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Nut oil extraction for cosmetics

The battle for babassu

In the 1980s, over 400,000 families living in country areas of north-east Brazil depended on collecting babassu nuts for their livelihood. As much as 80 per cent of all income in the area came from the nuts, in particular from babassu oil harvested from their kernels.

In the past, everyone had the right to go on to the land to collect the babassu nuts - the palm trees had always been there and grew in the wild. However, almost all of the land was owned by a few wealthy latifundistas - landowners. They realised that they were missing out on a useful source of income and decided that they should either harvest the babassu nuts for themselves, or cut down the trees so they could graze cattle.

Gradually the landowners began to stop people going on their land. In response, the women ‘babassu breakers’ who collect the nuts staged sit-ins to try to protect their rights. With the situation growing more tense, the latifundistas hired gunmen to break up the protests. In the course of 30 years of campaigning, over a thousand people were killed.

What else could the babassu breakers do to protect their main source of income and the community?




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Practical Action - Technology challenging povertyEuropean Commission - Department for International Development

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