Tapajos National Forest

The Tapajos National Forest is located in the west of the Para state, between the Tapajos River and the Santarem-Cuiaba Highway. It was established in 1974, it covers more than 545,000 hectares and it is part of the Brazilian National Forest System, administered by the Brazilian Institute for Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA). It represents the only accessible large virgin forest close to Santarem and it has only recently opened up to ecotourism.

Topographically, the forest can be divided into “flanco”, westward draining, highly dissected terrain along the Tapajos River and the “planalto”, or uplands, which drain to the east. Characterized by large canopy emergent trees (up to 50m tall), “terra firme” forests cover much of the planalto areas. In a typical view from below, the trunks of emergent trees are interspersed with smaller trunks of sub-canopy or canopy trees and saplings. Rainfall in the Tapajos National Forest reaches over 2 meters annually.

There are 29 communities within the Tapajos National Forest and approximately 1,900 families living there. The majority of the communities are located along the Tapajos River and survive by fishing, hunting and gathering. There are four small agricultural communities also located within the national forest that rely on agriculture, some timber extraction and minor services.

According to the Brazilian government’s National Forests Decree, these areas are reserved to promote natural resources management including the extraction of timber and non-timber products such as rubber and fruits. But these areas are also reserved to guarantee protection of water resources, scenic beauty, historical and archaeological sites and to stimulate the development of applied scientific research, environmental education, recreation, leisure and tourism.

Projeto Saude & Alegria (PSA)

Health & Happiness Project is an non-profit organization that has been working in the Amazon region in extractivist communities along the Amazon, Tapajos and Arapiuns rivers since 1987. It also works with many communities in the Tapajos National Forest. These communities are made up principally of traditional peoples. They practice subsistence farming, extractivism and itinerant agriculture. They live from hunting, informal fishing, the collection of forest products and the farming of manioc and other regional products. These populations have deep traditional knowledge about the Amazon and the use and conservation of its natural resources.

The objective of PSA is to support sustained community development in the areas of social organization, health, sustainable forest management and agroecology. Through the Integrated Development programme simple solutions are adapted to the available resources. Visiting teams of doctors, agronomists and educators from different fields interact with the community, helping them learn about community organization, health (preventing infant mortality and the advance of simple primary diseases), agroforestry production and management, income generation, education (tackling illiteracy levels), art and culture, gender, children and youth, popular communication and participatory research.

A very important aspect of this programme is the establishment of economic alternatives that allow improvement in the socio-economic reality of the populations living along rivers through productive activities and conservation of natural resources, creating suitable models for sustainable development for the communities of the Amazon region, such as, for example, community-based ecotourism.

Since 2003, Saude & Alegria has been working in over a 143 communities of 29,000 extractivists in the rural riverside areas of the municipalities of Santarem, Belterra and Aveiro, in the west of the state of Para. Through education, the project aims to expand the levels of knowledge of the population, stimulate learning, civic involvement and environmental awareness for development – with special attention given to younger generations – to revive culture and local identities, and seek to make the community school a center for dissemination of local knowledge and education. One of the most important benefits of this programme is the construction of well-adapted social technologies that can serve as demonstrations of low-cost and high-impact solutions that can be replicated in other areas and contexts.

The implementation of the Health & Happiness Project was based on five gradual and complementary phases:
STAGE I (1987–1990): Participative Diagnosis, Community Mobilization and Short Term Priorities
STAGE II (1991–1994): Medium and long-term priorities
STAGE III (1995–2001): Integrated Development and Training for Community Management and Organization
STAGE IV (current): Sustainability and Integration with Public Policies
STAGE V: Global Reflection of the Experience and Replication of the Proposal