Tiberio Alloggio is turning community-based ecotourism–an ideal medium for the preservation of indigenous culture and the conservation natural resources–into an effective economic solution for the river populations of the Amazon region.
The New Idea
Tiberio Alloggio's central idea is to create new, income-generating alternatives for traditional Amazon populations. To accomplish this end, he is demonstrating that activities sensitive to the local ecology can also be profitable, and can become catalysts for social and economic progress. The innovation lies in his methodology, which places the control of all operations and support services of the ecotourist initiatives in the hands of local cooperatives. Local residents involve themselves in every level of project management and therefore reap multiple benefits. The introduction of community-run ecotourism is a new development in the area of conservation and sustainable development–both in the Amazon and in Brazil as a whole. Tiberio founded ASPAC (The Silves Association for Environmental and Cultural Preservation) in Silves, a small village 700 kilometres from Manaus, where the economy has been restricted to natural resource extraction and limited micro-enterprise. Under Tiberio's supervision, ASPAC promotes the expansion of the region's first self-sustaining, community-run ecotourism model: the Hotel Comunitario Aldeia dos Lagos (the Village of the Lakes Community Hotel). The hotel model generates income, the distribution of which is under the direct control of the community members themselves, and helps shield the environment from destruction. Although other tour agencies have built hotels in natural settings and called them "eco-tourism lodges," the Village of the Lakes Community Hotel is not just a place to vacation and go on photo safaris. The vision runs much deeper, and reflects the community's desire to maintain and improve their way of life. ASPAC incorporates job training, applied social and scientific research, handicrafts and micro-enterprise, all focused on promoting traditional mores and preserving the environment.
The causes of the Amazon region's destruction are many. Some harmful activities are initiated by outsiders, others by local communities themselves. But no matter what the exact source, the region's destruction has global implications, for the Amazon is one of the world's principal sources of both oxygen and biodiversity. What's more, indigenous communities are themselves a human resource in danger of cultural extinction. Industrial, large-scale fishing and lumber enterprises are exploiting the natural habitat of the river populations, and in doing so are systematically depriving the local people of fish and trees, not to mention excluding locals from the productive process and the accrued financial and cultural benefits. Moreover, many of the locals have been expelled from their living areas to accommodate commercial interests.The dearth of opportunities in rural areas prompts a continuous migration to the city, and has led to uncontrolled urban swelling in Manaus and other nearby metropolitan areas. The state of Amazonas has around 2,200,000 inhabitants. Of that number, 1,500,000 people live concentrated in Manaus in miserable conditions, owing in part to the lack of concrete economic alternatives for the rural residents of the interior. Already partially dependent on an imbalanced eco-political system, those workers who do remain in rural areas are vulnerable to exploitation and even the systematic use of slave labor.Simply protecting the lakes connected to the Amazon River basin would preserve bio-diversity and support fish reproduction, guarding the food supply for the local residents and maintaining their cultural heritage of fishing (fish represent the principle source of subsistence for the Amazon population). At the same time, such protection would save an aquatic ecosystem on the verge of extinction, and preserve sites that have become income-generating attractions for tourists. The challenge is to find a way for locals to assume this conservationist initiative and to understand that it lies in their own interest. Manaus' model accomplishes these ends where other attempts have failed.
Tiberio created the locally-based group, ASPAC, to be a focal point for community initiatives as well for tourism. Though the eco-tourism provides basic jobs and income for many in the community–ranging from cooks to guides to fishermen–it also presents an opportunity for higher-level skill development. The training operates at many levels. First, Tiberio and other community leaders, under the aegis of ASPAC, work with the employees of the hotel and the support staff to teach them customer-service strategies. Tiberio has also teamed up with another Amazonian NGO to provide training in hotel management. Now, the Hotel Comunitario Aldeia dos Lagos is fully staffed and managed by residents from the community. On another level, Tiberio has involved the elders of the community to pass on cultural history to the employees to ensure that they are authentic conveyers of the local traditions. Visitors to the hotel and the nature preserves thus really do learn about the environment, the cultural traditions, and the history of the area. Tourists may stay anywhere from one week to several months. Some come to camp and explore the area while others arrive to conduct research of the local culture, flora and fauna. Meanwhile, visitors are able to purchase authentic handicrafts and learn about the culture behind the art. The community plans to use the ASPAC center / hotel as an exhibition space for art shows. This is one of the first opportunities the river dwellers have had to see their art work celebrated in a public forum and will open up new chances for them to communicate their culture to the world outside the Amazon region. The river communities, like the other traditional populations of Amazonia, are an economically modest, humble group. This project aims to increase their quality of life by raising their income and revitalizing their traditional methods of production without imposing the demands of outside, artificial markets and upsetting the natural rhythm of the community's customs.The community has structured the ASPAC such that 20 percent of the profits from the hotel are invested in conservation activities in the surrounding areas. Another 10 percent is reinvested in expansion plans. Tiberio is working to transform the village area of Silves into a model of community ecotourism and to export this model throughout the Amazon region. The Hotel of the Lakes will demonstrate to the rest of Brazil's nine Amazon states the socio-economic and environmental viability of high-quality, community-based ecotourism. Surrounding communities have already sent representatives to the hotel to observe how the model is functioning, to grasp the idea and adapt the methodologies for their own use. Replicating the model will eventually produce a region-wide ring of eco-tourism sites that will protect the area while increasing economic and cultural stability for the entire bio-region. A national commission, Pro-Ecotour, which was formed to examine alternate strategies for developing ecotourism is looking to ASPAC as the most successful sustainable model in the entire Amazon region. At a regional level, Tiberio is also consulting with a rubber tapper's association that is interested in sponsoring a new hotel in the area. At an international level, Tiberio is expanding the market for tourists by developing connections with commercial European tourist agencies. In 1999, the Hotel of the Lakes will be the site for Greenpeace's International Conference.Finally, the ASPAC center will serve as a platform from which the communities will gain a voice in policy-making for their region. Community organization, environmental education, and information exchange have been developed in such a way as to ensure that the process of eco-tourism development in Silves and the surrounding areas is fully participatory. Based on the social and scientific research hosted by the hotel, new data will become available to support legislation protecting the region and encouraging enforcement of current preservation laws. This combination of strategies has never been attempted in this context, and makes Tiberio's idea stand out among global initiatives.
Tiberio was born and raised in Italy, where he was involved with unions and social movements starting in the 1970s. Drawn to the environmental arena, he became coordinator of the Pastoral Commission of the Friends of the Earth. In 1982, he moved to Brazil to work for two years, and fell in love with the land and the communities. As his tenure lengthened, so did his commitment to the Amazon region and the communities' trust in his sincerity. Tiberio is now considered a full member of the Silves community and works with the people, on their behalf and as one of them. In the early 1990s, he became heavily involved with the conservation of the lakes connected to the Amazon River, and it was from this activity that he created the ASPAC, which led to his activity in eco-tourism. The lakes are currently preserved by law, though due to a lack of government inspectors, the communities themselves often have to defend their refuges from continual onslaughts from industrial fishing companies. Tiberio has seen his involvement in the area come to fruition in the construction of the hotel, which he and the community built by hand.