products account for more than 74% of the export values.2
The global market for such products has grown significantly over the last three years, soaring from US$105 billion in 2019 to US$135 billion in 2021. This increase may be due to rising prices on the international market, increased demand for so-called natural or organic products, and the implementation of marketing or commercial strategies, among other factors. These numbers also reveal that there is room for expansion into international markets.
Peru already has a long track record of making the most of the potential of biobusiness. This explains the country’s outstanding position in the global export rankings for Brazil nuts (second), palm hearts (third), coffee beans (ninth), and cocoa beans (tenth).
Taking the brakes off trade
Peru will only be able to harness its export potential and the economic and social development it brings if it effectively implements actions to free up some of the bottlenecks that make goods from its Amazon region less competitive, despite the added value that comes from biodiversity, which makes them attractive in the most demanding international markets.
The factors that are currently holding Peru back include shortfalls in digital connectivity; a lack of access to production and processing technologies; defective or substandard road infrastructure on small and medium-sized roads that makes fresh produce exports hard; lack of access to logistics services, such as containers or cold storage; production stages with low value-added; sales to local stockpilers, which limit value capture; and weak human capital. Not only do these obstacles limit production and export processes, but they also hamper business development, competitiveness, and community empowerment.
However, none of these challenges are one-dimensional, and no one stakeholder can solve them all. Another important aspect is coordinating work with different levels of government (national, regional, and local), the communities involved, civil society, the private sector, and multilateral organizations with the capacity to analyze the situation regionally and globally. Highly targeted interventions need to be defined for the short, medium, and long terms based on the different contexts for each biobusiness product in question.
A regional approach
Of course, Peru isn’t the only country with the potential to expand its sales of these products. Other major global exporters include neighboring South American countries (Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Brazil). Although these producers might be perceived as a threat because they imply direct competition, their presence might be a competitive advantage and a way to promote regional integration, which benefits trade. Given that these countries all have production niches in hard-to-reach areas, they could coordinate around regional interventions that benefit the more remote communities that inhabit border areas and grow the same crops, such as Brazil nuts and ornamental fish, or coffee, cacao, palm hearts, and Amazonian fruits.
Admittedly, the regional approach poses challenges of its own. However, these are worth addressing, given the vast opportunity that integration represents at the Amazon basin level. The study suggests concrete integration policy measures that reinforce the foundations for good trade: promoting good practices in the processes for obtaining certifications and measures to ensure the traceability of natural export products.
A sustainable export development strategy for the Amazon region would enable countries to share global gains and consolidate the value of resources in high demand in major global markets.