Chief Almir lives in the south-west of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, where he and the Surui tribe hunt for fish using spears and live off the forest as much as they can.
Outsiders first made contact with the Surui in 1969, after which the Surui people faced external pressures that threatened their culture and way of living.
“Our culture was almost extinguished,” Chief Almir says. “We faced a lot of struggles to maintain our traditions and values.”
The Surui lands are now surrounded by cattle ranches that produce beef and leather for many of the world’s businesses. The ranches can provide nearby communities with new opportunities, but they can also present challenges to indigenous families’ ways of living.
The IKEA Foundation’s partner Forest Trends has been working with the Surui and another Amazonian tribe, the Yawanawa, to improve their family incomes and keep their cultural traditions alive. Now children can have a bright future within the tribe, and families don’t feel the need to find work elsewhere, such as on the cattle ranches.
Forestry, empowerment and leadership
Using a unique combination of agroforestry training, women’s empowerment strategies and youth exchanges, the programme helps families develop long-term ways to protect their rainforest homelands and earn a sustainable income.
Families learn how to combine tree-planting projects—which have long-term benefits for the community—with cash crops such as fruit and nuts that give them an immediate income.
“The agroforestry training is important because it is good for our environment,” explains Chief Almir. “It reinforces our culture, and it brings us economic resources.”
Women in the Yawanawa tribe are already at the heart of decision-making in their communities, and so now they are helping Surui women make their own progress. Women from both tribes are also learning to earn their own incomes by creating jewellery to sell at local markets.
And young people from the two communities go on exchanges to strength their sense of belonging and share their cultural traditions with each other. It’s a kind of leadership programme to equip them with the knowledge, education and skills they need to prosper and succeed.
Contributing to the survival of a culture
“It’s a great honour to be able to contribute to the survival of our culture and people,” the Chief says. “It is a dream come true.”
At the IKEA Foundation, we believe that every child needs a safe place to call home and a sustainable family income. That’s why we are working with Forest Trends to help the Surui and Yawanawa families of Brazil develop ways to protect their rainforest homelands and provide for their families.