Notes from the field: ribeirinho life along the pulsing Juruá river

During September, the LICCI core team member André Junqueira went to the Juruá River, in western Brazilian Amazonia, to start the arrangements for his forthcoming fieldwork in the region. The Juruá, a tributary of the Amazon River, is a dynamic meandering river with its headwaters in the Andes, carrying a large amount of sediments that gets deposited every year in its wide floodplains. Along the Juruá inhabit different indigenous groups as well as the ribeirinhos, a diverse population that emerged from the contact between local indigenous people and migrants that came from Northeastern Brazil during the ‘rubber boom’ in the late 19th Century.

Fishing, agriculture and the extraction of forest resources form the base of their livelihoods, which have gradually become more diversified since rubber tapping ceased around the 1930s. With amplitudes that can reach 12m (i.e. the difference between the lowest and highest water level), the annual river flood pulse has a profound influence in the local social-ecological system, affecting cultivation cycles, availability of resources, level of accessibility, and many other socio-economic and biophysical elements.

In the last decades, however, local residents have reported changes in the flood pulse, in the rainfall seasonality and in other biophysical elements that have strongly affected their livelihoods. Combining the traditional ecological knowledge of local residents with hydrological, climatic and dendrochronological data (i.e., the analysis of tree rings), André will reconstruct the history of the changes that have taken place on the cycles of rainfall and river fluctuation during the last century, and understand how the ribeirinhos have been dealing with these changes.

During this first trip, André established contact with local organizations, leaders of the communities, and formalized a collaboration with the Instituto Juruá – a local institution that has a strong presence and an excellent trust relationship with the local communities. Instituto Juruá is presided by Dr. João Vitor Campos-Silva – also a LICCI partner -, who provided invaluable help and guided us through the many curves of the Juruá River. We are excited to keep on working in the region and we are grateful to Instituto Juruá and mainly to the ribeirinhos for such a warm welcome!