The internet has amazing uses

This past weekend, Scott, Ronnie, Nick, Jerry, and I hung out. During part of the evening, the conversation turned to brazil nuts (don’t ask me how that happened; I have no clue). Scott claimed that all brazil nuts we eat are harvested from wild trees in the rainforest, and said this occurred because after you plant a brazil nut tree, it takes over 100 years for the tree to start producing nuts.

I didn’t really believe him, so the next day I went and looked this up, and then forwarded it to a “shooting the breeze” mailing list my friends and I made (it’s a list dedicated to follow-ups from interesting conversations, and I’ve learned some fascinating (if random) things from it). Here’s my email:

(from a conversation I had over the weekend with Nick, Jerry, and Scott)

Brazil nut trees first start to bear fruit when they are 12-15 years old. [1] It often takes over a year for a pollinated flower to develop into a nut. [2] Although almost all brazil nuts harvested today come from wild trees, it’s totally possible to have a plantation. [3] However, I can only find evidence of a single plantation (owned by Aruana), and I’d expect more than one plantation to exist if they worked well. Wikipedia claims the problem with the plantation is that it’s hard to get pollinators to live outside the rainforest, [4] but I can’t find this backed up in any other source whatsoever, and [3] contradicts that statement, so I don’t actually know how well brazil nut farms/plantations work. Oddly enough, it looks like current rates of brazil nut harvest cannot be sustained in the long run: apparently so many nuts are harvested that very few nuts get planted and grow into new trees. [5-6]

– Alan

[1] http://www.fao.org/docrep/x5043E/x5043E05.htm#Brazil nut
[2] http://www.nybg.org/bsci/braznut/#Phenology
[3] http://www.nybg.org/bsci/braznut/#Harvest
[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brazil_Nut#Reproduction
[5] http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/302/5653/2112?ck=nck
[6] http://www.cbc.ca/health/story/2003/12/18/nuts_brazil031218.html

Yes, messages to this list often contain more references than sentences. Anyway, Scott writes back:

The plantation report is from 1990. I fail at finding out if they still exist. I tried looking at the roadway they’re on, but I can’t tell a plantation from a clearcut.

I used “Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil to Itacoatiara, Brazil” on maps to find the road.

and I reply (my reply has been edited to include a link to Street View and to hide the long URL that messed up the spacing of this post):

The plantation report is from 1990, but the plantation itself was started in 1982. [1] In other words, it should have started producing nuts by 1997 at the latest. It was still around in 1998, but they were definitely having trouble from “degraded” soil due to grazing and planting the trees, and at the time they were trying to “re-cultivate” it. [2]

I found the road using your directions, and then noted that the plantation is around “kilometer 215” [3] of the road (which is 270 km long). From [2], it’s “close to Itacoatiara,” so I looked for things 55 km from that city (i.e., I assumed the “kilometer 0” marker is in Manaus). It’s a 12,000-hectare plantation (120 square kilometers), so it should be the biggest thing around. Moreover, [2] says it’s not entirely deforested, but rather has strips of forest “left standing to subdivide the plantation.” So how about [4]? It looks kinda like the picture on page 36 of [2].

I think it’s totally cool that given the little information we have we can (maybe) find this place. Now we just need to wait until Street View goes through the area…

Also, I didn’t realize what a gorgeous shade of blue the Amazon River was until today.

– Alan

[1] http://www.worldagroforestrycentre.org/Sea/Products/AFDbases/AF/asp/SpeciesInfo.asp?SpID=330
[2] http://www.lulu.com/items/volume_62/1198000/1198957/1/print/1198957.pdf page 35
[3] http://www.nybg.org/bsci/braznut/#Plantations
[4] (Google Maps link hidden because it’s really long)

Scott agreed we had found it, and that was that. With a total of just a couple hours looking around, we had found aerial photographs of the world’s only brazil nut plantation, even though the Internet has no record of it at all in the past 10 years. I realize they might not grow brazil nuts there any more, but we at least found the world’s only (possibly former) brazil nut plantation, which is just as good. It looks like they don’t have electricity, let alone phone service, let alone internet service. and we can still find stuff like this fairly easily! This completely blew my mind! The Internet is totally making the world smaller, in a lot of magnificent ways.

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