Albion Monitor /News

Hi-Vitamin Fruit May Help Save Amazon

by Mario Osava

70X the vitamin C in oranges

(IPS) RIO DE JANEIRO -- Tropical fruit from the Amazon, which have been found to be extraordinarily rich in vitamins C and B5, are being touted as the new market winner from the still largely unexplored region.

Camu-camu, the fruit of a tree which grows along river banks and lagoons in the Brazilian Amazon, contains high amounts of acerbic acid or vitamin C. The plant contains 2,880 milligrams of acerbic acid per 100 grams of pulp, surpassing the 1,790 milligrams contained in the acerola, the Caribbean fruit which has one of the highest known vitamin content.

Oranges, on the other hand, contain only 40.9 milligrams of vitamin C, according to scientific measurements.

The camu-camu, which looks like an eight-gram plum and is known to the local Amazonian population as "cazar" or "araz-de-agua," is also rich in collagen -- a substance used for slowing down the aging process -- and in flavonoids, which help prevent cancer, said Conrado Todesco, president of an environmental organization in Sao Paulo.

Japanese companies interested in super-nutritious Rain Forest plants

Todesco also expressed enthusiasm about another fruit called cubiu, which looks like a tomato and has the highest known content of B5, a vitamin which plays an essential role in transforming fat and sugar into energy. B5 is also beneficial for the suprarenal glands and for the formation and regeneration of cells. Consumed by local indigenous populations, it is sold in markets and cultivated in family gardens.

Both fruits are currently being studied at the National Institute for Studies of Amazonia (INPA), to determine their potential commercial production. Japanese companies have already expressed an interest in the camu-camu and in financing research on it, INPA officials said.

The commercial viability of the plants is already apparent in an emerging market because of the fact that it grows naturally in large concentrations, "as if it were a monocrop" on flooded river banks, said researcher Charles Clement.

In general, Amazonian fruit trees grow in dispersed patterns of about one or a few per hectare. To concentrate them in for commercial production could raise the problem of plant disease, but this is not the case with the camu-camu.

It grows naturally in large concentrations and has demonstrated a capacity for adaptation to firm ground and less moisture than its natural environment, where it is already being grown year-round, explained Kaoru Yuyuma, of INPA.

INPA has distributed between 300,000 and 400,000 seeds of camu-camu in the past three years in order to promote its cultivation in different regions across the country. However, it is still too soon to predict whether commercial production is possible outside of Amazonia, said Yuyuma, who has been investigating Amazonian fruits since 1991.

The institute began studying the camu-camu in 1980. The process is slow, because it is a wild and perennial plant which in its natural environment begins to give fruit three or four years after sprouting.

The camu-camu survives with its roots and parts of the stem submerged in water for several months a year. Cultivation on firm ground requires irrigation or coverage of the roots in order to maintain high levels of moisture, Yuyuma explained.

The plant can produce fruit prematurely with the help of fertilizers, and experts have been trying to identify which are the most adequate. Because of the high price of the camu-camu pulp -- the production of which is rather simple, almost artesanal -- one harvest of 30 kilos a year per tree is enough to make it profitable, Yuyuma says.

Two new species discovered last month, but Brazil not interested in new crops

The Amazonian forest still harbors many surprises in terms of natural resources that could be used for nutritional purposes. Clement, a North American researcher who has been studying tropical fruits for 20 years, announced last month the discovery of two new species, unknown until now to scientists: black maize and the "pie de jaboti."

The jaboti is an Amazonian turtle, and the newly discovered fruit looks like one of its legs. Clement says its potential as a domestic crop is in the hands of Native peoples, because "the government is not interested in new crops."

He has high hopes on the black maize, because "There is a possibility" that it could be a remnant of the maize that the Omagua Indians adapted to the conditions in the Amazon some 6,000 years ago. If scientists can confirm that it indeed has the ancient adapted genes, then black maize could become an important local crop.

The Omaguas, Clement explained, lived along the Solimoes River, straddling Brazil, Colombia, and Peru. When that indigenous group disappeared, the maize they cultivated disappeared with them, and black maize may contain important genetic resources.

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Albion Monitor August 4, 1996 (

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