From Porto Velho we will set
off by coach for our next destination,
the Amazon state of
About a third
of the way through this journey we will have to wake up to cross the Rio
Madeira. This crossing, the shunting of the coaches and trucks onto the
old barge, the surprising coldness of the Amazon night, the beautiful
sight of small town lights reflecting on the ebony sheen of the river
and the slow movement of the barge, will impress upon us that we really
are amidst the raw landscape of the Amazon.
After the bumpy ten
hour coach journey through 450 kilometres of pitch black forest night
we will arrive in Rio Branco, the capital of Acre.
Acre is one of the
most isolated areas of Brazil. Just ask in Rio de Janeiro how many people
have been to Acre and you will very quickly find that virtually no-one
has ventured to the Amazon regions most westerly state. It is one
of the smallest states in the Amazon region at 153,149.9 square kilometres,
approximately three fifths of the size of the UK (equivalent to the size
of England and Wales). Sixty one per cent of its 417,718 inhabitants live
in its main urban centres, Rio Branco, Cruzeiro do Sul, Tarauacá,
Sena Madureira and Brasiléia. The climactic conditions are the
same as those in Rondônia.
After breakfast we
will meet young rubber tappers from the National Council of Rubber Tappers
(CNS). The rubber tappers are at the centre of one of the most vaunted
sustainable development initiatives in the Brazilian Amazon, the extractive
reserve. Support for extractive reserves forms a key component of the
G7 Pilot Programme.
see extractive reserves as an important example of sustainable development.
They are a form of nature conservation reserve but with a key difference:
their rubber tapper inhabitants are encouraged to farm the forest sustainably
to make a living. Rubber tappers are permitted to use their extractive
harvesting techniques, such as the collection of latex from the rubber
tree, Brazil nut collection, limited crop production and fruit farming.
These techniques are encouraged because they have a limited impact upon
the forest environment.
Tensions and conflicts
of interest are beginning to arise between environmentalists and rubber
tappers over the use of extractive reserves. South of Rio Branco, in an
area called Acrelândia, rubber tappers are beginning to log trees
to sell to increase their income. This has sparked a heated debate. The
felling is part of a G7 Pilot Programme initiative to encourage selective
and sustainable logging in order to prevent rubber tappers engaging in
other activities which might be more destructive.
from INPE, an Amazon environmental research institute, fear that the rubber
tappers might exceed their quotas and that they may have to be prevented
from further cutting.
This example underlines
the key question hanging over extractive reserves: can preserving the
rainforest be compatible with meeting the social and economic needs of
Accompanied by our
expert partners, we will spend our time in Acre seeking an answer to this
question. We begin in Rio Branco and hope
to meet NGO, Catholic
Church and Government representatives who have been involved in the development
of extractive reserves. We hope to meet representatives from the National
Council of Rubber Tappers itself, the Amazonia Workers Centre (CTA), the
churchs land reform organisation (CPT), the state universitys
Acre Foundation for Technology (FUNTAC) and the Governor of Acre.
For the rest of the
day we will tour Rio Branco. Rio Branco sounds like a town from a questionable
spaghetti western. Straddling the Rio Acre, it is a truly rough town.
Amidst the modern air-conditioned restaurants, banks, small shopping malls
and government buildings, are reminders that this is one of the most isolated
towns in all of Brazil. By the towns docks or, more accurately,
waterfront, provisions are sold to peasant farmers and rubber tappers
heading by boat back into the forest to their settlements and holdings.
Here they also bring their forest produce to sell to the traders. Your
Christmas Brazil nuts may very well have been traded at these docks.
The streets of Rio
Branco are filled with rubber tappers biding their time before the outward
journey, ranchers and businessmen, soldiers from the states barracks,
Indians selling gifts and NGO personnel on a break between assignments
in the forest. The town has an impoverished shanty town district where
rubber tappers and peasants who failed to survive in the forest now live.
The following day
we will travel approximately 150 kilometres by coach to the town of Xapuri.
We will travel through
the forest along highway BR-317. Half way through this journey we hope
to stop at a large cattle ranch and talk to the ranch manager and ranch
hands to hear their views on extractive reserves and the development needs
of Acre and its people. Afterwards we continue our journey to Xapuri.
Xapuri rests on the
banks of the river from which it takes its name. It was both the birthplace
and scene of the murder of Chico Mendes.
In Xapuri we hope
to meet local rubber tappers. Our objective in Xapuri is to begin to explore
whether extractive reserves can meet the needs of rubber tappers. We will
discuss, and some participants may visit, the Chico Mendes Extractive
Reserve. This was one the first extractive reserves set up by the Brazilian
Government. We will visit a rubber tapper settlement to find out how a
rubber tapper family lives and works. This will not provide us with a
representative view of the lives of all rubber tappers. For example, rubber
tappers in the Alto Juruá reserve in the north of Acre lead a much
more isolated existence and do not benefit from easy access to social
infrastructure or markets for their produce. We will try and get a general
picture from our meetings with rubber tapper representatives of the National
Council of Rubber Tappers.
We also hope to meet
with members of the Agro-Extractive Co-operative of Xapuri (CAEX). This
was set up to serve the needs of rubber tappers on the Chico Mendes Extractive
Reserve. Inaugurated in 1989, this initiative was designed to increase
the income generated from the produce of extractive activities on the
reserve. Although it has been heavily subsidised by Western NGOs, the
Agro-Extractive Co-operative of Xapuri has encountered severe difficulties
in achieving its aim. Many of its problems have been due to the labour
intensive character of extractive techniques and the fact that extractive
products are difficult to produce in large enough quantities to be competitive
on the market. We will investigate the problems of the Agro- Extractive
Co-operative of Xapuri during our visit.
We would like to
complete our visit to Xapuri and its surrounding areas with a meeting
with its ex-rubber tapper activist Mayor Julio Barbosa. He has been instrumental
in the campaign to promote extractive reserves and advance the social
struggle of rubber tappers in Acre.
From Xapuri we return
by coach to Rio Branco for our flight to our next Amazon destination,
Manaus, the capital of Amazonas state.