Roraima - Xixuaú-Xiparinã Reserve

Roraima (Tupi: Green Plateau) is the northernmost and least populated state of Brazil, located in the Amazon region. It borders the states of Amazonas and Pará, as well as the nations of Venezuela and Guyana.
The state's southern part is located in the Amazon rainforest, while the north has open grassland fields, and there is a small strip of savanna to the east.

Roraima is the state in Brazil with the greatest number of areas dedicated to indigenous reserves, covering 46,37% of it's territory - 104.018,00 km² - which summed up to areas of federal property, of the army and Conservation Areas, leaves only 9,99% of effective property to the state itself. This explains why various political personalities are continuosly fighting against the institution of new preservation areas.

The state is rich in mineral deposits - especially gold, diamonds, cassiterite, bauxite, marble and copper. Many of these deposits are located in indigenous reserves, and illegal mining has resulted in frequent conflicts with the native population. Illegal logging, illegal commercial fishing and illegal hunting are also a constant threat to the environment and native populations.

The Xixuaú-Xiparinã Reserve is situated in the south of Roraima, 70km south of the equator and 500km north west from Manaus, along the Jauaperi river, a tributary of the rio Negro. It comprises now 172.000 hectares of pristine partly unexplored rainforest.
To the north the reserve borders with the territory of the Waimiri-Atraoari, who are very active in patrolling the territory and the rivers against illegal fishermen and hunters.

The region of the Rio Jauaperi is one of the few remaining areas of intact tropical forest in the Amazon and it is at risk of opening of roads, logging concessions, human settlements and the expansion of intensive agriculture and livestock raising.

In 1992 the 'caboclos' (Tupi: caa, forest and boc, comes from) of the higher rio Jauperi together with a courageous Scotsman (Chris Clark), a Brazilian (Plinio Leite da Encarnaçao), a Dane (Erik Falk) and an Argentinian (Daniel Garibotti) created the Amazônia Association, with the dual aim of preserving the environment and guaranteeing a sustainable livelihood for the local people.

Caboclos are the result of the ethnic mix between Indios and Caucasian and black immigrants following colonization. During Second World War from the poorest parts of Brazil many persons were sent as “rubber soldiers” to rubber plantations in the Amazon, with no return ticket. Many died from diseases and the hardship of the Amazonian environment, those who survived adapted to the environment and learnt living in harmony with it. While the cause of the Indios receives a lot of national/international attention, the caboclos live a kind of forgotten existence at the margin of society, they have little or none State Health aid, schooling opportunities etc. Many of them are forced to leave their territories, engrossing the ever growing slums of major cities.

The Amazônia Association’s first action was the establishment of an informal protected area on the Xixuau and Xiparina rivers by pooling land rights from the local inhabitants and incorporating them into the Association.In 1997 the actual 172.000 hectares area of the Xixuaú-Xiparinã Reserve were demarcated.

The area is home to around 100 local people, known as ribeirinhos (people who live by and from the rivers). They live mainly from fishing and small scale subsistence agriculture.

Since 2001 the Amazônia Association has been working with the Brazilian Ministry of Environment to incorporate the existing Xixuaú-Xiparinã Reserve within a much larger area, which would be legally designated as an Extractivist Reserve (RESEX).

This type of protected area guarantees local people the right to manage natural resources with the aims of improving their quality of life, generating income and giving them a permanent right to remain in their home area. The proposed Resex would increase the protected area to more than 630,000 hectares, including a population of around one thousand people.

communities of the rio Jauperi
In February 2010 a new community cooperative, CoopXixuaú, was formally established to take the lead in developing three key sustainable livelihood activities: ecotourism, handicrafts, and sustainable use and better marketing of non timber forest products. CoopXixuaú provides the legal basis to develop and formalise the existing activities, for the benefit of people from right along the Jauaperi River. It operates though a social enterprise model: it not only aims for financial returns, but has a fundamental commitment to generating social and environmental benefits.
The cooperative members are exclusively local inhabitants and the aim is to expand and include all those who are interested in working together to generate sustainable incomes, from along the length of the Jauaperi River. The income generated through CoopXixuaú will enable investment in environmental conservation, professional training and sustainable development activities.

There are three 'organisms' involved in the Xixuaú-Xiparinã Reserve, with their respective representants:
Amazônia Association (constituted by local people, an Italian branch and a Danish branch)
Xixuau Community (inhabitants of Xixuau)
CoopXixuau (constituted by the 'working' inhabitants of Xixuau)
Each of them is responsible for a certain area of action, but they are all intertwined and represent the community as a whole.

There is also an international foundation, the Amazon Charitable Trust, that supports and raises awareness and funds for the project.

Since the Amazônia Association was established, it has successfully built a school, a health post, a fresh-water supply and connected to the world with a solar-powered satellite internet connection. It has drawn in new economic opportunities like eco-tourism, film-hosting, forest product enterprises, and built traditional 'maloca' huts for eco-tourists, all helping create sustainable livelihoods within the rainforest.
Amazônia Association has gone through some struggle since its creation 19 years ago; it has been repeatedly attacked and threatened by local politicians and power-holders in the past.
It has been object of four Parliamentary Enquiries, accused of illegal appropriation of land, drug cultivation and arms smuggling, biopiracy, spying for foreign governments and training of “eco guerrillas” in the reserve. None of these accuses were ever proofed.
The state of Roraima claimed the property of the territory of the reserve, but official documents state clearly that the territory (being a Conservation area and a 'to be' Extractivist Reserve) is of federal property, like all conservation areas in the state.
Today the efforts and tenacious resistance of the Xixuau community are finally being rewarded. The actual government of Roraima is showing serious interest in supporting the good work done over the years in the reserve and in establishing a durable partnership.

If you are interested in visiting the Xixuaú-Xiparinã Reserve please get in contact with Chris Clark (xixuauxiparina[at]hotmail[dot]com).