A group of young Brazilians has taken environmental action after a mining company, which is allegedly occupying their land illegally, has caused a catalogue of environmental problems, threatening the survival of their people. As winners of a 2018 Lush Spring Prize Intentional Projects award, which recognises great ideas and projects up to one year old, the Agentes Agroflorestais Quilombolas (Quilombolas Agroforestry Agents), known as the AAQ, has received £10,000 to help restore the community’s land to its former life-giving glory.
A quilombo is a rural settlement founded by those descended from enslaved people, who escaped from plantations in Brazil. 130 years after the country abolished slavery, the Brazilian government ruled that the descendants of slave-era quilombos would be granted titles to their lands. However, thirty years on from that decision and according to a variety of sources, including Brazil’s National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA), Repórter Brasil, and Comissão Pro-Índio, it’s estimated that out of the 3,000 or more quilombos in Brazil, only around 200 of them have received their land rights.
This has lead to numerous land battles all over the country. But one group, hoping to lead by example with its holistic approach, is the AAQ. Founded in 2017 by 20 young members living in the quilombola territory of St. Rosa dos Pretos, the AAQ rose up in response to the mining company Vale SA, which has dramatically reduced the region’s natural resources over the course of 40 years. The list of grievances includes: deforestation, siltation of its rivers and streams, reduction of natural waterways, and endangering the natural habitat and its wildlife, all of which has severely impacted on the surrounding communities’ access to clean water and the ability to grow food. Furthermore the gradual loss in self-sustainment has physically and mentally affected the local quilombo population.
“We want food autonomy that generates abundance, not scarcity,” says Josiclea Pires da Silva, AAQ’s coordinator.
One of the ways in which the AAQ is seeking to restore St. Rosa dos Pretos’ habitat is through the implementation and management of agroforestry, which like intercropping sees the planting of trees on the same plot of land as crops and livestock. By working with nature as their ancestors did, agroforestry typically leads to higher yields and reduces operating costs. What’s more it help derive clean water and produces enriched soil that ultimately helps to encourage a diverse range of food and resources.
“Agroforestry is a great way of regenerating the environment globally; to create food autonomy and an abundance of water. Big problems can be solved with simple actions,” Josiclea says earnestly.
“Among our young people, we must strengthen the culture of our ancestors, which has been lost due to external influences. Our ancestors learnt their knowledge collectively, for everything from fishing to agriculture, but we must also adopt a new way of managing the land, and that is agroforestry.”
Josiclea says the £10,000 from the Intentional Projects Award will help her community recover water-bordering parts of its forest of the Igarape Simauma, through the planting of native trees.
“Regeneration means to begin all that is ending, to begin the waters that are ending, to begin the land that is ending. For as long as there is recovery, there will be life.”
Keep track of the AAQ’s progress by popping into https://quilombolasagroflorestais.wordpress.com/
The Lush Spring Prize, hosted by Lush and co-operative Ethical Consumer Research Association, offers a £200,000 prize fund and other support activities, to help projects around the world that are working towards environmental and social regeneration.
Regeneration illustration by David McMillan.