Guerreiras de Tapuruquara Mountains: structuring Indigenous Tourism

Indigenous community-based tourism is at the heart of the enterprise Tapuruquara Warriors Mountains. Founded in 2017, the initiative has direct or indirect action by 13 communities from the Médio Rio Negro I and Médio Rio Nego II Indigenous Lands, in the municipality of Santa Isabel do Rio Negro, in northwestern Amazonas.

The enterprise is managed by ACIR (Association of Indigenous and Riparian Communities), in partnership with community-based tourism operators. FOIRN (Federation of Indigenous Organizations of Rio Negro) and ISA (Socio-Environmental Institute) are partners in improving management capacity, and Garupa, which advises community-based tourism initiatives, works together in the formatting and monitoring of itineraries and the Business model.

The expeditions itineraries include cultural practices and Amazon experiences guided by the peoples of the Médio Rio Negro I and Médio Rio Negro II Indigenous Lands, and the objective is to make visitors aware of the territory's culture and diversity, experiencing other ways of life and establishing a greater connection with an indigenous territory and with the Amazon.

The project was conceived by ACIR as a strategy to promote job and income generation in the communities, especially for women and young people, with a focus on valuing traditional knowledge of the fields and food practices.

After the approval of the National Policy for Environmental and Territorial Management of Indigenous Lands (PNGATI) and the publication of Funai's Normative Instruction regulating visitation activities of Indigenous Lands, an opportunity was perceived to develop indigenous community-based tourism and, with that, , encourage the maintenance of the communities' space, their culture, food production and handicrafts and, at the same time, promote awareness of those who visit these communities and generate income.

In the first two years of the initiative – 2017 and 2018 – eight expeditions were carried out, which benefited more than 100 families from the five communities directly involved – almost 500 people from eight ethnic groups. The 13 communities associated with ACIR also benefited indirectly from the strengthening of the Association and from the monitoring of the territory, carried out through expeditions.

In 2019, five expeditions were carried out, one of which was aimed at potential partners and customers, involving community-based tourism operators, with the objective of forming a network of partners to insert the initiative in the formal market. 

In 2020, the year in which Serras Guerreiras de Tapuruquara began to be accelerated by the PPA Acceleration Program, the coronavirus pandemic forced the interruption of activities, and the main concern at this time is to maintain the safety of communities.

The challenge of tourism in times of pandemic

Indigenous peoples in the Middle Rio Negro region face territorial and environmental management challenges, such as generational conflicts, densification of territorial occupation, migration to urban areas, in addition to external pressures and threats from illegal fishing and hunting and mining.

One of the great challenges faced by communities is the search for sustainable and autonomous solutions for access to water and energy generation. Indigenous tourism, structured in a community-based model and associated with territorial management, has the potential to minimize these problems, offering opportunities for the sustainable development of the territory through income generation, self-esteem improvement and cultural recovery. 

The covid-19 pandemic brought new challenges with the impossibility of visitation. FUNAI suspended all authorizations to enter and visit indigenous lands, in order to protect the communities. In this scenario, not even the planned preparation activities can be carried out, such as training and certification of first aid and river boat drivers.

Camila Barra, consultant at Croup, a partner of ACIR and FOIRN in the design and implementation of expeditions in the Sierras Guerreiras de Tapuruquara, has been following the activities of the PPA Acceleration Program with care to promote the systematization of knowledge so that, when possible, it is shared with the communities in the evaluation and monitoring activities. But he points out that covid-19 is still a shadow over the future.

 “The big challenge is to what extent will there be a structuring of the capacity for testing, control and health treatment in these municipalities to meet the necessary cases, because the cases will still exist. The only structuring action that expanded the capacity of the health system in Rio Negro was coordinated by FOIRN, in partnership with local health agencies, SESAI, Funai and with the support of the Health Expeditionaries and Doctors without Borders. 

through a donation campaign field infirmaries were implemented in the territory, not just in the municipal seats. With a growing network of supporters, including tour operators, partner agencies, expedition visitors and the PPA Acceleration Program, resources were also invested to support food distribution and health safety guidance actions.

Camila reports that covid-19 recently took Mr. Jaime Rodrigues, from the Baré people, an older person and leader of the Cartucho community, headquarters of ACIR and the activities of Serras Guerreiras de Tapuruquara, along with his brother. “In cities, many people adopt the position that the pandemic is over. It is very important to maintain care, because the elderly are sensitive and vulnerable”, she says.

“We still have the great challenge of finding out when there will be conditions to resume visitation. Efforts now are all aimed at ensuring that communities keep themselves well and protected, in anticipation of a vaccine, and understanding that, according to the law passed in Congress, indigenous peoples are one of the priority groups.

Jaciel Rodrigues, member of ACIR and Serras Guerreiras de Tapuruquara, at a meeting promoted by the Acceleration Program in February 2020

Acceleration Program helps in business redesign

With the support of the PPA Acceleration Program, Garupa has advanced in the best formatting of the itinerary together with the partner operators, so that, when there is a resumption condition, Serras Guerreiras de Tapuruquara will have diversified itineraries, for an audience willing to travel longer and with the logistics a little cheaper, with transport in speedboats and also with the option of hotel boats for people who need a little more comfort or family trips.

Garupa has organized itself into a task force to take advantage of the knowledge offered by the Acceleration Program, since the participation of the communities is impossible, and has carried out a job of recording and systematizing the lessons learned. In addition, together with FOIRN, efforts have been invested in fundraising and participation in project and awards notices in order to support the consolidation of lessons learned and the improvement of indigenous routes on the Rio Negro.

In the Mentoring Program offered by the Acceleration Program, Garupa had the guidance of Paulo Belotti, from Mov Investimentos, in the financial area. The process has the possibility of redesigning the entire business budget, seeking to adapt and give more visibility to the types of expenses involved in the process. “We are aligning the budget with the production of indicators. And making an important exercise of the cost of activities that are currently subsidized by the partners' projects. We are going to create a package value that is adequate to keep the community management standing”, evaluates Camila. This adjustment should be completed by the end of 2020 and will be the basis for re-discussing the entire Business Model C of Serras Guerreiras.

Another front addressed by Garupa is to bring partners for permanent dialogue and to look at the benefit-sharing system, which also involves commissioning agencies. However, tourism is one of the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic, and several of these partners are taking care to survive this period.

Garupa has also participated in events with the tourism sector, including the Abeta Summit 2020 – XVII Brazilian Congress of Ecotourism and Adventure Tourism, so that Serras Guerreiras de Tapuruquara finds its doors open in a more positive scenario in 2021, expanding partnerships and enabling a safe recovery. 

Photos: Marcelo Monzillo/ISA and Henrique Suanier/Idesam

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