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COMMUNITY FIRE MANAGEMENT IN THE MARABA REGION,
A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
To Gustavo for our love
This thesis was a long journey, which could only have been completed with the
help and support of the peasants of the Maraba region, my family, friends, and mentors. I
would like to express my gratitude to the peasants of the Sdo Francisco do Itacaiunas and
Cupu communities, that received me in their houses and communities, and patiently spent
their time in the Fire Action and teaching me about their culture. In particular, I am
grateful to the peasants Mrs. Bia and Mr. Placidino that, in1992 and 1993, received me
for months in their community, and deeply influenced my way of understanding
peasantry in Amazonia.
I sincerely thank Dr. Marianne Schmink for all her constructive criticism, patience,
and support which helped to strengthen this study. For their precious contributions,
suggestions, and guidance, I am also very thankful to the members of my committee:
Dr. Marianne Schmink, Dr. Anthony Oliver-Smith, and Dr. Karen Kainer. I especially
wish to thank Dr. Charles Wood for comments on my proposal for fellowships.
I gratefully acknowledge the support of the Inter- American Foundation (IAF), the
Natureza e Sociedade Program, and the Tropical Conservation and Development
Program (TCD) at the University of Florida for the fellowship that allowed my
enrollment in the graduate school. Moreover, I would like to thank the World Wildlife
Fund (WWF-BRAZIL) and the Tropical Conservation and Development Program (TCD)
for funding my research in Para state.
The support I received from Maraba's institutions FATA and LASAT was essential
for developing this study. I am especially grateful to Manu Wamberguer for his inspiring
For their help at various points along the way, I extend my appreciation to the Latin
American Center staff Margarita Gaudia, Myrna Sulsona, Wanda Carter and Lydia
Gonzalez; the TCD staff, particularly Hannah Covert and Peter Polshek; the UF
International Center staff Maud Fraser; and the ETD staff especially John Fishman.
I also wish to express thanks to my friends Joelma, Paul and William Losh, Diana
Alvira, Juli Haradish, Carla Miller, Edviges loris, Olendina Cavalcante, Noemi Porro,
Neila Soares. In Brazil, I especially thank Marli Mattos, Paola, Guilhermina Cayres, and
I express thanks as well to Denise and Cyro Negreiros, for the majority of English
corrections, Paul Losh for reviewing the introduction, John Dain for translating the Fire
Poem, and Nicolas Stahelin for reviewing this acknowledge.
My heartfelt gratitude goes to my husband Gustavo Negreiros, for all his support
since the very beginning of this study. His efforts in supporting the development and
conclusion of my study made the admiration that I feel for him grow even more. I thank
my two boys Francisco and Jose for supporting me in studying and working far away,
and for always demanding my return. I am also thankful to my friend and second mother,
Marina Oliveira, for taking care of my boys as her grandsons. Finally, I thank my parents
for inspiring me and always supporting my decisions, even when they were not very sure
what I was doing or where I was.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S ................................................................................................. iv
LIST OF TABLES ....................................................... ............ ....... ....... ix
LIST OF FIGURES ............................... ... ...... ... ................. .x
ABSTRACT ........ .............. ............. .. ...... .......... .......... xii
1 IN TR O D U C T IO N ...................... .... .............. ..................... ..............
Current Governm ent Strategy ......................................................... .............. 2
Problem Statem ent .................. ......................................... ............ .. ..
R research Q u estion s........... .................................................................. ........ .. ... 13
Study Site ........................ ................................ ........ ......... ........... 14
Sdo Francisco do Itacaiunas Community .................................... ............... 16
Cupu Com m unity .................................. ... .. ..... ............ 20
R research M methods ................ .... ........ ..... ...... .. .. ...... ... 23
Selection of the Communities and Families.................................................26
D ata C collection ................................ ........................................ ..........2 8
Conceptual Discussion on Participatory Approach..................................................31
O organization of the Stu dy ................................................................ .....................36
2 COM M UNITY FIRE A CTION ........................................................ ............... 39
Introduction ......................... ... ..... ........ ....... ........................ 39
Peasantry Historical Construction in the Maraba Region .........................................40
P easant O rg anization s .............................................................. .....................4 5
FATA and LASAT ............................ ...... ... .. ..... ............ 48
Communities' Social Organization........... ............ ........ ................. 49
FATA/LASAT Community Fire Action ...... ............................................51
Process for defining Practices for Fire Management .......................................53
First A ction-Learning Cycle................................... ......... ............... 58
Second A ction-Learning Cycle ....................................... ............... 76
D iscu ssio n ...................... .. .. ......... .. .. .................................................. 8 2
3 COLON IST COM M UN ITIES.......................................................... ............... 83
In tro d u ctio n ........................................................................................................... 8 3
A ge of H eads of F am ilies .............. .............. .......................................................83
Migration and Length of Residence in the Community .................. ..................... 84
F am ily L ab or Sy stem .................................... .. ...... ...................... .......... .. .. ..86
Productive System ............................................ .. .. .... ........ ......... 88
F orm al E du cation ........... .................................................................... ........ .. ....... .. 92
C cultural Interpretations ...................................... .... ............... .. .............. .... 96
C om m unities and Tow ns ......................................... ................. ............... 98
Forest ................................. .......................... .... ..... ......... 104
F ir e ............................................................................................................... 1 0 7
D isc u ssio n ........................................................................................................... 1 1 3
4 COMMUNITY FIRE MANAGEMENT EVALUATION ........................................115
In tro d u ctio n ......................................................................................................... 1 1 5
Losses Caused by Fire ......................................... .................. ... ...... 117
Community Organization for Burnings ................................................................120
Sdo Francisco do Itacaiinas Community ........................................ ....122
C u pu C om m u n ity ........................................................................................ 12 9
Before Burning ...........................................................135
Responding to Official Fire Use Regulations ...................................................136
Communication between Neighbors. .................................. .. ......138
Period Chosen to Burn: M onth Choices ...........................................................142
Burning after the First R ain .................................................................. 147
Preventive Firebreaks ................................. .......................... ........ 154
O n the burning day ...........................................................................160
Number of People at the Burning Event ........................................................... 161
Time to Start Burnings ...........................................163
U se of B ackfire .................. .............................. ................... .. .. ...... .. 167
A after B turning .................... ....... ................................................ 170
Sum m ary of Practices Evaluated ......................................... ....................... ...172
F ire S trateg ie s ................. ....... .. ........... ... .... .............................. .......... .. .. .. 17 5
Peasants' Evaluation of Government and Community Fire programs ......................181
D isc u ssio n ................................... .................................................... ....1 8 4
5 C O N C L U SIO N S...........................................................................188
G overnm ent A approach ............................................................ ............... 188
Colonist Em pirical K now ledge........................................................................... 189
Participatory A approach ........................................................................ 191
General Conclusions ................................................ ........ ................. 191
Contributions of this Study ......................................................... .............. 192
A GLOSSARY OF ACRONYM S........................................... ............................ 194
B PEA SA N T'S N A R R A TIV E S ........................................................... ....................196
C FATA/LASAT COMMUNITY FIRE ACTION BOOKLET.............................. 203
D IN T E R V IE W G U ID E ....................................................................... ....................2 14
E CODED BOOK .................................... ..... ....... .. ............215
L IST O F R E FE R EN C E S ........................................................................... ..............218
B IO G R A PH IC A L SK E T C H ........................................... ...........................................227
LIST OF TABLES
2-1. Peasant critical assessment of the IBAMA/GTA booklet on fire management.....68
3-1. Most common kinds of workforce found in the Sao Francisco do Itacaiunas
(SFI) and Cupu com m unities ..................... ......... ........................ ............... 88
4-1. Distribution of kinds of losses caused by uncontrolled fires by year in A) Sao
Francisco do Itacaiunas community and B) Cupu community .........................119
4-2. Main practices evaluated, and possible changes due in part to the
FATA/LASAT Fire Action................................ ......... ................. 74
LIST OF FIGURES
1-1. South America and Brazilian Amazonia region maps showing the study area in
the so-called 'arc of deforestation', the Maraba region, north of the Para state. ....17
1-2. Sao Francisco do Itacaiunas Community village................... ..... ............... 20
1-3. Cupu C om m unity village ............................................... ............................ 23
2-1. Representation of the FATA/LASAT Fire Action......................... ..........55
2-2. Codification of fire management actions into phases................ .............. ....61
2-3. Summary of the first systematization on Community Fire Management .............64
2-4. Some of the elements used in the "Burning Dynamics." ................................66
2-5. Two examples of Burning Dynamics. ................................. ....... ...... ............. 72
3-1. Origin distribution by state, by gender, for the heads of families of the Sao
Francisco do Itacaiunas and Cupu communities (n=72)................................85
3-2. Representation of land use distribution....... ........ .......... ..................... 90
3-3. Families' formal education grades attended. ................... ................. ......... 95
4-1. Distribution of families that reported any kind of losses ................................121
4-2. The FATA/LASAT Fire Action and Sao Francisco do Itacaiunas community
activities, from 1998 rainy season through 2000 dry season ............................123
4-3. Representation of the Sao Francisco do Itacaiunas community's strategy in
conducing fire management, from 1998 to 2000..........................................126
4-4. Related FATA/LASAT Fire Action and the Cupu community activities, from
1998 through 2000 dry season. ...................................................................... 132
4-5. Representation of Cupu community organization for fire management, from
1999 to 2000. ......................................................................135
4-6. Representation of a burning situation in the Cupu community, in 1999,in
which the lack of communication caused loss to one family............. ...............142
4-7. Rainfall distribution and months chosen for burning. .......................................145
4-8. A slashed primary forest burned after heavy rain, at the end of the dry season,
resulting in a bad quality burning for cropping. .............................................150
4-9. Firebreak bordering forests. ..................................................................... ....... 158
4-10. Distribution of ratio of people to size of area burned....................................162
4-11. Distribution of studied families' 1998 and 1999 choices of burning time for
their agricultural fields ........... .................................................. ............... 165
4-12. Conjoint burning situation of two neighbors. ......... ......................................178
4-13. Example of a successful use of control firebreak. ............................................180
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts
COMMUNITY FIRE MANAGEMENT IN THE MARABA REGION,
Chair: Marianne Schmink
Major Department: Latin American Studies
The Brazilian government has increased investment in education, technology, law
enforcement, and infrastructure to control fire use in Amazonia since 1998, but these
campaigns have not decreased fire use. Colonist peasants, the social actors focus of this
study, were the main target public of IBAMA fire campaigns in Amazonia. While
colonists make use of fire every year, and are directly affected by political decisions
concerning fire use, they have no voice influencing those decisions. The main groups
that could hear peasant's voices-- technicians, government, academics-- generally
disregard colonist's knowledge.
This study discusses government strategy for fire control, documents colonists'
knowledge on fire management, and evaluates a participatory approach based on Freirian
pedagogy of problem-posing, codification, and learning-cycles. Two colonist
communities involved with the FATA/LASAT Fire Action were evaluated in 1998, 1999
and partially in 2000 using a combination of participant observation and systematic
interviews of a purposeful sample of families from each community. The results
presented show colonists' unique history and set of values and beliefs, manifested in the
communities' forms of organization, communication, and adaptation of fire management
recommendations developed in the participatory Fire Action.
This study's general conclusions are that the success in fire control in the two
studied communities resulted from a combination of families' willingness to avoid fire-
related losses, the participatory approach adopted and coordinated by trusted leaders and
institutions, and experienced technician, and families' fear of government coercive
pressure for fire use. In addition, this study argues that if peasants are not seen as
partners with valuable knowledge to contribute with technicians for critical reflection on
better fire use, the current top-down government actions may lead to more social conflicts
in the region.
Images of tropical rain forest burnings have been spread worldwide during the last
decade, associated with forest destruction and mismanagement, raising awareness about
fire as a problem for tropical forests. In Brazil, the worst event of uncontrolled fire
happened in Roraima state, in 1998, when 33,000 kilometers were burned (BVRoraima
2004). The Roraima case was crucial for new Brazilian government policies on fire
monitoring and control in Amazonia.
Although international concern about fire use has been relatively recent, fire has
long been a part of the history of Amazonia. Charcoal from fires at least 2,000 years ago,
and even older events, can be found in soil pit layers all around the Amazonian region
(Pyne 1998; Meggers 1994; Negreiros personal communication). What has changed
lately, however, is the higher incidence of fire associated with agricultural frontier
expansion in Amazonian, particularly in regions with clear dry season1, logging
activities2, concentration of farmers whose main productive tool is fire, and in years
subject to El Nifio-Southern Oscillation.
1 The sharper the contrast between dry and wet seasons, the more vigorous the fire regime (Pyne 1998:65).
2 Intensive logging increases forest flammability: forest cuttings increase potential fuel loads and the
amount of solar radiation reaching the forest floor (Uhl et al. 1994:295).
3 "El Nifio" is part of a global configuration of atmospheric and oceanic changes resulting in droughts and
inundations around the world. Amazonia has seemed vulnerable to drought during El Nifio oscillations
Because of losses caused by fire at local, regional, and global levels, there is a
common agreement that fire has to be better managed, and alternatives to its use have to
be adopted, a consensus which is reflected in the growing governmental and non-
governmental efforts in this direction. This common ground is a powerful step toward
integrated solutions. However, there is no agreement among the several different actors
on what 'better fire management' is, and how it can be reached.
Current Government Strategy
Brazilian government strategy, according to one of PREVFOGO4 director, is based
on the "tripod of education-enforcement-monitoring, under the slogan: to educate not to
burn" (Vargas 2003). Government educative actions consisted of media campaigns,
educative materials, and courses, whose main goals were to inform and persuade. The
government had assumed an anti-fire position, focusing on convincing farmers about the
terrible effects of fire (on soil, forest, animals, water sources, people's health,
transportation, carbon emissions, and the international image of Brazil), to show them
how to manage and control fire, and to warn of the penalties for those who do not comply
with the law. Courses were provided by PROARCO5 to firefighters and brigades (local
disseminator agents), and to peasant representatives, showing them how to do Controlled
4 PREVFOGO is the National System for the Prevention and Combat of Forest Fires, created in 1989 and
ratified in 1998, administrated by the IBAMA (Brazilian Institute for Renewable Natural Resources and the
Environment). For a complete list of acronyms see Appendix A.
5 At Amazonia level, the Brazilian government created the PROARCO (Programme for the Prevention and
Control of Burning and Forest Fires in the Deforestation Arc), set up also in 1998, after the Roraima case.
This program is jointly administered by IBAMA (Brazilian Institute for Renewable Natural Resources and
the Environment) and by MMA (Ministry for the Environment, Water Resources and Amazonia).
Important issues like fire control cannot be effectively answered with a top-down
approach, however. Such approaches assume a "domino or trickle-down effect," in
which information goes in a one-way direction, reaching increasing numbers of people,
without dialogue or feedback. Although local people are involved in PREVFOGO
actions, the approach adopted has been top-down, since decisions about the actions "are
made by a small set of powerful stakeholders, according to their own agendas, knowledge
and value systems" (Ingles et al. 1999:6). In an attempt to work with social movements,
in 1998-9, IBAMA (Brazilian Institute for Renewable Natural Resources and the
Environment) worked as a partner with GTA6 (Amazonia Work Group), with economic
support from PPG7 and USAID, forming an emergency program called PROTEGER,
which in Portuguese means 'to protect'. In its second phase (PROTEGER II), GTA was a
partner with MMA (Ministry for the Environment, Water Resources and Amazonia).
PROTEGER's purpose was to reach a large and well-distributed number of Amazonian
grassroots organizations in a short period. This program provided fire control and
prevention training given by firefighters to community leaders, who would pass the
information along to their communities. The strongest aspect of this program was
considered to be its intended multiplier effect, disseminating the information to a large
number of rural families. However, because of the lack of information about Amazonian
realities related to fire use, the technical information given in the training sessions was
based on urban/savanna firefighting knowledge and techniques (verified in the
IBAMA/GTA 1998 booklet, in which many of the recommendations did not fit
Amazonian conditions), and feedback from those indirectly reached by the courses.
6 GTA is an umbrella institution created in 1992 with support from the PPG7 program, and is composed of
more than 400 Amazonian NGO's.
Evaluation of the program's effectiveness was based mainly on the number of people
Many questions remained unanswered. What practical fire management
applications had peasants made in their productive systems? Did they adapt learned
techniques? What worked well, and what did not work at all? Did peasants change their
fire practices? How? Virtually no information existed to answer these questions. My
study thus make a unique contribution to our understanding of the impacts of fire
management programs (in this case, using a different approach from the government's) on
peasants' use of fire.
The newest IBAMA/PROARCO action plan, called "Community Management of
Fire" (Gerenciamento Comunitdrio do Fogo), started in 2004 in Roraima state (IBAMA
2004c), and seems to be another example of a top-down attempt by the Brazilian
government to modify peasants' fire use. In this plan, 960 peasants (distributed in
brigades) appropriately trained and equipped by IBAMA will disseminate the right
practices for fire use and control (IBAMA op. cited). The italics were added by the
author to emphasize the uneven power of who owns the right knowledge (and therefore
decides about its content), and decides who is qualified to manage fire and, by
exclusion, who is not.
Beginning in 1998, IBAMA prohibited fire use in municipalities located in the "arc
of deforestation" for at least 2 months: those months were satellites showing high
numbers of hot pixels. In 2002, in Mato Grosso state (also located in the "arc of
deforestation") a "mega-action" involving the Brazilian Environment Ministry, State
Environmental Secretary, and IBAMA was organized to identify and penalize those using
fire during the prohibition. Given IBAMA's clear rationality on prohibiting fire during
the driest month of the year, one of the regional IBAMA coordinators gave an interview
in which he questioned farmers' and peasants' rationality: "The environment asks only
two months of armistice for not using fire. There are ten more months to bum their
fields. Why don't they burn when they are allowed to? We will not give them [burners]
an armistice. [IBAMA] action is to repress and combat those burnings." (Benedet 2002).
In addition to not understanding farmer and peasant logic on burning their fields during
the last half of the dry season (after they prepare the land, and before the rains), this
IBAMA coordinator's speech presented war terms in the agency's relationship with
farmers, not focused on education but on repression. Changing farmers' behaviors based
on this environment of war, repression, or unilateral view of right and wrong cannot be
expected to be very effective.
The second foot of the IBAMA tripod is monitoring. Indeed, large-scale remote
sensing has been shown to be a powerful tool for fire-occurrence monitoring (Setzer and
Pereira 1991; Skole and Tucker 1993; Sanderberg et al. 1998; Nepstad et al. 1999; Souza
Jr. et al. 2003; Eva and Fritz 2003). More recently, IBAMA inaugurated the CEMAN
(Environmental Monitoring Center), in partnership with the SIPAM (Amazonian
Protection System), equipped with the most advanced technologies to monitor
Amazonian environment conditions (IBAMA 2004a). According to the IBAMA
Director, CEMAN will be the "technological eye for Amazon security."
Sophisticated technological monitoring is a very important tool for controlling
Amazonian fires and deforestation. However, it may not be sufficient. Despite its
obvious advantages, Harwell (2000) warns about adoption of remote sensing and its
interpretations by different social actors during the Indonesia 1997-1998 fire disaster.
She points out that "in addition to the silencing of local voices, remote approaches to
disaster events also obscure these on-going linkages of humans with their environment"
(Harwell 2000:334). Cultural understanding of environment is historically constructed,
as well as social relations among different social actors, factors that have also to be
considered in remote sensing interpretations. If the "technological eye" is in hands of a
small set of powerful social actors only (government, international donors), participation
remains passive because local people, however included in the politics and policies of
conservation, remain peripheral to defining the ways in which conservation is perceived
and natural resources managed (Goldman 2003:834). This thesis explores ways to
involve local communities directly in monitoring.
The third foot and last of the IBAMA tripod is law enforcement. Since 1965, fire
use has been ruled by an imprecise Brazilian law, called the Forest Code (C6digo
Florestal). This federal law prohibited the use of fire "on forest areas and on other forms
of vegetation; however, it was allowed in specific farming or forestry situations under
governmental supervision" (IBAMA/GTA 1998:36). As explained above, in 1989, the
Brazilian government started the PREVFOGO program within IBAMA with the
objective of reducing the use of fire to "acceptable" levels (IBAMA 1998). This work
was coupled with monitoring by INPE (the Brazilian Space Agency). However,
Amazonia was not included among the areas to be served by this program at that time.
Only after early 1998, when fires in Roraima reached the global media, conveying
international pressure on the Brazilian government, were actions taken in Amazonia. The
governmental laws and actions concerning fire use then became more specific and
coercive. PREVFOGO was present in the region for the first time in 1998, supporting the
creation of another program specifically for the Amazon: PROARCO (Program for
Prevention and Control of Fires in the Arc of Deforestation). In 1998, IBAMA also
established that community and controlled burnings were required to follow a set of
procedures and rules, including obtaining an official burning permit form (authorization
was required since 1965, but no practical instrument was created until 1998) and payment
of fees per hectare to be deforested and burned. However, the government's
recommendations were out of reach for most peasants, who often did not even have the
means to prove their ownership of land (one of the documents required to obtain an
official burning permit).
In 1999 and 2000, the governmental program PROARCO established firefighter
groups based in the cities of the region where the fire problem is worst. The state of Para
received four new helicopters to be used by IBAMA in enforcement actions. Those
actions may include high fines and jail for those who use fire without an official permit or
who do not comply with the official authorization. Additionally, the official burning
permit can be cancelled in special situations, such as a very high number of burnings in a
municipality (based on INPE remote sensing data). When this happens, the government
prohibits fire use, even for those who have burning permits. This prohibition lasts in
general for two months (the driest months in the year), and it has taken place every dry
season7 since 1998. Parallel to the IBAMA program, INCRA (National Institute for
Colonization and Agrarian Reform) has organized other firefighter groups associated
7 The Amazonian region possesses two seasons: rainy (or winter) season and dry (summer) season, with its
length varying according to micro-regions.
with people from peasant settlements, but based in cities. However, in Amazonia, the dirt
roads and distant locations present serious limitations for mobilization.
Between the Roraima fires and Law of Environmental Crimes regulation in late
1999, the government's strategy was to create provisional measures to prohibit the use of
fire when it is judged to be highly risky, even if official permission has been given.
Although prohibitions have happened since 1998, the fees, tickets, and legal actions were
based on those provisional measures, easily contested through the legal system. Powerful
landowners and farmers had the resources and information to take those defensive
actions, but the majority of Amazonian peasants did not. Thus peasants ended up being
further punished, which created strong resentment against the government rules. The
Law of Environmental Crimes (MMA 2000) defined fees for forest illegally burned:
around US$ 515 per hectare8 and 2 to 4 years of prison. Those penalties were widely
disseminated through radio, TV, and educative material distributed around Amazonia,
always associated with the bad consequences of fire use. The Brazilian government
increased investment in education, technology, law enforcement, and infrastructure to
control fire use since 1998. The government approach has not proven efficient yet, given
that fire occurrence in Amazonia has increased9. In addition, higher fire occurrence has
been associated with weekends and with the IBAMA staff strike in 2003 (Werneck
2003), indicating that as long as enforcement is weaker, farmers burn more. The
government's top-down approach, supported by the media, is creating a scenario
8 R$ 1.500,00 per ha (R$ 1,00 = US$ 2.91).
9 According to IBAMA 2004b, since the number of hot spots has been systematically monitored in the
Amazon region, the higher rate was found in 2002 (160,329 hot spots). In 2003, the number of hot spots
was 139,000 (IBAMA 2004b).
unfavorable for partnerships with rural producers, by labeling burners without official
permits "transgressors", and depending on paid brigades to control fire in Amazonia.
This study argues that governmental actions implemented in a top-down manner, in
which peasant knowledge is disregarded, and technical knowledge is "deposited" in their
lives, has limitations. By contrast, studies have shown that in community-based fire
management there are less occurrences of fire-related losses1 because local people share
decision-making power, volunteer to maintain their natural resources (without depending
on external inputs), and their empirical knowledge is embodied into practices and policies
for fire management (practices culturally and environmentally better adapted). The study
sought to explore these ideas through an in-depth study of two communities involved in a
community-based fire management program.
Colonist peasants, the social actors that are the focus of this study, were the main
target public of IBAMA campaigns in Amazonia. While ranchers are recognized as the
major social actors responsible for area deforested (and burned) in Brazilian Amazonia
(Margulis 2003:80), peasants are also major actors because of their quantity. In Para
state alone,11 169.273 landholdings (83% of the total farms) are smaller than 100 ha
(Trecanni 2000:430) (an indirect indicator of peasants representation)12, whose main
productive tool for land preparation is fire.
10 In China Lichang et al. 2001; in India--Darlong 2001; in Thailand Makarabhirom et al. 2001;
Rakyutidharm 2001; in Indonesia Abberger et. al 2001; in Gambia Sonko et al. 2001; for a review, see
Jackson and Moore 1998).
1 Brazilian Amazon or so-called Legal Amazonia comprises eight states, representing 61% of the Brazil
12 The National Forest Code (Federal Law # 4771) defines "small rural property" or "family land", as any
land exploited mainly by its owner with personal or family labor, in which at least 80% of the income
While colonists make use of fire every year, and are directly affected by political
decisions concerning fire use, they have no voice influencing those decisions. The main
groups that could hear peasant's voices, technicians, government, academics, in general
disregard peasant knowledge. This study aims to contribute to this topic by documenting
colonists' knowledge on fire management, analyzing a participatory approach in which
colonists and grass-roots organizations are partners to develop and implement better
practices for fire management, and discussing how in those approaches in which peasants
are partners with technicians, sharing decision-power, supported by action-learning
cycles, fire will more likely be controlled.
Government technicians had shown that they did not believe that colonist peasants
possess knowledge for natural resource management, because of peasants' lack of
valuable modern "tools", such as formal education, land, infrastructure, entrepreneurial
views, or money. Appropriate practices are definedfor them but not i/ ih them. The
Brazilian Federal Agency for Agriculture and Livestock Research (EMBRAPA), for
example, explicitly identified the Amazonian peasants' three main problems, that explain
their "traditional and backwards technology": lack of education, economic organization,
and energy (EMBRAPA 2000:21). The rationale for not learning from colonist peasants,
thus, is that they are the ones "lacking".
On the other hand, academic ethnographies tend to exclude colonist peasant from
the category "traditional" because their culture is too mixed with modern societies.
While studies show indigenous tribes hold specific cultural values on fire use (Ruddle
1974; Peters and Neuenschwander 1988; Warner 1991), peasants, by comparison, are
comes from farming or extractivism, and with a maximum land size of 150 ha if located in the Legal
Amazonia (Presid6ncia da Repuiblica 2002).
identified as not "genuine" or "traditional" swiddeners, but "incipient swiddeners"
(Warner 1991) or "new swidden practitioners" (Peters and Neuenschwander 1988:74).
Because colonists do not practice the traditional form of swidden, they are assumed to
not be able to "understand the importance of fallow rotation" (Peters and
Neuenschwanderl988:74); or to be "there only for the purpose of a crop for a year or
two" (Warner 1991:9); or to be totally ignorant of the new land due to their absent
cultural ecology of the region, which explains their "search for short term and predatory
means of investments" (Lima and Pozzobon 2001:233).
One explanation given for this lack of "tradition" is their previous situation of being
landless. Brazil is one of the countries with the highest land distribution concentration
rate in the world (Trecanni 2001), and many peasants end up becoming sharecroppers.
Many migrate looking for their first piece of land. This research found out that the
majority of families studied were living in their first landholding. However, many had
significant farming and fire management experience in their regions of origin.
The general misconception of colonist ignorance has blinded academics and
technicians to their empirical knowledge. Few studies go beyond this preconception, and
document in detail different uses that colonist peasants have for their natural resources.
Muchagata, for example, studying five communities in the Maraba region, concluded that
colonists "recognize and use a wide range of plant and animal species (respectively 142
and 39 were listed) which provide food, fuel, raw materials, and medicinal plants, and
represent sources of income" (Muchagata 1996:76). Muchagata and Brown (2000) also
studied colonist perceptions of soil fertility.
Regarding community fire management, Mattos et al. (2000), working with a
colonist community in the Paragominas region (also located in the so-called arc of
deforestation), presents how a community-conceived participatory approach developed
and applied a Community Agreement on fire management, based on their practical
knowledge (AMPPDR 1996). The idea of this community work for fire management was
absorbed by IBAMA to officially recognize, in September of 1998, the Solidarity
Controlled Burning (Queimada Controlada Soliddria), in which one single permit would
include five or more peasant burnings. Although the collective permit was better adapted
to community reality, fire permits continued to require land titling, to charge for
deforested and burned areas, to require firebreaks beyond peasants' capabilities, and to
cancel permits during the high dry season. Therefore, some ideas from the community-
based experience were adopted by decision-makers technicians, but not the participatory
Why are educative campaigns ineffective in changing colonist peasants' fire
practices? Do colonist peasants have empirical knowledge of fire use? Could
participatory approach be more effective in finding solutions for fire management? What
do colonist peasants think about fire use law enforcement? Those questions are not only
academic, but also are key for those making decisions on fire management in Amazonia
today. Recognizing colonist empirical knowledge does not imply that they have all the
solutions for fire management. This study argues that if they are not seen as partners
with valuable knowledge to contribute i/ i/h technicians for critical reflection on better
fire use (better also for peasants) the actual top-down government actions may lead to
more social conflicts in the region. This study also describes a process for a participatory
approach, involving grass-roots organizations, colonist peasants, and in some stages
governmental representatives, in which the philosophy and methods can contribute to
show directions for collaboration between social actors for fire management.
In the Maraba region, Southeast Amazonia, the FATA (Tocantins Araguaia
Agrarian and Environment Foundation) and LASAT (Social-Agrarian Tocantins
Labotatory) Community Fire Action involved more than 20 colonist peasants and 3
indigenous communities. Recommendations for fire management were developed in a
participatory process, coordinated by grassroots organizations, and based on colonists'
empirical knowledge. The Fire Action produced positive impacts on the two
communities studied, as families developed agreements to use fire, and losses caused by
uncontrolled fires diminished drastically after the Fire Action. Some of the
stakeholders13 had discussed FATA/LASAT's proposal and they had supported it as a
regional substitute for the governmental strategies. Although the action is no longer
carried out as a specific activity of FATA or LASAT, systematic evaluation of this
experience can provide relevant insights to those interested in diminishing losses caused
by fire in Amazonia.
This research contributes to the relevant topic of fire management in Amazonia,
specifically involving colonist peasants and changes in their fire practices. This thesis
aims to discuss three main questions:
* Question 1: Why aren't government fire actions and laws more effective in
diminishing uncontrolled fires?
13 In this study, the terms "social actors" and "stakeholders" are used as synonymous, referring to any
"individual, social group or institution that possesses a stake (or interest) in the management of the natural
resource concerned" (Borrini-Feyerabend 1996, cited in Ingles et al. 1999).
* Question 2: Do colonist peasants have and use empirical knowledge to manage fire?
* Question 3: Is a participatory approach to fire management effective in diminishing
Question 1 was examined by analyzing government discourse on peasants and fire
use, families' discourse on government actions (historical and actual experiences), and
families' evaluation of the official fire actions (fire law, its enforcement, and educative
campaigns). Results are presented in Chapter 2 and 3.
Question 2 was developed through peasants' narratives about their practices and
perceptions of fire and natural resources management, where had they learned them,
changes over time, as well as during observation of burnings. Results are presented in
Chapter 3 and 4.
Question 3 was analyzed by evaluating the participatory approach applied to a
community fire management action (the FATA/LASAT Fire Action), and its impacts on
fire practices of colonists families in two communities. The process regarding the fire
action is described and analyzed in Chapter 2, and the evaluation of its impacts is
presented in Chapter 4.
Para state is the second in the rank of fire occurrence in Amazonia in concentration
of hot spots.14 The Maraba region, located in an Amazonian frontier region of the so-
called "arc of deforestation" is one of the high concentration of hot spots (INPE 2004).
The Maraba region is also known as Bico do Papagaio15 region, and was originally
14 The expression "hot spot" is used for heat registered on the earth's surface by the AVHRR sensor on
board the NOAA satellites, which captures and records any temperature above 47 Celsius, and reads it as
"hot spots" (PROARCO 1998).
15 Bico do Papagaio region or "Parrot Beak" region has this nickname due the shape resulted from the
Tocantins and Araguaia rivers' confluence (see Figure 1-1)
occupied by indigenous groups. It comprises an area stretching across the state-lines of
Para, Maranhdo and Tocantins (Figure 1-1), and includes eight municipalities: Marabi,
Itupiranga, Sao Jodo do Araguaia, Sao Domingos do Araguaia, Sao Geraldo do Araguaia,
Nova Ipixuna, Brejo Grande do Araguaia, and Palestina do Pard (Forum das Entidades
pela Reforma Agrdria do Sul e Sudeste do Pard 2001:4). By the year 2000, the actions
conducted by FATA and LASAT included the first six municipalities on the list and later
that year extended to the remaining ones.
The importance of peasants in the state of Pard is illustrated by the high number of
small plots of lands, which account for nearly 82% of the total number of plots, or
169,273 plots (Treccani 2001:430), distributed in 33% of the area (DFID1998:16). In
addition, peasants in the state are estimated to produce as much as 84% of all the manioc
produced, as well as 63% of the corn, 59% of the beans, and 46% of the rice (Hurtienne
1999, cited by Veiga 2000:15).
This region is located in the so-called the "Brazil-nut Polygon", an area named after
the abundant Brazil-nut trees (Bertholletia excelsa). The average temperature is 260C,
and rainfall around 2000 mm/year (Muchagata 1996:13). It is characterized by defined
rainy and dry seasons. The rainy season is concentrated from November to March, and
the dry season from May to September. April and October are transition months. The
vegetation is classified as Ombrofila Densa Montana Forest (Sestini 2002:44).
The two communities studied, Sao Francisco do Itacaiunas and Cupu, were formed
in much the same way. In most cases, families were landless migrants originally from
Brazil's northeastern region occupying part of a large-scale farm. They faced landowners
in conflicts over access to the land, and struggled to make their living by means of
extractivism, agriculture, and cattle, for which they had very little government support.
They built community roads, churches, schools, and soccer fields; they harvested their
own crops and marketed their own products; they founded their associations and
partnered with NGOs; they obtained loans (and therefore debts) from the government for
their fields. The Catholic Church and grassroots organizations were cited as their main
supporters. Complaints about government absence or negligence were present in many
different moments of this research, pointing to a potential resistance to future partnership
agreements or collaboration with governmental guidelines laws. Some details concerning
the history of each community are given in Figure 1-1.
Sao Francisco do Itacaifinas Community
The Sao Francisco do Itacaiunas community, in the Municipality of Maraba, is
located approximately 55 km southwest of Maraba and connected to the main town
center by a dirt road. To the south of the village runs the Itacaiunas River. Nowadays,
the community is divided into 64 plots, plus a village center. According to long-time
resident Mr. Vendncio Dias, the community was started on July 14, 1983 when
representatives of 41 families settled on the site in a non-official colonization process.
Occupants were landless peasants living in local villages. More than 50% of them came
from Boa Esperanca, a village located 18 km from the occupied land. For safety reasons,
peasants occupied temporary houses in groups. They worked together to harvest a first
annual crop. Sixteen years after the village was established, the community was
officially recognized by the federal government as a Projeto de Assentament (Settlement
Project) in early 1998. The community was established as a 'new' land reform area
during former President Cardoso's administration. Official recognition represents a very
important step towards guaranteeing peasants' land ownership rights, and has long been
waited for. As of the time of this study, the long journey through the bureaucracy had not
yet allowed authorities officially to demarcate any border lines or issue any land tenure
Figure 1-1. South America and Brazilian Amazonia region maps showing the study area
in the so-called "arc of deforestation," the Maraba region, north of the Para
state. The map below details community locations, the "Parrot Beak" shape
created by Tocantins and Araguaia Rivers, the Tucurui Dam and the Carajas
Mine, as well as highways and railroads (Bellow map adapted by author
from IBGE 1998).
.... Mwaupdflte Pn
S MUnidpolny Cpitl
The history behind Sao Francisco do Itacaiunas and how it was built is as typical as
that of any community in the Bico do Papagaio region. The area was a traditional
castanhal, or a concession of brazil-nut extractive area owned by the government.
Although brazil-nut concessions theoretically could not be deforested, a first contract
granted 3,500 ha to an oligarchic family which turned it into a 7,500 ha cattle ranching
farm or latiffndio16. After that, the land was sold twice before 1983, when the peasants
occupied it. Some of those interviewed said the farm owner was never a violent person,
and for this main reason the conflict with the settlers has never been very violent. Nor
did the farmer have land titles to prove land ownership.
During the conflict resolution with the landowner, mediated by Catholic Church
leaders, representatives of INCRA and the families agreed with the farmer that the 3,500
ha of the original brazil-nut concession would become a community (Nova Canaa), and
the remaining 4,000 ha would continue as a concession to the farmer. Nevertheless, by
the time negotiations were concluded, the number of families had grown and 56 families
were excluded from the distribution of land, among which some of those who had fought
from the days of the first occupations. The excluded group received the support of
"Manu" (Mr. Emmanuel Wanderberg, the Land Pastoral Commission (CPT) coordinator
and later one of the FATA founders), resisting and struggling for more land. The
families, which did not manage to settle in Nova Canaa, founded a new village and
named it "Sao Francisco do Itacaiunas". They chose Mr. Silva as their community
representative, representing the community at the Rural Workers Union (STR) too. The
owner eventually gave up the fight for the land. Some months later, the peasants
16 Latifindio is a word of Latin origin and means a large, privately owned landholding (Macedo 1985:viii).
concluded the construction of a school, which was the first landmark of the establishment
of the community. Mr. Silva volunteered to teach classes until a teacher was established,
with salary paid by the municipality. Mr. Silva was an important leader, and he has been
part of the Fire Action since it started.
The Sao Francisco do Itacaiunas village center (Figure 1-2) occupied an area of 25
ha. This village was composed of 49 plots, four of them serving also as small grocery
stores, one with a machine for processing rice, one Catholic Church, one plot for a
Protestant Church (with no construction), an Afro-Brazilian Center, one small wood
school built by the families just after the occupation, around 1985 (the material was
donated by a politician), the soccer field, and a new school built by the federal
government in 2001.
As shown in Figure 1-2, besides those occupied plots, families planned areas for
new plots, roads, and whatever else the community decides (like the area chosen for the
new school). From the time of the community's creation, the village was planned in such
a way that all the families that possess land had the right to a plot (10 x 30 m) so they
could build their houses in the village. In the Sao Francisco do Itacaiunas village, there
has been electric power since late 1998, as an indirect service from the electric power
extended to the Tain6polis train station (part of the Vale do Rio Doce Company railroad
for bauxite export) through one of the main roads that cross the village center. The
access to electric power brought some new appliances and changes such as TVs, freezers,
light, and rice processing machines, among others.
Planned O -
S Dirt Road
SFamilies Living in the Community
SFamilies with Grocery Stores
9 c? Female and Male Bath
Figure 1-2. Sdo Francisco do Itacaiunas Community village. Representation of the
individual plots for houses, school and churches, roads, rivers, and soccer
field. The upper left part of the drawing represents where the village is
planned to grow (Drawing by author).
Located north of Maraba, Cupu is located in the municipality of Jacunda, which
can be reached through a 48-km dirt road and Highway PA-150. It is located 52 km
northwest of Nova Ipixuna, a city 109 km southwest of Jacunda (as shown in Figure 1-1).
On its west side, the Cupu community is bordered by the Tucurui Dam. The community
was established along the Tocantins River, before the dam.
Information on community formation is not very clear, since the occupation was
gradual. As in the Sdo Francisco case, the land also was a castanhal or brazil-nut
concession. The pioneer families got to know the area while collecting brazil-nuts. It
was originally a forested region with few anthropogenic activities, and gradually families
started moving to the area, building their houses, and producing subsistence crops. A key
referential year for the establishment of the community was 1986, when the manager of
the farm denounced the presence of peasants on the land to the owner, who lived in the
neighboring Maranhdo state. Despite the fact that the owner tried to expel the peasants
with police support, nobody was injured. It seems that because she could not prove her
rights to the land, and perhaps due to her weak political power, the owner gave up the
struggle. After some time, the manager's departure was seen as a sign of the peasants'
victory, and the families remained in the occupied land. They were also supported by the
Catholic Church, and one of the main community leaders since the occupation, Mr.
Soares, is still working as the Catholic Church coordinator17 in the community. Soares'
family were involved in the Fire Action since it began in the community in 1999.
Some time after the conflict, the community received the single official visit in the
history of its land tenure regulation. At that time, representatives from the GETAT, an
extinct federal institute for land reform created during the military dictatorship period,
visited the land once, made a list of families living there, but never returned. Since then,
some families have moved out, others have arrived, and some members have died.
Bureaucratically, they cannot have official permission to use fire, since they still cannot
1 Because of their distant location, peasant communities in Amazonia have priests, nuns, or ministers that
visit it periodically, every few months. In their absence, there are coordinators who celebrate mass weekly,
and keep the church 'alive'. These persons have a key role in influencing peasant opinions.
prove their land ownership. By 2000, the community still was not recognized as a
Projeto de Assentamento or Settlement Project, making it very difficult for them to
receive government support. The community was composed of 52 individual plots, and a
The Cupu village center (Figure 1-3), located at the edge of the main road, was
composed of two churches (Catholic and Protestant), one school, a soccer field, and three
small grocery stores, two of them with power generators and televisions. There was
another village, with land donated to the community by one of the families, free of
charge, but in practice that did not work, ending around 1993, due to absence of rivers or
other water sources, and its distance (around 6 km) from the lake of the Tucurui Dam.
The current village center is located about 2 km from the Tucurui Dam, where
many families fish and raise their cattle during the dry season when the water level
diminishes. Some families own land on the many artificial islands created by the Dam.
The present village was not planned, and plots for houses had to be bought by residents
from a peasant family, the Ribeiros. The land for the school, churches, and soccer field
was donated by the Ribeiro family. The Ribeiros are one of the families that buy the
peasants' milk production and sell it in the city. The head of this family was also director
of the regional Association, and was engaged in the Fire Action since 1999. As of 2000,
there was no electric power except for those families who owned generators. There were
27 houses in plots measuring 15 x 30 meters each, and on three of them there were small
grocery stores. In two of those stores, there was a TV set in 1999. In 2000, two more
families had bought TVs, the same two families that owned cars and used them to buy the
milk production and transport people.
Figure 1-3. Cupu Community village. Representation of the individual plots for houses,
churches, school, and soccer field. The plots were sold to families by a
peasant, who donated land for school, churches, and soccer field (Drawing by
The author of this thesis was the FATA/LASAT Fire Action proponent and its first
coordinator, from the 1998 dry season until the first regional seminar, held in July 1999.
The Maraba region choice was a combination of the researcher's previous experience
with community fire management in other Amazonian regions, her institutional
connection with grassroots institutions in the Maraba region, and those institutions'
interest in developing a community fire management action. The field research was
conducted between 1999 and 2000, and focused on two peasant communities in the
Maraba region. The Sao Francisco do Itacaiunas community, located in the municipality
of Maraba, was involved in the Fire Action since its very start, and the Cupu community,
located at the municipality of Jacunda, only engaged in 1999. This choice of
communities with different times and degrees of engagement in the Action was
intentional, to allow comparisons between them in terms of losses caused by fires and
community organization for fire management.
I had a twofold role of (a) implementing the Action during its first year and (b)
evaluating it during the following years. I tried to make it clear to the families that the
main goal of the study was to understand their strategy concerning fire management and
their social-productive system, as well as support them with information about fire law
and its impacts, other community fire experiences, and the importance of their
community actions to other communities. Many families wanted to express their
opinions in recorded tapes, hoping that I would help taking their voices to government
representatives. In the Sao Francisco do Itacaiunas community, I facilitated some of the
community meetings while Fire Action coordinator.
The researcher's double role-first as facilitator and then as researcher-surely biased
the research results because of people's likelihood of responding in ways favorable to the
Fire Action, and because of my own commitment to helping with community fire
management. On the other hand, with a subject as sensitive as fire-associated with
threats of fines and imprisonment-my previous trusted relationship with the community
was a key strategy in getting access to the details of their views and practices with respect
to fire management. My approach stressed listening and observing the words and actions
of community members, and conveying them in this thesis in their own words. This in-
depth qualitative understanding of peasant's perspectives on fire management emerged
from the researcher's close relationship with the communities. To offset the potential
subjective bias in the research, I combined this close familiarity with a sampling design
in the communities that would encompass a wide range of types of families, in order to
capture diverse perspectives in the interviews. This purposeful sample provided
systematic data on social characteristics, and burning practices during two dry seasons, to
complement oral histories, participant observation, and other qualitative techniques. The
combination of these methods was effective in providing a unique understanding of
peasant views on fire management.
The researcher's direct support received from key grassroots organizations (STR,
FATA, LASAT, COOCAT, and AGRAF) was crucial in obtaining the confidence of
families and their openness during the interviews conducted on fire management, on the
losses caused by fire, and on fire monitoring. This was very important because families
were aware of IBAMA's prohibition and penalties, and wanted to make sure that the
research data collected would not be used against them. The regular visits to the field
helped to build trust between researcher and families, and the academic nature of the
study became clear-it definitely had nothing to do with an IBAMA inspection. In Sdo
Francisco, members of the Agro-forest group supported by FATA were always ready to
lead me throughout the community for family's interviews and burnings. Their presence
introducing myself as someone to be trusted (connected to FATA and STR) certainly had
a strong influence on families' willingness to talk and show me their realities. Members
of the Fire Group in the Sao Francisco do Itacaiunas community, in turn, claimed that my
regular visits (from 1998 to 2000) supported the adoption of local rules for fire use for
those families not used to participating in community actions. The Cupu community,
visited in 1999 and 2000, was not as organized as Sao Francisco at the time of this
research, and a key leader (Catholic church coordinator) was the main peasant that helped
with this research, introducing me to key families. From this first contact, the majority of
the families were interviewed by myself, but always referring to those leaders and to the
grassroots that this study was connected with. The relatively lower level of general
community organization of Cupu families may be one of the explanations for their lower
degree of formal organization of fire management in particular.
As to its conceptual basis, the present study adopted the fire classification
developed during the FATA/LASAT Fire Action. Accordingly, 'uncontrolled fires' were
defined as fire events which break out from the planned burning area; 'accidental fires'
were defined as uncontrolled fire events regardless of the use of any measure to prevent
and/or combat uncontrolled fire. In this context, 'criminal fires' were defined as
uncontrolled fire events in which the use of measures to prevent and/or combat
uncontrolled fire was insufficient or absent (Carvalheiro & Aquino 1999:16-17).
Real names of communities and peasants were changed to protect them from any
eventual consequence of this study.
Selection of the Communities and Families
The Sao Francisco do Itacaiunas community had taken part in the Fire Action since
its very beginning in 1998 and was one of the communities where FATA had developed
its Perennial Crops Project. The second community studied, Cupu, was chosen because it
joined the Fire Action one year later, in 1999, and it is one of the communities where
LASAT developed its Community Forest Management Project.
The families studied were chosen as a purposeful sample with the help of
community leaders, and comprised more than 50% of the families of each community.
Leaders and researcher discussed the main general variations among families,
emphasizing that representatives of each "type" would be included in the study sample.
After evaluating the differences among families, a consensus was reached regarding final
criteria for selection of the families, which included variations in the following features:
(a) participation in different community activities (different religions, participation in
workers' associations, and mutirdo or collective works), (b) length of residence in the
community (from pioneers to newer residents), (c) location of residence (on the land, in
the community village, or in the city), and (d) main source of income (agriculture, cattle,
schoolteacher, grocery owner, middleman for milk market, with/without government
The selection process resulted in 39 families (61%) in the Sdo Francisco do
Itacaiunas community (the community with initial involvement in the Fire Action) and 29
families (56%) in the Cupu community (with later Fire Action influence). Sixty-seven
families were interviewed during the first set of interviews, plus 5 families that wanted to
participate later. Nine families from the first set of interviews were not interviewed the
second time because five of them had sold their lands, three were abcent during the
interview period (health problems), and one had moved away to the city. The families
that did not take part in both sets of interviews were not included in the sequential fire
analyses. The interviews focused on heads of families, both men and women. In this
context, the heads of families were the older members, but the answers many times
included other family members' opinions. Questions often generated discussions among
the family members about the issues considered. In addition, 12 oral stories were
narrated and recorded.
Information was gathered through unstructured interviews (interview guide in
Appendix D), participant-observation, and oral histories (Lofland 1971; Holstein &
Gubrium 1995; Rubin and Rubin 1995). Two data collection methods were used in this
study: unstructured interviews sequentially conducted in two sets (at the beginning of the
1999 and 2000 dry seasons, before burning activities commenced) and participant
observation during burnings (during the dry season of 2000), which provided both
quantitative and qualitative information. Participant observation was also carried out in
the communities during visits to the households and to families' burned and planned-to-
burn fields, as well as during social events (religious celebrations, meetings held by the
Association, parties, TV viewing). Oral histories were carried out with the elders and
provided detailed material on their own life stories, their involvement in conquering the
land and its characteristics, how the community started, its changes through time
(families arriving and leaving, roads, schools, transportation, vegetation, weather), and
interpretations of causes and consequences of different factors (partnerships,
The information was documented in field notes (Emerson et al. 1995), recorded on
tapes, and photographed. Data gathered was coded (see Appendix E for Coded Book)
and organized in a database for quantitative analyses. Recorded narratives were
transcribed and translated by the author for qualitative analyses (see Appendix B for
original narratives in Portuguese). Analysis and results combine both quantitative and
The first set of sequential interviews, conducted in 1999, covered three groups of
characteristics: social, productive and fire practices (fire topic related to the previous year
burnings and plans for the coming one). In order to evaluate FATA/LASAT Fire Action
impacts, the second round of interviews (which occurred in 2000) repeated the same
questions regarding fire practices that had been asked before, and provided the data to
make year-to-year comparisons, whose results are presented in Chapter 4.
For interviews with selected families, the social characteristics included
information on age, size and origin of family, number and places of migrations, length of
residence in the community, level of formal education, kinship, religion (Catholic,
Protestant, Afro-Brazilian etc.), association with grassroots organizations, families' plans
to remain in the community or to leave, their points of view concerning community
needs, and other topics considered relevant by the interviewees. Productive conditions
referred to information on size of the family plot, distribution of the main ecosystems
(percentage of primary and secondary forest, pasture, agricultural field, and perennial
crops), quantity of cattle, labor (family, community and paid labor), equipment (chainsaw
and backpack sprayer), and access to government loans. Results on social characteristics
and productive conditions are presented in Chapter 3.
Sequential fire practices interviews, referring to 1998 and 1999 dry seasons, were
based on FATA/LASAT Fire recommendations, and included information on accessing
official law for fire use, community organization for burnings, communication between
neighbors, period chosen to burn, burning after the rain, use of preventive and control
firebreaks, number of people on the burning day, use of backfires, losses caused by fire.
ecosystems chosen to burn (primary or secondary forest), and burning of pasture. Results
compare practices throughout the studied years. Fire topics also studied included
peasant's discourse on a rich variety of concepts, such as the meaning of'losses' in their
productive systems, the importance and effectiveness of fire use (successes and losses),
individual versus community labor, evaluation of the FATA/LASAT Fire Action and
governmental laws, implications involving changes in fire use and alternatives to fire, as
well as proposed solutions.
In addition to the sequential fire interviews and oral histories, evaluating the
FATA/LASAT Fire Action included observations of burning events in the Sao Francisco
do Itacaiunas community in September and October of 2000. Initially, the study planned
to include burnings in different situations occurring in the two communities. However,
due to the frequency of rains and the scarcity of the researcher's field time, these
observations were limited to the Sao Francisco do Itacaiunas community.
The researcher was particularly careful not to interfere with families' decisions
regarding the choice of the day on which to burn. Although it was no easy task, since the
families knew that I was there to observe their burnings, and they clearly expressed their
helpfulness, I managed to stress to them that my purpose was to understand what their
choices were so that I could minimize the impact my presence might have on their fire
management techniques. An effective way to make the families feel more comfortable
with the presence of researchers was to carry out complementary interviews on
qualitative information in between burning events. This way, families would not feel bad
for letting the researcher 'waste her time' while they were still not ready to burn. These
complementary interviews brought more information not only on the families' evaluation
of the Fire Action itself, but also on their understanding of governmental regulations and
cultural strategies, as well as community organization for fire management, and formal
association challenges, among other topics.
Conceptual Discussion on Participatory Approach
This study analyzes the FATA/LASAT Fire Action according to its development of
a participatory approach coordinated by grassroots organizations (FATA and LASAT)
with colonist peasants in the Maraba region. Due to different meanings that
'participation' can assume, this section will explore the concepts behind the Fire Action,
as well as its main methods. The analysis of the Fire Action is presented in Chapter 2.
'Participation' has been a common word to those who are involved with
development, and it is used by different actors (such as social groups, NGOs,
government, researchers, donors), in different forms, for very broad purposes. Because it
has became a vague label, different typologies were developed to specify different kinds
and levels of participation, and interests of the social actors involved (Bordenave 1992;
White 1996; Ingles 1999; Stone 2003). The common ground among those typologies is a
differentiation in kind (from passive to active), and level of participation (decision-
making power at the different activities). In general, the authors agree that the higher the
power in decision-making, the higher the participation. As Schmink points out, "the
degree of participation by different local groups in project decision-making and
implementation is a key factor in empowering local groups to defend their own interests
and to develop and adapt the institutions required to sustain natural resource management
strategies over the long term" (1999:6).
The methods developed under the participatory approach were based on Paulo
Freire's Pedagogy (1986), in which consciousness, the self guide, is a process "by which
human beings participate critically in a transforming act" (Freire 1985:106).
Consciousness, therefore, is an active process. "Knowledge that exists today was once
only a possibility, and it then became a new knowledge, relative and therefore successive
to yesterday's existing knowledge" (Freire 1986:115). What Freire argues is that new
knowledge, even proven scientifically to be the most suitable for a certain situation,
cannot be deposited in people's minds (known as "banking education"), but has to be
connected with previous knowledge, and previous understanding of the subject reality.
This connection between previous and new knowledge is made via a thematic 'problem-
posing' methodology, possible only through dialogue.
According to Freirian Pedagogy, in thematic problem-posing situations, the role of
the educator is to propose problem situations or themes. The starting point must be the
present, concrete situation of the learners, not only at the intellectual level, but also at the
level of action (Freire 1986:85). Learners' ways of explaining the world involve their
comprehension of their world and presence in it (Freire 1997:76). Educators should help
the learners to arrive at a more critical view of their reality by, through dialogue,
analyzing the dimensions of their reality, that ultimately are dimensions of total reality.
This analysis involves the exercise of abstraction, through which, by means of
representations of concrete realities, learners and educator seek knowledge of that reality.
The instrument proposed by Freire for this abstraction is codification, or representation of
the existential situations of the learners (Freire 1985:51). Codification may take the form
of a photography or sketch that represents reality, or a reality constructed of a proposed
theme by the learners-a dimension of the reality. Codification, thus transforms what was
a way of life in the real context into an "object" in the theoretical context. Therefore, the
learners, rather than receiving information, creatively analyze aspects of their own
existential experience, represented in the codification.
In the case of Fire Action, the thematic problem-posing proposed to the colonist
peasants at meetings was "how to use fire better", which became synonymous with "how
to reduce losses caused by escaped fires". The codification exercise was developed with
colorful drawings on cardboard tags ("Burning Dynamics") representing land use types
(such as primary and secondary forest, pasture, slashed vegetation, perennial crops) and
elements usually present in burning situations (people, houses, firebreaks, wind, sun,
buckets, fence). Those drawings were mobiles, combined to represent burning situations
(real or proposed), leading to peasants' re-codification of their knowledge through critical
analysis of their own situation (for more details see Chapter 2).
Freire states that one of the important points of the consciousness process is 'to
provoke reactions of the world, not as a "given" world, but as a world dynamically "in the
making" (1985:106). Humans are praxis-the unity of action and reflection-as reflection
and action, which truly transform reality, are the source of knowledge and creation
(Freire 1986:91). Neither pure action (not guided by reflection of the problematic
situation) nor reflection (theoretical abstraction of reality) alone can lead to critical
analysis. In this process, dialogue is the encounter in which reflection and action of the
dialoguers are addressed to the world which is to be transformed.
The Fire Action was planned in a way that each dry season would be a cycle of
learning by praxis (learning-cycles): reflection about the current reality would generate
actions, which in its turn would generate a new reality, again subject to reflection, in a
continuous knowledge process. This means that solutions were not fixed, but had to be
incessantly confronted with reality. This led to increased awareness on the part of
peasants: through reflection on a given practice, ingenuous curiosity became self-
conscious so as to advance to the critical stage (Freire 1998:43). Peasants, as active
actors through the dialogical method, incorporated and appropriated the solutions
developed by themselves. Many of the peasant narratives express that it was the first
time they were using certain practices proposed by the Fire Action. Many of the peasants
that were actively involved in the Action since its beginning, after only one year, referred
to the Fire Action as their own action, probably because of Fire Action incentives that
each community developed their own set of rules. Peasants involved in the Fire Action in
a more passive manner (absent during meetings) referred to it as an IBAMA's action (see
Chapter 4 for Fire Action evaluation). A key aspect of the approach was therefore to
develop and support forms of communication and social organization that would support,
and multiply, participation in fire management activities.
Thus, Freire's approach dictates that in order to overcome a problematic situation it
is necessary to go through it, and not to stay away from it, or deny it. In this context,
effective solutions involving peasant societies can be reached by a learning process, in
with basic elements are: respect for local knowledge, dialogue, critical reflection, and
The FATA and LASAT, through their history of support and collaboration with
local peasantry, represented key institutions for the development of a participatory
approach to fire management for peasants: trust in the institutions' intentions and
methods; open channels of communication and representation; and faith in peasants'
ability to overcome the problematic situation.
The FATA and LASAT supported a technician to coordinate the Fire Action, and
provided transport, food, and lodging for regional meetings, and educative materials. No
peasant received any payment for fire management. Institutions and peasant leaders
believed that peasants should get involved only if they believe it was worth it to them, but
not as a direct economic source. Payments create dependency on outside inputs, if
benefits are not linked to resource management and conservation (Schmink 1999:6).
They can discourage others who receive no payment to get involved, and weaken the
credibility of peasant leaders' real commitment. Especially in fire management cases, in
which fire can result in fines and jail for its users, trusting in leaders was a key factor in
conflict resolution situations. The Fire Action strategy was supporting each community
to develop their own set of rules for fire management, including mechanisms of
compensation in cases of losses caused by fire. Some peasants were not used to
participating in community activities for fear that leaders were working for IBAMA, a
governmental institution historically perceived as "police," acting only in enforcement,
and always against peasants. Leaders' volunteer work, supported by trusted grassroots
organizations, were strong arguments to convince outlying (non participant) peasants to
get involved in the Action.
In sum, in presenting learners' own objective reality (how and where they are),
using a problem-solving method, with a thematic investigation, peasants begin to revise
their previous views of their real world through codified situations. They achieve an
understanding of their previous knowledge. In so doing, they expand the limits of
knowledge. In this process, the educator exercises with the peasants a critical evaluation
of their world view, resulting in their clear involvement with the real world in
transformation (Freire 1985:33-34). This process promotes peasants' decision-making
participation, once they get involved in creating solutions.
This study evaluated changes in fire practices in 1998 and 1999 in two
communities involved with the Fire Action, and observed burning situations in 2000.
Despite the short time, this study found changes in fire practices at individual (family)
and collective (community) levels, and fire losses were low after the Fire Action started.
In the Sdo Francisco do Itacaiunas, involved in the Action since its beginning, changes
were stronger than in the Cupu community, involved one year later.
Organization of the Study
This introduction has discussed how the government strategy for controlling fire
use in Amazonia based on a top-down approach, remote monitoring, and enforcement
towards fire users is unlikely to be effective in bringing consciousness to colonist
peasants. I argue that colonists possess empirical knowledge on fire management, which
has been ignored by many government representatives, technicians, and academics.
Another point stressed so far is that a participatory approach in which peasants share
decision-making power, analyze their reality critically, are challenged using problem-
posing exercises through action-learning cycles, and encouraged to develop and
implement community solutions, will be more effective in managing fire. Instead of
defending or attacking fire use, this study assumes that fire use is the option for the
majority of colonist peasants, and they have to be seen as partners in the process of
constructing better fire management strategies-including participating in the definition of
"'better" fire management.
In Chapter 2, I present and analyze a participatory Fire Action, coordinated by two
grassroots organizations, FATA and LASAT, in the Maraba region, which involved
peasants as well as other grassroots organizations, and some indigenous groups, during
1998, 1999 and early 2000. I address the participatory approach adopted, based on Paulo
Freirian pedagogy, the process that originated in the proposed Fire Action, and the
recommended practices for fire management. This set of recommendations developed by
the peasants themselves provides the framework for the subsequent analysis of actual
practices used in fire management by two communities during two successive dry
Chapter 3 presents descriptive information about the two communities and the
families studied. Families' cultural interpretations of living in communities, and the
importance of forest and fire are also discussed. This Chapter demonstrates some key
aspects of local knowledge and situation that are typically overlooked or misunderstood,
and which should provide the point of departure for fire management programs.
Chapter 4 evaluates the impacts of the FATA/LASAT Fire Action on the two
peasant communities for 1998, 1999, and 2000 dry seasons. The Sdo Francisco do
Itacaiunas community got involved in the Action since it started in 1998, while the Cupu
community in 1999. The history of losses suggests the positive impacts of the Fire
Action on peasants' changes regarding fire management. The assessment of
implementation of the Fire Action's recommendations focused on different phases: before
burning, on the burning day, after burning, and controlling accidental fires. Changing
practices within and between communities, are compared in order to identify impacts of
the Action on families' fire practices. This Chapter also interprets peasants' narratives on
the Fire Action government and fire Action evaluations.
The last chapter, Chapter 5, summarizes the main findings of the study, confronting
the three main research questions regarding government actions, colonist empirical
knowledge, and the participatory approach analyzed. Other experiences on community-
based fire management in Asia and Africa are compared with this study, and suggestions
are made for the management of fire in the Brazilian Amazonia.
COMMUNITY FIRE ACTION
An office is a small and compact setting, isn't it? And the Amazonian environment
is a large, vast one. Thus I would ask the [government] agencies not to limit their
actions to their own offices, but instead to make themselves present in the
Mr. Valdir Silva, leader of the Sao Francisco do Itacaiunas community, during the
first regional workshop.
In the Maraba region, the history of colonists' relationships with both non-
government and government institutions reflects on their present partnerships, their trust
in them, as well as their willingness to engage in government policies, especially the laws
which directly affect their productive practices, as the case of fire use. Conditions
influencing the transformation of landless migrants into colonist peasants, specifically in
the Maraba region are embedded in a long political struggle for the creation and the re-
creation of their identity, a process shaped by peasants' forms of organization and
resistance, as well as their strategies of permanence on the conquered piece of land. The
above speech reflects the governmental history of absent support to peasants and their
grassroots organizations. Government is criticized as remote and bureaucrat, creating
office solutions distant from peasant realities.
In this context of fragile links between peasants and government, I argue that top-
down actions are even less likely to be adopted. Complementarily, this study supports
the idea that colonist communities have valuable empirical knowledge, and they should
18 Translation by the author. Original Portuguese texts are included in Appendix B.
participate actively in decision-making concerning fire use and management. It does not
defend the notion that peasants' actual fire use is perfect, but on the contrary assumes that
changes are needed and argues that only i/ ih peasants through participatory approaches
can better practices and strategies be developed. The participatory approach adopted
follows a problem-posing methodology, based on codification of the actual reality to
develop consciousness about the reality, and learning-action cycles. This methodology is
based on Paulo Freire Pedagogy (1986), and it is only possible through continuous
dialogue among partners.
This Chapter is organized in two parts: The first part describes the two grassroots
institutions coordinating the Fire Action: the FATA (The Tocantins Araguaia Agrarian
and Environment Foundation) and the LASAT (Tocantins Social-Agrarian Laboratory).
The second part presents the Community Fire Action conjointly coordinated by the
FATA and the LASAT, an innovative experience of community fire management which
involved peasants as well as their grassroots organizations, and some indigenous groups,
during 1998, 1999 and early 2000. The text addresses the participatory approach
adopted, and the process that originated the proposed Fire Action, as well as summarizing
the recommended practices for fire management. Chapter 3 presents the characterization
of the communities and their families. The impacts of this Action on two peasant
communities will be evaluated in Chapter 4.
Peasantry Historical Construction in the Maraba Region
The Maraba region has a long history, and migrants arriving, their strategies, and
their means of production, are part of this history. This region is connected to an
extensive process of expansion started in the 16th century, which ran from the coastland
into the inner continent. Velho (1982:29) described how this process relates to the
economic cycles of colonial Brazil. As a result of its geographical location (at the mouth
of the Itacaiunas river into the Tocantins River, and highways) and its richness in natural
resources, the colonization of the Maraba region was marked by several cycles of
exploitation (brazil-nuts, rubber, gold, and gems, cattle, timber, minerals and electric
power dams). Those economic cycles induced and still generate different migration
cycles which directly influenced the composition of its population. During the dictatorial
military regime (1964 to 1985), it was considered a national security region due to the
occurrence of the Araguaia Guerrilla19, when social movements were severely repressed.
The Church played a key role supporting peasants and other powerless groups in a
struggle for their rights. In this context, a brief review of the main economic cycles and
its protagonists should yield a general picture of the colonist peasant's formation.
Exactly when Maraba village was founded is still debated-June 7 of 1898
according to Velho (1972), and 1895 according to Emmi (1999). However, authors agree
that it started with the establishment of a commercial store during the rubber boom
period. The merchants used a system known as aviamento, in which they would
determine prices of rubber or nuts exchanged for goods in their store-mainly groceries
and working tools-at very high prices. This led the peasants to accrue never-ending
debts, carried from one season to the next one, making the worker a new type of slave
(Velho 1972:41). Due to the distorted relation with the extractors based on indebtedness,
merchants obtained increasing power and acted as "landlord", later becoming the
"owners" of rubber and brazil-nut trees. Around 1919, following the rubber bust, the
19 The Guerrilha do Araguaia was a resistance movement coordinated by the Partido Comunista do Brasil
or Communist Party of Brazil, sited in the area between Maraba and ConceiiAo do Araguaia, in direct
confrontation with the military dictatorship from 1972 to 1975 (for more information see Schmink and
Wood 1992: 72-74; Alves Filho 2000).
exploitation of brazil-nuts grew stronger and used the infrastructure provided by the
rubber industry, and for decades it remained the main product exported by the state of
Para (Velho 1972:45). Emmi points out that in the late 1950's the brazil-nut business
(from extraction to commercialization) in the region was concentrated in the hands of
brazil-nut tree 'owners' in a perpetual system of "taking" lands to themselves or sistema
de aforamento (Emmi 1999:70-71). Those two economic cycles (rubber and brazil-nuts)
consolidated two main social groups in the region: a mass of low-paid workers and an
oligarchic class, where a few local families held political positions in a monopoly, as well
as credit (capital), means of transportation and commercialization, natural resources, and
land. Peasants were completely excluded, as were other small brazil-nut entrepreneurs,
and the indigenous (Emmi 1999:151-152). Despite this system of unequal distribution of
wealth, there were no land conflicts officially registered in Para before the 1960's.
Several generations of peasants lived without any official document to give legal power
to their rights over their own land (Treccani 2001:307). This is explained by the fact that
"ownership" was associated with the products extracted above ground and their
accessibility, not with the land itself In addition, accessing land deeds was (and still is)
not a possibility for peasants that are, in practice, excluded from the legal system due to
its high costs (they are required to have a lawyer representing them and to follow up on
the legal suit), to a sluggish judicial structure, and to the police that generally connive
with thugs (Santos 1984:457-458).
It was particularly during the military regime that the Brazilian government started
to provide for the means of speeding up the occupation of the Amazonian area. The
government intended to assure national sovereignty using policies that included
investments in local infrastructure (such as federal and state roads), interregional
migration and economic development (Browder and Godfrey 1997:68). Those policies
were organized outside the region, in the National Integration Plans or Planos de
Integrag o Nacional and had as consequences deep changes in the productive structure.
Since the region is strongly connected with the history of extractivism in Amazonia, the
last few decades were marked by the decline of the traditional extractivism involving
brazil-nuts, rubber, fur and small-scale crystal- and diamond- mining in rivers, giving
place to new forms of extractivism: logging, large-scale mining (Hebette and Moreira
1997:12), and agro-cattle ranching. The so-called Large-Scale Projects carried out by
manganese, bauxite, nickel, cassiterite, gold deposits, wolframite iron, copper and caulim
mining companies were associated with hydroelectric plants, which supported them with
power (Schmink and Wood 1992:66-67). Logging activities grew as the frontier
advanced, along with agriculture and pasture implementation.
Through the National Plan of Integration, with government calls in the media, an
example of which was the famous "land without people to people without land", the
Amazonian frontier attracted people from all over Brazil and from diverse social classes.
Since Brazil was facing increasing inflation rates, transferring capital to Amazonia
represented an excellent option for investors, especially those investing in the cattle-
ranching industry (Santos 1984:452-453). This caused a big and chaotic "land rush",
where fake deeds and frauds were common, and multiple claims to a same piece of land
occurred (Santos 1984:453). One of the most serious consequences was the closing of
the traditionally "open" frontier to migrating landless peasants from Northeastern, who
started to face their "last frontier", "from where they have nowhere to go and nothing else
to lose" (Treccani 2001:308).
In Maraba, roads made the city a strategic center for the region and brought
significant changes to its social and economic structure. The brazil-nut concessions or
castanhais were turned into large farms, and official colonization brought millions of
colonists who no longer were dependent on traditional local oligarchies. Former brazil-
nut extractors became posseiros, or squatters, making the pressure for land ownership
even stronger (Treccani 2001:313). Most migrants were landless people expelled from
other regions, who left in search of land and of labor opportunities in road constructions
and other large construction projects, as well as small-scale mining positions (Hebette
1991:200). Frontier expansion in this scenario increased land conflicts between
newcomers and old forms of land occupation, and among newcomers themselves. This
increase provided the elements for the most violent land conflicts in Brazil.
The social consequences of this development model are clearly reflected in the
concentration of the means of production, such as the land itself, in the hands of
multinational entrepreneurs or big large-scale farmers. The ways in which these policies
reflect on the state of Para is the object of a deep analysis conducted by Girolamo
Treccani in his book Violkncia e Grilagem: Instrumentos de Aquisigdo da Propriedade
da Terra no Pard (2001). For example, Treccani shows that in 1996, 82% of the farms
with areas of 100 ha or less represented 169,273 farms, corresponding to only 19.2% of
the lands (totaling 4,328,158 ha). On the other hand, farms with 5,000 ha and larger
represented only 0.2% of the total numbers of farms (419) but occupied 31% of the entire
area of 7,138,104 ha (Treccani 2001:431). This difference in farm size is the
consequence of a historical process of political and economical favor for certain social
groups in detriment of others, fostering not only the widening of the economic gap, but
also and more importantly, a strong cultural distance.
In this context of land concentration and violence against peasants, the Land
Reform has being made by peasants themselves. They occupy latifindios or large farms,
and, supported by grass-roots organizations such as unions and pastoral commissions,
struggle to transform the occupied land into peasant areas. Politically, peasant leaders
call this land occupation process 'conquering land', while ranchers, elite, and media call it
"land invasion." In the Maraba region, the historical process of peasantry consolidation
is reflected in the amount of conquered lands:20: from 1% in the early 1980s to more than
30% of the properties in 1998, as result of their resistance, supported by a few allies
(Wambergue 2000:41). Maintaining conquered lands as peasant's communities is a
bigger struggle for grassroots organizations, and one of their strategies is to support
productive activities that help the family's permanence in their lands. Uncontrolled fires
have became a threat to peasants' means of production due to losses caused in forested
areas, crops, pasture, and goods. Therefore, managing fire in a way to avoid local losses
has became a concern to grass-root organizations.
Especially during the years of military regime in Brazil, unions and associations not
connected to the government were forbidden and fought against with great violence.
Two of the tenets of the military government were undermining a movement called
20 Grassroots leaders and some studies (Trecanni 2001) affirm that in Brazil there was never a Land Reform
but only colonization projects. Colonist peasants' institutions use the political term "conquering" to refer to
land occupation actions and their struggle for pressuring governmental agencies to recognize their rights
over the occupied land. On the other side, media and elite use the term "occupation"'.
Peasants' Leagues or Ligas Camponesas, and the halt of the land reform program that
started with Brazil's previous democratic president, Jodo Goulart. Both led to the death
or "disappearance" of several community leaders (Oliveira 1989:31). In this scenario, the
Catholic Church experienced a constant evolution of its social concerns (Catholic Church
Archdiocese of Sdo Paulo 1998: 124), and grassroots organizations tied to the Catholic
Church were often the only means for peasants to voice their needs and their opposition
to events occurring in the frontier areas (Schmink and Wood 1992:180). The so-called
Journey Church or Igreja da Caminhada, built by supporters of the Liberation Theology
movement, opened its doors to peasants and, in 1975, established a committee called
Comissdo Pastoral da Terra or CPT (Land Pastoral Commission) whose goals were "to
interconnect, assist, and activate the support to rural social movements" (Almeida
1991:261). The Church, together with the CPT at a community level, created ecclesial
"base" communities called Comunidades Eclesidsticas de Base (CEB), in which local
leaders would conduct religious services and facilitate community organization. From
this point on, the military regime directed its violent repression not only to peasants and
indigenous people, but to priests, nuns, and union leaders, who were starting to get
After five years of military regime, a CEB was started in the region and a CPT
office was set up in the city ofMaraba. Several local leaders strengthened their
commitment with the CEB movement and later became union directors, regional officers
with the Worker's Party (PT), with the SDDH (Para State Society for the Defense of
Human Rights) with lawyers supporting peasants in judicial cases, the FETAGRI (Rural
Workers Federation), and the University of Para, among others. In these circumstances,
some of the FATA/LASAT founders (inside the CAT Program) played key roles, for
example, coordinating the CPT/Maraba, heading four peasant unions, and teaching at
universities. This will be discussed in the next section.
Although the Rural Workers Unions (STR's) were created under the military
regime to control social movements organized in rural areas, the STR board was
gradually passed on to those with a strong commitment to the rights of peasants, long
before the regime fell. Nevertheless, the fall of the military government in 1985 gave
place to greater violence against colonists, for the powerful landowners were responding
to the new presidential decision to promote a nationwide land reform, where the region
known as Bico do Papagaio would represent a priority. The "big" farmers set up an
office to start the Rural Democratic Union (UDR), and large ranchers in the region
started recruiting private militias to fight land invasion, which was likely to be carried out
by peasants but also supported by government agencies attempting to expropriate the
areas regarded as their own (Schmink and Wood 1992:188). Between 1989 and 1999 the
average number of murders resulting from land conflicts in the Maraba region was 120
times higher than the country-wide average (Forum das Entidades pela Reforma Agraria
do Sul e Sudeste do Para 2001:4). This means that a leader or peasant living in the
Maraba region and engaged in a land conflict between 1989 and 1999 had a much higher
chance to be killed than any other worker living in any other Brazilian state. This history
of violence against peasants and the impunity of farmers and loggers21, both supported by
21 From 1985 to 2003, the Land Pastoral Commission (CPT) registered 1,003 violent cases related to land
conflicts, with 1,349 dead victims. Only 75 cases went to judgment, with few considered guilty (CPT
the legal and the executive systems, represent the main obstacle for partnership
agreements to be implemented between these social groups in the Maraba region.
Peasants' history is marked by active resistance in order to guarantee their rights, in
spite of harsh conditions and violence. Due to the historical distrust between government
and peasants, top-down governmental actions imposed on peasants in order to control
their natural resources management, especially those related to their main source of
income, such as fire use, are likely to fail. This study argues that actions that see peasants
as partners, with decision-making power, through a methodology that respects and
supports their culture, with effective channels of communications and conflict resolution,
are more likely to succeed.
FATA and LAST
This section describes the two institutions coordinating the Fire Action, FATA and
LASAT. Their history, as well as their goals and achievements are closely connected
with peasantry development in the region that directly reflected on peasants' willingness
to adopt the productive practices promoted by them. FATA was composed by peasant
union leaders (STR's), and LASAT by researchers connected to the local university.
Both FATA and LASAT were non-governmental institutions created in 1988 under
a wider agricultural and environmental program called "Tocantins Environmental Center"
(CAT). At the time of its foundation, the CAT Program was a partnership agreement
celebrated between four Rural Workers' Unions (STRs) and the Federal University of
Para. The main goal established by the agreement was "to assert their [peasants']
identity, to achieve full citizenship and to express their determination to live and to take
their rightful place in the construction of a fair and fraternal society" (Hebette 2000:xxii).
In a moment when land was being conquered by peasants through struggle, peasants'
challenges were to build good conditions to establish themselves, as well as to produce
and guarantee social reproduction in their lands. From the goals set out by the CAT, it is
clear that justice and fraternity were principles linked to those defended by Liberation
Theology. This may be due to established partnership with the Land Pastoral
Commission, also reflected in the composition of the CAT founding board: CPT's first
coordinator in the Maraba region, Mr. Emmanuel "Manu" Wambergue; four peasant
union directors who grew as leaders inside the CEBs; and a professor from the local
university, who was assistant to the CPT, Mr. Jean Hebette. Also, STR Directors had
grown up inside the church groups. The identification of the CAT Program with the
peasants' struggle is well reflected in Manu Wambergue's evaluation of the role played by
the CAT Program on its 10th anniversary as "one of so many fruits that flourished from
the peasants' struggle in the region" (2000:41). Peasants' struggle was not violent; their
form of resistance was their resilience and active search for new solutions, despite harsh
conditions of exclusion from government incentives.
Communities' Social Organization
The two communities evaluated had been partners with FATA and LASAT. In the
Sdo Francisco do Itacaiunas community, in September 1998, FATA's perennial crop
group (for implementation of perennial crops) led the creation of the community
association, the AGRAF, in an attempt to work more closely with families' needs than did
the regional association, created in 1994 to facilitate access to federal government loans.
The Association's main goal was to "carry out sustainable development activities in their
community" (AGRAF 1998). They borrowed the necessary money for bureaucratic
expenses (around US$ 512)22 from FATA and paid it back later with their labor-one
week's work of ten men-at the FATA headquarters. Very often, the cost of an
organization's creation is supported by local politicians, creating a certain relation of
dependency on the part of the peasants and the organization. AGRAF's representatives
proudly explained how they had paid off the loan with their own labor. The recognition
of the Sdo Francisco do Itacaiunas community as a Projeto de Assentamento (Area for
Land Reform) was a result of its leaders' organization for solutions. The community's
leaders participated and supported families' participation in demonstrations organized
regionally by the STR and FETAGRI when families camped out at the INCRA
headquarters in Maraba, an event called Grito da Terra, or 'Cry of the Land'. In 1999,
77% of the families in this community had at least one member in the community
association, and 95% were members of the STR. In 2000, AGRAF's members elected a
new board (6 men and 1 woman), all of whom work as volunteers.
Families at the Cupu community had a close relation to the COOCAT through one
of its directors who lives in the community. COOCAT has supported the marketing of
agai fruits,23 among other products. Since 2000, they have been helping with the
preparation of a regional proposal for the planting of coffee, along with the Jacunda STR
and Jacunda municipality representatives. The peasants' regional association was
working with COOCAT and STR to achieve official recognition of their existence as a
22 In September 1998, the average conversion rate was US$ 1.00 = R$ 1,17 (Banco Central do Brasil
23 Acai (Euterpe oleracea Mart.) is a native Brazilian palm in Amazonian region whose fruit is much
appreciated in regional markets, which are growing in national interest. The palm apical bud is appreciated
nationally and internationally for palm heart, but the extraction of the Atlantic Forest species (Euterpe
edulis) requires felling the tree. This Amazonian species is very promising for sustainable harvest because
of its sprouting capacity.
community (Projeto de Assentamento), supporting them in acquiring land title and loans.
In the Cupu community, the majority of the families (62.1%) were members of a regional
association created to facilitate access to federal bank loans (FNO) in 1996. Seventy-one
percent were members of the STR. There was no specific community association. In the
past, the community had worked in the FATA's perennial crop project. Ten families took
part in LASAT's Community Timber Project. As an indicator of their hope in this
Project, by 2000 none of the participants had sold any trees to middlemen since the
Project started in 1997.
FATA/LASAT Community Fire Action
The FATA and LASAT direct interest in controlling fire use was to protect
alternative projects for peasant productive system: FATA perennial crops
implementation24 and LASAT forest management.25 Local peasant organizations
believed that uncontrolled fires threatened alternative production systems in slash-and-
burn agriculture and cattle ranching, consequently leading to new migration cycles,
conflicts and suffering. The proposed Fire Action did not aim to encourage families to
stop using fire in their productive systems, but rather to promote a more responsible use
of fire, specifically preventing and controlling undesirable losses.
24 Between 1991 and 2000, FATA implemented the PAF (Agricultural-Forest Project) to establish and to
market perennial crops such as fruits and lumber. Later, activities of horticulture, honey production, and
Acai palm (Euterpe oleracea) management have also been incorporated. In 1998, when the Fire Action
started, 44 communities, including three indigenous communities (a total of 76 groups) were working with
FATA in the different activities (Carvalho 2000:65).
25 LASAT started a Community Forest Management project in 1996, initially involving three peasant
communities from three different municipalities. The main goal of this project was to promote sustainable
lumber extraction and processing by peasants, which should result in less damage to the forest and in
Besides the grassroots institutions' and leaders' reasons to control fire, peasants in
general had many questions about the new official fire regulations. The dry season of
1998 was the first after the fire disaster occurred in Roraima, and the changes introduced
by IBAMA to the fire management laws were: the requirement to submit an official form
to obtain a burning permit, the obligation to provide details on the type and the size of
firebreaks, and for the first time, a total ban on fires in municipalities with high rates of
burning (measured by the INPE National Institute for Spatial Research). Although not
all rules were new, the latest change introduced by IBAMA was to massively divulge,
through the radio and TV, the requirement to obtain a license to burn, of the fire use ban,
and that IBAMA staff would be enforcing the fire law in the field. In the communities,
FATA/LASAT technicians were initially thought by many peasants to be IBAMA
members, who were disappointed to find that the technicians could not provide them with
any official burning permits, or even get them to be heard at governmental levels. They
wanted to explain to IBAMA not only their reasons but also their very need to burn,
which is clearly expressed in the extract below:
Many have burned, but I have not and many others have not either. We expected
someone to give us explanations, because we do not understand the law, and we
want to find a way to work legally. Because in a place like this, with no roads and
no assistance, if a poor peasant has to pay a fine for burning his field, it would be
better to bury him straight away. So, let us say a family cannot harvest their field,
how would they live? This is why I want to know what we have to do in order to
burn. Do we have to make firebreaks, to get a license? I want you to explain it to
me so that I will understand it. If you had come earlier, I believe nobody would
have burned without permission. Our group always works together to do things the
right way. But we never had anybody come here to explain things to us.
Mr. Jodo Pinheiro, Jabuti Community, Oct 14th 1998, community meeting
Despite peasants' investment in other productive systems, fire was their main
productive tool for agriculture and pasture maintenance, and they wanted to know what to
do in order to produce their crops without becoming a "criminal". Peasants complained
that it was hard for them to have access to information about government regulations.
For example, in the whole Maraba region there was only one IBAMA agency bearing
responsibility for all environmental issues in the region (from illegal logging to river
pollution), whose technicians were not used to visiting colonist communities. The radio
was helpful to bring general awareness. However it did not explain the official laws and
regulations, and the necessary steps that should be taken in order to bum.
The Fire Action adopted a participatory approach, based on Paulo Freire's
pedagogy (Freire 1986), as presented in Chapter 1. The Action adopted the problem-
posing methodology, whose theme was fire use, more specifically "how to manage fire in
order to keep it only where it is planned" (agricultural fields and pasture maintenance).
The resulting recommendations made by the Fire Action were intended to be closely tied
to their social, economic and ecological realities, and given the urgency of the problem-
established perennial crops and forest areas were being burned-also to produce short-
term answers. Below is presented the application of the participatory approach adopted.
Process for defining Practices for Fire Management
The Fire Action stemmed from a study proposal made in 1997 to LASAT by the
author of this study, and the interest of LASAT, FATA and peasant leaders for better fire
management. The diversification of peasants' productive systems with community forest
management and investments in perennial crops depends on the ecosystems, which are
very susceptible to fire, due both to fuel accumulation and to their proximity to the
ecosystems where fire is present as an agronomic tool. The FATA/LASAT Fire Action26
26 For the purpose of this thesis, the Fire Action coordinated by FATA and LASAT will be referred to as
FATA/LASAT Fire Action, or just Fire Action.
started during the 1998 dry season and ended at the beginning of 2000, from lack of
funding. The Fire Action had economic support for the Action coming from outsiders
(distant donors), was implemented by technicians from the local grassroots institutions
(FATA and LASAT), and planned, developed, and evaluated with peasants at regional
and community levels. Documents produced (such as reports) were shared with
community leaders and unions. Educational material was developed by technicians and
peasants. The author of this thesis coordinated the Fire Action from 1998 to July 1999.
The proposal was based on peasants' active participation, because they were the
ones who had developed knowledge on using fire in their environment, and therefore
were skilled to evaluate what was not working well, and to be important partners to
improve fire management. Another reason to get peasants involved is that they are the
ones who ultimately take the final decisions on fire management. If they are actively
involved analyzing the situation, proposing and approving changes in their practices,
those changes will be closer to their realities (infrastructure, social, and productive) and
thus more likely to be incorporated into their activities.
The action-learning cycles support peasants' development of their own proposals,
and recognized that changing practices is a dynamic process, and therefore has to be
analyzed periodically. Peasants had a reading of their reality, and the starting point of the
action-learning cycles was their actual understanding of fire. Actions of fire management
were carried out at the community level, and learning (evaluation and planning) in
meetings at community and regional levels. Each dry season corresponded to a full
learning cycle (see Figure 2-1). Regional seminars took place in the beginning of a dry
season, for evaluation of the previous and planning of the following, and at the end of
that dry season, also for evaluating and planning, closing a cycle by incorporating lessons
learned. The Fire Action worked for two action-learning cycles, in 1998 and 1999.
Figure 2-1. Representation of the FATA/LASAT Fire Action showing key activities of
the participatory Fire Action. Action-learning cycles started in the beginning
of a dry season, with activities of evaluation, planning, and dissemination at
regional (workshops) and community level. Actions were taken at the
community level, and evaluated in the following workshop (By author).
The Fire Action did not establish any instance of centralized decision, nor did it
plan to follow any pre-defined agenda. Instead, it sought to work flexibly to reach and
involve the families' realities at the community level, at same time promoting community
organization. As form of incentive, grassroots institutions (FATA, LASAT and STR)
declared they would support organized communities in case of conflicts with IBAMA
regarding fire use, and the Fire Action's technician would visit those better organized
more communities regularly. Subsequently, regional workshops would draw general
lines of action, but it was at the community level that more specific agreements and
recommendations should first take place, since at this level those agreements are made
During the dry seasons, the Fire Action technician visited some of the communities
in order to monitor their actions. After the dry season was over, community
representatives presented their community experiences at regional workshops. More than
40 communities were invited, with support for transportation, food, and lodging. This
flexible strategy was chosen because it gave families an opportunity to play an active role
at the community level, where they could change their community, shaping it to their
reality, while at same time they would feel important for having played an active role and
for the motivation to participate (Bunch 1994:69).
The meetings held at the community level were key to the participatory approach
adopted because they created opportunities for conducting discussions, accessing
information, exchanging experiences, planning, as well as for dissemination and
evaluation of the proposals. In general, every family had heard something about fire
management and the penalties imposed by the government for its use. However, they had
always been uncertain about legal details. Many families expected that IBAMA's
burning guidelines would be presented to them in 1998. Given that all families use fire in
their productive systems, community meetings attracted many in search of information on
fire use and of an opportunity to complain about the government's proscription of fire
use. The government's prohibition of fire use27 resulted in a dilemma for peasants: they
27 Since 1998, the government has prohibited fire use during the dryer weeks of the dry season, in general
for eight weeks. Even those who got permits are prohibited to use fire during this period.
do not want to break the law on the one hand; on the other, they depend on using fire for
their social reproduction. They did not want to go against the law, but they did need to
burn. After receiving no information from IBAMA by the end of the dry season, they
started burning in a careless manner and without an effective plan (Carvalheiro, 1999:21-
22). This condition allowed for deep reflections about their own situation.
The visits paid by the Fire Action coordinator to the communities reinforced the
work done by community leaders because, in addition to promoting discussions, the
peasants who did not attend the regional workshop could access information by asking
questions directly to the technician and comparing answers to clarify some of their
uncertainties. Some families are less involved in community organization and do not
trust leaders or their intentions regarding fire management, suspecting that leaders would
receive some form of payment from IBAMA to control the use of fire by families. This
type of suspicion represented a very common conflict among communities in the Maraba
region. The ban imposed by IBAMA on the use of fire represented bigger losses to
peasants than uncontrolled fires usually did, because for them there is no production at all
without fire. Therefore, for those with poor access to information, the regular payment of
a "salary" would represent a logical justification for some peasants to go against their
own class, i.e., to support fire control. The technical visits strengthened the legitimacy of
the work done by the leaders, and emphasized the fact that none of the work done by
peasants was done for money, since they worked as volunteers, and FATA/LASAT only
assumed the cost of transportation, food and lodging for regional workshops held at the
FATA Center. The fact that the leaders involved in the Fire Action were generally the
same ones taking part in other actions promoted by FATA and LASAT helped to
encourage other peasants to believe in the proposals of the Fire Action, and to play an
active role in it.
Regional one and three-day workshops were held at the FATA Center, and brought
together peasants and technicians to discuss and evaluate their community actions and
government laws, to plan strategic actions, and to present and discuss their own proposals
with the representatives of both governmental and non-governmental organizations. The
Fire Action coordinator also held meetings at the STR's (Rural Workers Unions) and
visited governmental institutions (INCRA, IBAMA, SEMMA, EMATER, Public
First Action-Learning Cycle
The first action-learning cycle started in a regional meeting, aiming to analyze the
present fire use situation based on peasants' understandings, challenging their knowledge
with information on fire law and fire occurrence in the region, and drawing up with the
peasants a first proposal for fire management to be carried out in the coming dry season.
At the community level, during the dry season, actions consisted of meetings, to inform
and discuss proposals defined in the regional meeting. At the end of the dry season, the
closing cycle would be an evaluation of the action carried out, and planning for the
following year dry season. For the closing regional meeting of the first cycle, leaders
decided to invite other grassroots institutions related to peasants, as well as governmental
institutions-the presence of IBAMA would be crucial for peasants to present to them
their developed proposals. Details of each step of the first action-learning cycle are
presented as follows.
The first action-learning cycle started at the beginning of 1998 dry season, during
the workshop on "Perennial Crop Management" held at the FATA Center, when an entire
day was dedicated to discuss fire use with peasant participants. In this first meeting,
there were a total of 31 peasants (from 20 communities), and 4 indigenous (from 2
tribes), all connected to the Perennial Crops Project, and representatives of two
communities also involved with the Community Forest Management project. There were
also 13 technicians (8 from FATA, 4 from LASAT, and 1 from EMATER/Itupiranga).
Instead of presenting to the peasants the methodology of the coordinator's previous
experience in community fire management in Paragominas (Mattos et al. 2002), and then
discussing how it could be adapted to their conditions, the strategy used was exactly the
opposite: first the discussions were on what participants would do in order to prevent
losses caused by the fire, and only then was the other experience presented. This strategy
was very positive because participants were given the opportunity to see that the results
achieved by their discussions were similar to a consolidated experience carried out in
other Amazonian regions, which raised their self-esteem. As discussed in Chapter 1,
problem-posing methodology empowers participants by raising questions on their
situations and by leading to solutions based on their own understanding of their reality,
making it possible to change this reality. In addition, participants will be more likely to
appropriate practices they themselves developed.
In order to theorize on peasants' knowledge, fire use was codified into three
different phases: (a) before a planned burning event, (b) the burning day, and (c) after a
planned burning started. The exercise resulted in the creation of a fourth category, (d)
control of accidental fires. This codification constituted of discussions on each phase by
a brainstorming exercise, and ideas organized in flipcharts, facilitated by the Fire Action
coordinator. The problem-posing question was "What can we do before, during, and
after the use of fire in order to prevent uncontrolled fires?" The following
complementary question was "What can we do in order to control fire?" Every idea was
considered, even when some participants did not agree on its effectiveness. This first
exercise resulted in a set of general activities (listed below), with more or less agreement
on their efficiency or feasibility.
The division or codification of fire management actions into phases was key for
planning during meetings because it allowed the connection of the several fire prevention
and control techniques practices to the best period to use them, according to peasants'
usual slash-and-burn system steps (Figure 2-2). The upper part of Figure 2 shows the
approximate division in months of rainy and dry seasons; the middle part shows six basic
slash-and-burn steps influenced by fire, each followed by a bar indicating the period
when the step is taken; the lower part indicates the three Fire Action phases, before the
burning, on the burning day, and after the burning. Following this time division during
discussions, peasants were challenged to think in terms of responsible fire use during
each of the slash-and-burn steps based on their own previous experience or information.
Thus, this step of relating phases to local system was a major innovation that emerged
from the participatory process.
This emphasis on collective action was a second major innovation. In all four
phases, the overall recommendation for 'union' was consensual, meaning that the work
should be done in groups of family members, friends, and neighbors. It was said that fire
was "democratic," i.e., it would burn everybody's land without distinction of origin, kin,
religion, etc. Acting together, families would be better able to manage fire efficiently.
For instance, when choosing the burn location (sometimes during the rainy season) it is
important to analyze the fire danger to surrounding ecosystems, also taking into account
neighbors' ecosystems. Neighbors should unite to organize a period to slash the
vegetation, allowing fields to dry and be burned together at the same time. Burning in
groups would help in the use of prevention and control techniques, such as firebreak and
Rainy Season Dr Sao
DEC JUN ...'1 DEC
Choosing the burning place
Slashing the original vegetation
(2 to 4 weeks)
E Waiting for egetation to dry
(2 to 4 \ eeks)
Re-burning (if necessary)
L BEFORE BURNING A AFTER
Figure 2-2. Codification of fire management actions into phases (before the burning day,
at the burning day, and after burning) and its connection to the best period to
use them, according to peasants' usual slash-and-burn system steps (Drawing
The first systematization on Community Fire Management, developed in the first
regional meeting, June 1998 (Carvalheiro 1999:5-6), is shown in Figure 3-3. After this
brainstorming exercise, the coordinator presented an experience of fire management also
developed by colonist peasants in Paragominas, through a participatory approach from
1996 to 1998 (Mattos et al. 2002). Participants concluded that their recommendations
were very similar, differing only in the details about the size and type of firebreaks, and
in the form of community organization for the case of accidental or criminal fire. The
exercise of facilitating peasants to organize their knowledge empowered them to believe
in their own capacities. The similarity between strategies from the other case and their
own knowledge showed them that they already knew a lot, and that what was really
missing was their organization and motivation to implement practices in a more
consistent way. Another sign of their self-confidence was that they did not request copies
of the Paragominas Booklet, but proceeded with their discussion. Their decision on
developing their own knowledge rather than basing on other experience was a
demonstration of empowerment. Peasants attending this first meeting decided not to
define the details about techniques or community rules at that moment, but instead to
focus on more general recommendations. They claimed that details on each family's
agreement should be developed at the community level.
It was clear to the peasants attending the workshop that the recommendations
defined during the meeting bore no official power to replace the IBAMA law, currently
in effect. Still, peasants were motivated to develop their own rules in order to confront
IBAMA's top-down rules, because of their belief that if they could manage fire well
(causing no losses to the forest or to their neighbors), they would have the legitimacy to
face any eventual confrontation with IBAMA's representatives. At the end of this
meeting, some agreements were reached:
* Each participant should present and promote this discussion on community fire
management in their own communities;
* Each participant should support the creation of Fire Groups open to all members of
* The FATA/LASAT consultant should visit all the communities where Fire Groups
were created, giving priority to those communities that could inform possible dates
of burning events;
* FATA/LASAT should prepare instructional materials in the form of posters and/or
flipcharts, which would include the results of the workshop; the material would be
distributed and discussed during the regular technical visits conducted by the
* FATA/LASAT would support the coordinator's work for the 1998 dry season with
funds provided by the DFID.
The results of these agreements were positive. Jadiel Souza (personal information),
FATA director, said that more than 30 colonist communities with families involved with
the FATA and LASAT projects organized Fire Groups. The Fire Action produced a
poster and a serial flipchart summarizing Fire Management recommendations. The Fire
Action coordinator visited nine communities, facilitated community and Fire Group
meetings in five of them, and made subsequent visits to two of those five communities.
Burning situations (before, during and after) were also monitored.
Before a planned burning: Invite neighbors to be present and, After a planned burn starts:
* Talk to neighbors about the location if possible, to help with the burning. Continue observing the burning for
of agricultural fields and pasture as long as flames are high;
management; also talk about when
management; also talk about when Return to the site at the end of the
to slash the vegetation (in order to day and on the following day in
day and on the following day in
be able to bum together); On the planned burning day: order to observe any escaped fire;
order to observe any escaped fire;
* Talk to community members about The person responsible for the Extinguish and/or destroy any
Extinguish and/or destroy any
the best time to burn (in order to burning needs to be present; dangerous tree stump or trunk with
,,dangerous tree stump or trunk with
avoid burnings in the beginning of
o b o Do not bur a field alone, but in the potential to fling sparks at
dry seasons); groups of at least 4 people; adjacent ecosystems.
* Use firebreaks; 1
SUse firebreaks; Use 'fire-against-the-wind' or
* Fell dead trees on the borders of contra-fogo (start burning on the
agricultural fields and forests or side opposite to the main wind);
other ecosystems; this technique is If possible, organize water Controlling fires:
If possible, organize water
more important at the border where .
Si a containers and tools for fire control; Make a control firebreak (varrida);
fire is usually stronger;
SWhen felg tr Insist on neighbor participation. Backfire to control the main fire;
* When felling trees, try to direct
them to the center of the Smother the fire with branches and
agricultural field in order to reduce soil;
the amount of fuel near the field
borders; Extinguish it with water.
* Inform neighbors in advance of the
day when burning is planned, and
confirm it one day before;
Figure 2-3. Summary of the first systematization on Community Fire Management, developed in the first regional meeting, June 1998
Despite participants' initial frustration at not being able to communicate with
government representatives, the meetings held at the community level led to rich
discussions and to community planning. The results of the first regional workshop were
presented, and their local burning situations were discussed. Each peasant's burning
situation was presented to the community, which generated discussions on possible
dangers and how to minimize them. In order to codify the group's visualization of the
different burning situations, the FATA/LASAT technician developed an instructional kit
called "Burning Dynamics" (Carvalheiro and Mattos, in press). This kit contained
colorful drawings on cardboard tags representing the ecosystems (primary forest,
secondary forest, perennial crops, agricultural crops, pasture) and other significant
elements in a burning event, such as wind, sun, fire, rivers, firebreak, water buckets,
houses, fences, equipment, and people (Figure 2-4). There were several copies of each
drawing, and they could be positioned on a larger card according to different situations.
The peasants would build their situation and keep moving the elements around (fire,
people, water) to represent the burning dynamics, and incorporate suggestions. The kit
was very helpful in promoting discussions, especially helping group understanding of a
burning situation. Usually, when a peasant explains his burning situation, he or she
draws in the ground with a stick, showing the agriculture field, surrounding ecosystems,
wind direction, where did they started burning, etc. After a while, others in the group
cannot remember what the ecosystems were around the burning, or the wind direction, or
neighbors' land; the discussion does not go deeper because the person responsible for the
burning has to keep explaining the burning situation again. With the burning-dynamic
kit, all participants could visualize the situation, and make suggestions, adding or moving
objects, facilitating discussions of possible alternatives for the studied situation. Those
meetings held at the community level attracted many people, including those not used to
As planned before, the second regional meeting called "Management Alternatives
for Small Scale Production" was held in December of 1998, at the end of the dry season,
during three days. It was composed of three parts, as follows:
* Community Fire Management (December 1 and December 2).
* Community Forest Management (December 3).
* Assembly open to invited institutions (December 4).
--" -- -, ---- -
,. ', W i.-,.
flmJ\ ?Perennial Crops
Secondary Forest T
Forest l'Zo g
Some Others Elements Slashed Vegetation
Figure 2-4. Some of the elements used in the "Burning Dynamics," which could be
rearranged according to each burning situation, helping the group to visualize
the burning situation and assisting in the consequent in-depth discussions
(Drawings by author).
As part of the action-learning cycle methodology, the goals of the workshop were
to (a) evaluate the fire Action for the 1998 dry season, (b) organize its results in a fire
management proposal for the region, and (c) present and discuss this proposal with
invited institutions (IBAMA was the most hoped to attend). A total of 47 peasants
representing nine communities attended the meeting (28 men, 14 women and 5 children).
A stronger presence of peasants was expected, but the workshop coincided with the
beginning of the rainy season, which forced families with related agricultural activities to
stay in their lands. Two FATA Directors, as well as FATA technicians, the Director of a
Honey Production Association, the Fire Action coordinator, and a researcher from the
University of Washington were also present during the entire workshop.
The first half-day was used for theorizing the interconnections of local fire use with
regional, national and international contexts. Participants discussed sustainability in
Amazonia and the growing susceptibility of the forest to fires, as well as data from INPE
on fire statistics, the insertion of Maraba in the Arc of Deforestation, international
interests in stopping fire use in Amazonia, the fire disaster that occurred in the state of
Roraima, the history of governmental fire laws and their current changes.
The most recent IBAMA booklet on fire management (IBAMA/GTA, 1998) was
analyzed. Table 1 shows a summary of this analysis. Each participant received a copy of
the booklet, which was read by the group, and time was allowed for discussion. As a
result of this study, participants first criticized the symbol chosen by IBAMA to represent
forest fire prevention and control: a humanized anteater. It was a consensus that it was
not a good symbol for peasants because the anteater is an appreciated dish in Amazonia,
and not at all related to fire management awareness, even to those who know that forests
are their habitat. It was agreed that the representation of an experienced technician
presenting practices in accordance with their reality would be more likely to be accepted
by them. During Fire Action evaluation, peasants referred to elder peasants as models for
good management, as discussed in Chapter 4.
Participants also concluded that official fire permits were too hard to obtain,
especially for peasants. Among other bureaucratic procedures, it required numerous
documents peasants simply did not have, and which were often incompletely listed in the
booklet. Although some of the participants knew that the acquisition of some of those
documents cost a lot in fees they usually could not afford, the booklet did not explain any
of that. Participants expressed their concern about what this money was used for.
Table 2-1. Peasant critical assessment of the IBAMA/GTA booklet on fire management
(IBAMA/GTA 1998), as discussed during the second workshop in December
1998 (Carvalheiro 1999:21).
Summary of the critical assessment of the IBAMA Booklet on Fire Management
WEAK POINTS STRONG POINTS
Burning permission requires land tenure Fosters community organization
Burning permission requires payment of Instructs participants of different fire
fee for inspection by deforestation agents groups to bum on different days
Burning permission requires payment of Fosters use of adequate equipment
Firebreak guidelines do not fit the reality of
peasants or of the region-concerning
length, distribution and format
The Brazilian government's regulation of
fire use shown at the end of the booklet is
printed in small font, making it hard to
read, and uses technical jargon
Some strong points were that the booklet encouraged community organization,
regarded by participants as one of the most powerful tools for fire management. Also,
the instruction saying that participants of fire groups should not burn on the same day
was evaluated as positive, because the fire groups have more time to observe the burning,
and to be present if any accidental fire starts. Everyone emphasized the need for
adequate equipment to optimize fire control and minimize the risks involved in the
Participants held that the IBAMA guidelines for burning after the first rains could
not always be followed, depending on (i) the location of the agricultural field in relation
to its topography (places close to swampy areas do not burn well after rain), (ii) the
previously existing vegetation (burning pasture after rain events helps grass regrowth;
slashed primary forest will not burn well when it receives a strong rain), and (iii) the
severity of the dry season (some dry seasons are so harsh that burning without a rain
event becomes highly dangerous, while in others dry seasons rain is more frequent so that
it is hard to avoid burning before the rain).
The hardest criticism was placed on the length, distribution, and format of the
firebreak guidelines presented in the booklet. IBAMA requires a 3-meter-wide firebreak
in general, and a 6-meter-wide firebreak when the burning is adjacent to forest and
neighboring areas. Three meters is a difficult target for peasants to meet because they
have no access to machinery; six meters is out of the question, since this is generally a
wider lane than most roads accessing their communities. Peasants also questioned the
statement that the wider the firebreak, the smaller the risk of accidental fires
(IBAMA/GTA 1998:14), because sparks can fly very far. Firebreaks located far away
from the agriculture field were evaluated to be much more efficient (as discussed in the
Fire Action recommendations). In addition, the IBAMA booklet's recommendation to
make firebreaks in the middle of large agricultural fields in order to "bur in steps"
sounded like a joke, or rather like a clear sign that the people who wrote the instructions
had never visited a slashed vegetation in Amazonia prepared to burn. Slashed vegetation
(especially from primary forest but also from secondary forests) is composed of many
fallen trunks and branches superimposed one over the others, in many layers; walking
through a slashed field means walking over trunks, and in small areas over the ground.
Constructing firebreaks by hand in this condition is impracticable. All this, associated to
other guidelines such as building trenches inside the agricultural field when the land is
steep, carrying large tree trunks located close to firebreaks to the center of the field, and
the representation of slashed vegetation as pasture field, resulted in participants' total
disbelief in IBAMA's real expertise and consequently in its competence to provide advice
or to monitor fire management in Amazonia.
The last aspect participants criticized in the IBAMA booklet was the font size
chosen to print the text content of the booklet and the language used, particularly where it
presented governmental fire regulations. Besides being too small, which made it hard to
read, the language was too technical and therefore difficult to understand.
On the morning of the second day of the workshop, representatives of each
community presented an evaluation of the 1998 fire season in their community. They
described the severity of the dry season, examples of Fire Group work, and the lack of
losses in most of communities. Only one community recorded loss because of burnings,
when a peasant burned a field without asking for the community Fire Group's support.
Members of a community in which accidental fires were successfully prevented
complained about the difficulty and danger involved in fire prevention and control, for it
is done with no outside support or adequate equipment. This discussion was illustrated
using the example of a burning in which the Fire Group helped. After most of the fire
had been extinguished, the group left. Later that same day, when the responsible person
and his 12-year-old son returned to observe, they found that the fire had spread to the
neighboring forest. There was no way to call for help, and the two of them spent many
hours controlling the fire, without water or equipment. They had trouble breathing for
many days after the event.
All participants then agreed on the need for equipment and expressed their concern
about not being able to follow IBAMA's laws. This concern is shown in the following
When people work together for a common goal, nothing is difficult. And our
community is like that. We hope that from this point on, things [fire use] go right,
and that IBAMA does its part too. (...) If the government is pressing us to control
fire, then it [the government] has to provide us with the appropriate equipment.
Nobody can control it [fire] like it is done now, using only our hands.
Antonio Pintassilgo, Tracua Community, December 3rd 1998,second regional
workshop (Carvalheiro 1999:26)
Besides limitations with controlling fires because of absence of external support
and equipment, the peasants' evaluation at the workshop closing the first action-learning
cycle for the 1998 dry season showed positive reactions to the Fire Action campaign.
Without discontinuing their use of fire, the families involved claimed to be better
organized to prevent and control fire in their communities, and therefore reduce losses.
However, they worried about uncontrolled fires that originated in large farms, and the
government's outlawing of the use of fire and punishing those who use it. Those
uncertainties about government actions regarding fire use are well expressed in the
speech by representative Augusto Ferreira, when evaluating the work in his community:
Many people that are really interested do not want to obstruct the law; no one wants
to go against it. However, we have to know how far we can go without breaking the
law, because if it [the law] does not conform to our reality, how do you follow the
recommendations in the [IBAMA] booklet, for example, that do not match our
Mr. Augusto Ferreira, Nova Jerusalem community, December 2nd, 1998, regional
meeting (Carvalheiro 1999:23).
On the afternoon of the same day, the participants were divided into groups
according to their communities. Each group developed an exercise of codification using
the Burning-Dynamic kit. They were asked to represent a common burning situation in
their community, and to discuss in each group, fire practices for prevention and control of
accidental fires. Burning-Dynamic material was provided. After that, each group
presented the burning situation using cardboard visual aids, and described the practices
taking place before, during and after the burning. This discussion on fire management
practices was very rich, with different situations of vegetation to burn, surrounding
ecosystems, practices, etc. Two of the seven examples discussed in this exercise are
presented in Figure 2-5.
Figure 2-5. Two examples of Burning Dynamics represented by community
representatives at the second Regional Seminar, held in Maraba city in
December 1998. Each example represented a possible burning situation, and
it was used to present and discuss this situation with seminar participants.
According to Freirian Pedagogy, the codification is a visual representation of
the problem-posing situation, promoting critical reflection on peasants' reality,
and their critical self-insertion into this reality (Photo by author).
Figure 2-5a shows the fire management example presented by the Nova Jerusalem
and Plano Dourado communities (Carvalheiro 1999:27-28). They displayed a
hypothetical situation of a burning where the crop field to be burned was surrounded by
pasture (on the right side), neighboring forest (on the left side), forest located in the
family's land on top, and secondary forest (at the bottom). The wind blows from right to
left, and the family house and perennial crops are located to the right. The family
organizes a group of five men to make the four firebreaks and to burn. On the day of the
burning, they prepare tools (machete and scythe) and water, and start the burning from
the left side, which is downwind. The woman stays close to the house and the boy
remains at the firebreak, close to the fastest way out. That way, he can go and get help if
necessary. The group stays and observes until the strong fire is out, checks the firebreaks
for accidental fires, and observes dry wood or dry standing trees located close to the
surrounding ecosystems. They return on the following days to check for any accidental
fires. In case of accidental fire, they try to smother the flames with green branches and
soil, also using water. If the fire gets out of control, one of them has to go for help.
The other example, Figure 2-5b, shows the situation presented by representatives
from the Tracua and Josin6polis communities (Carvalheiro 1999:28-29). They portrayed
a burning carried out by an individual family with the help of three neighbors. A
secondary forest is located to the right of the burning field, to its left there is a primary
forest, at the bottom there is a pasture with animals, and the perennial crops and the
family house are located at the bottom right-hand corner. The black line around the
burning field represents firebreaks. They also showed a small brook crossing the
ecosystems. Firebreak width and location varied according to the neighboring
vegetation: primary and secondary forest, and pasture. When the burning field was next
to a pasture, the firebreak was located at the border of the burning field, and was 2 to 3
meters wide (or wider if there were fences). When the burning field was next to primary
forest, the firebreak was located 8 meters from the field border, and was 1.5 meters wide.
When the burning field was next to secondary forest, the firebreak was located 5 to 6
meters from the burning field border, and was 1.5 meters wide. The reason for locating
the firebreak within the vegetation and not at the border of the burning field (as
prescribed by IBAMA) was explained by a peasant, when he pointed out their burning
(...) because when fire goes with the wind, it throws sparks, and when it goes into
flame, nobody can stop it, even with a wider firebreak, because it [fire] jumps,
throws sparks; when it goes inside these 8 meters of forest [between the border of
the burning field and the internal firebreak], the fire runs close to the forest floor,
where the forest hasn't been cut. It is easier to control the fire when the firebreak is
1.5 m wide.
Jose dos Santos, Tracua Community, December 2nd, 1998, Regional Workshop
During the presentation by the representatives of the Tracua and Josin6polis
communities, they explained that this kind of firebreak works together with the contra-
fogo, or preventive firebreak. In this practice, peasants are positioned on two sides of the
burning field. The burning is started by those located downwind, and only then do the
others start the main fire (which goes with the wind). The fire started against the wind
runs slower than the main fire, but fast enough to create a strip of land without fuel. This
results in the main fire going out before it reaches the field border, and consequently
reduces the risk of fire reaching the neighboring vegetation. In addition, they talked
about remaining in the burning field until the main fire was extinguished and returning on
the same day and on following days to check for any possible accidental fires.
Equipment was also mentioned, mainly machetes, scythes, hoes, water pumps, and if
possible a chainsaw. The peasants emphasized that a chainsaw was faster and more
efficient in separating the burning from the green vegetation through varridas, or control
firebreaks (firebreaks which are made after the burning was started and are thinner than
After the seven examples were presented, the practices and recommendations listed
were classified in five categories: equipment, before the burning day, during the burning
day, after the burning day, and conflict resolution. Each of those topics was discussed by
the participants. The participants also defined some widely used key concepts which at
many times take different meanings, and which are basic for defining responsibilities
among fire users, such as "responsible", "accidental," and "criminal" fires. This
discussion on fire practices and recommendations developed into the first Community
Fire Management Recommendations for the Maraba Region, later organized into a
booklet. The results of the peasants' discussion on concepts are listed below (Carvalheiro
1999:35; Carvalheiro & Aquino 1999:16-17):
* Responsible Fire: when fire is used as an agronomic tool, and its user follows all
rules established in the Community Agreement.
* Accidental Fire: when fire is used as an agronomic tool, and although its user
follows all rules established in the Community Agreement, the fire exceeds the
limits of the planned burning field, causing losses.
* Criminal Fire: when fire is used as an agronomic tool or for any other reason and
its user does not follow the rules established in the Community Agreement.
On the last day of the workshop, the first Community Fire Management
Recommendations for the Maraba Region were read and approved by the peasants taking
part in the workshop. After their approval, the recommendations were presented to the
invited institutions. The representative from IBAMA was anxiously expected by all, but
in spite of a personal invitation two weeks earlier (IBAMA has an office in Maraba), no
one from IBAMA attended the meeting. There were representatives from four STRs
(Rural Workers' Union): Itupiranga, Jacunda, Maraba and So Domingos do Araguaia, as
well as the Director of Maraba SEMMA (Municipal Environmental Secretariat), the
Itupiranga SEMAGRI Director (Municipal Agricultural Secretariat), two technicians
from INCRA, a technician from the Itupiranga EMATER branch, and the Maraba Public
Defender for environmental affairs. Notwithstanding the frustration because of the
absence of representatives from IBAMA, the meeting went on as planned, and the key
agreements achieved were:
* To send the Community Fire Management Proposal, as well as the list of all
attending institutions, to IBAMA, along with a letter explaining that they were
missed and encouraging their attendance in subsequent workshops;
* Each peasant should convey the Community Fire Management discussions to
his/her communities, and promote (1) the creation of a community fire
management proposal, based on the discussions in the workshop (each community
received the approved proposals), and (2) the development of a conflict resolution
* Institutions should work to create an Environmental Council, at the municipal level,
with power to make decisions. This must be done through Municipal
representatives, and be approved by the Mayor;
* To disseminate the Fire Community Management proposals in communities by
means of a booklet to be prepared by FATA/LASAT before the following dry
* To organize another Fire Workshop at the beginning of the following dry season
(second action-learning cycle).
Second Action-Learning Cycle
During the 1998-1999 rainy season, the Fire Action coordinator documented the
1998 community fire management experience, raising funds for one more year with
DFID. The coordinator and other LASAT technicians organized the Fire Action proposal
into a booklet (with 750 printed copies),28 which was distributed after being approved at
the July 1999 regional workshop.
The third regional workshop on Community Fire Management, held at the FATA
Center on July of 1999, brought together during three days representatives from 15
communities (14 peasants and 1 indigenous), comprising a total of 36 men, 13 women
and 6 children. It was facilitated by the Fire Action coordinator, a LASAT technician,
and two FATA directors. This time, a representative from IBAMA was present. The
IBAMA state Director for Environmental Education attended the entire workshop, and
the IBAMA representative at the Maraba Office was invited to-and attended only the
last day of the workshop (which was open to invited institutions). Two other IBAMA
employees were also present on the last day. Additionally, representatives from the
Paragominas Community Fire Management experience, a key leader and a key
researcher, were present on all days.
The main goals of this workshop were to (a) review the 1998 experience, (b)
evaluate 1998 agreements and achievements, (c) present the Paragominas experience
represented by key social actors, (d) plan the 1999 dry season, (e) present and evaluate
the FATA/LASAT Fire Action booklet, and (f) disseminate the Fire Action among new
families and institutions.
The workshop was considered to be a positive experience, in which all goals were
partially or totally achieved. The previous regional workshop was evaluated, and
participants concluded that four of the five agreements from the second regional
28 Funds for the booklet came from a field fellowship from the Natureza e Sociedade Program for this
workshop had been put into effect. The exception was the creation of the Environmental
Council that was never formed. More families from the communities involved and from
neighboring peasant communities were interested in taking part in the Fire Action, and
the presence of representatives from other communities at the workshop was considered a
positive sign of the Action's dissemination. The presence of the IBAMA director was the
workshop's greatest achievement. For the first time, participating peasants and the
representative from IBAMA were communicating face to face. Although the IBAMA
representative had no decision power, and could only inform the participants of IBAMA's
laws, he was respectful and listened to peasants' complaints and accounts, thus taking a
step towards reducing the distance between IBAMA and peasants. It was a learning
experience for all.
The Fire Action booklet was read in the assembly and after a few changes was
approved by participants. The practices recommended in this booklet are presented in
The Paragominas leader and researcher and the peasants from the Maraba region
shared experiences, exchanging information, challenges, problems, and achievements.
This peasant-to-peasant information exchange tends to empower them by furnishing a
wider and more profound picture of their own situation, bringing consciousness of their
situation at a regional level. Horizontal communication among Amazonian peasants is
very important because in general they have limited access to any means of
communication and transportation.
In the previous months, the Fire Action coordinator had transferred her position to
another LASAT technician, to focus on her graduate studies evaluating two of the
communities attended by the FATA/LASAT Fire Action (the present thesis). During the
workshop, the participants had the opportunity to meet the new Fire Action coordinator,
and five communities were selected to be monitored in the 1999 dry season. It was
established that one of them should be an indigenous community, so as to involve other
actors besides peasants (the Surui tribe was chosen). Two communities were to be
monitored by the author of the current thesis (one in Maraba and the other in Nova
Ipixuna). The other two communities to be monitored were defined in the assembly,
according to spatial distribution (regions that had not been previously involved).
Several other institutions were invited to attend the last day of the workshop, and
representatives from five STRs, EMATER/Maraba, SEMMA/Maraba, a Fire Department
Lieutenant, two representatives from COOCAT, the EFA Director, a representative from
DFID, and an Honey Association Director were present. Several important NGOs (CPT,
MST, FETAGRI and CNS) were not able to attend because they were assisting 130
families in a land conflict with police and gunmen.
After all participants introduced themselves, they received the Fire Action booklet,
and it was read out loud by a peasant. The recommendations in the booklet generated
several discussions. For instance, the firefighters' main comments were that the
firebreaks were too thin and that the backpack sprayer proposed was not efficient to
control fire. The firefighter Lieutenant suggested that peasants should use more effective
equipment, such as asbestos fire swatters (abafador de amianto) and a large water pump
(with a 20 m range), and should always call the firefighters. The peasants replied by
explaining the reasons for the thin firebreaks, the lack of other kinds of equipment, the
usually long distance from agricultural fields and pastures to water sources, and the
absence of public telephones for several kilometers. This face-to-face discussion among
representatives from different institutions and peasants was a great learning experience.
In this process, different social actors had the chance to present their realities and contrast
them with government laws and peasant recommendations, making it clear to participants
that many of the fire laws were actually inapplicable. Based on this discussion, the Fire
Department Lieutenant proposed that a multi-institutional caravan be created, which
should be composed by FATA, the Fire Department, IBAMA, the Municipal
Environmental Secretariat, the army and the police. The caravan should not only inform
about fire use but also punish non-conforming farmers. The FATA director agreed with
the idea of a multi-institutional caravan that would educate peasants about fire use, but
without inflicting punishment. He defended his position by pointing out that changing
fire practices is a gradual process, and if the caravan had an educative role, it would be
seen by peasants as an ally; however, if the caravan punished peasants, it would be seen
by them as an enemy.
As a result of the discussions in the workshop, participants agreed that (a) they
would work towards the creation of a multi institutional caravan which should play an
important role in raising peasant consciousness regarding responsible fire use, but
without punishments, at least at this point; (b) the Fire Action booklet should be widely
distributed in the Maraba region, and its proposals should be acknowledged as official
recommendations for peasants; (c) participants would raise funds to support the Fire
Groups Forum, caravan expenses, and the Fire Groups; and (d) another regional
workshop was scheduled for the late 1999 dry season, at the FATA Center, with the
purpose of evaluating and planning the following dry season.
During the 1999 dry season, the new FATA/LASAT coordinator visited all five
communities. The caravan was not created, and the workshop planned for the end of the
1999 dry season was not held until the following rainy season (in the beginning of 2000),
with low attendance (many dirt roads are impassable during rainy season). In early 2000,
the financial support by DFID ended, FATA faced structural changes, and thus the Fire
Action was discontinued.
Nevertheless, two peasant communities continued to be monitored by the author of
this thesis, who also took part in burning events in 2000. The study explores the impact
of this approach on community organization, fire losses, and changes in actual practices
implemented among the Fire Action recommendations during two successive dry
seasons. During this period, the results show a clear positive impact in both communities
of changes in fire management practices. The combination of fear of IBAMA sanctions,
and the possibility of developing community-based alternative programs appropriate to
their situation, worked well to reduce losses and change the timing and organization of
burning events. This led to burners taking responsibility for their burns and for following
community rules and practices, with support from other people in the community. These
positive changes, and the practical experience of beginning to implement and evaluate
them in different situations, provide an excellent basis for future fire management in the
communities. The Fire Action depended upon outside technical assistance to facilitate
the process of development and dissemination of the rules and practices, and meetings to
discuss them at the regional level, with authorities from different agencies. How the
absence of this outside technical assistance will affect future fire management practices,
and the relationship with IBAMA, is an important question for future research on the
effectiveness of the Freirian approach used in the Fire Action.
This Chapter presented the process for developing FATA/LASAT Fire Action
recommendations. Based on Paulo Freirian Pedagogy, the Fire Action approach was
participatory by assuming a dialogic approach in which a technician was facilitator of the
problem-posing situation: of fire management, codifying colonist actual knowledge of
their reality through 'burning dynamic' exercises, and challenging them to critically
analyze their own situation. Other innovations were (a) relating colonist productive steps
as a function of the burning day (before, on the burning day, and after) and practices for
fire prevention and control; (b) working with peasant empirical knowledge; (c) leading
peasants to consciousness of their own situation (codification) before presenting external
solutions; (d) emphasis on collective work as the basis for the action; (e) promoting
peasants to develop their own agreements at community level; and (f) technical support at
the community level.
The recommendations proposed by the Fire Action, developed by means of the
presented participatory process, included regional and community meetings, and
innovative practices applied by some community members, as discussed above. Such
recommendations were organized into a booklet (Carvalheiro and Aquino 1999), with the
purpose of promoting community fire management by sharing the recommendations
discussed and approved in the workshops. Copies of the Fire Action booklet were
distributed to at least 44 communities related to FATA and LASAT, during the 1999 dry
season. The impact of the Fire Action was monitored in two of these communities, one
of which was involved since 1998, and the other was involved since 1999.
This Chapter presents a summary of the social-productive characteristics of 72
families in the two communities studied, Sdo Francisco do Itacaiunas and Cupu, both
located in the Maraba region, emphasizing aspects related to fire management and social
organization. Those two communities were studied in order to evaluate impacts of the
Fire Action on their fire practices, and results of this evaluation are presented in Chapter
4. Knowing some of the families' characteristics is important to understand their reasons
behind practices, and their decision-making, and also furnish a frame for disseminating
this experience in other situations. As this Chapter will show, the history of these
colonist communities, and their associated views on production, education, rural life,
forest and fires constitute the important cultural context for developing fire management
Age of Heads of Families
The average age of heads of families was 40 yrs (SD=12.2) for women, and 47 yrs
(13.0) for men. There were, on average, 5.3 (SD=2.84) persons/house. Besides those
living in the communities, some families maintain sons, daughters, or other family
members living in cities, usually to continue their studies or because of health problems.
In the communities, twenty-two families (31%) of the forty interviewed families
maintained on average four persons (SD=3.2). This maintenance was done with products
(crops and animals), and money. Sending kids outside to study represents high economic
and social costs for families, as discussed below in the education section.
Migration and Length of Residence in the Community
Data on families' origins showed that the majority of heads of families migrated
from other Brazilian states, which characterizes the families as colonists. Most of the
heads of families living in Sao Francisco do Itacaiunas and Cupu communities (46%
women and 57% of men) were born in the neighboring state of Maranhao, located in the
northeast of Brazil (half of the Maranhao state is located in the Legal Amazonia region).
Only 8% of the female and 3% of the male heads of families interviewed were born in the
state of Para. The other female heads of families were born in Goias (18%), Bahia
(18%), Piaui (3%), Espirito Santo (3%), Minas Gerais (3%), and Ceara (1.5%).
Remaining male heads of families were born in Bahia (10%), Goias (7%), Espirito Santo
(7%), Ceara (6%), Minas Gerais (6%), Piaui (3%), and Pemambuco (1%). Figure 3-1
presents origin distributions, in percentages, for both male and female heads of families
of the communities. The Figure considers the states of Tocantins and Goias as one
because of their having only recently been politically divided29
Each head of family was asked to trace his/her trajectory, listing places, villages or
municipalities where he/she had lived. In order to differentiate places just visited from
places where the migrant spent a "significant" time period, this study only considered
places where the interviewee performed some productive activity, such as agriculture,
extractivism, and/or had a job, either in rural or urban areas. In both communities,
29 Goias was politically divided in two states in 1990, with its north region becoming Tocantins state.
women had migrated an average of 4 times (SD=2.1) and men migrated an average of 5
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Figure 3-1. Origin distribution by state, by gender, for the heads of families of the Sao
Francisco do Itacaiunas and Cupu communities (n=72). The majority of men
and nearly half of the women were born in Northeastern state of Maranhao,
showing that few were born in Para state (Tocantins and Goias were
considered as one because of its recent political division) (By author).
The data regarding length of families' residence and land ownership in the
communities studied indicated a direct relation between length of residence and first land
ownership. In 1999, the interviewed families' length of residence in both communities
averaged over 10 years, and most families were still living on their first plot of land. The
average length of residence was 11 years (SD=4.2). In Sdo Francisco do Itacaiunas,
77.5% of the interviewed families had been landless before living in the community.
Eleven families (27.5%) were living there since the creation of the community, and
twenty-nine families (72.5%) were living there for ten or more years. Of those living in
the community for more than 10 years, 82.8% had been landless before arriving in the
community, while 57.2% out of those living there for less than five years had been
landless. The same pattern was found in the Cupu community. Eleven of the thirty-one
families (35.5%) were living in the community since its creation, and of those living there
for ten or more years, 77.0% had been landless before arriving in the community. Of the
families living in the community for less than five years, the number of those that had
been landless before living in the community was only 66.7%.
For many colonist peasants, the right to cultivate land is a result of their struggle
for self-esteem, for better conditions for their family. Many interviewees emphasized the
harsh conditions of living as sharecroppers, or low paid employees in rural and urban
areas. These difficulties associated with the unaffordability of land led people to occupy
lands as squatters. Occupying land in the Maraba region was and still is very risky due to
conflicts, high rates of malaria, and lack of any basic infrastructure or outside support.
The importance of owning and managing their own land is a key incentive for fire
management practices described in the next chapter.
Family Labor System
Family labor is the main productive force in the Maraba peasant communities, and
their means to control fire. In general, they do not have access to machinery (to plow, to
pick, to harvest, etc.), and a minority (28% n=69) own chainsaws. Therefore, the amount
of labor has a direct influence on the family's ability to produce. Besides family labor,
the two other main ways to improve their labor force are family social organization for
collective work (workday exchanges and mutirdo, in which everyone works together),
and obtaining the economic means to hire employees. For this characterization, this
study considered only labor above 15 years old.
The amount of labor force, divided by gender, was similar in both communities.
The average number of female and male workers per household for both communities
was 1.5 (SD=1.01) and 1.9 (SD=1.32), respectively. The labor force involved in
workday exchanges does not involve money. It is a verbal agreement between two or
more producers to work together in each other's land for a similar number of days. The
mutirdo, on the other hand, is the collective work of a group of people on a specific
project, like building a house, harvesting rice, burning, etc. In general, when the work
takes several hours, the person or persons directly benefiting from the mutirdo supplies
most of the food for the meal. Hired workforce is that which implies payment of daily
wages or salary. For the purpose of this study, it was divided into three frequency
parameters: always hires, hires during certain times) of the year, and never hires.
Table 3-1 shows the results for the three types of work, showing that in Sao Francisco do
Itacaiunas there is a tendency for higher participation in workday exchange and collective
Table 3-1 shows that around two thirds of families hire labor, especially during part
of the year. The most common jobs were during dry seasons, for cutting weeds in pasture
areas, slashing forest, and making firebreaks along fences. Data show that workday
exchanges and collective work are used more in the Sao Francisco do Itacaiunas