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How One Small Business Helped Make the Rainforest “Too Valuable to Cut Down”

Sambazon – which stands for Sustainable Management of the Brazilian Amazon– Inc., a company based in San Clemente, California, was formed in 2000 when a couple of friends traveling in Brazil noticed the local popularity of the antioxidant-rich açai berry and saw an opportunity to introduce it to the United States.

They started by purchasing a container of frozen pulp and peddling it to juice bars in southern California. As sales took off in retail stores around the country, they began to look into more reliable and efficient ways to collect and process the açai berries, which grow in the wild in the Brazilian Rainforest.

In 2006, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) issued a $3.7 million loan to support Sambazon’s Brazilian subsidiary, Açai do Amapa Agroindustrial, in the construction of an environmentally sustainable, organic açai berry processing facility. The company saw the plant as a way to introduce sustainable industry into the rainforest while also securing a stable supply for its growing U.S. business.

“As a small business without a lot of assets, we were challenged in the world of credit. And obtaining financing was even harder for an overseas project,” recalls Sambazon CEO Ryan Black, who co-founded the business. “OPIC not only provided the fixed asset financing we needed; [they] also gave us the flexibility to grow our working capital as our business required. As an agricultural company with an annual crop period, this was immensely helpful to our success.”

The business has grown steadily since 2006, and today it provides income to 10,000 small-scale family farmers in Brazil who harvest the açai berries in the rainforest.

“Every year, we continue to certify more and more farmers in fair trade and organic farming,” says Black, who once described the company’s mission as “to use açai as a vehicle to promote sustainable development in the Amazon by making the trees too valuable to cut down.”

In the United States, the company’s açai juice drinks are now available in grocery stores and restaurants across the country. Explosive demand is also contributing to increased employment: since it began building its processing facility in the rainforest, Sambazon has more than doubled its U.S. employee base.

Sambazon is the winner of an Award for Corporate Excellence for its work with indigenous populations in the Brazilian Amazon. To learn more about Sambazon and the company’s work in Brazil, check out the latest OPIC in Action video

OPIC is the U.S. Government’s development finance institution, mobilizing private capital to help solve critical development challenges and, in doing so, advance U.S. foreign policy and national security. Learn more about how OPIC is helping transform agricultural development through innovative finance and investment solutions.

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