Collective responses to Covid-19 in the Amazon estuary

From mask-production to opportunities of income diversification

Maria Claudia dos Santos Bahia & Matheus Monteiro

Amid institutional failure from the Brazilian national government to produce policies to protect citizens from Covid-19 contagion, a range of creative local solutions are emerging from civil society. One place where this happens is in the estuary of the Amazon River, in the north of Brazil.

Former partnerships between NGOs, universities and traditional forest communities have been crucial in shaping collective responses to the Covid-19 pandemic within the Amazon estuary. Partnerships that in recent times explored topics such as sustainable forest management and solidarity economy are now centred around strengthening Covid-19 prevention measures. In the Marajó Island, a partnership between the IFPA-Breves University and the NGO Instituto Internacional de Educação do Brasil (IEB) has lent 5 industrial sewing machines for mask-production to a floodplain peasant community.

Residents pose with one of the 5 industrial sewing machines lent by the IFPA-Breves University (photo by authors)

Now, two months later, more than five thousand masks have been produced and donated to other communities in the region. Moreover, what started as a technical cooperation for the manufacturing and donating of face masks has now expanded to an opportunity of income diversification. In the context of economic impact from the crisis, the community residents have begun using the sewing machines to manufacture bags and hats as a way to broaden their income options. The Santo Ezequiel Moreno community is located within the municipality of Portel, one of the Amazonian regions hit hardest by the Covid-19 pandemic in Brazil.

The entrance of the Santo Ezequiel Moreno’s community on Marajó Island (photo by authors).

According to the Gabinete Popular de Crise do Marajó, up until the 16th of August, the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases on Marajó Island had reached 10.592, followed by 277 deaths 1. In Portel, the virus has caused 47 deaths. One of the residents describes the community’s reaction at the early days of the Covid-19 outbreak: ‘When we first heard of the virus, I think the overall reaction of the community was a sense of fear. As we live too close to each other, we all feared that the virus could quickly spread throughout our community’, says Sônia do Socorro.

The impacts of the pandemic on Amazonian traditional forest communities are numerous. They are often located in semi-urban areas, and daily commutes for the commercialization of forest products combined with little access to health services threatens Amazonian floodplain communities in various ways. From interruption of school activity, where meals are made available to children, to cuts in income generation opportunities such as the federal food procurement program PNAE.

The collective response of residents from Santo Ezequiel Moreno highlights how former partnerships linked to local initiatives can play a substantial role in collective responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. Teofro Lacerda, one of the leaders of the community highlights some of the long-term plans for the sewing machines: ‘The sewing machines were not donated, rather, they were borrowed for 6 months with an option for extension for another 6 months. Our plan is to soon expand our production towards different products and also offer our residents sewing courses and training’.

Overall, the sewing machines represent two sides of the creativity of local communities: solidarity in protection against the pandemic and product innovation to improve economic return.

1 Available at: https://www.gabinetepopulardomarajo.org/dados


  • Maria Claudia dos Santos Bahia is a resident of the Santo Ezequiel Moreno community, where she was born and raised. She studies Rural Education at the university IFPA-Breves and her main research interests include new sustainable forest management and production practices. Her main goals are to contribute to enhancing the local value attributed to sustainability efforts and showcasing how rich her community is. Email: mcsantos.ptl@gmail.com

  • Matheus Monteiro has recently concluded his research Masters in International Development Studies at the University of Amsterdam. His research has focused on solidarity-based strategies within floodplain Amazonian communities under support of the project AGENTS and supervision of Dr. Fabio de Castro (CEDLA). His research interests include grassroots and bottom-up collective initiatives impacting environmental governance outcomes. Email: matheus.monteiro.alves@outlook.com

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