The Sateré-Mawé people lives close to the sources of the rivers Andirá and Marau, in the Amazon rainforest of Brazil. The link that they share with their land is so strong that the Brazilian constitution itself protects their right to live here, in this corner of the rainforest. It is here that the Sateré-Mawé people cultivates waranà, meaning “the beginning of all knowledge” in their language, a forest vine that grows to 12 metres in height, which gives buds that become productive after being transplanted to a glade. Its seeds are used to make various products, such as a “bread stick” (so called because it looks like bread) and a sacred drink (known as “Çapó”).
Over the last three years, the Sateré communities of lower Marau and lower Urupadi, Slow Food, IFAD, and the Federal Institute of Education, Science and Technology of the Amazon (IFAM) have developed a project focusing on young Sateré-Mawé people and strengthening production of agroecological foods.
One of the great successes of this project is the inclusion of Sateré-Mawé producers in the public notice for bids on provision of school food, so they can provide biodiversity-friendly food from the Sateré-Mawé culture for approximately 2,000 children at 50 schools in the region, and at the same time, this will increase income for 26 Sateré-Mawé farmers. The public notice for bids was a coordinated initiative by various local institutions (including IFAM, and the Indigenous Advocacy Centre (CTI)). The partnership between Slow Food and IFAM (which holds a technical course involving agroecology on the indigenous land of the Andirá Marau) has made it possible to carry out practical activities such as agroforestry systems, livestock farming, and involving young people in development of public policy.
Due to Covid-19, it was not possible to talk extensively to the entire community (which is still self-isolating), but we carried out an interview and reflected on the work carried out with the Tuxaua (local leader) of the Sateré-Mawé, Josibias Alencar, and with the Slow Food Project Facilitator, José Guedes, in a moment when the Tuxaua had rare access to a telephone in the city of Maués, Amazonas.
How was the community 10 or 20 years ago?
Tuxaua: Our community was founded in 2000, and since then we have been building and developing it. We did not have the opportunities that we have today to make sustainable use of all the natural resources, and to make healthy usufruct of all the food sources that we have in our community, in terms of food sovereignty and security.
A funny anecdote about something that happened during the project activities?
There are several funny stories from the project. One that stands out is when a young indigenous person, who didn’t speak Portuguese but could understand it very well, asked me what “Slow Food” meant. It was interesting, because we were setting up an agroforest (that requires a lot of work and effort), and he was one of the people working hard, and he was barefoot. So he was one of the people working for Slow Food, without knowing exactly what that meant, but he was working as hard as he could. On that day, the group gave him the nickname of Toiró, which means “let’s go!” in Sateré.
Which activity was most important in the process?
I think that the creation of the first public notice for bids for indigenous school food was the most important activity in the project. Thanks to this, Sateré-Mawé indigenous producers provided 103,000 reais (approx. 24,000 USD) of food to 50 schools in their communities. This means that 2,000 pupils will have better food and the indigenous producers will gain income. Stimulating traditional production and biodiversity is important in order to strengthen local food and nutrition security and sovereignty.
What is the most important change for the community brought by this project?
The change that this project brought in the process is related to the way the project was carried and the victory in the public notice for bids. In fact, the process of involving and empowering the students on the agroecology course, the local indigenous producers, and the leaders, was very important for the local government to understand, and for the school food policy to become a reality. This process was fundamental, and it generated a positive change.
In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, we should also mention the great importance of the four agroforests that were set up and the ten hen houses that were built. In fact, during a period of food insecurity (supply difficulties) 25 families have been able to produce and exchange food. As the Tuxaua said, we are contributing to food sovereignty in the community.
How do you think that the community will carry on in the future?
This project has contributed to a path that the communities were already following, and development of local projects was an important stage in this. Local involvement in developing municipal and even state public policy and strengthening local educational processes and the production chains of the Sateré-Mawé people may be important challenges for the future. Considering the level of pro-activity and interest in the community, it is possible that these goals will be achieved.
Did Covid-19 affect the activities of this project, and what was the response?
It certainly had an impact on the sequence of our work. This project enabled us to approve two more projects focusing on the food sovereignty of the Sateré-Mawé people, one with the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) and another with the Swiss Embassy in Brazil. However, with the interruption of travel, school classes, and everything else that happened, our projects had to stop, and we had to re-evaluate the sequence. so some face-to-face activities were cancelled. An important activity was training the local Slow Food community of young people through face-to-face workshops, and this will not be possible in this way, but as soon as it is possible, we will restart the activities.
How do you and the community that you worked with feel today about the Slow Food network? What would you like us to do together in the future?
Tuxaua: along this part of the river we did not know Slow Food. We feel very grateful for the positive results achieved, we can now enjoy food sovereignty and sustainable development, providing us with a better quality of life for the families in the community.
José: as Slow Food facilitator in Amazonas, I feel I am part of the movement, and I try to participate actively. In my opinion, following this process has given the community a better understanding of what Slow Food is, and its national and international network. In any case, they need continuity and more experiences in the national network, and a better understanding of what is done internationally. This global engagement is a challenge, as it requires an Internet connection to follow the issues, which is difficult in this area, apart from language issues, as the meetings are in English or Spanish. I hope that new projects will be signed for the community and the work will continue, as there are good ideas in the local area to be developed together with Slow Food.
How do you imagine the community in 10 years time?
Tuxaua: I imagine an autonomous community in all senses: in its social organisation and in matters of food security and sovereignty. I imagine it will be strengthened culturally, socially, and economically. I can see that the culture is changing, this is true, but we have a community, as I said. We can gain more recognition, strengthened in the struggle of the indigenous movement and the peoples fighting to improve the quality of life for people and society. We will organise to achieve this, and every day we get positive results!