The river-dwelling population of Maguary, located in the Brazilian national forest, Floresta Nacional do Tapajós, is a poor and isolated community whose primary source of income relies on cultivating and selling its natural resources. They earn a living mostly by growing rice and bean crops, processing manioc flour, and selling small quantities of latex from the rubber tree. Rubber has been their tradition for over 150 years; today, however, the market for latex is very limited.
Thanks to the innovations of a bright and motivated local entrepreneur, Arimar Feitosa, the community has been able to maintain its rubber tradition by creatively utilizing it to manufacture finished products. Arimar began a small company called Couro Ecológico that uses rubber to manufacture purses and other goods made from locally harvested latex. Couro Ecológico, or “Ecological Leather” in English, is handmade by overlaying the extract of latex from Hevea brasiliensis, the Brazilian rubber tree, onto cotton. This cotton-latex overlay is then sun-dried to turn it into a waterproof, durable material similar to animal leather. The local artisans stitch it together to make purses and other “leather” goods that are sold locally and internationally. The income earned by selling the finished products is significantly higher than could be earned from selling the raw latex. Furthermore, latex can be harvested without harming the trees, so the business is sustainable over the long term.
Couro Ecológico has now grown to employ over 15 workers, men and women, in an area with extremely few employment and economic options. This project creates an opportunity for members of the communities to make a decent living by using forest resources in a sustainable manner and prosper while keeping their culture and identity alive. The business generates income for the owners, Brazilian artisans, as well as their employees, affecting a generous number of people. The company provides vital income to many Flona Tapajós residents, making them less dependent on foreign and government aid. Innovations such as Couro Ecológico serve as successful and inspiring models for other community members and the neighboring communities to follow.
CEN is currently expanding the distribution of these goods in the U.S. market by locating retailers and distributors. The planned expansion of our cCLEAR project will allow us to play a larger role advising Couro Ecológico on vital marketing and trade strategies, enabling the entrepreneurs to increase income for themselves and their employees. CEN is working to serve as an essential connection between the industrialized and the unindustrialized, a connection that provides the services Brazilian communities need to become self-sustaining and successful.