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The past year has continued to see the plight of the Quilombola community in Oriximina, in the Brazilian Amazon, impacted by political developments at a national level.
Two Quilombola family members milling cassava flour

A root vegetable helps defend the Amazon

In the past year, the Quilombola community in the Brazilian Amazon, have continued to be impacted by political developments at a national level.

Controversial proposals in Brazil’s conservative congress, where a powerful agribusiness lobby wields considerable influence, include liberalising strict environmental licensing regulations.

Legislation has now been passed that considerably relaxes restrictions on mining in the Amazon – studies are no longer required before mining can begin.

The impact of these decisions are felt on a daily basis by the Quilombolas, who face increasing pressure to relinquish land they have occupied for hundreds of years.

Quilombola summary
James Hutchinson

What we're doing

The focus of the ITL project in Oriximina has been to equip communities to resist this pressure to give up land. This has partly been addressed by helping them to secure land rights on the territory that they have occupied for hundreds of years. This has been, and will continue to be an ongoing battle.

But the challenge is a complex one – one of the biggest obstacles has been the lack of unity among the communities. The mining companies promise jobs for the Quilombolas and underplay the impact on their environment.

The reality of these promises is beginning to be exposed. Jobs given to Quilombolas by the mining companies are considerably lower paid than other staff, leaving them to live in poor conditions in boats outside the mining compound.

Perhaps more severe is the impact on the Quilombolas’ environment. In one community, a reservoir containing waste materials from mining has been built within 100 yards of their village.

Boats outside mining compound in Oriximina
James Hutchinson

The second rate jobs that the mining companies offer means that Quilomblas often have to sleep in boats outside the mining compound.

The impact of cassava flour

The project has sought to raise awareness among the communities of the plans of the mining companies, by disseminating otherwise complex information and sharing this with the Quilombolas in simple language.

Another tactic that has borne fruit has come in the form of enterprise. Cassava is a versatile root vegetable which grows naturally by the banks of the Amazon – it can make everything from cakes to chips. The project has enabled groups of women to sell cassava flour to local schools.

The production process, from harvesting of the cassava to the milling of the flour, typically involves the whole family. The value of this initiative is not only realised in the direct, financial impact on families, but also the visible example this shows to the community - that sustainable business from the land is a realistic prospect.

The future

The ITL project officially closed in July 2017. In addition to the Cassava business, there have been a number of approaches that have proved successful in uniting the Quilombolas to defend their land. Plans are currently in progress to build on this momentum in these communities and others across the Amazon.