Going Nuts for Sustainability

Sofia Rubio has been around Brazil nuts for as long as she can remember. When she was a young girl, she would assist her family with the gathering of the nuts in what is now the Tambopata National Reserve in southeast Peru.

In time, Rubio would attend school, and eventually become a biologist. In 2011, she would combine her youthful love of Brazil nuts, her biological training and an entrepreneurial drive to form Shiwi, a company dedicated to creating products from the Amazon rainforest and other protected areas.

We pause our story for a bit of clarity regarding nomenclature. In Peru, Brazil nuts are known as castañas amazónicas, or Amazon nuts. So that’s how we’re going to refer to them from now on, Amazon nuts. Amazon nuts and Brazil nuts are the same thing. They are not, however, chestnuts (no matter what Google Translate would have you believe). We now return to our story.

Shiwi began by producing Amazon nut granola, which Rubio sold in the organic markets of Lima. Soon the Shiwi product line expanded to savoury Amazon nut snacks, Amazon nut butters, cosmetic Amazon nut oil (similar to argan oil) and lip balms using the oil too – even an Amazon nut beer.

In 2015, Shiwi formed a partnership with Conservamos por Naturaleza, one of Peru’s largest environmental non-profits. This now gives Shiwi access to a large network of sustainable farmers and producers in natural protected areas across Peru, producing coconut oil, raw cane sugar, honey, cacao and more. Shiwi sells these fairly traded, organic products to some of Lima’s top restaurants like Maido and Amaz.

If you want to try a Shiwi product yourself, you’ll have to pick them up at one of Lima’s natural food stores, though the company has plans to sell online and ship internationally in the future.

Rubio’s family still has a concession from the government for harvesting Amazon nuts in Tambopata, and Rubio returns every year deep into the rainforest for the annual harvest, but these days, you can come along with her.

Now in its fifth year, the Shiwi Amazon Nut Trail trip takes a small group of visitors into the Tambopata National Reserve, for an experience like no other. The trip is essentially a long weekend in March, departing on a Friday, and returning on a Monday. During that time guests become familiar with all the unique aspects of harvesting Amazon nuts, guided by locals and an interpreter. For starters, every guest has to wear a hard hat. Amazon nut trees are massive, and the nuts grow near the top. There’s no climbing involved, you just wait for the nuts to fall to the ground. And when they do, it’s in the form of a hard, wooden sphere about the size of a softball. A swift chop with a machete opens up these little cannon balls to reveal a half dozen or so nuts inside.

Guests sleep in a rustic (but comfortable) camp site normally not available to the public (only during harvest season), with the final night’s rest in a relaxing eco-lodge. Guests eat well, too, thanks to the presence of the trip’s chef, the colorful Roy Riquelme, who has gained a name for himself with his innovative Amazon-based recipes, and charming disposition.

There are two Amazon Nut Trail trips scheduled for March 2018, and as of publication time, they were filling up rapidly. You can, however, check with Shiwi to see if there are any last minute cancellations or open spots. Just send them an email (in English) to [email protected]

Shiwi is committed to the conservation of the Amazon rainforest through the sustainable marketing of its natural products. And they are inviting you along for the ride.