Navigating the Juruá River- one of the most extensive in the world- in a slow boat while contemplating its white waters is a calm, unique and indescribable experience. You cut through the flooded forests and wooden houses surrounded by bordering canoes, with the constant forest breeze providing a respite from the heat and the insects. But through this view from the boat’s deck, we cannot imagine the history of this river, which- far from calm- involves considerable struggle, organization and resistance.
History of the mid-Juruá
From the end of the 19th century to the 1980s, the mid-Juruá region was dominated by rubber barons. These were men who declared themselves as landowners and enslaved indigenous people and workers arriving from the northeast of Brazil in search of jobs and better living conditions. Organized in rubber estates (seringais), the enslaved workers lived in remote locations, extracting rubber from Hevea brasiliensis trees while the boss sold them basic foods at a high cost, keeping them in perpetual debt. Reports of ill-treatment, torture and death are prevalent throughout the region.
With the demise of the rubber boom, when Brazil lost out in the international commercialization of rubber products, the seringais were largely abandoned and the ex-rubber tappers began to buy and sell with merchant boat traders. However, this development could be viewed as a new form of exploitation, as these intermediary merchants purchased forest products and sold essential goods at unfair prices, exhorting large profits through their monopoly on trade.
Social Mobilization and the first Protected Areas
In the early 1990s, encouraged by the struggle for emancipation led by Chico Mendes, in the State of Acre (which culminated in the creation of the first Brazilian Protected Area) residents of the mid-Juruá organized themselves in communities and began to market their own produce in cities, banning merchant boat intermediaries and creating their own community associations.
Social mobilization in mid-Juruá allowed residents to sell their forest products at fair prices, improving their quality of life, and delivered land rights through the creation of two new Protected Areas in the region: the Médio Juruá Extractive Reserve and the Uacari Sustainable Development Reserve.
Biodiversity and Scientific Research in the Mid-Juruá
In addition to its history of social struggle, mid-Juruá is known as a well-preserved environment in the Amazon, with high productivity ecosystems rich in biodiversity. This attracted scientific researchers in the late 1980s who ventured into these remote regions, with difficult access and little infrastructure. Following this earlier activity, Projeto Médio Juruá was created in 2007. This was the result of close friendship and partnership developed between researchers and rural communities, associations, and local governments that supported the inclusion of applied scientific research in conservation initiatives.
Instituto Juruá is born
The valuable experiences acquired during Projeto Médio Juruá included successful conservation initiatives based on high-quality scientific research, such as the community-based management of pirarucu (Arapaima) and the protection of lakes and fluvial beaches. These showed the capacity to deliver impressive results both for environmental conservation and the quality of life for residents in the region. Thus, the Juruá Institute was launched in 2019- as a natural extension of this whole story- to strengthen conservation actions in the mid-Juruá through a participatory approach based on both scientific research and local knowledge.
The results of this partnership between science and social movement are remarkable for the future of conservation in the Amazon. In 11 years, the population of pirarucu has increased 55 times in protected lakes, a result of the participatory management of pirarucu carried out in the region since 2010, which generates an important source income, improving the quality of life in communities through the sale of sustainably harvested forest products. In addition, participatory protected lakes and beaches yielded a 58-fold increase in freshwater turtle populations and an 83-fold increase in the nests of beach-nesting birds, as well as benefits for several other species, making beaches important biodiversity spots within the landscape.
Instituto Juruá also promotes capacity building, training and environmental education, following up on demands presented by local organizations, both developing empathy for conservation and strengthening local involvement. Through these educational activities, we disseminate positive conservation stories to bring renewed optimism to the region. Thus, with a great desire to build new possibilities for development and conservation in the Amazon, Instituto Juruá aims to help science and popular social movements advance together and to promote a future full of hope.