Women of the Amazon Series

Community leader works to improve women’s lives in mangrove areas

August, 2023 – Community leader Alessandra Santos is an active member in a number of different organizations in the state of Pará. She focuses her efforts on improving women’s working conditions in mangrove areas to enable them to increase their income; train them and encourage their engagement in local organizations to eliminate intermediaries and improve the price of crabs. She also created awareness programs to conserve mangroves and their biodiversity. 

Alessandra lives in the Soure Marine Extractive Reserve, in the state of Pará, and was appointed second treasurer of the Soure Marine Extractive Reserve Association (ASSUREMAS). She is a member of their Deliberative Council, and acts as first secretary of the Soure Crab Collectors Association. 

In May, she also joined the Mangrove Mothers Network Forum, a group created in 2020 to enhance female participation in activities related to artisanal fishing in mangroves, and in monitoring species and conservation areas.

Mangrove Mothers is part of the Fishing Forever project, which has been implemented by non-governmental organization RARE Brazil, and works with 12 communities and their associations. It has the support of USAID/Brazil, through Enraíza PPA: For Sociobiodiverse & Sustainable Amazons, promoted by the Partnership Platform for the Amazon (PPA) and the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT. 

Alessandra says that the forum offers a great opportunity for sharing experiences and discussing the challenges crab collectors encounter.

What lessons did you learn from the Mangrove Mothers Forum?Alessandra: A group of six women representing Soure attended the forum, and the result was very positive. Our meeting was wonderful because it gave us a chance to share our experiences with handicrafts, oils, and working in mangroves. One of the things that caught my attention was the diverse production from other reserves. Here in Soure, for example, women work with oilseeds—mainly andiroba and tucumã—but in other regions, they extract oil from peach palms, aloe vera, and a multitude of other plants. We had an amazing opportunity to exchange knowledge.

How may we improve the working conditions for women working in mangroves?
Alessandra: We designed a project to create a crab pulp processing unit, and we are nearly there now. Once this processing unit starts operating, we will be able to provide better pay to our crab collectors, buying directly from them, rather than going through the marreteiros (a local term for intermediaries in the commercial chain). It is not that we want to put marreteiros out of work: our goal is to improve the current situation for our extractive workers. In addition, we could buy their surplus production, which intermediaries do not usually buy. Local crab collectors also dream of being able to build fully equipped kitchens that meet sanitary requirements in order to expand their ability to sell processed crab meat, as we did with açaí.

Do you work with savings clubs? How do they work?
Alessandra: Yes, we have created savings clubs in six communities in our municipality. Through them, we train women on how to save a little bit of their money. We have a kind of a common safe, a coordinator, a treasurer, and a secretary. We ask for a collective contribution, which is divided by all, and individual contributions, made through the "purchase" of stamps with a drawing of a crab. For example, if a woman has R$ 50 to spare, she can buy five stamps, and that money will be kept in the safe. When we eventually open the safe, each one can see how much they managed to save. The idea is to teach them how to save to have a nest egg.

What role do local associations play?
Alessandra: They help a lot. We work to raise women's awareness,  gaining recognition and bringing them out of the private sphere. 

What do you do in terms of environmental conservation?
Alessandra: We promote joint efforts, meetings, and lectures to sensitize people and raise awareness for conservation. The mangroves provide a living for many families, so we need to make everyone aware that we must not destroy the mangrove areas, but rather, conserve them. We have managed to keep our mangroves standing. 

What message do you try to convey to women?
Alessandra: They should never give up when they face their first obstacle. They should try to help their husbands, and their families. By helping each other, they will build a better future. Together, we are stronger. We will no longer want to work alone because, as a group, our achievements are much better. The Mangrove Mothers Network is showing us this.

Series – Throughout 2023, the PCAB newsletter will share stories of women's struggles and success – told by women themselves. They include Indigenous and riverine women who work and contribute to the development of their traditional communities, and who live in protected areas of the Amazon rainforest with all its ecological diversity.