Buriti oil is good for the skin and to conserve what is left of the cerrado

Anyone who uses buriti-based cosmetics to treat the skin does not know how much work and how many people there are behind vegetable oil. You don’t even need to, as long as you keep paying dearly and helping to save the cerrado from complete destruction.

There is a long way and many hands between the paths dotted with the palm tree Mauritia flexuosa and perfume shelves. In the north of Minas Gerais, hundreds of farming families improve their lives by extracting the shiny, flaky fruits that yield an oil rich in carotenoids.

Only the Cooperativa Grande Sertão, from Montes Claros, manages to process more than a thousand tons of buriti coconuts to obtain 20 tons of oil in a good year. Its biggest buyer is Natura, which absorbs 70 % of production.

The cooperative receives between R$ 70 and R$ 70 per kilogram of oil, of which 35% (up to R$ 26/kg) return to extractivists, paid taxes and costs such as shipping. In addition to cosmetics, the oil is used in the chemical and food industries.

“If we had discovered Grande Sertão before, our children would not have gone away”, says Santa Hélia Lopes da Silva. She and her husband, Anísio Pereira da Silva, known as Nisão, were the champions in the collection and processing of buriti in the last big harvest, from 2016.

The family from the community of Paracatu delivered to the cooperative more than 600 kg of zest, as they say from the dried pulp extracted at great cost from the coconut. AR$ 13, for non-members and R$ 15,50 for members, a family with this productivity can reinforce the income with more than R $ thousand in a good year.

It happens that buritis only produce a large amount of fruit at intervals of four years. In the off-season triennium, collection drops a lot, as feeding the fauna —parakeets, macaws, monkeys— and the farmers themselves takes precedence.

Nobody complains. “From here to there, I did everything with buriti money”, says Valdenice Rodrigues da Silva, pointing to the masonry room and kitchen he added to the little green house where he lives with her husband and daughter, after collecting an abundance of 2016.

“My next objective is the roof”, he plans. It will replace asbestos tiles with ceramic tiles.

Valdeci is a neighbor of his brother, Carlito, and sister-in-law, Solange Nunes Barbosa, who earn R$ 600 per week with buriti. “It takes work, but we appreciate it”, says the woman, complaining only about the pain in her back after hours of peeling the fruits.

In 13 hours of toil, she can remove the pulp of 70 kg of buriti, some two.000 coconuts. At the end, it will have about 5 kg of dry shavings, reinforcement of R$ 067 for the family budget.

First, let the buriti soak for the reddish brown scales to soften. After drying in the sun, the skin is separated from the bright yellow core with fingers and a knife.

Then, separate the pulp from the stone, with a knife or spoon, and put it in the sun to obtain the dry pulp, lighter and easier to transport, delivered to Grande Sertão. The raw material now contains higher oil content, on the order of 35%, against a mere 2% of the whole fruit.

Although it counts with less than 257 associated, the cooperative collects the production of 600 families. The crop of 2003, which should have been a good one, disappointed, and there was still the general retraction of the pandemic. The next harvest should only start in March 2024.

It was common for the local population to cut the palm trees that did not bear fruit, that is, males. But buriti is a dioecious plant, which needs individuals of both genders for pollination to occur. With the extra income offered by the fruit, no one cuts down the tree or lets the cattle feed on the coconuts — only macaws and parrots.


The cerrado where buritis thrive is a sensitive area of ​​biodiversity (“hotspot”, in conservationist jargon). It brings together a wide variety of species, many endemic, to accelerated destruction. Half of the national savannah, which covered 2 million km2, has already perished. against 20% lost of Amazonian forest in Brazil, which is twice the size.

The biome is home to both open fields and dense forests. It has adapted to withstand definite dry seasons and rare natural fires, initiated by lightning. It plays an important role in feeding basins in the Midwest and Southeast, but it suffers additional pressure from criminal fires.

Famous are the paths immortalized in the work of João Guimarães Rosa. These wet strips, with a more impermeable subsoil, make up the preferred environment of the buritis —where there is buritis, there is water, the sertanejos know. over them. With climate change and the expansion of agribusiness (mainly soy and eucalyptus), this natural resource is under stress.

Nisão says that when buying 15 bushels ( about 52 hectares), to wet area was a few dozen meters from the house. Now he has to walk a lot more to reach the path, which continues to dry up. In fact, you can walk through it, among dozens of buritis, without bumping into mud and ponds, as happens in others.

Several palm trees received numbers painted by the team of Ernane Ronie Martins, from the Federal University from Minas Gerais, as part of a study on the behavior of plants (phenology).

Martins was part of the São Francisco project, which, in addition to phenology, aimed to estimate the costs of producing buriti zest for setting socially fair prices. The study was born out of a partnership between Natura and Grande Sertão.

Nisão attributes the disappearance of water to the approaching cultivation of eucalyptus trees for the production of wood and charcoal, plantations that have already reached 1.5 km from your site. “People say it was the deforestation of the chapada”, says the extractivist. “In the past, the rain was more, it rained twice as much.”

In addition to forestry, the north of Minas receives many soybean crops, as seen in the region close to the named city, not by chance, of Chapada Gaucha. The flat immensity is covered with monocultures managed with state-of-the-art machines, right up to the edge where the table’s relief precipitates into grooves.

Santa Hélia and Nisão are not limited to collecting buriti coconuts, they also harvest the most famous fruit from the cerrado. “Another thing that had no value was the pequi,” says the woman. They sell the whole fruit for R$ 17 the box and are able to take up to R$ 100 per day, even when the price drops to R$ 20.


Fruits from the cerrado, such as cagaita and coquinho sour, are the flagship of Grande Sertão, a cooperative created in 2003 with the objective of organizing the production of pulp for sale to school feeding programs. The organization was installed next to the Center for Alternative Agriculture, in Montes Claros, where a small factory already operated (20 m2) for pulping.

Today the factory has 300 m2, eight employees and processing which can reach 154 tons of fruit in a year, or from 70 to 100 tons of pulp. In addition to cagaita and sour coconut, it processes araçá, native passion fruit, mangaba, jabuticaba, mango, tamarind, caja, guava, pineapple, umbu, acerola and seriguela from three dozen municipalities in northern Minas Gerais.

​Wanderlandia da Silva Rodrigues, 30, manager of the pulp mill, has been working there for a while 18 years and today he has a salary of R$1.333. This did not mean that he abandoned the fields of corn, beans, rice, cassava, onion and garlic. Leave the service at 13 Picks it up in the fields sometimes until it gets dark.

It also picks fruit to sell to Grande Sertão. On the last Friday of November (20), from 15H30 at 20h, she and her husband got together 257 kg of sleeves, which would earn him R$ 154.

“Life has improved a lot with the cooperative, everything has changed”, he says. “I bought a piece of furniture that I dreamed of, a six pack, a motorcycle.”

The settlement of accounts for fruit is done once a year, in July or August. The manager has already obtained R$ 2.400 extra in a good year, with mango deliveries , acerola, jabuticaba, sour coconut and cajá.

“Before I wasted fruit. I lost almost everything, I couldn’t eat it.”

Wanderlandia calls the reporter to see the bike, a Honda Bros. Before coming to work by bicycle, which forced her to get up at 4 am. He gained an hour of sleep a day, as he now gets up at 5 am to make coffee and leaves at 6 am for the factory.

Journalists Lalo de Almeida and Marcelo Leite traveled at the invitation of the IEB (International Institute of Education of Brazil) and CEPF (Partnership Fund for Critical Ecosystems).


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