Saturday, April 11, 2009

Brazil: Agro-ecologia de Montanha

I just came back from a subtropical Mata Atlantica mountainous rainforest in Brazil, and witnessed an ecocommunity at work. On a bio-regional basis common Brazilians are developing a method of local foodsecurity and land management which they call "Agro-ecologia de Montanha". The principle is this: people are gaining foothold higher into the mountains by building their habitats and family homes in the forest, while at the same time the tree'd areas are expanding into the human areas ....along roads and into what used to be endless cow pastures. 

The forest itself is also transformed, though not one tree is
 being killed. What happens is that groups of mostly men, saddle up with some horses and mules loaded with a bunch of tree starts and
 other transplants that usually have some medicinal, fiber or food value. In open areas some underbrush is being removed and according to sound assessments  on water availability, erosion potential and organic matter, elders instruct groups of younger men and women how to plant trees in the forest. From that perspective --high up in the mountains-- it is easy to understand the relationship between healthy mountains and healthy waters in the valleys below .

What happened  
one day some 26 years ago, when our Brazilian friend G.F. walked into those mountains, he realized that from the materials right around him he could make a very comfortable house -- the trees, the rocks, the adobe --supplemented by some second hand carwindows and baked orange roof panes. He never left.  His architectural integration into the landscape was so seamless and comfortable -- and of course very cheap (in money --not in labor), that now some 150 people have adapted his 'style', or rather...his vision . He did the same to furniture and  all over the mountains one can find his one of a kind, sometimes bizarre and old, but always comfortable and sturdy chairs, stools and benches to sit on.

The mountain and valley are somewhat isolated. The first small village with some stores, lies at the end of a winding dirt road which often takes at least 60 minutes to travel. But hardly anybody goes.....why would they ? The people produce their own simple foods of manioc, corn (more than 25 varieties --all gm free), some bananas, basils, often combined with homemade yogurt or an array of delicious cheeses. Rarely fish from the fishpond, and never meat. They all wear very durable and comfortable clothes made in the valley. I felt kind of jealous of the sophisticated quality of the 'duds' of the Brazilian dudes. 
The community decided not to have dogs, since they keep most of the wild animals at bay and generally make too much noise . Chickens and goats attracted too many mountain Pumas, so now they are left with some cows (in the lower parts) and (too many) well trained but 'free' horses and some donkeys.
Most everyone in the valley is one way or another involved in the community school which is expanding. The children are thriving and engaged. There is internet access for everyone, but no tv. The whole place is kind of permeated with kind of a 'beat' feeling in the air.... why go anywhere or need anything when you can just open your eyes and take in La Naturaleza ?

At one point in its history the community tried to make transactions with a localized money system. However it got so complicated that it collapsed. Now they thrive on an 'economy of generosity' together. Nobody starves, education is available, everybody has shelter, there is very little capital, but there are tons of community (work) and ceremonial events that keep everyone on track and  fulfilled. 

But best is of course not to do anything at all: listen to the Daimond Sutra sung by the water streams and falls, echoing through the valley and harmonizing all beating hearts, until phenomena dissolve and churn into golden fiction.

1 comment:

  1. How lucky you are...
    to see such a place and to be able to express it so beautifully in words.