Brendan O'Shaughnessy | April 30, 2019
Deep in the heart of the Amazon rainforest — reached by a flight into the jungle, a two-hour boat trip, a pickup truck transporting 31 people in the bed despite a downpour, and a half-hour walk — five Notre Dame MBA students and two faculty advisers are learning how to turn mandioca root into a local starch product called farinha.
Last year, another group of Viva Bartkus’ Business on the Frontlines students recommended changes in the supply chain for even more remote fishing communities that depend on the massive pirarucu lurking in the Amazon basin’s rivers and lakes. This air-breathing dinosaur of a fish can grow to nine feet long and weigh 400 pounds.
While the two products recall the biblical story of loaves and fishes, the students don’t have Jesus’ power to multiply their numbers to feed everyone. Instead, their goal is to figure out how the indigenous tribes and riverside communities living in the Amazon can reap a larger share of the substantial profits from their labor when these goods are sold in the bigger cities in Brazil.
These “keepers of the forest” are the last line of defense for the Amazon, sometimes called the lungs of the planet because the quantity of trees and water there boggle the imagination. The Amazon basin covers nearly 40 percent of South America, and the river exceeds in volume the next seven largest rivers in the world combined. The rainforest inhabitants thwart outside incursions by loggers, miners and ranchers, and their economic stability keeps them from resorting to slash-and-burn farming, poaching endangered species or selling out.
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