Dr. Luke Parry, from the university of Lancaster in the United Kingdom, spoke about “social invisibility” in the Amazon region, in his lecture “life at the margins: fighting invisibility in the Amazon and beyond”. Dr. Parry has developed studies in the region since 2004, and his interests have transitioned from applied ecology to food security within the context of climatic change. Now he has begun to direct his research interests to the Caatinga, where he wishes to apply his methodological and analytical approaches to understand the new scenario. “I would like to share my research experiences from Amazonia in relation to social and environmental challenges in the Caatinga”, he says.
Dr. Parry adopted an interesting approach to his research scenario in the Amazon: total immersion. He moved with his family to live there, which allowed him to better understand the local people, and grasp the complex social relations to a greater extent. He perceived, then, that “Amazonian people are missing from the global lens”. In his talk, he stated how the research approach in the Amazon is generally one of a global scale, addressing issues such as carbon cycling and climate change. These studies claim to be of importance to the whole humanity, but fail to acknowledge the well-being of the very people living in the studied areas. This huge gap is where things like food insecurity, injustice and invisibility find space to exist and persist, despite all the attention given by researchers.
Not to have their rights, needs and ethnicity recognized, or seen as important, means to be “invisible”, to live at the margins of society. And for many people in the Amazon, this is a reality. This means they are out of the reach of political measures that could improve their quality of life in many different aspects, making these populations “unable to flourish”, in Dr. Parry’s words. That’s why it is vital to talk about environmental justice and its pillars: recognition, participation and distribution. They are, not surprisingly, exactly what’s missing for so many “invisible” Amazonian people. It means, ultimately, they are not “seen” and considered important, they don’t take part in the political processes of modifying their environment and means of life, and don’t share the good and bad consequences of it.
Environmental justice, though, is not reaching some communities in the Amazonian region. There are approximately one million people living in roadless cities, which in Amazonas are up to one-month boat travel away from the state capital, Manaus. This lack of accessibility may lead to many problems, for instance, it tends to raise the costs to acquire imported food stuffs. Some places are even caught up in the so called “food deserts”, areas that have limited access to affordable and nutritious food. “We concluded that food deserts are widespread in the rainforest cities studied, yet we highlight the importance of understanding local retail and nonretail food contexts”, says Dr. Parry.
Finally, to fight invisibility, there’s much we, researchers, can do. In Dr. Parry’s words “there are many forms of making the invisible, ‘visible’. Many potential actions fall within the area of influence of researchers, for example the kinds of questions we ask, where we work, with whom, how we engage with other stakeholders. Or we could work with society to replicate apparent successful initiatives to other places”. From Dr. Parry’s talk, it has become clear that tackling social invisibility, by working on the solid foundation of environmental justice, is key to build a better, more equal future for all peoples around the world.