The Sertão do São Francisco district is situated in the far north of the state of Bahia, in the northeast of Brazil, a semiarid region dominated by the Caatinga, a unique ecosystem found nowhere else in the world.
The passion fruit (Passiflora cincinnata) known also as maracujá do mato grows here. A wild perennial, the fruit can withstand long periods of drought and grows mostly in the so-called fundos de pasto, the common pastureland of traditional communities.
When ripe, it has green skin and white flesh which conceal dozens of tiny seeds. It is extremely fragrant and has a much more intense, acidulous flavor than the common passion fruit (P. edulis). It has high nutritional value (containing potassium, iron, phosphorous, calcium and vitamins) and is famous for its relaxing effect.
Traditionally, unlike the more commercialized varieties, such as the yellow or sour passion fruit, the maracujá do mato is not cultivated and is picked by local families who eat it fresh or drink its juice. They also use the leaves and skin to make infusions.
Like many other wild species, it is threatened by human intervention, especially by the spread of monocultures and the introduction of intensively irrigated plants.
This is why, in 2011, it was loaded onto the Ark of Taste as a species at risk of extinction, and since then it has been promoted by the Slow Food network. Today it is used as an ingredient in jams, and the communities that protect it take part in regional food festivals.
The Presidium involves the Cooperativa Agropecuária Familiar di Uauá, Canudos e Curaçá (Coopercuc), the association of small-scale farmers of Fartura (APAF), the association of athletes, students, and farmers of Lages (ASEL) Marcos (AMOMA), the Watermelon community, and a number of partners in research centers, universities and commercial networks in the region. The aim is to preserve the fruit, develop its cultivation (alongside its harvesting), promote sustainable production techniques, and boost awareness and consumption of its products. The Presidium also encourages discussion and exchange promoting food security and sovereignty, relating to the native fruits of the Caatinga, and their commercialization.
Sertão do São Francisco, Bahia, Northeast Brazil.
Fifteen producers are united in four associations Associação comunitária Agropastoril Curral Novo Jacaré; Associação dos desportistas, estudantes e agricultores da comunidade de Lages; Associação dos pequenos agropecuaristas de Fartura; Associação de moradores do Marcos), in the Cooperativa Agropecuária Familiar de Canudos, Uauá e Curaçá and in the Comunidade da Melancia.
The Umbu (also known as the Imbù) is native to northeast Brazil, where it grows in the Caatinga, a semi-arid scrub typical of the region (the Sertão). The name of this tree and its fruit comes from the indigenous phrase y-mb-u, which means ‘tree that gives drink’.
The productive cycle of this wild tree begins after ten years of growth, whereafter it bears fruit once a year, producing up to 300kg in a single harvest once it reaches maturity. Due to its robust root system, composed of a great network of tubers that can store liquid throughout the Sertão’s dry season, the Umbu tree can hold up to 3,000 liters of water during the dry months. This tree is an important resource for one of the poorest and driest regions of Brazil, where local agriculture is based on corn, beans, sheep and goats (dried and salted goat meat is one of the most important local foods).
The fruits of the Umbu tree are collected by hand—gently, as they are easily damaged—and set in baskets and bags (in the past these fruits were also collected by beating the branches with long poles, to the detriment of their quality). The small, firm fruits are round and vary in size: they can be as small as cherries or as large as lemons. They have a smooth peel which ranges in color from green to yellow when the fruit is ripe. The fruits are juicy and flavorful, and their succulent flesh hides a large dark stone.
The Umbu can be eaten fresh or made into jams or other sweetened preserves. In the Sertão, it is cooked until the peel and pulp separate. The liquid is then drained off, mixed with sugar and cooked for another two hours. After the pulp has been reduced to a glossy gelatin (called geléia), it retains a slightly astringent flavor. In addition to the thick paste made by this long, slow boiling process, the Umbu is also used for fruit juice, vinegar (the juice pressed from overripe fruit) and jam (made by pressing layers of dried Umbu together). Another delicacy is the compote made by mixing the fruit and sugar together in jars. The fresh pulp, or—if the fresh fruit is not in season, the vinegar—is mixed with milk and sugar to make umbuzada, a rich beverage that is a common substitute for a full meal.
Until a few years ago, no one paid much attention to this fruit. But the work of the NGO IRPAA/PROCUC, with international cooperation (European Commission and the Austrian cooperation – KMB Linz diocese, Austrian government, NGO Horizon 3000) has enhanced the profile of Umbu. These groups have worked to improve the public reputation of Caatinga products and in 2003 supported the formation of the COOPERCUC cooperative, which produces transformed Umbu products.
With support from the Slow Food Foundation and Horizon 3000, the first small workshops were opened at the beginning of 2006, where the fruit can now undergo an initial processing before being passed to the cooperative. The Presidium, since the beginning, has adopted a production protocol to ensure the quality of the preserves and now is working to raise the profile of the products on the local, national and international markets.
Sertão do São Francisco area
144 gatherers and processors from the Coopercuc cooperative