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A warm ribeirinho welcome for Sir Ghillean´s expedition

A warm ribeirinho welcome for Sir Ghillean´s expedition

A few days ago a boat chugged up to Xixuaú with probably the most well-connected visitors so far, from the most discerning of art collectors to the bankers´ boardroom.

The trip was led by our own Professor Sir Ghillean Prance, possibly the world's foremost Amazon rainforest botanist.  For many years he ran the huge Projeto Flora Amazonica for the New York Botanical Garden; was one of the founding team of INPA (the Brazilian National Institute for Amazon Research); and was a brilliant Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.  He has dozens of plants named after him and an array of medals and honours, not least being one of very few Europeans to be Comendador of the Ordem do Cruzeiro do Sul (Brazil's highest honour for foreigners, also awarded to our Chairman Dr Hemming) for environmental work.

Sir Ghillean, who was asked to lead a trip to the Amazon by George Loudon, a Kew Gardens trustee, financier and art collector (he has even judged the Turner Prize) invited eighteen of his most distinguished friends, including Lord Charles Cecil, a private equity investor who knows Brazil well.  Sir Ghillean explains: “I always like to do something useful in the Amazon, so I was keen to get to Xixuaú for the first time, and bring the party.  My impressions of Xixuaú are very good, especially how it works as a community, organising itself through the Xixuaú Co-operative, and the good relations with the Waimiri-Atroari in the neighbouring indigenous reserve.  While I was there I took the opportunity to go out into the forest where botanists from INPA and Kew Gardens are showing local people how to find and press plant samples – and in return the ribeirinhos demonstrate their skill in climbing the trees to collect the samples.

“It's now essential to firm up the designation of the Extractivist Reserve with the Roraima State Government.  This will give the communities protection from predatory activities, whether from fishermen or loggers: they need the legal rights to enforce the success of all they are doing at the moment.”

It seems that everyone got on well.  Sir Ghillean was pleased that his party had the chance to see Xixuaú and hear a presentation by the ribeirinhos about the concept of the Co-operative. He particularly enjoyed the variation of opinion as the visitors debated their experience after the boat left.

For many it was their first time in such a remote community, and some even had ideas for fund-raising or adding value to Brazil nuts by distilling the oil, rather than selling the whole nuts. It would be wonderful if they were to stay keep in touch.