Médio Juruá Captivates Chefs from All Over Brazil

Médio Juruá expedition was promoted by Gosto da Amazônia

September, 2022 — It takes at least seven hours by boat from the town of Carauari to the community of São Raimundo, in the Médio Juruá Extractive Reserve, in the state of Amazonas. Chefs, restaurant managers, distributors, community leaders, journalists, funders, and members of governmental and non-governmental organizations, made this trip together alongside USAID/Brazil to learn about the sustainable management of wild pirarucu.

“This expedition is a unique opportunity. The community gets to know their partners, who, in turn, are able to understand the beauty of management. Our supporters also have an opportunity to experience life in the community, and get to see the different stages of community management up close. I'm sure that understanding the history and the whole process may increase engagement, which will enable this activity to grow even more,” commented Adevaldo Dias, president of the Chico Mendes Memorial.

This second expedition was organized by Gosto da Amazônia, a collective brand under the Pirarucu Collective. The brand aims to increase the sale of pirarucu in a fair and sustainable manner while promoting biodiversity conservation in the Amazon. The initiative is supported by USAID Brazil through the Sustainable Value Chains project, implemented by the IEB, with technical assistance from the US Forest Service and the participation of the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio). 

“It's important for USAID to work with a community like this for several reasons. The population living in the heart of the Amazon rainforest must be able to live with dignity, having a reasonable income and a prosperous future, but they also have an important background and know how to live in that biome. They know how to use and respect the forest where they live,” said Catherine Hamlin, director of the USAID Brazil Environment Program.

Importance of management — Pirarucu management is an important source of income for Médio Juruá communities. Pirarucu sales help to supplement the income from other extractive activities, such as rubber tapping and seed collection. In addition, it strengthens community organizing efforts and helps maintain the area safe — as monitoring activities requires frequent visit to the lakes where the pirarucu breeds.

Wild pirarucu, the largest freshwater scale fish in the world, is one of the main symbols of the Amazon. The fish almost disappeared in the region due to overfishing. Community management practices started over 20 years ago by local riverine and Indigenous communities created the Pirarucu value chain as a symbol of a successful initiative to promote biodiversity conservation and sustainable income generation for local populations. 

“We do not preserve it just because of the money, but because it is one of our roots. Money is a positive consequence of this activity. People who live in and off the forest know that we do not do it for the money, but rather to preserve the place where we live," explains Quilvilene Cunha, treasurer of the Association of Agroextractive Women of Médio Juruá (ASMAMJ). 

According to Quilvilene, welcoming visitors was important to show the reality of the Amazon inhabitants. “It's been a huge pleasure for the community to welcome them; really gratifying. They live in another reality, but they were interested in learning about our lives and the challenges we face working on the pirarucu chain, as well as hearing about the historical process of organization and protection that we have here.”

During the boat trip, conversations and presentations put into perspective the importance of management. Next steps and ideas for the pirarucu chain were discussed after the visit to São Raimundo. 

Training restaurant staff to understand the importance of this product, as well as creating materials for consumers and other promotion strategies were explored. Some of the chefs will develop new pirarucu recipes to include in their permanent menus.

“We need to increasingly value pirarucu and other local ingredients. We have a lot of good products, and pirarucu is one of them. This opportunity has been unique — come here, meet them, learn how management is done, how the fish are treated, and then start cooking it in our restaurant. I think it's an amazing experience, knowing how it is produced, experiencing it together with the people who manage the fish and the entire production line — this will stay in my memory forever. I will certainly multiply this learning with my team,” commented Daiti Ieda, chef at the Gurumê restaurant in Rio de Janeiro. 

For Fabiana Pinheiro, from Brasilia’s Sallva restaurant, the trip helped her to better understand how the chain works and reinforced her commitment to sustainable products: “It far exceeded my expectations. We kept our focus on biodiversity, preservation, and the pirarucu, and how this food is being respected and managed to benefit an entire production chain. It is an exchange of experience and knowledge, which will add not only to my life as a chef, but also to my personal life. If you decide that each supplier that will work in our restaurant should have a social and environmental impact, you need to think first.”

Previous experience — The first Gosto da Amazônia expedition took place in 2019. Nine chefs from Rio de Janeiro learned how the Paumari Indigenous people carried out their community management (learn more about it here).

Follow the Médio Juruá Expedition logbook on the Gosto da Amazônia Instagram profile.