Brazil: Amazon Resource Management and Human Ecology
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Please note that in order to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, program excursions may occasionally vary.
Nearly one-third of the program involves excursions to different areas of the Amazon River Basin region. Those excursions typically include Zona Bragantina, Santarém, Trombetas, Altamira (southern Pará), and other locations to understand how environmental, socioeconomic, and cultural issues come together in different ways throughout Amazonia.
Below is a sampling of excursions in the SIT Amazon program; these descriptions provide an explanation of the type of field study and onsite learning in which students can expect to engage. Please note that excursions can vary from semester to semester.
The first visit to the Zona Bragantina region takes place during orientation. Students visit the region of Curuçá, the Mãe Grande Extractive Reserve, the Casa da Virada Project, and initiatives such as the Instituto Tapiaim. Students examine the impacts on coastal mangroves caused by the construction of large ports in the area.
Students return to Zona Bragantina later in the semester to spend time in a terra firme primary forest and Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi (MPEG) forest succession study areas in São Fransisco do Pará. They also learn about the Tiptamba Project; carried out in Igarapé Açú, the project investigates the use of new technology to enrich soils and reduce soil degradation, thereby reducing deforestation of primary forest. The region is the oldest agricultural frontier in Amazonia.
This excursion reveals the conflictive social, economic, and political processes at work in the Amazon River Basin region, as well as the actors involved and their differing perspectives. Students visit the Albras industrial complex, one of the largest alumina and aluminum production plants in the world, which produces most of Brazil's aluminum exports.
Located in the center of the Amazon where the admired clear-water Tapajós River (the "Caribbean of Amazonia") joins the Amazon River, Santarém is the base town for the Health and Happiness Project (PSA). PSA has been working with poor riverine communities in the Tapajós River Basin for years; they believe they follow a unique approach to participatory community development by combining local popular knowledge with low-resource technical assistance. Students have a lecture by a project member and visit a rural community with which the organization works.
During this excursion, students consider the development of soy agribusiness in the Amazon, the Cargill Port, and the controversial paving of Cuabá Santarém Road.
South of Santarém, the program typically visits the Tapajós National Forest to examine projects such as the Large Biosphere Atmosphere Experiment and the Ambé. Students also explore community-based sustainable logging initiatives and other projects involving non-timber forest products extraction and community-based ecotourism.
Located at the northern margins of the Amazon River, about 100 miles northeast of Santarém, is one of the richest archaeological sites in the Amazon and all of South America. Here students have the opportunity to study and debate the archaeological evidence that prompted Anna C. Roosevelt to question existing theories of the settling of the Americas. Students have site visits in a recently created archaeological and ecological state park in which new research projects and community management plans have been initiated.
During the excursion, students also consider the strong mining speculation that shadows the area, which is close to large deposits of uranium, thorium, bauxite, and other minerals.
The focus of this excursion is a town in western Pará that has recently seen increased development as a result of the construction of a large mine operation by Alcoa. Students discuss the myriad ways in which the social and environmental impacts and externalities caused by the mine’s construction have affected and shaped local communities; the socially active communities of Juruti Velho, for example, have led the struggle for new models of compensation. In some semesters, Juruti is one of the program’s rural homestay locations.
Students continue examining the dynamic interplay between development and conservation efforts in the preserved Trombetas River System. Students typically visit Mineração Rio do Norte, the largest bauxite mine in operation the world, which maintains one of the most significant and modern restoration programs in tropical systems in the world.
Students visit quilombolas communities (descendents of runaway slaves). Many of these communities still find themselves in conflicts over land demarcation with indigenous populations. Students typically meet with representatives from governmental and nongovernmental agencies about conflicts surrounding conservation efforts.
In Porto Trombetas, students are shown the different stages of the mining process and learn about the private enterprise Mineração Rio do Norte, which conducts mining operations on one of the largest aluminum bauxite deposits in the world. They experience the extensive and high resource-use environmental and ecological work that the business carries out in its attempts to comply with environmental regulations.
Tucurui and Jacundá
Students visit the largest hydrometric dam in Brazil and the fourth-largest in the world. Students meet with key individuals who support and maintain the dam and also discuss the costs and benefits of hydroelectric energy.
Jacundá, a small town in southern Pará, was destroyed by the construction of the Tucurui Dam and was relocated to its current site. Students study the history of this displacement and its social consequences. They meet with the town’s deputy mayor, a woman who made history in the region by risking her life to fight for social justice within a violent and conservative political system.
During this excursion, students also visit Sr. Pacinho's Ranch, where they meet with a colonos community who came from northeastern Brazil several decades ago in search of a better life. Students conduct socioeconomic profiles of the family and larger community and gain a better understanding of small-scale, family-based systems of rural economic production.
Marabá and Parauapebas
The city of Marabá is located on the Transamazon Highway, where the government once tried to promote development by offering land plots to landless farmers. Marabá was one of the most violent cities in Brazil during the 1970s and 1980s, when land conflicts resulted in the assassination of hundreds of rural workers.
In Marabá, students attend lectures at the Federation of the Farmers of the Tocantins and Araguaia (FATA) and the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT); they also have a lecture from a member of the Landless People's Movement (MST).
Among the topics discussed: the region's history of development; current efforts to implement agrarian reform and improve agricultural systems; the social, economic, and political implications of the Landless People's Movement in Brazil, particularly in southern Pará. Students visit MST land settlements at different stages of occupation.
Students also have the opportunity to visit different FATA and MST initiatives in Jacundá and Nova Ipixuna do Pará before returning to Belém.
Students meet with NGOs, a local rural producers union, researchers, and politicians to discuss efforts this area is making to stop deforestation and become more sustainable. Paragominas had previously been a major area for logging and, as a result, suffered from deforestation.
Students discuss land management guidelines set by government programs for the region, such as the Green Counties program of controlling deforestation and environmental licensing of rural proprieties.
Duration: 15 weeks
Program Base: Belém
Language Study: Portuguese
Prerequisites: Previous college-level coursework and/or other preparation in environmental studies, ecology, development studies, or other related fields is strongly recommended but not required. Although there is no language prerequisite, a background in Portugues Read more...
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