Indigenous autonomy: Strengthening businesses with a focus on territorial governance and biodiversity conservation

The Paiter Suruí Production and Development Cooperative (COOPAITER) aims to foster the improvement of commercial and financial management mechanisms for Brazil nut production. Their objectives include improving production processes and cooperative management, while empowering Indigenous people, specifically women, to earn income and strengthen biodiversity conservation.

Through the Nossa Floresta Nossa Casa project (Our Forest, Our Home), Forest Trends (FT) articulates with NESsT and Conexsus to support COOPAITER with direction and training, as well as providing working capital for the purchase of equipment and other materials. FT, NESsT and Conexsus are all members of the Partnership Platform for the Amazon (PPA).

As a result of this arrangement, the cooperative has become part of the Amazon Indigenous Rights and Resources Program (AIRR), led by NESsT in partnership with WWF-Brasil and supported by USAID (learn more about it here). 

The cooperative guides the initiative, and currently has around 200 members, 40 percent of whom are women. Originally created by the Paiter Suruí, it benefits communities in the Sete de Setembro Indigenous Land, in Rondônia. "We expect to expand investments even further. Thanks to these partnerships, we are not alone, and we are able to think of ways to improve our management,” says Elisângela Suruí, production manager at COOPAITER. 

According to Ms. Surui, the idea is to leverage the production of Brazil nuts at the Sete de Setembro Indigenous Land, improving several practices that range from collecting seeds in the forest to processing them. This is an important extractive activity in sustainable non-timber forest management, and it helps to conserve the Amazon. The production engages elders, adults, and young people, who, during the harvest, spend days in the forest gathering, washing, and storing nuts for sale. 

Since 2019, Forest Trends has worked with COOPAITER on other initiatives under Nossa Floresta Nossa Casa. The project is coordinated by the Forest Trends Communities and Territorial Governance Initiative (ICGT-FT), one of the implementers of the Partnership for the Conservation of Amazon Biodiversity (PCAB). Its operation and management are supported by Greendata — Socioeconomic and Environmental Management and Innovation Center, and by the PPA.

We seek to facilitate agreements, strengthen social organization, and coordinate market access, among other important actions to support the economic resilience and territorial governance of Indigenous groups. We focus on self-determination and Indigenous autonomy to strengthen and improve capacities, and recognize the value of each people’s culture. Always keeping territorial governance in mind, we work together to create links among our various partners and to structure their businesses,” explains Márcio Halla, FT coordinator at Nossa Floresta Nossa Casa.

This partnership is a learning opportunity for Marcelo Cwerner, portfolio manager at NESsT. "We are working to strengthen Indigenous businesses and generate income. Thanks to that, they are now able to continue playing the role they have played so well for so long: that of protecting nature, biodiversity, and their territories. We're going to learn a lot."

Paula Castanho, adviser at Conexsus, affirms that in addition to contributing to strengthening local communities’ financial and agro-extractive management, supporting production planning, and providing working capital and funds for the purchase of equipment. Conexsus expects to develop training activities that are inclusive to young people and women, and that bring all cooperative members together.

"Through the Conecta/Conexsus Platform, our advisers have been able to provide improvement opportunities to cooperative members, in addition to supporting commercial diversification with the e-commerce/Negócios pela Terra/Conexsus platform and other activities. We conducted studies on the most imminent difficulties related to Brazil nut distribution. COOPAITER has joined the Conexsus Fund working capital support credit line, and is now cooperating on several fronts."

New recognition — In October, COOPAITER became the first indigenous cooperative in Rondônia to receive the National Family Farming Seal. This will boost their sales both domestically and overseas, as individual QR codes will enable buyers to trace the origin of all products. 

In addition to Brazil nuts, the cooperative members also produce açaí, bananas, cocoa, and sustainable coffee. 

Since the 1980s, the Paiter Suruí people have cultivated coffee. In 2018 their production gained prominence as a result of their participation in the International Coffee Week, an annual event held in Belo Horizonte (MG). 

“They are very well organized and have much interest in developing, learning, improving controls, and acquiring new management tools. They are always willing to learn more,” adds Marissa Renaud, portfolio manager at NESsT.

PPA executive secretary Augusto Corrêa points out that sustainable development in the Amazon is only possible if it is seen as a collective and shared responsibility. “It is important to find synergies and build bridges between different actors in the ecosystem so that they can cooperate and, in this way, expand their operating capacities in the territory. Here, we can see a clear example of collaboration between key PPA partners who are bringing opportunities to forest peoples. This is the mission of any platform, and this is the mission of the PPA."