Society

A Tiny Island In The Amazon Shows Brazil How Sustainable Living Is Done

On the Ilha das Cinzas island, inhabitants are proving that it is possible to live in harmony with the environment -- so long as you follow the rules.

Island of Ashes (Claudio Matsuoka)

ILHA DAS CINZAS – If the Garden of Eden was in Brazil, it might just be this small island in the middle of the Amazon River.

Here, the heat is unbearable and the tropical jungle abounds with mosquitos and wild animals --just a handful of men and women live quietly on its edge. This brave new world is known as Ilha das Cinzas – the Island of Ashes – and is located six hours away from Macapa, the Apama state capital, in Brazil.

But in this remote and seemingly inhospitable corner, men adapted to the environment -- as opposed the environment adapting to men. Ilha das Cinzas is the perfect example of a successful marriage between man and nature: the forest is untouched, the water filtered and recycled, and farming and fishing are well-planned and regulated.

The story began in the 1920s or 1930s; no one remembers exactly when. It started when a handful of families decided to settle here, without any official papers or title deeds. They came for the island's natural resources, namely its wood and the fish abounding in its dark waters. The small community survived, and grew up to about a hundred families now --350 people in total.

At first, the inhabitants lived off the white shrimps swarming in the mangrove. To make ends meet, they sold hearts of palm and the crimson berries that sprout atop of palm trees. Called "acai", these berries are very popular in this region.

Controlled harvests

At the beginning of the 1990s, the village was living on borrowed time --and could have disappeared at any moment. The mangrove shrimps were almost extinct, and the method used to harvest them was difficult and time-consuming. The price for hearts of palm was too low and acai juice hadn't yet become the last fad on the beaches of Malibu and Ipanema.

The villagers learned that a company had settled a few miles away to exploit the forest --a real threat to the island's stability. Luckily for the villagers, the company packed up after a scandal involving fraudulent contracts.

A wind of change was blowing. The 1992 Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit had just happened and "sustainable development" was becoming mainstream. More and more NGOs were taking action, and the Brazilian authorities jumped on the bandwagon. In 1996, Jorge Pinto, an expert on the region and member of the FASE (one of the most important NGOs of the country) decided to take a trip to the island.

After studying farming on the island and comparing harvests, Pinto developed a program with his NGO. A year later, the community agreed to adapt its "macapis," the cages used to catch the mangrove shrimps. Enlarging the space between the vertical bars allowed the youngest shrimps to escape, ensuring the reproduction of the species and saving it from extinction. Based on the experts' calculations, the village also agreed to reduce the number of macapis. Surprisingly, the shrimp catch did not diminish, it actually increased. Reducing collection sites also allowed the villagers to work 20% less. The time saved was used for picking acai berries and chopping wood, organized according to rules taking into account the size, diameter and space between the trees. "Our way of life became very organized," explains Francisco, who was born on the island and graduated in financial management from a correspondence school.

Concerted actions

At the beginning of the 2000s, acai berries became very trendy and insured the survival of the island inhabitants. Their price was rising. The daily picking was of about two 60kg bags per person. Each bag, sold twice a week in the small port city of Macapa, brought in 80 reais – about 32 euros – which is a lot for the region. "We earn a good living," admits José Neide Maledos, one of the community leaders. "Before 1997, our income was under the minimum wage – 622 reais. Today, with all our activities, we earn about 1400 reais a month, which is more than double the minimum wage."

In this community, decisions are taken collectively. An association was created to represent the community in front of the authorities. In 2007, after many negotiations with the government, the villagers were awarded land rights to the island. An important and highly symbolical decision that doesn't equate to title deed but at least acknowledges their existence and the work they put into the island. "Land rights are essential to the people here," former director of the ministerial forests service in Brasília, Luiz Carlos Joels, explains. "They need it, for example, to open a line of credit or to develop a project. The more this right is established, the more the inhabitants feel responsible, improve the output and the environment."

In 2011, the island was awarded "best technological and social innovation" by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.

On the neighboring island of São João do Jaburú, inhabitants of the Itatupã-Baquiá nature reserve tried to follow suit. But the experience wasn't as successful. The families are farther apart from each other and the decisions weren't followed through very strictly. According to Luiz Carlos Joels, it's proof that "a collective work needs to be maintained and kept alive permanently."

One day, the Island of Ashes families decided to start a coop to sell their shrimps. A boat came to pick up the production. The first journey multiplied the benefits by three. During the second one, the captain extended his route to increase his load. But when he arrived into town, the shrimps had gone bad. The island's fishermen were blamed and the coop ditched.

"They don't do business together but have a collective set of rules and a land they share," Jorge Pinto adds. "It's a fragile harmony." And so is the nature around them.

Read the original article in French

Photo - Claudio Matsuoka

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A tribute to the 30,000 Iranian political prisoners murdered in Iran in 1988

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Hannah Steinkopf-Frank and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Laba diena!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Afghanistan's Taliban demand to speak at the United Nations, China takes a bold ecological stand and we find out why monkeys kept their tails and humans didn't. Business magazine America Economia also looks at how Latin American countries are looking to attract a new generation of freelancers known as "digital nomads" in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

[*Lithuanian]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Taliban ask to speak at UN: With global leaders gathered in New York for the 76th meeting of the UN General Assembly, Afghanistan's new rulers say their country's previously accredited United Nations ambassador no longer represents the country, and have demanded a new Taliban envoy speak instead. Afghanistan is scheduled to give the final intervention next Monday to the General Assembly, and a UN committee must now rule who can speak.

• Four corpses found on Belarus border with Poland: The discovery of bodies of four people on Belarus-Poland border who appear to have died from hypothermia are raising new accusations that Belarus is pushing migrants to the eastern border of the European Union, possibly in retaliation over Western sanctions following the contested reelection of the country's strongman Alexander Lukashenko. The discovery comes amid a surge of largely Afghani and Iraqi migrants attempting to enter Poland in recent weeks.

• China to stop building coal-burning power plants abroad: Under pressure to limit emissions to meet Paris climate agreement goals, China announces an end to funding future projects in Indonesia, Vietnam and other countries through its Belt and Road initiative.

• Turkey ratifies Paris climate agreement: Following a year of wildfires and flash floods, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced at the UN that Turkey will become the last G-20 country to ratify the emissions-limiting accords. Turkey already signed the agreement in 2016, but has yet to hold a vote in parliament.

• Mass evacuations following Canary Islands volcano: More than 6,000 people have fled the Spanish archipelago as heavy flows of lava have buried hundreds of homes. Four earthquakes have also hit the Canaries since the Sunday eruption, which could also cause other explosions and the release of toxic gas.

• Rare earthquake hits Melbourne: The 5.9 magnitude quake struck near Melbourne in southern Australia, with aftershocks going as far Adelaide, Canberra and Launceston. Videos shared on social media show at least one damaged building, with power lines disrupted in Australia's second largest city. No injuries have been reported.

• The evolutionary tale of tails: Charles Darwin first discovered that humans evolved to lose this biological trait. But only now are New York scientists showing that it was a single genetic tweak that could have caused this shift, while our monkey relatives kept their backside appendages.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"The roof of Barcelona" — El Periodico daily reports on the latest delay from what may be the longest-running construction project in the world. Work on the iconic Barcelona church La Sagrada Familia, which began all the way back in 1882 as the vision of master architect Antoni Gaudí, was slated to be completed in 2026. The Barcelona-based daily reports that a press conference Tuesday confirmed that the deadline won't be met, in part because of delays related to COVID-19. Officials also provided new details about the impending completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin), the first tower of the temple to be completed in 44 years. Although it is currently the second tallest spire of the complex, it will become the highest point of the Sagrada Familia, reaching 172.5 meters thanks to an illuminated "great cross."

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Latin America, the next mecca for digital nomads

Latin American countries want to cash in on the post-pandemic changes to the fundamental ways we work and live, in particular by capitalizing on a growing demand from the new wave of remote workers and "youngish" professional freelancers with money to spend, reports Natalia Vera Ramírez in business magazine America Economia.

💻🏖️ Niels Olson, Ecuador's tourism minister, is working hard to bring "digital nomads" to his country. He believes that attracting this new generation of freelancers who can work from anywhere for extended visits is a unique opportunity for all. Living in a town like Puerto López, he wrote on Twitter, the expat freelancer could "work by the sea, live with a mostly vaccinated population, in the same time zone, (enjoy) an excellent climate, and eat fresh seafood." For Ecuador, the new influx of visitors with money to spend would help boost the country's economy.

🧳 While online-based freelancers already hopped from country to country before COVID-19, the pandemic has boosted their current numbers to around 100 million worldwide. The Inter-American Development Bank estimates there could be a billion roaming, digital workers by 2050. Some European countries already issue visas for digital nomads. They include Germany, Portugal, Iceland, Croatia, Estonia and the Czech Republic, but in the Americas, only four countries make the list, namely Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Panama and Costa Rica.

💰 In August 2021, Costa Rica approved a law for remote workers and international service providers, intended to attract digital nomads and make its travel sector more competitive. The law provides legal guarantees and specific tax exemptions for remote workers choosing to make the country their place of work. It allows foreign nationals earning more than $3,000 a month to stay for up to a year in the country, with the ability to renew their visa for an additional year. If applicants are a family, the income requisite rises to $5,000.


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$2.1 billion

Google announced yesterday it will spend $2.1 billion to buy a sprawling Manhattan office building, in one of the largest sales of a building in U.S. history. The tech giant plans on growing its New York workforce to more than 14,000 people.

📣 VERBATIM

It is sickening and shameful to see this kind of president give such a lie-filled speech on the international stage.

— Opposition Brazilian congresswoman Vivi Reis in response to President Jair Bolsonaro's inflammatory 12-minute speech at the UN General Assembly. The unvaccinated head of state touted untested COVID-19 cures, criticized public health measures and boasted that the South American country's environmental protections were the best in the world.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Hannah Steinkopf-Frank & Bertrand Hauger

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