In the Amazon, the shattered dream of a sustainable forest

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Xapuri, Acre, Brazil, July 26, 2020:
Planting rubber cultivation at the Cachoeira rubber plantation in Xapuri.
Chico Mendes was a famous environmental activist at the end of the last century. Born and raised in the rubber plantations of Acre, Chico fought for extractivists, for the people of the forest.
He was murdered in 1988 as if he were a hunting animal, crime mobilized the world. The death was ordered by a farmer in the region.
With the postmortem mobilization, the Chico Mendes Reserve was created in the 1990s, a gigantic area of ​​970,570 hectares, housing 2,880 families in the municipalities of Xapuri, Brasiléia, Assis Brasil, Capixaba, Epitaciolândia, Rio Branco and Sena Madureira. The initial idea was to guarantee ownership so that these families could live sustainably, with products extracted from the forest.
The children and grandchildren of the Chico Mendes generation are disillusioned with the environmental policies of the past. Nowadays the reserve loses forest and gains pasture for cattle. Now they live in Bolsonaro's Brazil, where livestock and consequently deforestation are stimulated by the government. It is the bankruptcy of the local extractive structure.
Photo: Avener Prado

AVENER PRADO FOR “THE WORLD”

By Bruno Meyerfeld

Posted today at 02:36

Today, like almost every day in his life, “Bito” went to “bleed” his forest. He got up at 3 a.m. and washed his smoked face with cold water. Swallowed a tapioca pancake and some grilled bananas. Took his bag, his bucket, his knife. Put on his boots. Carefully adjusted his headlamp. And sank between the trees. Alone, so alone, in the great Amazonian night.

Under the tropical canopy, Arleudo Morais Farias, by his full name, is a shadow among the shadows. Fast and discreet, just like the jaguar. In fact, this jungle belongs to him as much as to the feline. He knows it by heart and the mark of its trace: a brown scratch spotted with white, rippling gracefully to the damp ground along the trunk of the rubber tree. The signature of the seringueiro, the Amazonian latex collector.

The syringe will is the Portuguese name for rubber. Bito, 43, tall since he was a child. “I learned everything from my father”, slips, between two bloodletting, this resident of the Chico Mendes reserve, in the Brazilian state of Acre. Every day, he has to visit a hundred trees, 15 kilometers to cover over rough terrain, often in the dark, with 20 kg to 40 kg of latex on his shoulders. Encounters with monkeys, tapirs and panthers are frequent. “And with snakes, it’s every day! “, laughs Bito.

The latex, this fatty, white sap called here “milk”, flows drop by drop into small cups that the worker collects. It sounds so simple. But the rubber tree, despite being 30 meters high, is a fragile giant. It must be skinned with care: just a few millimeters. “More, we can hurt him, and he can even die”, explains Bito. The syringeiro is a delicate gesture. A gesture of love, he said. “These trees are part of my family, they are like my children”, smiles the man from the forest, “milk” full of his beard and hands.

Arleudo Morais Farias, one of the Amazon's last rubber tappers, works in the Chico Mendes reserve in Brazil on July 28.

The world before

“I like it, I like this solitary life, in the middle of nature”, he continues on his return, around 3 p.m., in his wooden hut on stilts in the village of Icuria. Yet despite appearances, Bito is worried. For several years now, business has been bad. His meager income has dropped by almost half. Above all, Bito has marked features. He’s more than his age. “I’m tired, my body is already very hard. ” Her son is 18 years old. He will be a doctor. “I don’t want this life for him”, Bito confesses in a blank voice.

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