Peace Please

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June 11th, 2012, Dartmouth, MA – The current disagreements over utilization of land in the Amazon region boils down to a foundational socio-environmental issue of failure to recognize the land as an anthropogenic landscape.  There are many diverse groups of people living in the region, and therefore, many social actors whom have different views of the land.  These different views are demonstrated in areas of deforestation and preservation, however, the extent of how much power and say each group truly has in terms of environmental issues is displayed by these areas as well.

It is apparent that for the past 40 years, spontaneous state-led development has lead to hasty deforestation by means large-scale industries, such as mining, as well as large-scale farms associated with global market production of soy. This exhibits how social actors with the most influence of power in environmental matters have been the elite, where wealthy farmers and exogenous industries have facilitated the mass deforestation of the Amazon.  With the elite having weighted say in governmental policies overseeing environmentally destructive action, it is clear that impunity has lead to a culture of corruption in the Amazon. In broad terms, impunity allows for the elite to be excused from the law, which leads to the invested interest in keeping the law enforcement from becoming too powerful and widespread.

The social actors whom have less of a voice in Amazonian environmental matters, include everyone else, being quilombos, whom are descendants of escaped slaves, squatters, coboclos, small scale farmers, grileisos/ land grabbers, sem terras, whom are landless miners, and indigenous peoples. Each group listed has a different view of the landscape, however, the group that identifies most with the environment includes the indigenous. Natives to the Amazon have descendants with roots dating back to nearly 11,000 years ago, proven by cave paintings intact on Serra da Lua and at Caverna da Itatupaoca in Monte Alegre, PA, Brazil.  These first inhabitants helped create the bio diverse ecosystem that makes up the Amazon by cultivating the original infertile soil to sustain themselves, leading to human selection of plant species.  With this history, it is evident that humans have in part made this environment.  Understanding this concept means identifying the Amazon as an anthropogenic landscape and mentally destructing the wall between nature and culture.

The implications of neglecting this historical background when shaping ones view of the landscape, in terms of preservation and development, is directly prevalent in the current environmental debates over the Amazon region.  The economic-minded elite, whom only account for human needs and neglect the environment, shape the scale of development by facilitating deforestation and spontaneous development.  The implications of leaving either the considerations of nature or culture out of environmental debates results an extremely ill balanced Amazon.  If both are equally considered, however, by modeling how indigenous view the landscape, then more sensible solutions about balancing preservation and development can arise.  Environmental policies in the Amazon must be recognized as a socio-environmental matter, one that equally accounts for the two most important foundations of the region, humans and nature.

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What is Sustainable Farming Anyway?

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May 31st, 2012, Santarém, PA – — Eight students from Roger Williams University, led by assistant professor Paola Prado and Jeremy Campbell, visited small-scale farmer Reinaldo Oliveira’s demonstrative unit of natural fibers off of Rodovia Alveraldo Sousa Martins at 11:00 a.m. on May 31st 2012, where curauá fibers are harvested in Santarém, PA. Reinaldo practices agroforestry, defined as sustainable forestry, where the land is not reforested for agriculture and is maintained by treating the forest as a diversified farm. The students had the opportunity to interview Reinaldo Oliveira to learn more about harvesting curauá.

Reinaldo Oliveira recently had started planting curauá 3 years ago, and has now removed himself from the previous traditional cultivation system depending on swidden agriculture.  This agricultural technique required the farmer to constantly move from plot to plot because cultivation depended on slash-and-burn, which is the cutting of trees in an area of the forest and burning it.  This method greatly reduced the fertility of the soil because during the process, soil would be burned as well. Swidden agriculture drives the farmer into a vicious cycle of exhausting all the nutrients in the land, which forces him to move onto another plot to farm.  Land in the Amazon region is currently in high demand, therefore, this agricultural system was extremely unsustainable.

Reinaldo Oliveira is no longer a subsistence farmer due to the cultivation of curauá because the plant does not require slash-and-burn and also builds up the biomass of the soil overtime. Now, instead of farming solely to provide for his families own basic consumption needs, he sells the crop to make 4,000 reais a ton per year.

Rawan Bukhamseen, a journalism student at RWU attending a study abroad course in Santarém, stated, “What a significant change in his families lifestyle, all thanks to curauá!”

The process of transforming the curauá leaf into fiber to be sold to other industries is a very simple process that doesn’t require an expensive machine.  This allows for processing curauá to be financially possible for Reinaldo Oliveira and his family. Instead of collecting plant and sending it off to be processed at a large industry, it’s more practicable to bring the machine straight to the location where the plant has been harvested.  Reinaldo processes curauá in the forest just 100 ft. from its plots, turning the original psalm-like hardy texture of the plant into a long bundle of soft-stringed fiber.

Overall, the cultivation of curauá is sustainable for the farmer as well as the environment, in that it’s socially just, as well as economically and environmentally viable.  Since the plant doesn’t require slash-and-burn practices, it allows the farmer to be successful enough to stay where he is and not be forced to move into the city.  Curauá is economically feasible because he receives a righteous economic profit of 4,000 reais a ton, and environmentally sustainable because cultivation requires no deforestation.

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Got Soy?

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May 30th, 2012, Santarém, PA – Eight students from Roger Williams University, led by assistant professor Dr. Paola Prado and Jeremy Campbell, visited the Brazilian Cargill site on Avenida Cuiaba at 2:00 p.m. on May 30th, 2012, where mass input and output of soy takes place.  Cargill is a large-scale, successful global distributer of soy and began as a family-owned food business in 1865 in the state of Iowa in the United States.  The privately held industry now employs 139,000 people in 70 countries, and owns 6,000 ports as an international producer and marketer of food, agricultural, financial and industrial products and services. The students had an opportunity to interview Jose Francisco, 24-year Cargill representative, and tour the grounds to see how tons of soy are brought in by land and sea and distributed out to the global market.

Cargill’s goal of becoming the premier global food and agriculture company pushed a renewed emphasis on innovation and technology, as the company evolved from trading soybeans, to processing them into meal and oil, to producing high-value natural vitamin E from a soybean byproduct. The company moved from trading corn, to processing corn into ethanol and fructose, to creating a whole new family of renewable products.

As a trader in 1865, Cargill modeled its business practices under the phrase, “Our word is our bond.”

In 1995, Cargill restated this promise to customers and employees by formally adopting its set of Guiding Principles, an ethical standard, including security and health policies, by which the industry has conducted business throughout the world.

Currently, more than half of Cargill’s employees live and work in developing countries, and in Brazil alone there are plants, warehouses, port terminals, and branch offices in about 180 cities in 13 different states, as well as 6,000 employees. Many local large-scale soy farmers sell their harvested soy product to Cargill in order for the industry to distribute the product.  Cargill is associated with globally providing ingredients for beer, sweets and chocolate products, processed food, dairy products, and baked products, such as bread, pizzas, and muffins, and providing product for sugar, milk and cotton suppliers.

The industry is largely mechanized in order to accommodate the tons of soy brought in and distributed out.  The students witnessed large, 18-wheeler trucks with trailers filled with soybeans dropping off their load in the front of the industry. The truck was parked in front of a large sifter in the ground where the soy was inputted, locked into place, and gradually tilted to release the load until about 40 feet in the air.  When the trailer’s entire load was emptied into the sifter, the truck was finally lowered back down. The students also traveled by boat to tour Cargill’s water-bounded mechanization and witnessed large-scale industrialized structures extending hundreds of feet outward into the river. These machines export soy and are operated by Cargill employees.

Overall, the growing Cargill industry contributes significantly to the global market by providing ingredients for an array of different food-based products.  The industry also serves as a reliable customer for many large-scale soy farmers in Santarém.

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Minha Casa Minha Vida

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May 29th, 2012, Santarém, PA – Eight students from Roger Williams University led by assistant professor, Dr. Paola Prado and assistant professor Dr. Jeremy Campbell visited a government controlled deforestation site on Rodovia Fernando Guilhon in Santarém, PA at 8:00 a.m. on May 29th, 2012.  The site was under massive construction, where plots for 2,000 homes were in the process of being built in order to makeup a future low-income housing closed gate community called Minha Casa Minha Vida, meaning, “my house my life”.  The students witnessed bulldozers clearing the landscape of all vegetation, aside from the few Brazil nut trees still standing.  Brazilian law protects these trees from destruction, which is why this was the only vegetation seen having survived the vast deforestation of the area.  Students also witnessed many military men stationed at the site, as well as dozens of construction workers building plots for future homes. Two journalism students at RWU attending a study abroad course in Santarém, Rawan Bukhamseen and Tori Mordasky, whom make up Communications 430 Special Topics Team Dolphin, had the opportunity to interview stationed militiamen.

Minha Casa Minha Vida is one of the first government-controlled invasions, where the government is finally stepping in to promote organized development. During the 1960’s in the Amazon, government policies encouraging occupation brought about large-scale spontaneous urbanization, as an immensity of diverse populations, from squatters and small scale farmers to miners and large-scale farmers poured into the region.  This space-filling project, which for squatters gave land without people to people without land, eventually resulted in huge, unorganized squatter villages made by squatters in surrounding cities, such as Alvorada in Santarém.  Minha Casa Minha Vida exhibits one of the government’s first attempts at acknowledging this disorganized growth and making efforts to finally support a system of organized development. This priority is new to the region, and completion of the community is estimated to take a maximum of 10 years.

RWU students Rawan Bukhamseen and Tori Mordasky interviewed Sargent Cavor, a military officer stationed at the entrance of the worksite. When asked to explain why he thought military presence was necessary at Minha Casa Minha Vida, Sargent Cavor replied,  “All problems stem from development, and with our presence that’s all they need to scare them off.”

The Sargent spoke of scaring off land grabbers and squatters whom find their way onto the land.  The military are stationed at the site to keep the area safe from violence was well as possible invasions.  Overall, the governmental support in creating Minha Casa Minha Vida establishes organized control over development, where the government has stepped in in an attempt to build a community for the people.  This represents an extreme shift in development from the past, when the people were left to build their own neighborhoods after government policies encouraging occupation brought them into the region.

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Expecting a Flood?

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May 28th, 2012, Santarém, PA — Eight students from Roger Williams University led by assistant professor, Dr. Paola Prado and assistant professor Dr. Jeremy Campbell visited a beach in Alter Do Chão, Para, Brazil at 11:30 a.m. on May 28th, 2012. The students had the opportunity to observe Amazonian beach culture first-hand, revealing aspects of the river life here in Brazil.  Many beachside businesses are oriented towards the river in that they rely on the pattern of the rainy season to bring in customers.  The number of beach-dwellers drawn to the shore of the Tapajós River directly correlate with this cyclic weather pattern. The culture of this environment, including riverside food, transportation, and people were demonstrated in Alter Do Chão.  Also, Jillian Hamlin, a journalism student at RWU attending a study abroad course in Santarém, had the opportunity to interview beach-dweller, Sonia González.

Beach environments in the Amazon region are greatly affected by the annual weather patterns, which determine the duration of the rainy season. In January, the rainy season begins, gradually rising the height of the tide through March, when beach businesses receive barely any customers.  By May, the flood stage is at its peak, meaning the beach is completely flooded and as a result, some businesses are completely submerged underwater. Also, this time of year is detrimental for fisherman; as they cant sell any fish without people on the beach. Little commerce is seen during this time of year, and many surrounding hotels and restaurants also suffer from lack of beach-going customers.  During June, the rainy season comes to an end and water in the river system begins receding to the Atlantic Ocean, and by late September, the riverside beaches are completely revealed.  This time of year brings in many customers and riverside businesses, such as canoe, homemade jewelry and food stands, flourish for about 3 months until the rainy season cycles again. This weather pattern even affects Brazilian school systems, as the southern hemisphere summer holiday lasts from December to early January, when the river tides are at their lowest and beaches are booming.  The extreme tidal range in the Amazon spans 10 meters (32 ft.), significantly affecting Amazonian lifestyles

RWU student, Jillian Hamlin, interviewed Sonia González, a hippie whom had traveled to the Amazon region from her hometown Tomé, Chile.  Sonia was crafting stringed bracelets for sale, resting on wooden pallet that was wading in the water. She wore glasses, a sunhat, long mismatched feather earrings, a blue bathing suit top and a skirted cover-up.

Jillian began the interview by asking why she had traveled so far from home, to which Sonia González replied, “The forest has brought me here.”

Sonia was a preservationist, whom cared specifically for the destruction of the environment and the current deforestation of the rainforest.  Her migration was completely divorced from the social trend of appeal to economic opportunity, which currently stimulates considerable movement into the region.  In her hometown in Chile, much of the forest had already been destroyed.  This inspired her journey to the Amazon, where she believed there was still hope in saving what’s left of the forest, given currently only 20% has been deforested. Sonia was drawn the here by means of the surviving connection between landscape and society, which she explained was completely lost in Tomé, Chile.

Overall, the beach in Alter Do Chão, Para, displayed the culture of this Amazonian environment, where lifestyles are greatly oriented towards tidal patterns. Numerous riverside restaurants selling fish and jewelry stands selling homemade bracelets and earrings exhibited the start of the dry season, when river tides are significantly receding.  Once the tide completely ebbs by late September, riverside and surrounding businesses will prosper and beaches will be filled with people once again.

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Culture Shock

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May 27th, 2012, Santarém, PA — Eight students from Roger Williams University, led by communications assistant professor, Dr. Paola Prado and anthropology assistant professor, Dr. Jeremy Campbell, visited a traditional Brazilian market called Mercadáo in Santarém, PA at 1:00 p.m. on May 27th 2012. The market was located directly across from a harbor on Avenida Tapajós, along the Tapajós River boardwalk.  Santarém’s localized economic culture was demonstrated at this event, as there were hundreds of business stands selling a variety of items, including food, clothing, and arts and craft knick-knacks.

Business stands were grouped according to their merchandise, where blue tarp-covered stands at the entrance to the market, closest to the boardwalk, sold fruits and vegetables including bananas, apples, and corn.  Inside the large, open building behind the rows of food stands, were many kitchen cubicles lined up along both walls.  One chef manned each kitchen and prepared dozens of fresh river fish for market customers, including the pirarucu, a 3-foot long Amazonian fish with a red-spotted fin, and an elongated, flat head resembling that of a crocodile.

“What an exotic-looking fish! It closely resembles a fish from the Mesozoic era,” stated Rawan Bukhamseen, a journalism student at RWU attending a study abroad course in Santarém.

On the opposite side of the building were long rows of tables selling a plethora of diverse foods, underneath a large, open area shaded by a tin rooftop.  There were hundreds of crates overflowing with piles of fruits and vegetables, including tomatoes, red and green peppers, lettuce, melon, asparagus, kiwi, papaya, guaraná, acai, passion-fruit, and Castanha-do-Pará (Brazil-nuts).  Also, there were dozens of different kinds of grain lined up in large 60 lb. bags labeled with the individual price and variety on a piece of cardboard propped up in each bag. Here there were hundreds of market customers shopping for food, bargaining prices with sellers left and right.

The arts and crafts stands were representative of the city’s culture, in that each sold unique hand-made items from different indigenous Amazonians.  These items included beaded earrings, bracelets and necklaces made of Brazilian seeds, small hand-painted woodcarvings of river fish, riverboats, canoes, Indians, feathered hairpins, and hand-painted pottery.  Overall, the atmosphere created by the Mercadáo demonstrated a culturally rich abundance of the local Brazilians’ efforts to create an economic-orientated event.

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Body, Mind, & Spirit

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May 26th, 2012, Santarém, PA, — Eight students from Roger Williams University visited the Pastoral do Menor, PaMen (Holy Cross Ministry to Children in Brazil) at 1:45 p.m. on May 26th, 2012, a center founded by Brother Ronald Hein in 1988 in Santarém, Para. The Pastoral is closely affiliated with Amizade, the students’ volunteer service promoting global service learning, and was created in response to the urgent problems of at-risk children and adolescents in Brazil.  The mission of this organization is to promote and defend the lives of these children, making society aware of situations where boys and girls are abused. Founder Brother Ronald Hein greeted the student group with a brief explanation of the work of the mission, and then eight young girls who regularly attend the center performed a dance number for the guests.

According to Hein, the religious foundation on which the Pastoral do Menor is based respects a Biblical quote from Matthew 18,5, “Whoever receives one of these little ones in my name, receives me.” The Catholic-focused objective of the center follows the tradition of Father Basil Moreau, founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross, also known as PaMen.

“The Pastoral offers boys and girls a holistic formation which betters their lives and prepares them to be agents of a new society as responsible citizens,” said Brother Ronal Hein.

Currently there are 1,850 boys and girls whom participate in the program at PaMen.  Different programs offered at the Pastoral do Menor are geared towards the formation of body, mind and spirit in a secure environment.  “Body” metaphorically includes health education, medical and dental attention, and supervised play and sport activities.  “Mind” includes cultural development through music, art, dance, tutoring, computer training, and development of trade skills suck as cooking and woodwork.  “Spirit” includes classes, group discussions and one-on-one attention to personal development, human relations, and prayer and celebration of the Word of God.

Eight girls performed a dance number to a set of different Brazilian-style songs, dressed in matching red leotards and flowing knee-length skirts printed with colorful flowers, as well as a matching red flower in their hair, tucked behind their ears.  Through dance rehearsals, the young girls practice cultural development through a creative outlet.  Overall, the Pastoral do Menor offers an atmosphere where values are taught and experienced.  The center provides children with opportunities to discover their gifts, build ability to resist outside pressures, and to grow in self-esteem.

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