The Yawanawá Community: From the Amazon to Global Markets
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On Tuesday, 4 October 2011, the Equator Initiative hosted Tashka Yawanawá of the Yawanawá people of the Brazilian Amazon, to talk about his community's successes in advocating for change, conserving their indigenous territory, and developing new sources of sustainable energy.

The Yawanawá community won the Equator Prize in 2008 in recognition of their sustainable management of over 180,000 hectares of Amazon rainforest in the Brazilian state of Acre. This tribe has managed to conserve their natural heritage and preserve their cultural identity in the face of multiple threats to their way of life.

Tashka played a leading role in advocating for the revision of the boundaries of the Yawanawá traditional land, which was eventually achieved in 2005. Tashka spoke about the challenges this had entailed, including threats to the forest from proposed commercial logging and cultivation projects. Other threats to community wellbeing were identified, such as the cost of travelling from the community to the nearest town: the three-day journey by truck and canoe can cost as much as US$110 in diesel fuel. The community is also challenged by a lack of sustainable livelihood options, difficulty in accessing clean drinking water, and virtually no health services.Tashkabrownbag4

In response, the Yawanawá are developing the processing of oil from locally-grown jatropha trees into a renewable and cheap source of fuel for motor boats – 4,000 trees have been planted so far. The community has benefitted greatly from a partnership with AVEDA through the sale of sustainably harvested urukum seeds that are processed into a red dye used in beauty products sold across the world. AVEDA has helped to preserve and celebrate the Yawanawá culture, raising the profile of this tribe in Brazil and internationally.

Tashka also spoke about the transformative social changes that have taken place within the tribe in recent years as power has devolved to smaller village-level authorities, including two women village chiefs. Diversification of agriculture and revenue from the sale of urukum has allowed more young members of the tribe to remain in the village instead of migrating to urban centres.

The community has taken control of digging and maintaining wells that supply clean water to the villages. Support from various partners has benefitted local schools and improved the tribe's communications infrastructure, with a high-speed internet connection now installed in the village headquarters. Tashka emphasised the importance of being able to easily contact the outside world for raising awareness of challenges to the tribe's sovereignty.

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David Hircock, Executive Director for Sustainability and Innovation with the Estée Lauder Companies, has a long-term relationship with the Yawanawá, and spoke in detail about the changes the community has experienced in recent years.

The discussion that followed Tashka's presentation included the position of indigenous tribes in Brazil today, and the role of the federal and local government in enabling the survival of indigenous culture. The Equator Initiative, Tribal Link Foundation, and other partners have greatly helped to raise the profile of the Yawanawá; many challenges still remain, however, if communities like this one are to preserve their natural and cultural heritage in a rapidly changing world.

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