Marcos Aurélio Da-Ré

Ashoka Fellow
Florianópolis, Brazil
Fellow Since 1993


This profile was prepared when Marcos Aurélio Da-Ré was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1993.
The New Idea
In 1991, when Marcos Da-Ré arrived in Curaça, a municipality in the semi­arid region of Brazil's northeastern state of Bahia, to work for the preservation of the rare Spix's macaw, he had only a very superficial understanding of the nature of the bird's habitat in that poor, rural setting. He soon discovered that people resident in the area had no knowledge of the plight of the macaw (which is found only in that region and is one of the most endangered species of bird). Marcos was faced with the dual task of identifying the elements of the macaw's environment that needed to be preserved, for the well-being of the species, and creating, among the local residents, a sense of empathy and identification with his project.
In deciding upon an appropriate course of action, he realized that the people in the area, who were themselves barely surviving in the barren and sun­parched environment, were a necessary component of the macaw's environment. He also quickly decided that a critically important first step in developing a program of regenerating the macaw species would be to develop a clear understanding of the how local residents lived and survived, what they believed in, and what their values were. He further understood that the survival of the Spix's macaw was directly related to and would be determined by the survival of the area's human inhabitants. Thus Marcos, trained as a biologist, began an ethnological and sociological study that culminated in the "community of conservation" concept.
In that concept, a community development program, focusing on improved, practical, and culturally pertinent means for human survival, becomes an initial and primary focus of conservation efforts. Through community development efforts, local residents regain their self-confidence and begin to see the future in less fatalistic terms. And, with that shift in attitude, a new awareness of and commitment to the environment is achieved.
In order to create an understanding on the part of the community of the need for a healthy and positive though often subtle interrelationship between man and the environment, Marcos looked for cultural practices that could serve as examples or instruments for needed change. And in the rural communities surrounding the city of Curaça, he found a culture that had adapted well to the environment and that could serve as an example for the areas farmers–that of the vaqueiro (cowboy). As a usual practice, vaqueiros let their cattle graze at will, generally along the river banks (where, in fact the macaw are found). The cattle are later spotted and slaughtered, as needed for the livelihood of the community.
Marcos began working with the vaqueiros and asked them and their children to use their "spotting expertise" to locate the habitats and trace the routes of the Spix's macaw. And, before long, two projects emerged from that relationship–an education project, spurred by the children's interest in the macaw, and an improved cattle­raising system for the vaqueiros. In the first of those undertakings, the children's interest in the macaw spotting, and the community's willingness to share in its preservation, has stimulated interest in the impoverished rural schools and resulted in a decision by an international committee on which Marcos serves to commit resources to educational and social programs in the area. In the second, the vaqueiros have decided to create fenced-in areas on the river banks for raising their animals and to plant feed crops in part of the fenced in areas and store it for use in the dry season. In so doing, the vaqueiros are incorporating "savings for the future" notions in their daily practice and, in fact, becoming part of a conservation effort while improving their quality of life.
In the city of Curaça, with similar aims in view, Marcos has identified a theatrical and musical tradition that is also endangered, and he has initiated the restoration of the municipal theater. The restored theater will not only revitalize the theatrical tradition through a series of community programs, but will also house an environmental education center that will provide information on the region and on the technical and programmatic aspects of the "community of conservation."
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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