Monday, April 15, 2024

Kids in Brazil are scaling tall trees, which are about 70 feet high, to gather açaí berries for you to enjoy

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In a distant part of Brazil called Igarapé da Fortaleza, workers at the port unload big bags from small wooden boats. These bags are orange-red and full of something called açaí berries. When these berries spill out, they stain everything purple and make the ground slippery. After some washing and processing, each bag can make about five gallons of açaí pulp, which goes into bowls, smoothies, and supplements.

During Spring, when most fruits aren’t ready yet, each 130-pound bag sells for about $80 to wholesalers. This is more than double the price during the fruit’s regular season. The people buying might not know, but sometimes these superfoods are picked by kids — and nobody checks.

$80 would be a lot for the harvesters, but they still have to pay others who help them, like boat operators and landowners. Demand has changed things. What used to be a local business has turned into a big international one, putting pressure on communities that rely on these fruits for money and food.

In 2012, the state of Pará exported 39 tons of açaí. In 2022, it was 8,158 tons, making over $26 million. This increase means more kids are sent to pick the fruit. They climb tall trees without safety gear, facing dangers like snakes and jaguars.

Lucas Oliveira, a 13-year-old from Fazendinha village, helps his brother collect açaí to feed their family. He also goes to school. One day, CNN followed them on a harvest trip. They woke up early, crossed the Amazon River, and went into the jungle.

Lucas used a big machete to clear a path through the trees. Then, he climbed up to pick the ripe berries. He did this many times that day. His brother, Wengleston, has been doing this for years and now has back pain from carrying heavy loads.

There are many stories of harvesters getting hurt or falling from trees. Rescue can take hours in these remote areas. In 2022, nearly 2 million children in Brazil were working, and many in dangerous conditions.

Authorities struggle to stop this because the places where it happens are hard to reach. Allan Bruno, a prosecutor, says they focus on areas like Marajó and Amapá. They try to rescue workers and kids from bad situations.

Bruno says many people in these situations don’t know their rights. The system to stop this is slow and short-staffed. But there’s hope that things can get better.

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