Conclusion of CESE project to strengthen Cerrado organizations to tackle racism

Racism did not seem to be frequently discussed in the debates of some of the communities that surround the Rio Grande river basin, in São Desidério, in the west of Bahia – a region containing a significant number traditional riverside communities who, in various ways, live from their relationship with the river.  Everything changed, however, when the Institute for the Environment and Water Resources (Instituto de Meio Ambiente e Recursos Hídricos: INEMA) authorized the construction of a Small Hydroelectric Centre (Pequena Central Hidrelétrica: PCH) in the basin.

Amanda Silva, 10envolvimento Agency member

From there it was right and necessary to ask this question: why does a company have the right to exploit the river, if the people who live there do not? “INEMA practices racism is its licencing process when it says one party has the right to the environment, in other words a company that is there to exploit the territory for profit, while the communities who have been there for centuries do not,” declared Amanda Silva, 10envolvimento Agency member.

This was one of the nuances of the debates that took place within the “Strengthening Cerrado organizations to tackle racism” project, which CESE runs in partnership with the Ibirapitanga Institute: to identify the ways that racism is manifest against the traditional communities of the Cerrado. Amanda made this declaration on 25 November, during a project evaluation meeting with the organizations that participated in the project.

The group of Rio Grande Communities, which are threatened by the Santa Luzia PCH, declared that the planned works include a 7 km channel which will divert 80% of the Rio Grande’s water, drying up a stretch of approximately 8 km.  This will leave the communities of Beira Rio and part of Manoel de Souza with almost no river water and will cause the loss of their main livelihood, a traditional living resource, and a source of well-being and happiness.

Amanda explained that the view that what happened was the result of INEMA’s institutional racism was put to the communities during meetings held to plan a demonstration against the establishment of the Santa Luzia PCH.  She pointed out that it is important to consider the impact this discussion will have moving forward, as the communities begin to reflect on the different ways they experience racism.

The project’s main aim was to tackle coordinated racism by strengthening the sustainable food systems of the quilombola and traditional communities of the Cerrado.  In addition to seeking to understand the various facets of this relationship and to extend the debate about these issues, the initiative also supported projects representing the fight against racism in this field.

While Maria da Conceição Campos celebrated the purchase of two water tanks for the Chumbo Quilombo in Poconé (Mato Grosso), a region that suffers from proximity to soybean fields that are treated with large quantities of pesticides, Viviane Malmann, from the Peasant Women’s Movement (Movimento de Mulheres Camponesas: MMC), celebrated the distribution of booklets about how to grow 10 varieties of native seeds in 1 m of land.

Among other things, the first project aimed to enrich 10 quilombola gardens by planting native seedlings, fruit, traditional seeds and medicinal herbs, and to reclaim the communities’ food culture.  On the other hand, the MMC project joins the movement’s congress, which will focus on the recovery of native seeds for the whole of Brazil, as well as telling the MMC’s story and presenting other projects, all involving young people from traditional communities – quilombolas, riverside dwellers and indigenous people.  Both projects receive support from CESE via this initiative.

Strengthening Cerrado organizations to tackle racism

With so many meetings, the project was able to bring together different contexts that have a great deal in common.  These were moments as rich and diverse as the Cerrado itself.  Viviane reported that, based on these conversations, she was able to see the crossover between the needs of these different peoples.

Viviane Malmann from the Peasant Women’s Movement 



“Although we are people from different territories, our needs, feelings, values, love and solidarity, as well as the relationship we have with natural resources, are the same.  There is a need to engage in the struggle.  When we fight for agro-biodiversity, it ends up impacting on all peoples.  We are just one people within the forests and the waters, and we need to enter into dialogue,” she declared.





For her part, Maria da Conceição talked about the motivation she gained from the project.  Motivation and strength.  “I learnt that it really is worth carrying on fighting, believing and hoping.  If we fight, we can have hope.  To fight so we can provide things that will alleviate difficult situations,” Maria da Conceição said.

Temóteo Gomes, from the National Board of the Movement of People Affected by Dams

Temóteo Gomes, from the National Board of the Movement of People Affected by Dams (Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens: MAB), emphasized the need to advance discussions about the types of racism (structural, environmental, institutional) in traditional communities.  “If we are here, it is because we believe in a different society for them.  The main focus of this support involves really working on political awareness with the communities.  Only organization will make us change the structure that is imposed on us, on women and on young people.”

In partnership with the Ibirapitanga Institute, the initiative provided support for 18 projects. In all, more than BRL 200 thousand was invested in projects from grassroots organizations in the Cerrado. 815 women, 584 young people and a total of 1442 people benefited, with 34 participating organizations from seven states – Bahia, Goiás, Maranhão, Minas Gerais, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Piauí and Tocantins.


Watch our special project video to view all the participating organizations (in Portuguese).