PPA’s accelerated business seeks to gain scale by working with rubber-producing partners

Encauchados de Vegetais, one of the sustainable businesses supported by the Partnership Platform for the Amazon (PPA) in its acceleration program has started using the Seringô brand for all vegetable rubber products made from latex supplied by Amazon communities. Poliprobio and Cooperagro have done the same.

Seringô is already on Instagram (@seringo) and a collection with its production will be at a catwalk in Sao Paulo; Benglô, owned by actress Gloria Pires, known in Brazil for starring TV Globo highly popular soap operas, will be showing and selling a Seriingô collection.

Earlier this month, as part of a project involving the Amazon Fund and Ecoforte, and which has PPA as a partner, Seringô held the first of a series of workshops to train multipliers on good rubber-cutting and sap-drying practices. The participants also learned how to make handicrafts and bio-jewelry from encauchados – a traditional indigenous rubber-making technique that has been improved to allow communities to start the vulcanization process while still in the forest.

Vila Franca was the first of five communities in the Tapajós-Arapiuns Extractive Reserve to host the workshop, which had several indigenous participants, including a  resident of the Tapajós National Forest and a quilombola woman from the Calha Norte region. They were invited to attend the handicraft and bio-jewelry workshop and exchange knowledge, teach and learn from the Vila Franca group.

Vila Franca,  is about an hour by boat from Santarém, Pará. It is the nearest riverine community in the Extractive Reserve, and indeed the first in the whole state. Rubber tapping was once the region's main economic activity, but it has now been abandoned for decades.

“Four years ago, after being trained by Cooperagro, we started working with encauchados handicrafts. Married women can rely on their husbands to extract latex from the trees, but those who are not married have to pay for it. We sell our products at the Cristo-Rei store in Santarém, where we have a stand," explains Maria Angelica Correa, coordinator of the Vila Franca Handicraft Group. Her family donated the land to build a shed where the group gathers to produce rubber tablecloths, coasters, table mats, bags, bookmarks and bio-jewelry.

Part of the Vila Franca production is also sent to Oriximiná, where Rosa Alves coordinates another Seringô Handicraft Group. She explains that “in Oriximiná, the rubber plantations are too far, and there is no incentive for men to resume regular production. We have to rely on Vila Franca's rubber tappers.”

The income from the sale of handicrafts has already begun to change the balance of power in some riverine groups. For the first time, women have their own income. Some decide together with their husbands to save money in order to buy home appliances or school supplies. And all of them have been able to buy items for themselves, without depending on their husbands.

Maria Angelica Correa, whose monthly income is less than half a minimum wage, says she has always lived on handicrafts, but previously worked with straw and forest products that she used to gather – something she can no longer do because of health problems: “We can work from home, do our housework and still supplement our income.”

Francisco Salmonek, CEO of Seringô, who delivered the training to Vila Franca's rubber tappers, says that the Tapajós-Arapiuns Extractive Reserve will become a strong hub for Seringô's footwear production in Pará. The Tapajós-Arapiuns Extractive Reserve can become a  “high productivity island as it has thousands of rubber trees planted in the communities, where they used to grow their subsistence crops.” The Extractive Reserve has the capacity to produce 220 tons of rubber per month, according to a recent survey. Today, they only extract latex for handicrafts”. By the end of the year, Seringô expects its project to be buying two tons of rubber per month from the Resex. They intend to certify local rubber as organic in the near future and the first steps for achieving that were taken in the techniques learned by rubber tappers in the November field workshop.