Paradoxes in Sustainable Rainforest Production: Childhood and Child Labor in Açaí Extraction in the Brazilian Amazon
Talley , Monte Dawn
Over the last decade açaí (Euterpe oleracea Mart.), a palm fruit traditionally eaten as a staple food in the Brazilian Amazon has become a popular health food for global consumers. Marketed as an exotic tropical berry rich in antioxidants, it is also hailed as an environmentally friendly, sustainable rainforest extract that brings much-needed income to the rural Amazonian poor while maintaining forest cover and biodiversity. Açaí seems to embody an ideal of ethical consumption, but upon closer inspection another narrative emerges. Children’s labor is a crucial element in the extraction process, which is not only extremely dangerous and interferes with school attendance, but also violates human rights standards set forth by multilateral entities like the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Labour Organization. This ethnographic study examines the lives of children in riverine communities in the eastern Brazilian state of Para, examining their work contributions in rural household açaí production. It foregrounds children’s own perspectives and experiences documented through interviews, observations, and collaborative research methods in which children produced photographs and narratives about their own lives, providing an intimate, firsthand account of rural Amazonian childhood. Children’s interpretations illuminate their understandings of childhood, their material and social circumstances, and their roles in and contributions to their families and community. This research highlights the contradictions and tensions between the marketing of açaí as a socio-environmentally responsible product and harms related to child labor in household/family production of this export commodity.