in the ally
Beaches with emerald-green or deep blue seas, the Atlantic Forest framing the landscape, mangroves and sand banks (restingas) teeming with life. Rivers of translucent waters with colorful fishes swimming among underwater gardens, food cooked on wood-burning stoves, starry skies, sing-alongs – fortunately, these postcard-like scenarios still exist, spread along the coastal areas and in the countryside. These areas extend from the Atlantic to the Pacific in South America, sharing the same exuberant and preserved natural environment and cultural diversity.
However, it is not a simple task to maintain such diverse and rich landscapes and cultures. The opposing forces are very strong: unplanned urban occupation leading to sprawling cities, the predatory tourism model that displaces traditional communities with huge resorts, in addition to developmentist projects that overrun biomes to build large engineering projects, such as dams, industrial plants, ports, and mining facilities.
The caretakers of life
Traditional communities, Indigenous peoples, riverbank dwellers, extractivists, and Quilombolas have struggled with mettle, seeking allies and strategies to keep their traditional way of life, generate income, and implement sustainable businesses. The struggle to remain in traditionally occupied territories, which because of this more organic form of occupation have maintained their cultural and biological diversity, is also one of the strategies put forward by the CASA Fund.
The support to communities, projects, and initiatives that ensure the continuity of these human spaces for living in harmony with nature and cultural production, with capacity building and empowerment, information and communication, as well as infrastructure for income generation and community tourism initiatives, have benefited thousands of people and have improved their living conditions.
“Here we are happy, but ongoing struggle ensures this space. I’m proud of my ancestors, I’m descendant from local traditional peoples, fishers, farmers. We identify ourselves with the local traditional people. We have in our faces, in our appearance much from the Indigenous peoples, our ancestors. And also, in the way we live on this land, respecting nature and also partying a lot.” Thus Painho, as Roberto Carlos de Lima Ribeiro is known, introduces his Prainha do Canto Verde community, near Fortaleza, in Ceará state.
“It’s a big fight, against very powerful people, but with modesty, fraternity, and God’s presence, we are winning. Today, we are an example for other communities, showing that it’s possible to live well, have a place to live, a job, a business.”
Multiplied challenges and dreams
Just as with Painho, Robson Dias Possidonio, of the Trindade Boat Owners and Traditional Fishers Association (ABAT) in the Rio de Janeiro southern coast, is also overcoming all the pressures and changing his reality with projects supported by the CASA Fund. The same is happening in the communities of Quilombo da Fazenda in Ubatuba and the Juréia Park Residents Association in Iguape, the former, in the northern São Paulo coast, and the latter in the deep south of that state.
These communities face real estate speculation and constraints imposed by conservation units, as Environmental Protection Areas and Ecological Parks developed along the coast to stop deforestation of the Atlantic Forest. Despite the positive aspects of the creation of these conservation units, they cause serious conflicts with traditional communities that already occupied those areas and are now unable to fully enjoy their natural resources that they always relied on for their physical and cultural survival.
“I think we all cause some impact living off the land. People need to eat the fish. I reckon we cause very little impact – compared to large industrial fishing boats, large companies and what they do these days. And the Park doesn’t see this,” says an indignant Robson. He defends the right of his community to live off the fish that always fed them, but are now are protected by the Serra da Bocaina National Park that stretches to the ocean.
While negotiations with Park authorities proceed, the Trindade community gets ready and attempts to find alternatives to remain in the territory they have occupied for many generations.
Roots to be cultivated
The Quilombo da Fazenda community, which still seeks legal recognition of its territory as a quilombo, faces a serious challenge because its traditional area overlaps the Serra do Mar State Park Picinguaba Unity. With restrictions affecting the occupation of the area, the community had begun to fall apart. Many families had moved out in search for survival.
Production of Juçara palm tree fruit juice, construction of a community kitchen, and programs boosted with the Quilombola culture to receive tourists were some of the solutions to tackle that reality. Likewise, the Trindade community also received training to provide boat rides for tourists attracted to that beach. With its project of community tourism, Prainha do Canto Verde has attracted many tourists because of the beach’s beauty but also because people wish to share a bit with the traditional community, enjoying their simple and healthy life.
“The CASA Fund support was very important,” said Painho, who lives in Canto Verde. “It came to strengthen our struggle, supporting our communication and organization work, with our young people learning how to produce radio shows, so they could reflect on their situation here.”
“ABAT had never submitted a project proposal,” explained Robson. “Where else would we find a funder to help us this way? We got wind that the CASA Fund was an institution that helped small initiatives like ours. At that time, they supported communities that would be affected by the World Cup and the Serra da Bocaina National Park was a World Cup park.”
World Cup promise and the real legacy
Robson speaks of the first project prepared by ABAT with support from the Atlantic Forest Permaculture and Ecovillages Institute (IPEMA), an important partner of the CASA Fund. The CASA Fund created this special program to support communities affected by the World Cup. Many projects – in urban areas, on the coast, and in the countryside – were part of this strategy to strengthen the population in the face of large governmental projects and initiatives to receive tourists during the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
One of these governmental programs was “World Cup Parks,” a joint initiative of the Ministries of the Environment and Tourism that selected federal, state, and municipal parks, located near or in one of the 12 cities hosting the soccer games. The planned R$ 668 million investment was intended to upgrade park infrastructure to receive tourists and prolong their stay in Brazil.
This program failed. Less than one million reals were usefully invested. Communities that had hoped for the benefits, as well as the Brazilian population at large, never received the so-called “World Cup legacy.” However, somehow this federal government’s failed initiative had a positive impact on communities that sought on their own to get training and information, and to achieve change.
Even very isolated villages in the Brazilian outback, such as the São Francisco community, in the Pantanal, found community-based tourism to be a means for their self-affirmation, networking with other partners, and income generation. This tourism activity also involved young people, reinforcing their sense of belonging and building the collective.
In the last ten years, the CASA Fund has supported around 50 projects that contributed to protect historic, cultural, and natural heritages, thereby strengthening communities in their traditional way of life, helping to develop community tourism, and enabling the quest for alternatives for local economies.
|Text by: Angela Pappiani – Journalist, cultural producer at Ikore and CASA’s advisor since its foundation.
English translation by Jones de Freitas.