Brazil, Market Access as Key to Autonomy

… for Rural Black Community

Published on IPSnews, by Mario Osava, July 29, 2008.

From the 16th century onward, the densely forested, mountainous terrain of the Ribeira River Valley made it an ideal area for runaway slaves to establish settlements of their own, known in Brazil as “quilombos”. But the geographical isolation that once offered refuge has now become an obstacle to the development of these Afro-Brazilian communities.

Ivaporunduva, one of dozens of quilombos spread across this valley in southeastern Brazil, was founded over 300 years ago. Local resident Vandir Rodrigues da Silva told IPS that the younger generations no longer leave the community en masse in search of employment “like they did 20 years ago” because the construction of a paved road a short raft ride away has made it easier to get to nearby towns and cities.

“In the past, we had no way of getting our bananas to the markets,” explained da Silva, 57. But now that this obstacle has been overcome, production has grown, there is work for everyone, and “the community is growing,” he said.

Da Silva regrets the fact that he himself was unable to get much of an education, because there was no means of transportation to reach faraway schools. But he is pleased that his three children have not faced this hurdle …

… Making use of banana fibre, formerly considered a waste product, is also important in terms of environmental education. The training of “almost the entire community” in the use of banana fibre was carried out by researchers from the Higher School of Agriculture at the University of São Paulo, said Raquel Pasinato, a biologist and coordinator of the local ISA field work team.

A cultural heritage inventory planned for the Ribeira River Valley could help identify and revive specific quilombo design features, that would lend the crafts produced here a unique identity and a sort of brand recognition.

The development of crafts production and other economic activities also promotes community organisation and self-management, a prerequisite for achieving the ultimate goal, which is autonomy, stressed Pasinato.

Many of the residents of Ivaporunduva and other quilombo communities are largely dependent on government assistance programmes like family allowances and rural pensions.

Ivaporunduva is one of the few quilombo communities that has been officially granted collective ownership of its land: some 2,710 hectares in all, of which three quarters is covered by forests.

The total estimated number of quilombos in the country has continued to grow since the 1988 constitution recognised the right of these Afro-Brazilian communities to ownership of the land they live on.

The National Institute of Colonisation and Agrarian Reform estimates the number at 2,500, while the National Coordinating Committee of Quilombo Rural Black Communities maintains that there could be as many as 5,000. (full text).

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