Based on the same values as the Nobel Peace Prize, the United Earth Amazonia Award has been created by the Nobel family with the aim of increasing public awareness about the need to unite the peoples and nations of Earth to construct a collective and sustainable future.
The ceremony to award the first prize (also known as the Green Nobel), was held a few days ago in the capital of the Brazilian state of Amazonas, Manaus. According to UN estimates, the world is home to a total of 476 million indigenous people across 90 countries, each with their own language, culture and lands. Around 150 million of them live in tribal societies.
Indigenous peoples are the most effective custodians of the world’s biodiversity, and this is particularly true in Brazil, home to some of the most unspoilt rainforest in the world. The fight to protect their land from mining and deforestation has been brutal and bloody, especially in the last years of Jair Bolsonaro’s government, when the pandemic was used as a cover to continue illegal activities of deforestation and land grabbing.
Amazonia has become an international symbol for the fight to defend biodiversity: Its forests and grasslands, crossed by rivers, are home to more than 10% of the world’s identified wild species. This richest of ecosystems plays a crucial role in stabilizing the global climate, trapping carbon and shaping meteorological models. But despite the struggle of indigenous peoples and environmental activists, it still suffers from a constant, widespread deforestation, which threatens not only the biodiversity of its biome but also humanity’s survival on this planet.
It comes as no surprise, therefore, that the very first United Earth Amazonia Award has been given to the Sateré-Mawé, whose community of 14,000 people distributed across around 120 villages has been fighting for their cultural and physical survival and to ensure their food sovereignty in a region of 8,000 square kilometers around the sources of the Andirá and Márau rivers.
Supporting indigenous communities and their traditional food systems means preserving the world’s biodiversity. To this end, Slow Food has been working with the Sateré-Mawé since 2002, when the Sateré-Mawé Native Waranà Presidium was started. In the forest, the Sateré-Mawé gather the seedlings growing from seeds that have fallen at the feet of the “mothers of waranà,” wild lianas that can reach a height of 12 meters. They transplant the seedlings in clearings where they grow into fruit-producing bushes. The seeds, rich in phosphorous, magnesium, potassium, vitamins and tannins, are processed traditionally to obtain an extract which combats fatigue and stimulates cognitive functions and memory.
Known in the global north as guarana, this extract has become a popular food supplement. Inspired by high demand, the food industry has forced many farmers outside of the indigenous lands to use cultivars obtained through cloning. The Consortium of Sateré-Mawé Producers (CPSM) was started to manage the market in a respectful and sustainable way and belongs to the Sateré-Mawé General Tribal Council (CGTSM), the largest body of political representation for this indigenous people. The CPSM works on the management, control and marketing of waranà em bastão (waranà bread) and powdered waranà. It also represents the Sateré-Mawé producers at national and international events and promotes indigenous issues in various political contexts.
An essential role in the waranà plant’s pollination is played by the canudo bee (Scaptotrigona xantothrica), known in the indigenous language as Awi’a sese, or “the excellent bee.” Also a Slow Food Presidium due to its close ecological connection with the waranà and the ecosystem in general, this hardy bee produces an extraordinary honey with an intense, gamy flavor. The Sateré-Mawé people’s connection with the wild stingless bees dates back to the pre-Columbian period. According to popular legend, when Anumaré Hit rose into heaven, transforming into the sun, he invited his sister Uniawamoni to follow him. She was tempted, but chose instead to stay on Earth in the form of a bee so that she could help the Sateré-Mawé people look after the sacred waranà forests. This myth, passed down through the generations, reflected what the ancient Mawé already knew and what we are now rediscovering: that wild stingless bees are responsible for pollinating at least 80% of the plant species of Amazonia. Without them, the forest would disappear.
In 2020, the Sateré-Mawé’s waranà obtained a Brazilian appellation of origin. “Obtaining the Appellation of Origin means certifying that the product, with these specific characteristics linked to human and natural factors, exists only in this distinct geographic area,” explained Maurizio Fraboni at the time.
An Italian development socioeconomist, he has been working with the Sateré-Mawé for decades. “In the case of the waranà, there’s more: the basin formed by the Andirá and Marau rivers is the gene bank for guaranà, the only one in the world. It’s an ecological and cultural sanctuary constructed over the course of the centuries.”