NYLogo.gif - 4492 
Universidade Federal do Acre

Floristics and Economic Botany of Acre, Brazil
Florística e Botânica Econômica do Acre, Brasil

Developing Regional Markets for Forest Products in Southwestern Amazonia

Richard C. Wallace, Douglas C. Daly, and Marcos Silveira

Wallace, Richard C. (University of Florida, Dept. of Anthropology, 1350 Turlington Hall, Gainesville, FL 32611-7305, USA), Douglas C. Daly (New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, NY 10458-5126, USA), and Marcos Silveira (Universidade Federal do Acre, BR-364, km 4, 69.980 Rio Branco, AC, Brazil). Developing regional markets for forest products in southwestern Amazonia. The economic situation for many forest communities in Amazonia is endangering these communities as well as the forests they inhabit. Rural populations in conservation buffer zones such as extractive reserves have declined in southwestern Amazonia and other areas where forest families can no longer obtain adequate income from extractive activities such as rubber-tapping and Brazil nut collection that have long supplemented subsistence farming. Forest communities are now paying the price of running a high financial risk on a low diversity of products, ironically in a region renowned for the diversity of its flora, including useful plant resources. They need to carefully select promising new market products from this wealth of choices, to develop them as managed resources, and to develop regional markets for them. The links between forest communities and regional markets are poorly developed in much of Amazonia, however. Export-oriented extraction of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) has dominated the history of the southwestern Amazonian state of Acre, Brazil, but ironically regional markets for NTFPs have been slow to develop due to that region's cultural history. Strong doubts have been cast on the potential for developing these markets, which benefit urban consumers as well as the forest communities that supply them, but recent municipal initiatives in Rio Branco demonstrate that in many cases regional urban markets for NTFPs can be stimulated with only modest financial support. Instead, the real challenges are to help forest communities link and interact with the markets, and to study the management ecology of the resources selected. Some market studies are under way, and model marketing workshops for forest communities have been tested. Parts of the solution are to propagate existing outreach models and to make more effective use of existing government rural development mechanisms.

Key Words: non-timber forest products, sustainable development, Amazonia, marketing, tropical

rainforest, useful plants, Brazil, extractive reserves.


The economic realities facing traditional extractive communities in Amazonia are severe; this is particularly true in the Brazilian state of Acre and in other regions whose rural economies were and in many cases still are largely dependent on tapping Hevea rubber. The falling price of rubber has led many lifelong seringueiros, or rubber-tappers, to cease tapping rubber altogether, and many are increasing their small-farmer activities with the intent of restoring lost income. This is a difficult adjustment to make, however, and market-oriented cultivation of staples and the raising of a few extra farm animals has not generated sufficient income to significantly improve their economic situation because returns are low. Often they cannot compete with colonist farmers who live closer to markets, many of whom receive agricultural extension and transport services from state and federal agencies. Nor can they meet the prices of the standard agricultural products that are supplied wholesale to regional urban markets from large agribusiness firms in southern Brazil.

A lack of economic alternatives has led many rubber-tappers to leave their traditional livelihood in search of a better life in urban areas. Unfortunately, urban centers hold little hope for families migrating from the rainforest. These refugees, unskilled by city standards, often trade rural poverty for urban misery, filling peripheral neighborhood slums where employment opportunities are scarce (Schwartzman 1992). In Acre, for example, during the period 1980-1991 the rural population actually declined, while the urban population doubled, partly as a result of forest emigration (IBGE, 1996).

In this region, a forest that loses its extractive population is a forest in trouble: if there are no economically active extractive communities to justify land tenure in extractive reserves and other forest lands, these lands will become easy targets for illegal timber extraction and ultimately be occupied and deforested by squatters and colonist farmers.

This rural-urban migration can be stemmed only if forest communities are able to successfully market underexploited or new forest products. The rubber tappers and other forest dwellers are now more strongly interested in marketing some of the fruits, oils, medicinal plants and other products native to the region. Many are familiar with the local forest resources, but little is known about the production potential of these resources and less still about their market potential. The success or failure in linking products and markets will profoundly affect the fate of the traditional communities as well as the forests they inhabit, including conservation areas such as extractive reserves.

Numerous authors have been skeptical if not pessimistic regarding the economic potential of extracted non-timber forest products (NTFPs) in Amazonia and elsewhere (e.g., Browder 1992, Homma, 1993; Phillips 1993). They cite the lack of existing regional markets for NTFPs in most of Amazonia without examining the possibility that such markets could be developed.

In this paper, we argue that in many cases successful markets can be developed for underexploited or new NTFPs sold by forest communities with reasonable access to urban centers. We examine NTFP marketing activities in Rio Branco, the state capital of Acre, and propose an historical-cultural explanation as to why the city has not had a thriving trade in NTFPs, despite the prevalence of extractive activities throughout the state. Recent municipal initiatives in Rio Branco demonstrate that regional urban markets for NTFPs can be stimulated with only modest financial support. We draw parallels with market outlets for regional producers created de novo in New York City. We define the critical information needed to understand local market structures and channels. We outline the logistical challenges forest communities must meet to link into these markets. We discuss the need to consider the compatibility of existing cultural environments (including family labor activities) with new NTFP market-oriented activities. We describe recent and current market research activities in the region, and provide some directions for future efforts. We conclude that forest communities and the forests themselves will be best served by constructive efforts to develop links between these communities and regional markets.

The Extractive Culture of Acre

The past century in western Amazonia has seen continually changing social conditions, land-tenure patterns, and market structures, and in each phase a key role has been played by a distinct set of forest resources, principal among them rubber (Hevea brasiliensis Muell. Arg.), timber, vegetable ivory (Phytelephas palm seeds), rotenone-containing timbó/barbasco (e.g., Derris spp.), fuelwoods, chewing-gum latex (e.g., Couma macrocarpa Barb. Rodr. and C. utilis [(Mart.) Muell.Arg.]), balata latex (e.g., Manilkara bidentata [A.DC.] Chevalier), rosewood (e.g., Aniba rosaeodora Ducke), and tannin-containing barks (mostly from Mimosaceae trees). The last four of these underwent only one boom-and-bust cycle, mostly because the resource was not renewable, i.e., the product was harvested destructively, and some of these species are rarely encountered even today. Until recent times, timber tended to serve as an economic fallback (e.g., Coomes, 1995).

Extraction of non-timber forest products has dominated the cultural, social and economic history of Acre. The rubber boom in the late 1800s drew thousands of families from Northeastern Brazil to Acre, where they collected and processed Pará rubber under debt-peonage relations with seringalistas, the rubber barons who effectively owned the forests (e.g., Allegretti, 1990). This "boom" turned to "bust" with the domestication of rubber in Malaysia and elsewhere in the early 1900s. A second wave of immigrants from the Northeast arrived in Acre during World War II, when the Japanese took control of Asian rubber plantations and the Allies turned to wild-collected rubber from Amazonia to compensate for the loss (e.g., Dean, 1987, Weinstein, 1983). Even after the collapse in world rubber prices during the 1960s and 1970s, the rubber tappers and their families remained in the forest and continued extracting rubber, the price of which was often supported by government subsidies (e.g., Dean, 1987).

The rich local folklore, art, poetry, songs and even prayers bonding the rubber tapper and the rubber tree attest to the overriding influence of this young seringueiro culture in Acre. Hélio Melo's paintings and drawings, the poetry of Maria Maia and Raimundo Alves (Fundação Cultural, Casa do Poeta, 1986) and the stories of José Potyguara are products of this culture. This bond helps explain the seringueiros' reluctance to pursue alternative or additional extractive activities.

Extractive activities continue to be fundamental to the economy of the traditional communities in Acre and of the state overall. An estimated 70,000 adults and children still make their living through extractive activities (Centro dos Trabalhadores Amazônicos-CTA, 1996). The extraction of rubber and collection of Brazil nuts (Bertholletia excelsa H.B.K.) together accounted for 65 percent of the value of Acre's exports in 1991 (SEPLAN, 1993), and have historically constituted the economic backbone of the state's traditional communities.

Excessive dependence on these two products, however, has led to a severe economic crisis in the forest (see Anderson 1989). The markets and prices of rubber and Brazil nuts are neither stable enough nor sufficient to provide many families with adequate income. For example, between 27 March 1995 to 1 April 1996 the price of a lata (12-13 kg) of Brazil nuts fell from R$2.80 to R$1.801, and within the 1997 harvest season the price started at R$2.00 in December, rose to R$3.20 in March, and then fell to R$2.40 in May (CAEX-Cooperativa Agro-Extrativista do Xapuri, 1995-1997). In 1997, rubber-tappers were receiving only approximately R$0.70/kg of rubber, or approximately the price for them of a package of soap pads. Many seringueiros have indicated that this is the worst barter value of rubber in memory.

Despite the low prices, many rubber-tappers have been slow to explore extractive alternatives to the simple tapping and sale of wild rubber, even as government subsidies that maintained artificially high prices of rubber for many years were phased out during the 1980s, but this is mostly because of lack of defined options, assistance and/or information. The Brazilian Government's decision in June, 1997 to reinstate price subsidies, the result of rubber tapper protests in Brasília, may have provided a last buffer period for rubber tappers to re-group economically .

Recently, CAEX, the rubber-tapper cooperative in Xapuri, with assistance from IBAMA, the Federal Environment and Natural Resource Agency opened a new rubber processing plant designed to add value locally by producing a higher quality rubber, but it is uncertain how much rubber tapper households will share in any increased profits if this venture is successful. Recent discussions about diversifying production have focused primarily on the planting of tree crops such as coffee, peach palm (or pupunha, Bactris gasipaes Mart.) for extraction of heart of palm, guaraná (Paullinia cupana Kunth) and cashew nuts rather than the collection of native forest species which require no labor for planting or crop maintenance, as well as copaíba oil (Copaifera spp.) and açaí (Euterpe precatoria Mart.).

Criteria for selection of new products to commercialize

Clearly, the rubber tappers and other communities in this region face an urgent need to diversify their economic base. As we have pointed out, there is little chance of turning subsistence crops into cash crops. On the other hand, virtually all rubber tappers are already subsistence farmers and should remain so. Production of subsistence crops is extremely important to their survival, as it eliminates the need to purchase basic food supplies. Neither does diversification necessarily imply abandonment of rubber tapping: the emphasis is on diversification, which may still include rubber tapping for participation in value-added activities, i.e., the elaboration of finished products from rubber (Clay, 1992).

One side of the equation for solving this problem involves the products they can sell. Determining which products are appropriate for commercialization is a challenge. Forest communities should focus initially on resources that are naturally abundant, that can command a high price for low volume, and/or involve significant value-added activity such as food processing or handicraft production. Some of the principal NTFPs now sold in the immense open markets of the Peruvian Amazon city of Iquitos are wild-collected from species that occur in naturally high densities, usually in floodplain forests (Peters et al., 1989). This phenomenon is less common in upland forests, where species diversity is high but the natural density of economic species is usually low, and where consequently it has been harder to demonstrate the commercial viability of extractive activities (e.g., Homma, 1993, Phillips, 1993).

Historically, the resources that have withstood the pressures of commercial-scale production have met one of three criteria: (1) they were abundant and renewable, like rubber; (2) they could be at least partially domesticated, as in the case of barbasco (a rotenone poison); or (3) demand was modest, as it was for fuelwoods. Their use must complement current extraction and production activities to reduce initial risks associated with diversification. The supply of the product must be reliable and adequate to stock the market without prejudicing the resource. The product must also provide a reasonable return per unit to families with regard to the time required to collect, in some cases process, and transport goods to market. These conditions are worth considering, however, only if markets for these products can be found or developed.

The Rio Branco Market for Extractive Products

Rio Branco, with an urban population estimated in 1996 at 200,000 (IBGE, 1997), is the nearest major market outlet in the eastern half of the state, but its markets for regional products have been slow to develop. While a few regional fruits, medicinal products, ornamental plants and locally made artisan products can be found, they are often hidden in the corners of municipal markets or in outlying neighborhoods. Other than Brazil nuts, few regional fruits are commercialized, and only a few, such as cupuaçu (Theobroma grandiflorum [Willd. ex Spreng.] K. Schum.), açaí, cajá (Spondias mombin L.) and peach palm are widely known and enjoy some degree of acceptance in the local marketplace. Among these fruits, production data only for açaí have been recorded by the State Secretary for Agricultural Development (SEPLAN, 1994). Regional production and price records for cupuaçu are not yet recorded, despite its growing regional importance, with state production for 1995 estimated at approx. 214 metric tons of fruit (equivalent to approx. 75 tons of pulp; SEBRAE, Acre, 1995 in Leite, 1996).2

The few products currently marketed represent a small portion of potential products from the surrounding forest, which is rich in species with economic value proven elsewhere in Amazonia (e.g., Padoch, 1987; Vásquez & Gentry, 1989). Trade in regional products in some other Amazon cities is an important component of local commerce despite the difficulties of transport, storage and communication faced by all forest communities throughout the Amazon region (Padoch, 1992; Padoch and de Jong, 1989). In addition to a great number of medicinal, fiber, and handicraft products, approximately 105 species of fruits, more than half of them wild-collected, are traded in the city of Iquitos in the northern Peruvian Amazon (Vásquez and Gentry, 1989). Our Acre flora data-base and preliminary market surveys show not only that this region is home to at least 80 of these fruit species, but also that it contains a number of wild edible fruit species that do not occur in the forests around Iquitos. These comparisons confirm that there is a broad base of possibilities for new market products.

What might explain the enormous difference between the Iquitos and Rio Branco markets for non-timber forest products? Both are state capitals with comparable populations; Iquitos has a population of approx. 300,000, or comparable in scale to that of Rio Branco.3 One explanation for the importance, the volume, and the astounding diversity of extractive products sold in Iquitos may be the river system that links that city to the surrounding forest communities. Unlike Rio Branco, Iquitos is situated near a major river confluence, and unlike the Rio Acre, most of the extensive network of tributaries around Iquitos is navigable year-round, connecting the city to a large number of forest communities, far more than the limited number of roads giving access to Rio Branco.

Beyond this disadvantage, we believe the poor market in Rio Branco can be attributed in large part to the urban and sometimes rural population's lack of knowledge of the diverse fruits and medicinals of the region. These products simply are not part of the cultural background of most of the state's non-indigenous population, many of whose roots are in the South and particularly the arid Northeast of Brazil. Urban population growth in Acre since the 1960s has been linked to regional rural-urban migration, primarily from within the state (Schwartzman, 1992), but even these rural populations that have been making their way into cities are descendants of families that migrated to Acre from other regions of Brazil. Of 420 heads of households randomly sampled in a demographic study of Rio Branco, 70 percent stated that their fathers had been born in other states within Brazil, the most common response being Ceará (Schmink and Cordeiro, 1992).

These families have limited historical and cultural bases for using rainforest NTFPs in their day to day lives. Consequently, demand for high-priced produce and pharmaceuticals imported from the south of Brazil remains strong while markets for many fruit and medicinal plant products native to the region are limited or non-existent.

Creating Markets for Non-Timber Forest Products - The FLORA Fair

Rio Branco in many ways represents a worst-case scenario with regard to markets for NTFPs, considering the transportation links, which are better with southern Brazil than with the rest of the state, plus its cultural biases and historical lack of internal markets for regional products. Successful development of NTFP markets in Rio Branco, therefore, can be considered a hopeful sign for additional regions of Amazonia where the commercial potential of NTFPs for forest communities remains unrealized.

In fact, it has already been demonstrated that urban markets for NTFPs can be developed in this region with only modest support. To stimulate local awareness and appreciation of Acre's diverse regional non-timber products and of the forests that yield them, in May, 1994 the municipal government of Rio Branco inaugurated FLORA I, the first annual fair for non-timber forest products of Acre. This fair was conceived and implemented by PESACRE (Grupo de Pesquisa e Extensão em Sistemas Agroflorestais), a local non-governmental organization supporting rural communities through research and extension in agroforestry; PESACRE worked in coordination with the regional office of the National Rubber Tappers' Council. FLORA I provided regional cooperatives and associations as well as urban-based enterprises, families, and individuals the opportunity to display and sell their diverse products.

FLORA I also served as a forum for the presentation of research in non-timber forest product development, including the demonstration of processing technologies for value-added activities, and it provided the opportunity for the dissemination and exchange of traditional recipes and remedies. It attracted approximately 30,000 visitors during its three days of exposition. Thirty-one organizations, businesses, families and individuals maintained booths during the event, 17 of which were involved directly in the extraction, production or processing of non-timber forest products and/or their derivatives. Products ranged from foods and handicrafts to live plants and homeopathic medicines (PESACRE, 1994).

One particularly interesting and successful new product introduced was couro vegetal ("vegetable leather"), a latex-based material made by dripping latex onto cotton cloth over a smoky fire. The rubberized fabric, similar to leather, is then manufactured into backpacks, briefcases, toilet kits, purses, and other items. The phenomenon of couro vegetal illustrates two important points: first, it is indeed possible to find markets for new markets, and second, value-added activities can renew the demand for NTFPs made from materials that have lost their demand in unprocessed form.4

Following the success of FLORA I, in June of 1995, FLORA II took place with similar themes. Participation grew to 31 commercial entities, including families and individuals, and 15 institutions. In addition, four panel discussions were held, entitled (in translation) "Alternatives of Production," "Technology and Commercialization," "Community Organization and Development," and "Public Policy and the Environment Question" (PESACRE, 1995)

FLORA III took place in May, 1996. Twenty-nine commercial booths participated, including farmer associations and cooperatives as well as urban enterprises. Eight institutions working with forest communities, colonist farmers and indigenous groups also displayed their activities related to NTFP development. Panel discussions of FLORA III focused on the Brazil nut, including (in translation) "Production and Processing of Brazil Nuts"; "An Economic Policy for Brazil Nuts"; and "The Market for Brazil Nuts." An additional discussion was entitled "Public Policies for Biodiversity" (PESACRE, 1996).

FLORA IV took place in July, 1997. A comparable number of businesses, associations and individuals sold regional NTFPs, while as in past years, eight local institutions also exhibited their diverse projects and programs related to alternative forest product development. The debates that year focused on cooperatives. Women from the municipal agroforesty projects recently established in the perimeter of the city sold sweets, jellies, breads and cakes among other products made from tree fruits such as cupuaçu, peach palm, and Brazil nuts. Jewelry fashioned from diverse seeds and nuts and baskets made from forest fibers were on sale from local artisans, associations and indigenous groups.

The FLORA program in Acre demonstrates that market initiatives can turn to variety of funding sources for start-up support and maintenance costs. The FLORA fair has been supported financially principally by the municipal government of Rio Branco, PESACRE, the Federal Institute for the Environment and Natural Resources (IBAMA), the National Center for Sustainable Development for Traditional Populations (CNPT) and the Federal Small and Micro-Enterprise Agency (SEBRAE). Additional support has come from the Organization of Cooperatives of the State of Acre (OCEA), the State Secretary for Science, Technology and the Environment (SECTMA), the National Rubber Tappers’iacute;iacute; Council (CNS) and the Federal University of Acre (UFAC).

Four years into the FLORA fair, there already are some lessons to be learned. First, it is possible to generate and increase urban awareness of and interest in regionally extracted NTFPs and their derivatives. Second, local markets can be found for new products, a major concern of rubber tappers. Third, demand for products can be created through creative processing and marketing activities. Finally, local government and non-government organizations can facilitate increased NTFP market activties with only modest investments. The real value of these lessons ultimately hinges on translating the success of annual expo-type events like the FLORA program into permanent, regular markets in urban neighborhoods.

Other market initiatives

Two additional market activities are helping to integrate NTFPs into the Rio Branco marketplace by facilitating access to markets for producers, vendors, and consumers throughout the year. Both involve only modest government infrastructural and logistical support. One is a weekly city-center market called the Feirinha, and the second is a more recent and more ambitious initiative to establish nine weekly satellite markets in more peripheral neighborhoods that previously had no markets for fresh produce and processed forest fruits.

The Feirinha predates the FLORA program and has been operating without fanfare on Sunday evenings at a central location in Rio Branco for 14 years during the dry-season months between May and October. It is sponsored by the state development agency CODISACRE (Acre State Industrial Development Company). There are booths for 86 vendors. The focus of the fair is to provide local artisans, principally those who make handicrafts and food products from species native to Acre, an outlet for their products. NTFP products include extractive activity-based products such as jewelry, baskets, desserts and liquors and agroforestry-based products such as desserts, candies and cookies. The fair also allows other local artisans to participate, however, which explains the presence of booths selling stuffed animals, wooden toys, clothes, jewelry made of stone, and magnets and other trinkets.

The state provides the space and the booths, while the vendors have to bring tables and chairs. The fee for participation in 1996 was R$30.00 per year for vendors selling handcrafts, while most food sellers paid R$30.00 per month and those selling sweets paid R$15.00 per month (US equivalents $28.32 and $14.16, respectively).

The Feirinha may be hurt by the fact that it only operates on Sundays and not on weekdays, when many potential customers are in Rio Branco on business from out of town. The market reportedly has shrunk in recent years, and participants claim that sales have dropped heavily (Telma Cristina Guedes, pers. comm. 1997).

The municipal government has strengthened markets for regional fruit and fruit products through the creation of regular weekly mercados livres, or free markets. These markets have been situated in nine outlying neighborhoods with limited access to fresh produce because they have no permanent market area. Local middlemen purchase products in the central market and sell them in the satellite markets. Until recently, the municipal government provided market stalls and round-trip transportation for the middlemen and fruit processers to the satellite markets. Only a few of the fruits are wild collected, notably açaí, which is processed and sold as a thick juice locally referred to as vinho do açaí. However, most products come from within a day's travel from Rio Branco and are products harvested by small-scale colonist farmers and, in some cases, rubber tappers.

Financial considerations

Market initiatives are not free and will necessarily involve some outside support, but they can become self-sustaining. However, municipal and state governments must consider the associated startup and maintenance costs.

Events such as the FLORA fair in Rio Branco are much more costly but they serve a different purpose in that they promote cultural links between forest communities and urban consumers and they increase the latter's awareness and appreciation of their region's forest resources. This is particularly valuable in regions like Acre, where it is necessary to counteract an historical-cultural bias away from regional NTFPs.

Budgets for FLORA III and IV were approximately R$40,000 and R$35,300 respectively (US$40,128 and $32,655). One must keep in mind that much of this expense did not relate to operations costs but rather to paying entertainers, speakers, and transport expenses.

FLORA III sales were approximately R$15,500 (US$15,550), a sizeable jump from the R$6,0705 recorded during FLORA I. The major sellers during FLORA III were products made from couro vegetal (R$1,950), liqueurs made from regional fruits ($R1,045) and heart of palm (R$1,000)6. Greater direct sales impacts for the FLORA program will depend on whether local government and non-government organizations decide to maintain the products fair as policy forum and market stimulus or turn FLORA into a more frequent event focused on sales promotion.

Events like FLORA can help to validate and promote the real goals, such as the Feirinha and the weekly satellite markets. The physical setup of the Feirinha now nearly pays for itself through participant fees. The State still pays the salary of the coordinator, gas and per diems for the truck to take the booths to the city center, and a market monitor (Telma Cristina Guedes, pers. comm. 1997).

Parallels with New York City's Greenmarket® program

The history of the Greenmarket program in New York City provides, despite its obvious difference in market size, a remarkable number of encouraging parallels to the development of markets for regional NTFPs in Acre and elsewhere in Amazonia. Greenmarket created new market niches in what appeared to be a saturated market with cultural preferences and existing market structures stacked against regional producers. It has helped stabilize traditional communities, promote regional self-sufficency, and strengthen rural-urban links. In the end it has benefited rural producers and urban consumers alike.

Like Acre in the 1980s, the United States in the 1970s was experiencing an accelerating trend of rural flight as small producers and entire rural communities failed economically because they could not compete in a market structure that favored larger-scale producers with more capital and transport infrastructure. Traditional communities (of small farmers in this case) were disappearing. Urban centers like New York, meanwhile, were increasingly subjected to expensive, low-quality, low-diversity produce; the city was "fed by plasticized, ageless produce trucked from thousands of miles away, at a vast cost in fuel and flavor." (John Hess, quoted in Benepe, undated). This can be compared to Rio Branco, where much of the produce consists of tired temperate-zone fruits and vegetables trucked up from the states of Paraná and São Paulo.

The Greenmarket Farmers' Market, winner of the 1991 Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence, is a non-governmental organization founded by Barry Benepe more than two decades ago to make a direct link between small producers and urban consumers who needed each other, if for different reasons. Greenmarket began at 8:00 a.m. on 17 July 1976 on one site in Manhattan and involving 7 producers (Benepe, undated). In 1995 it was coordinating 33 markets in 23 locations; the 220 participating producers draw 70,000 customers per week between May and December, and annual sales are $20 million. Greenmarket was supported initially by foundation grants, but now 95% of the program's annual budget of $1,020,000 is covered by participant producer fees (Greenmarket Fact Sheet, 1995).

The development of Greenmarket was of necessity an educational process for small producers unaccustomed to urban markets, and to urban consumers who generated no perceptible demand for their products. These cultural preferences, however, were defined principally by lack of exposure to the diversity of products in the region surrounding the city; this diversity eventually became an advantage, because it created unoccupied market niches. Now, one participant producer grows more than 40 varieties of potatoes, and another produces 30 varieties of apples, while a third producer was growing more than 60 varieties of peppers in 1991 (Greenmarket, Union Square Greenmarket Tour, undated). Increasing numbers of value-added products such as breads and cheeses have been added over the years. The end result is that many urban consumers are eating better and more diverse produce, usually for less money, while a large number of traditional (for the U.S.) farmer households are thriving, because they have been obtaining prices far better than wholesale (McPhee, 1994).

By helping to sustain these households, the Greenmarket program promotes regional self-sufficiency. It helps to preserve what in the U.S. is one traditional way of life, and it helps to stem development pressures in the region. One under-appreciated benefit of the program is that it forges a rural-urban bond, and implicit in this is greater urban sensitivity to rural issues.

Some of the practical lessons learned from Greenmarket are the importance of publicity, site selection, verification of product sources, and quality control. Moreover, at the outset the program needed not only permissions but also logistical help from various city agencies. A good deal of initial outreach to producers was necessary: participation was sought using government agencies and private organizations, and guidelines were prepared and distributed along with descriptive information to prospective sellers.

The parallels with the situation in Acre and elsewhere are striking, and most of the history and attendant conclusions could apply to FLORA and the other market initiatives in Rio Branco. The most important parallel with the market situation in Acre is the rapid growth and acceptance of these initiatives.

Regional versus national and international markets

A key consideration facing local markets for NTFPs is the total purchasing power of the consumer population. Although this is not a serious problem in Iquitos, Rio Branco, and other urban centers, the sales volume in smaller towns and cities may not be sufficient to provide adequate cash income to the surrounding forest communities. In these cases it may be necessary to consider tapping into larger and more distant markets, although there are serious risks involved.

National and international markets are for most products and in most circumstances not appropriate for forest communities, except for modest "green" markets in the United States and Europe. The demand may be too large and encourage over-harvesting of forest resources. Indeed, the examples used by Homma (1993) to argue that successful extractive products inevitably go through a process of boom, over-exploitation, and bust were all products with global industrial markets. International transactions are susceptible to exchange rate fluctuations, trade barriers and other government-level instruments far beyond the control as well as the adaptability of forest communities. For example, the rubber-tappers' Brazil nut cooperative in Acre saw its international sales stop completely with the implementation of the Brazilian government's economic stabilization program in 1994, which greatly increased the value of Brazilian currency against the U.S. dollar (Francisco Ubiracy M. de Vasconcelos, pers. comm. 1995). Three years later, the cooperative was only beginning to re-enter the international marketplace.

Current market studies

We have demonstrated that the challenge of developing markets for NTFPs can be met, with modest financial support. That is the easy part. The greater challenge is to forge effective links between forest communities and markets. Market studies recently undertaken by the senior author in collaboration with UFAC and several forest communities investigated a number of questions to determine the potential for and limitations on forest communities to supply local markets for reasonable economic return (see a discussion of this topic in Clay, 1994). Three types of questions were addressed: local market structures and channels; logistical challenges of linking into urban markets; and rural labor and lifestyle considerations.

Understanding local market structure and channels for NTFPs is critical for forest communities evaluating the possibility of entering these markets. Market channels must be identified to determine the best link to enter into the market. The needs of buyers must be specifically defined with regard to form (processed or unprocessed), quantity, quality and supply schedule to ensure that forest communities can meet them.

Market information can help forest communities identify market opportunities, and the Rio Branco market for açaí helps illustrate this point. The high-volume açaí processers and sellers located in the central municipal market maintain very structured fruit-buying operations, despite the appearance of informality. Verbal contracts between fruit suppliers and processors assure the larger fruit processors a steady supply of fruit throughout the week and eliminate selling risks for contracted suppliers. Some of these suppliers are small farmers living in colonization products in the region. Others are professional fruit extractors, known as açaizeiros, who live in the city but travel to regional forest areas to extract fruit. Forest communities who want to enter this market will have to enter into formal agreements, which will test their ability to deliver specified quantities of ripe fruit on a regularly sheduled basis. Still, processers are flexible in their buying schedules, and some rural producers supply fruit only once or twice a month. Rubber tappers may be able to negotiate supply agreements which match their resource and infrastructure conditions.

The infrastructural and logistical challenges facing forest communities must also be considered in identifying NTFPs and market linkages. Infrastructure constraints, such as a lack of clean water for fruit processing activities in forest areas, must be recognized. Distance and total time to market, as well as the means and reliability of transportation, must be compatible with the degrees of fragility and perishability of the products. Transport systems and their costs should be analyzed to determine whether forest communities can compete with other supply areas.

Lack of infrastructure and regional transport are problems endemic in forest communities in the Amazon. In Acre, once a product is transported by animal or canoe to the nearest urban area it must then travel to the capital. Pooling resources helps lower unit costs, but they can still be intimidating. In the case of açaí, even if communities could concentrate extremely large volumes of fruit to lower transport costs to profitable levels, high-volume processers are currently unable to purchase and process these volumes.

These difficulties are not insurmountable, however. High-volume processors in Rio Branco own or hire vehicles for travel to rural areas and pickup of fruit supplies. Forest communities may be able to negotiate prices, quantities, and supply schedules that fit with their socio-economic needs, and gain access to markets long considered too distant for the sale of perishable products.

Another important consideration is how the introduction of a new product or processing activity might affect a forest community's day-to-day life and seasonal activities. Current market-oriented or subsistence activities such as crop production, hunting, and fishing, need to be identified to analyze potential competition for community labor. Extraction methods for various species must also be analyzed to determine which families may need training and/or equipment to participate. It should be recognized that some families simply may not be interested in participating in NTFP marketing activities, because of labor constraints or skepticism about the value of workshops and new technologies (Coomes & Barham, 1997)

These considerations can be illustrated by examining how the collection of açaí fruits fits with family labor patterns. In Acre, the harvest season in begins in March and ends in October, with small quantities of fruit entering the market for a month before and after this period. The height of the season is June through September. Traditionally during this period, the rubber-tappers are collecting Pará rubber latex, harvesting beans, and preparing land for the planting of rice and corn (usually for subsistence). The first and last are principally adult male tasks.

The harvest of açaí fruit is generally carried out by adult males who climb the (in western Amazonia) single-stemmed palms, as high as 25 meters in some cases, and cut the racemes. Transport of produce to the city is also a male labor task. Weekly extraction and transport may be difficult even for families who have adult males who can climb this palm. Less frequent extraction will likely fit better with the subsistence priorities and rubber-tapping activities of seringueiro families. Coordination within or between forest communities may facilitate their ability to meet weekly or bi-monthly contractual obligations with urban açaí processers throughout the harvest season.

While we have not been exhaustive in analyzing all the factors forest communities must weigh when entering local markets, it is clear that forest communities can make better decisions when they have information on a broad range of market issues. Government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and academic institutions can assist forest communities on an extension basis and through workshops, at little cost. Logistical support and assistance with intermediate technology are appropriate and necessary under some circumstances.

Government and NTFP Markets

Support from government plays a key role in the development and maintenance of markets for NTFPs, but the burden on government should not be overstated. At all levels of government, agencies already exist that are responsible for assisting small businesses, promoting regional development, helping traditional communities, developing markets, providing extension services to rural producers, and monitoring production, market data, and exports. These resources can be harnessed to the benefit of markets of regional NTFPs at little or no additional cost to the public. It would take negligible extra effort, for example, for government agencies responsible for tracking price and production trends to communicate their findings to forest-community cooperatives; the latter could then interact more effectively with municipal markets.


Extractive communities in Amazonia can be very attractive from a conservation standpoint if one regards them as a vast, lightly populated land-use buffer between the biologically undesirable (colonization, cattle ranching, agribusiness, deforestation) and the often unattainable (pristine wilderness). Beyond the advancing development frontier, the empty forest -- in this context, abandoned by extractivists -- resounds with danger, especially in areas like extractive reserves where the inhabitants' role is that of steward, however imperfect.

There is another kind of attraction to what has been called "extractivism." Cultural

considerations are often disregarded in debates about extraction of non-timber forest products;

regardless of legal constraints in extractive reserves, many families actually choose to live in

forest communities -- as long as they can market forest products and some of what they can

produce in small-scale farming or agroforestry to earn a very modest income. At present, many

cannot, and the debate centers on whether this kind of livelihood is viable economically.

At one end of the economic lifeline for these communities are the forest resources, and at the other are markets, and in between are interactions between family work patterns and the management ecology -- including the production potential -- of the resources. The fact that markets for NTFPs can be stimulated in such an unpromising place as Rio Branco, Acre means that the markets themselves are not necessarily a limiting factor wherever there is a town or urban population with modest purchasing power. The many families under severe financial pressure have already been forced into flexibility. Plant resources are enormously diverse if usually not

abundant. Of all the factors, the most limiting are the various market links. Realistically, these

are insurmountably limiting for some forest communities, but a large proportion have a fighting

chance at viability, given some initial assistance.

Policy-makers and the media expended a great deal of energy on extractive economies, especially in the late 1980s, but the investment in research and programming needed to maximize their potential has been woefully inadequate. There is no question that outside help is needed, but nothing on a financial scale larger than the assistance already provided to small farmers and small businesses. Appropriate government agencies exist, marketing workshop models exist, market analyses are under way in Acre and elsewhere, and models for determining sustainable harvest levels exist. Coordination among these components is rare, and much more of it is necessary.


The authors thank the Rainforest Alliance and Ms. Elisabeth Kleinhans for financial support to the principal author for field work in Acre, Brazil from October 1995 through September 1997; the second author acknowledges the support of the National Science Foundation (Project I.D. no. DEB-9300787). In Acre, we thank the Agroforestry Research and Extension Group (PESACRE) and, at the Universidade Federal do Acre, the Parque Zoobotânico (especially Foster Brown) and the Department of Economics (especially Reginaldo Costelo), plus the many researchers and students who provided valuable advice and assistance during the research period. In addition, we thank the National Council for the Sustainable Development of Traditional Peoples (CNPT) and the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and for Renewable Resources (IBAMA), which provided support for research carried out in the Chico Mendes Extractive Reserve. In Xapuri, we would like to thank the Rubber Tappers' Association of Xapuri (AMOREX), the Agro-Extractive Cooperative of Xapuri (CAEX), and the numerous families in the Chico Mendes Extractive Reserve for their participation and logistical support. Finally, we would also like to thank the New York Botanical Garden and Mr. Joel Patraker of the New York City Greenmarket®.

Literature Cited

Allegretti, M. H. 1990. Extractive reserves: An alternative for reconciling development and

environmental conservation in Amazonia. Pages 252-264 in A. Anderson, ed., Alternatives to deforestation: Steps toward sustainable use of the Amazon forest. Columbia University Press, New York.

Anderson, A. B. 1989. Estratégias para uso da terra por reservas estrativistas do Amazonia.

Para Desenvolvimento 25: 30-37.

Benepe, B. (undated). The rebirth of farmers' markets in New York City. The Council on the

Environment of New York City, New York.

Browder, J. O. 1992. The limits of extractivism. Bioscience 42 (3): 174-182.

Centro dos Trabalhadores Amazônicos (CTA). 1996. Extrativismo. Informe Rede CTA, ano 1

no. 3, Abril.

Clay, J. 1992. Some general principles and strategies for developing markets in North America

and Europe for non-timber forest products. Pages 302-309 in M. Plotkin and L. Famolare, eds., Sustainable harvest and marketing of rain forest products. Island Press, Washington, D.C.

Clay, J. 1994. Generating income and conserving resources: Twenty lessons from the field.

paper presented at the Workshop on Non-timber Tree Product Market Research, Annapolis, Maryland, 12-14 Dec. 1994.

Coomes, O. 1995. A century of rain forest use in western Amazonia: Lessons for extraction-

based conservation of tropical forest resources. Forest and Conservation History 39 (3): 108-120.

Coomes, O. and B. Barham. 1997. Rainforest extraction and conservation in Amazonia. The

Geographical Journal 163(2): 180-188..

Cooperativo Agro-Extrativista do Xapuri (CAEX), unpublished ledgers 1995, 1996, 1997.

Dean, W. 1987. Brazil and the struggle for rubber: A study in environmental history.

Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Fundação Cultural do Acre, Casa do Poeta. 1986. Antologia dos poetas acreanos. Fundação

Cultural do Acre, Rio.

Greenmarket Fact Sheet. 1995. New York.

Greenmarket. (undated). Union Square Greenmarket Tour. New York..

Guedes, T. C. [Feirinha Coordinator, Cia. Desenvolvimento Industrial do Estado do Acre

(CODISACRE)]. Interview by R. Wallace, 17 March, 1997 at CODISACRE, Rio Branco, Acre, Brazil.

Homma, A. K. O. 1993. Extrativismo vegetal na Amazônia: Limites e oportunidades. Empresa

Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuaria (EMPRAPA-SPI), Brasília.

IBGE. 1996. Anuário Estatístico do Brasil, 1995. Fundação IBGE, Rio de Janeiro.

IBGE. 1997. Dados Preliminares da Contagem/1996. Division de Pesquisa do Estado do Acre,

Rio de Janeiro.

Leite, A. C. P. 1996. Busca de novos mercados para produtos agroflorestais: O caso do

Projeto RECA. Secretaria Municipal de Agricultura de Rio Branco, Acre, Brazil. Unpublished ms.

McPhee, J. 1994. Giving Good Weight. Pages 3-76 in Giving good weight. Noon Day Press,

New York. 12th Printing.

Padoch, C. 1987. The economic importance and marketing of forest and fallow products in the

Iquitos region. Pages 74-89 in C. Padoch and W. M. Denevan eds. Swidden fallow agroforestry in the Peruvian Amazon. Advances in Economic Botany 5. The New York Botanical Garden, Bronx.

Padoch, C. 1990. Santa Rosa: The impact of the forest products trade on an Amazonian place

and population. Pages 151-158 in G. T. Prance and M. J. Balick, eds., New Directions in the Study of Plants and People. Advances in Economic Botany 8. The New York Botanical Garden, Bronx.

Padoch, C. and W. de Jong. 1989. Production and profit in agroforestry: An example from the

Peruvian Amazon. Pages 102-113 in John O. Browder, ed., Fragile lands in Latin America: Strategies for sustainable development. Westview Press, Boulder.

PESACRE. 1994. I FLORA: Feira de produtos da floresta do Acre. PESACRE, Rio Branco.

PESACRE. 1995. II FLORA: Feira de produtos da floresta do Acre. PESACRE, Rio Branco.

PESACRE. 1996. III FLORA: Feira de produtos da floresta do Acre. PESACRE, Rio Branco.

Peters, C. H., M. J. Balick, F. Kahn, and A. B. Anderson. 1989. Oligarchic forests of economic

plants in Amazonia: Utilization and conservation of an important tropical resource. Conservation Biology 3: 341-349.

Phillips, O. 1993. The potential for harvesting fruits in tropical rainforests: new data from Amazonian Peru. Biodiversity and Conservation 2: 18-38.

SEBRAE, Acre. 1995. Opções de investimento no Acre com produtos florestais não-madereiros: Cupuaçu. Serviço de Apoio às Micro e Pequenas Empresas do Acre. Rio Branco, Acre, Brazil.

SEPLAN - Secretaria de Estado de Planejamento do Acre. 1993. Diagnóstico situacional e prognóstico. SEPLAN, Rio Branco, Brazil. Unpublished report.

SEPLAN - Secretaria do Estado de Planejamento do Acre. 1994. Anuário Estatístico do Acre 1991. SEPLAN, Departmento de Estatística e Informações, Rio Branco, Brazil.

Schmink, M. and M. L. Cordeiro. 1992. Urbanização na Amazônia: Mudanças econômicas e demográficas em Rio Branco, Acre, Brasil. Universidade Federal do Acre e Universidade da Florida, Rio Branco, Brazil.

Schwartzman, S. 1992. Land distribution and social costs of frontier development in Brazil: Social and historical context of extractive reserves. Pages 51-66 in D. C. Nepstad and S. Schwartzman, eds., Non-timber products from tropical forests: Evaluation of conservation and development strategy. Advances in Economic Botany 9. The New York Botanical Garden, Bronx.

Vasconcelos, F. U. M. de (Project Director, Cooperativa Agroextrativista de Xapuri). Interview by R. Wallace 27 November, 1995 at Cooperativa Agroextrativista de Xapuri, Xapuri, Acre, Brazil.

Vásquez, R. and A. H. Gentry. 1989. Use and misuse of forest-harvested fuits in the Iquitos area. Conservation Biology 3 (4): 350-361.

Weinstein, B. 1983. The Amazon Rubber Boom, 1850-1920. Stanford University Press, Stanford.


1. This fall in the price of Brazil nuts corresponds to a drop of US equivalent $3.08 to $1.84, with a strengthening dollar. Prices are those paid to members of the cooperative selling directly to the cooperative in Xapuri.

2. A federal judicial decision recently ended a longstanding land dispute between the state of Acre and the neighboring state of Rondônia. The area in question, on the eastern border of Acre and western border of Rondônia, long ignored by both states, is the site of a regional agroforestry project which now produces a great majority of the region's cupuaçu. This region has been proclaimed part of the state of Rondônia, greatly reducing Acre's production figures.

3. 293,100 in 1991; The Europa World Yearbook, 38th ed. Vol. II. Europa Publications, Ltd., London, 1997.

4. While rubber tappers received a higher return by processing crude rubber into couro vegetal, it should be noted that much fo the value of the final products is currently accumulated in Rio de Janeiro where articles are made.

5. Cr$9,312,450.00; exchange rate Cr$1534.28/dollar from Veja 27(21), 18 May 1994; PESACRE, 1994.

6. US equivalents $1,956; 1,048; and 1,003 respectively.

Return to The Floristics and Economic Botany of Acre, Brazil Table of Contents