CANDELA Peru is celebrating 30 years of promoting a social enterprise with a growing portfolio of 100 products, developed with ingredients and top superfoods from the Amazon rainforest and other regions from Peru.
Co-founders Lupe Lanao and Gaston Vizcarra have attended BIOFACH since its inception. They also cover other international industry events for organic and natural food and cosmetics to show and tell how they build supply chains for their products under the guidelines of fair trade and The Union for Ethical BioTrade (UEBT) standards. Their son Daniel has joined the company and is now the manager of corporate image and special projects.
"Our mission is to develop ethical markets for ingredients from the Peruvian biodiversity like the Amazon nut (also called Brazil nut), and to increase awareness among collectors, processors, traders and consumers of the important role we all play in protecting and regenerating the rainforest," says Lupe Lanao. "We cannot view superfoods that come from sensitive ecosystems just as a commodity, where price responds only to market fluctuations."
Amazon nuts come from the Bertholletia excelsa. The tree has a 500 year-long life cycle in pristine rainforests and reaches a height of up to 50 meters. Appetite for its timber caused severe deforestation in some areas of Brazil, Bolivia, and Peru, the leading countries of the Amazon basin where it grows. Deforestation has been under control since 1981 when it became illegal to cut or burn these trees. However, some people extract wood from other species, weakening the ecosystem. The Amazon nut tree produces large white flowers during the dry season through the wet season, from October to December. Its blossoms only last one day before they fall to the ground. Only the native Euglossine bees can reach the nectar inside the Amazon nut tree's flowers and pollinate them before they fall.
The fruit of this tree takes up to 15 months to mature. At that time, it looks like a coconut and falls naturally to the ground as the result of the strong winds and intense rain during the wet season. A rodent called añuje (also known as agouti) is the only animal in the rainforest capable of opening an Amazon nut pod to extract the valuable and nutritious seeds. Sometimes monkeys learn to crack the pods with a stone. Each pod contains between 8 to 24 nuts.
Añujes are also the natural seed propagators. They bury some of the seeds which eventually germinate if they have access to proper light conditions. However, the chance for a seedling to reach the adult stage is low. Also, the tree does not start producing pods with seeds until it is 20 to 24 years old.
Amazon nuts are sought after in international markets, where they are recognized for their high content of selenium and other vital nutrients such as magnesium, zinc, copper, calcium, and vitamin E. This demand has encouraged the preservation of the trees, thanks to initiatives like CANDELA.
"Each tree that has reached maturity is a gift from nature," says Lupe Lanao. CANDELA has devoted three decades to developing a culture of respect for the rainforest, which the 200 workers, and 630 harvesters and producers that supply the project with Amazon nuts and other ingredients follow. The harvest season usually takes place between January and March, once all the pods with the Amazon seeds have fallen to the ground.
Since 2000, under a system of concessions, the government of Peru through a resolution issued by the Regional Directorate of Forestry and Wildlife, formally allows each "castañero" (nut harvester in Spanish) and his family to collect an agreed volume of nuts from a particular forest area for a period of 40 years. The periods of access to the forest and the amount of Amazon nuts the castañeros are allowed to collect are registered in a document called the Environmental Management Declaration.
As a business with fair trade and organic certifications, CANDELA has developed an internal system of traceability and transparency called the Organic Program to confirm the castañeros working with the company under contract will not collect more than the volume of Amazon nuts that each year the authorities determine based on the estimated production of the trees. In the concessions, the castañeros also collect fruits like ungurahui, copaiba, and other species, but in small quantities.
Cirilo Sanchez, an experienced castañero has been working with CANDELA for 20 years. He now coordinates six promoters, who work directly with around 120 castañeros. He explains that the castañeros collect the pods in "barricas" that they carry on the back. These are baskets made from tamshi, a vine called "the forest rope." The fruit collected is taken to campsites, where the castañeros split the pods with a machete and extract the seeds, that are covered by a hard shell. From the forest, the nuts are transported by boat or truck to CANDELA's processing facility in Puerto Maldonado.
CANDELA provides training to make sure the castañeros reduce their carbon footprint in the forest during the collection season. They gather the empty pods for compost. Some are transported to Candela's processing facility in Lima to produce candleholders for export. This additional by-product generates around 20 jobs.
In Puerto Maldonado, the nuts are dried, peeled, selected, and classified. They continue their journey to CANDELA's facility in Lima, to be sold as such or covered in chocolate, turned into nutritious flour and precious oil, or be mixed with other ingredients to develop new products. All production at CANDELA complies with HACCP and UEBT standards.
The company also offers the castañeros incentives that promote the conservation of the Amazon forest. "We have started a nursery to grow seedlings of other native species for the castañeros to plant in the forest to diversify the extraction activities within the concessions. This initiative aims to reduce their vulnerability, providing an additional source of income," says Lupe Lanao. "And, since last year, we are incorporating biodynamic preparations to revitalize areas of the forest and strengthen the ecosystem."
CANDELA is committed to increasing awareness of how we all contribute to the well-being of the forest and is continuously exploring ways to protect the ecosystem and improve the quality of life of its people. Offering unique products to consumers in over 16 countries around the world has allowed CANDELA to give back to the forest.