Patricia Goulart Bustamante

Ashoka Fellow
Brasília, Distrito Federal, Brazil
Fellow Since 1995


This profile was prepared when Patricia Goulart Bustamante was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1995.
The New Idea
Along the Cambui river in the region of Minas Gerais, where Patricia Bustamante is building her model rural environmental action program, the Cambui tree that gave the river its name has all but disappeared. Along one 60-kilometer stretch of the river, for example, only five trees remained.
Patricia's idea began simply. She brought the "grandparents" of the town of Maria de Fe together with the children to walk along the river in the cool mornings. Soon the walks turned into botanical reveries in which "those who remember" the river forest described it to those who might never have known what had been. This inspired a community-wide indigenous plant nursery and re-planting effort that has, in three short years, significantly re-populated the river bank for a considerable stretch around the town.
The project has grown in complexity as it has gained momentum. Patricia believes that all rural Brazil contains the "dormant cultural seed" of caring for the environment. Building on the central insight that the elders can convey the memory and magic of "lost nature" to the young in a way that germinates that seed, Patricia is building a comprehensive rural environmental education and community action program that has several complementary activities. In addition to the "transmission of memory" nature walks, indigenous nurseries and re-vegetation activities, Patricia is unfolding a program to create a germ-plasma/seed bank that is part and parcel of the community's own knowledge of the environment and reflects how the community lives with the environment. Patricia is demonstrating that this "living seed bank" can bring economic benefits as well as social, aesthetic and environmental ones. First it can yield commercially salable genetic material that is "owned" by the community. It can also provide the basis from which to offer eco-tourism holidays for urban Brazilians.
Her approach in this regard complements an emerging international effort to create non-hybrid seed banks among peasant farmers and rural communities by widening rural social action to embrace, preserve and utilize biological diversity.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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