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Communities in the Canavieiras Extractive Reserve

Environmental Conflicts and Victories

The Canavieiras RESEX is made up of various smaller communities, many of them isolated by the river, without access to roads, and dependent on the tide to get to Canavieiras, the municipality's headquarters, or even bigger cities where they have access to hospitals and universities. The AMEX seeks to support all of them, tackling their specific issues and bringing improvements relevant to each place. However, the territory is large, and in the absence of support from the municipal government, the communities’ needs are often ignored by the public authorities. Many share common concerns, such as the shrimp farms that dump their contaminated water into the rivers that run through the entire RESEX. On shrimp farms, the usual procedure is to immerse the shrimp in water containing ice and sodium metabisulphite to cause rapid death and inhibit melanosis. The contaminated water from these tanks is often dumped into rivers and the sea, killing native flora and fauna.

Reduction in fish

Owners of shrimp farms opposed the Extractive Reserve, and continue to band together with the city's current mayor and business people in the tourism sector to change the rules for the use and occupation of land and the extraction of natural resources from one conservation status, a RESEX to an Área de Proteção Ambiental, or APA, which would allow more flexibility in use. With strict rules on the purchase and sale of properties within the RESEX area, the real estate and tourism sectors are restricted by the guarantee of land tenure for the traditional communities in the area. RESEX rules therefore protect the community from the typical gentrification process that has taken place in many coastal cities in Bahia. Without access to critical beachfront property, the tourist sector is unable to remove fishing families from the paradise they seek to develop for profit.

Puxim do sul

Puxim do Sul Fishermen's Association

The communities of Puxim do Sul and Puxim da Praia complement each other. Puxim do Sul is located on the side of the BA-001 road, and Puxim da Praia is located on the water, accessible only by boat depending on the tide. Thus, many families live in Puxim do Sul to have access to urban resources, while also maintaining farms and houses in Puxim da Praia, where they fish and grow foods such as cassava, bananas, coconuts, and palm oil.

Even though it  is urbanized, Puxim do Sul does not have adequate access to running water. The population, around 300 families,  receive water from a city well that is pumped by a generator only on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Thus, the difficulty in accessing drinking water is a major issue in the community that lives essentially from fishing and collecting aratu, an activity that is carried out by around 90% of the women who make up the Puxim do Sul Fishermen's Association. The large quantity of shellfish shells that are discarded has also been an issue for the Women's Network, which seeks to guide and help these women to correctly dispose of the shells, burying them to reduce bad smells in the community and the proliferation of diseases, despite the lack of water that makes good hygiene difficult.

Campinhos

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Campinhos community harbor

Campinhos is another community that works with the tide. Accessible only by river, approximately one hour by boat from Canavieiras, the community is isolated. The lack of emergency health care and with no school beyond the 5th grade, many young people have moved away in search of better living conditions. Those who remain usually have to give up aspirations of studying. As Railane, a 22 year old resident of the community noted, she had to abandon her studies as it was not possible to leave the house every day at 4 a.m. to catch the boat to travel to school, leaving her young daughter behind.

The Campinhos community lives mainly from aratu, oysters, and other clams, in addition to the cultivation of coconut, banana, cassava, and the mangaba fruit harvest, which takes place annually and lasts about 3 months. Mangaba fruit is an important local crop which is said to let the mangrove breathe. With a production of approximately 40 tons per month in high season, the Campinhos mangrove is not fished and can “rest,” maintaining its balance. However, with the lack of a suitable factory for processing the fruit, a lot is lost. Inspired by the history of the Association of Mangaba Collectors of Sergipe, the Association of Fishermen and Farmers of Campinhos dream of building a factory that allows the storage and processing of these and other fruits from the region for the production of pulp, sweets, liqueurs, beer, chocolates and other products.

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Port of Canavieiras

Managed by the fishermen and shellfish gatherers themselves on a voluntary basis, the AMEX's management nucleus is currently composed of an eleven person leadership council. João Barba, Silvia, Luana, Lu, Elialda, Viviane, Ernesto, Tauara, Gabriel, Luan, Lefigênia, Mara, Otacílio, Eric,  Carlinhos  (Carlos Alberto Pinto dos Santos, current President of the National Commission for the Sustainable Development of Traditional Peoples and Communities), Gesiani and many others who are committed to the fight for the rights of traditional peoples, even if they don't have defined positions or hold formal employment at the AMEX. 

Belmonte

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Community of Belmonte

The community of Belmonte is also located outside the formal RESEX area, in the extreme south, but many of its residents fish within the RESEX area, especially for shrimp and sardines using nets. Female fishing in Belmonte is mostly restricted to processing fish and shrimp caught by men. The construction of a processing unit, established by the Association of Fisherwomen and Shellfish Gatherers of Belmonte was transformative. As the only exclusively female association in the community, the organization has constantly dealt with machismo in the fishermen’s colony, a federal government body representing the fishing community. With the support of AMEX, it has also achieved rights and improvements for the fishing community by combating the environmental damage caused by companies present in the area.

In 2014, the AMEX received compensatory funds from Queiroz Galvão, an oil company operating in the region. These monies were used to build headquarters for all the nine smaller associations linked to the RESEX at the time. Among these was the headquarters of the Belmonte Fisherwomen's and Shellfish Fisher Women's Association, which, in a visionary way, lobbied for a plot of land that could later include the Processing Unit, which was won in another compensatory measure in 2021, this time from the Veracel company operates a paper mill in the region. In 2023, the Processing Unit received equipment through the Bahia Produtiva public notice, with the support of AMEX.

Belmonte Fishermen and Shellfish Gatherers Association

Despite these important victories, the community still faces a major conflict that has been threatening the fishing way of life in the region: the Itapebi hydroelectric plant, built downstream of the Jequitinhonha River, which empties into the sea in the municipality of Belmonte. The construction and operation of the plant has inflicted significant environmental damage, creating a change in the course of the river and fostering the formation of sandbanks, which hurt fish habitat, impede the passage of fishermen, and restrict movement to the tides. To get to Belmonte from Canavieiras, it takes around 90 minutes traveling on the river, but you can only get there and leave at high tide. These conditions have caused  many women to stop fishing, as they are unable to fit their domestic and family routines within the tidal limitations. As Pedrina, an important fisherman and leader of the Belmonte Association, told me:

“Now if I go fishing, I have to wait for the tide to come in again before I can come back. If I go fishing, my son won’t go to school.”

Furthermore, the frequent opening of the plant’s floodgates quickly increases the river level.   Without any warning to the community, this puts the lives of those who fish and collect shellfish at risk, destroys fishermen's equipment, and devastates the river bed which fishers say is often empty of fish for several days after. The flooding also causes damage to the community itself.  Itapebi has not assumed responsibility for adverse impacts nor has it compensated community members for damage.

Atalaia

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Association of Fishermen, Shellfish Gatherers, and Residents of Atalaia

Fishing in Atalaia is done on the ocean, as it is a seaside community, and the activity is therefore mostly dominated by men and women tend to work more in processing. However, crab fishing is a specialty of fisherwomen and shellfish gatherers in Atalaia. Due to its privileged location,situated between the river and the sea, the community is subject to frequent pressure related to real estate speculation. The biggest issue currently experienced by the community concerns a neighboring landowner. Despite his property being located on the opposite bank of the river that surrounds Atalaia, the owner is hostile towards the fishers, trying to prevent their passage through the mangrove. The owner's abuse takes various forms, including placing electric fences inside the mangrove, releasing dogs to chase them, placing surveillance cameras on the community pier, outside his property and even shooting at fishermen and shellfish gatherers inside the mangrove. In addition to all this, the owner frequently incites the wider community against the RESEX, spreading lies and creating internal conflicts between fishermen and RESEX.

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Camera at the Atalaia Community Pier

Barra Velha

Association of Fishermen, Shellfish Gatherers and Extractivists of Barra Velha

The community of Barra Velha is where the Canavieiras Extractive Reserve was born, and the local association was established prior to creation of the RESEX. Barra Velha experienced major conflicts with cattle farmers and shrimp farms, which motivated the movement to unite with other communities to create the RESEX. The then president of the previous association was persecuted, threatened, and even accused of fraud. It was eventually closed, as Mara, a daughter of Barra Velha told me. Currently, there is the Association of Fishermen, Shellfish Gatherers, and Extractivists of Barra Velha, chaired by Ernesto, one of the important leaders of AMEX. Due to conflicts, the association currently has only 12 members. The violence of these farmers involved threats and attacks, the community still struggles with being chased by dogs, which are purposely released to hinder their passage through the mangrove. Furthermore, the farmer’s cattle eat vegetation and contaminate the soil, destroying the mangroves.

Taipa house in the Barra Velha community

Barra Velha is 1 hour and 30 minutes by boat from Canavieiras, and is also accessible by road using a private ferry that transports vehicles.  However, the ferry is expensive, and therefore not accessible to everyone. It also depends on the tide and weather to operate. The isolation of the community, and the lack of public structures such as health care and schools  have caused the population to become smaller and older, as young people need to move to seek better living conditions. This was the case of Mara, who moved to Canavieiras with her family so her daughters could study, and only then could she complete her studies herself. Mara remembers times of celebration and prosperity in Barra Velha. However, the various environmental conflicts, and the abandonment of the population by the public authorities due to the interests of the cattle and shrimp farmers who surround the region, have led to the shrinking of the community,  which still does not have running water or electricity.

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Oiticica

Association of Fishermen and Shellfish gatherers of Oiticica

Oiticica is also located on the banks of BA-001, bordering Comandatuba. The community is famous for fishing and preparing pufferfish, a species of fish that requires in-depth knowledge of to catch  and prepare, as it has a poison that causes death if not removed in the correct way, as Dona Irá, famous for offering reliable puffer fish for consumption, explained to me. In addition to the pufferfish, the catch and harvest of aratu is also an important part of the community's economy. However, the community is close to the large Comandatuba Resort, which has attracted many fishermen and shellfish gatherers away from their traditional vocations. As life in the mangrove is very hard, tiring, poorly paid, and causes many illnesses, many young people end up looking for other jobs at the resort.. Unfortunately, these  young people end up underemployed, poorly paid, and are often mistreated and disrespected for their traditional way of life and culture. Thus, reports from people who tried to work at the resort but ended up returning to the mangrove are constant. They talk about the importance of self-respect, and the freedom to work for oneself, respecting one's own rhythm, and not subjecting oneself to aggression. As I heard during the meeting at Association of Fishermen and Shellfish Marketers of the Village of Oiticica:

“In the mangrove, you don’t have to hear anything from anyone, just the birdsong.”

Fishing as freedom

Even with the many difficulties reported due to the various environmental conflicts experienced in the RESEX s, on the other hand, there are communities that have experienced significant  achievements as a result of the creation of the reserve.

Puxim da Praia

Despite the isolation of the community, which is only accessed through the river according to the tides, the Association of Residents, Farmers, and Fishermen of Puxim da Praia, gained support from AMEX in the candidacy for the state government's Bahia Produtiva funding, for a project that aims to build a coconut oil factory in the community, valuing the traditional practice of coconut extraction, generating jobs and income for the community and making the most of the various products generated from coconut cultivation.

Pedra de Una

Association of Fishermen and Shellfish gatherers of Pedras de Una

The community of Pedra de Una is accessible from the BA-001 highway and is located approximately 25 km from Canavieiras, making it the northernmost community covered by the RESEX. Outside the Extractive Reserve area, the community lives mainly from what it extracts inside the RESEX. Aratu is the main fish for women, as well as river fishing, which is generally done by men. Being outside the RESEX, the community of Pedras de Una is less subject to environmental conflicts, since the financial interests of businessmen are not confronted by environmental regulations that prevent them. With a very impoverished population, the Pedras de Una Fishermen's and Shellfish gatherers' Association won funding this year, with the support of AMEX through the Bahia Productiva, to build an ice factory in the community, generating jobs and income, as well as distributing a product in high demand for fishermen and shellfish gatherers within the RESEX. The ice factory in Una is a good illustration of the way AMEX and its Associations work— through autonomy, these institutions are fighting for better living conditions for all the beneficiaries of the RESEX.

Pedra de Una Ice Factory

Curva do Leão

The community of Curva do Leão is accessible via the BA-001 highway and is approximately 14 km from Canavieiras. Mainly focused on catching guaiamum, Curva do Leão has benefitted from any important victory achieved by the RESEX— it is the first place in Brazil to win dispensation to catch the once-endangered guaiamum, since it has been proven that the species is not at risk of extinction in the region. This fact is reaffirmed every year with the Guaiamum Monitoring Program developed by ICMBio in partnership with the community's fishermen. The guaiamum monitoring program consists of delimiting an area of 100m2 and recording all the guaiamum burrows and their sizes. This measurement proves that the species is not extinct and allows it to be caught through the Guaiamum Local Management Plan (PGL) in the Canavieiras RESEX.

Women's Network against Structural Machismo
Communities in the Canavieiras Extractive Reserve
Crab, Siri and Aratu
Processing and Selling
Living from the Mangrove: Embarracar
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