Prainha do Canto Verde (Ceará – Brazil)

On the North-East coast, a community of artisan fishermen have made inroads into community-based tourism

At first sight, it looks like an isolated, humble village in North-eastern Brazil, like so many others. On the beach, one can see all the still, lined up jangadas (small sailing boats): they belong to the artisan fishermen who go to sea every day for their livelihoods. About 15 years ago the community of Prainha do Canto Verde, located 200km East of Fortaleza (Ceara), faced the typical problems of a tropical developing country: predatory and illegal fishing, tourist mega projects which destroy the environment and land struggles.

Inside the posada “Sol e Mar”, one of the four in the Prainha which are part of the community entrepreneurship

It was the early 90s. There continued to be decreasing fish stocks, the price of land was increasing due to property speculation and the threat of mass tourism was becoming a reality. In response to this, the community decided to organise itself to find ways to protect their territory and improve their quality of life. They created a tourism council, amongst other councils, and following much research, reached a resounding conclusion: tourist entrepreneurs were not the owners of the land, and they were not focused on growth.

Antonio Aires, a fisherman of the community and one of the leaders of the project, explains how the initiative came into being: in 1998 the Council of Community-based Tourism was created (with over 100 members), and functioned as an informal cooperative from 2000 to 2009. The Council adhered to the values of “community-based and sustainable tourism.” This was the first experience of community-based tourism on the Brazilian coast, and it managed to win over the initial scepticism of some members of the community.

Today there are a variety of activities on offer: inns/posadas, eco-walks, boat excursions, cultural immersion, artisan fishing, community activities, handicrafts, workshops, cooking… and they even have a website to promote their services. The community project [1] receives approximately 1000 tourists per year -which is a large number, considering that the community is made up of approximately 200 families-, many of whom become regular visitors returning every year. There are prices for all budgets, a double room costing from 55 reales (23 euros) to 105 reales (43 euros) per night, depending on the inn.

One of the posadas is “Sol e Mar”. Located just a few metres from the sea, it has a restaurant, terrace, garden, a small organic plot and 6 rooms which can accommodate up to 18 guests. The posada is Aila and João’s house. He is an artisan fisher, and they previously owned a shop which barely generated any income. One day in 2000 they began to occasionally host friends in their small house. They enjoyed the experience so much that they built a second floor, registered with the Ministry of Tourism, joined the Community-based Tourism Council and opened their posada.

Aila provides space in the posada, at no cost, for local craftsmen to market their products.

What was most difficult for Aila was getting used to receiving strangers in her home, but in time she came to like it and now it is an entertaining and enriching experience for her; it is a window onto the rest of the world. Just over half of the tourists are foreign, mainly Europeans who come to enjoy the local, healthy cuisine. The majority of products come from the organic plot and the farmer’s market, whilst the fish and the most appetising, lobsters, come from the artisan fishers of the community.

The community-based tourism of the Prainha is mainly focused on the redistribution of income and on the cultural and environmental preservation of the area. Therefore, the products and services offered to tourists are provided by community members (food, handicrafts, tourist guides) and there is no sense of competition between the posadas. This is a form of tourism which, according to Antonio, must continue being only one complementary source of income -it currently represents 15% – thus enabling improved living standards for the community’s inhabitants without endangering their cultural traditions or environment.  It is clear that they do not intend to abandon artisan fishing in order to dedicate themselves entirely to attending to tourists, nor are they willing to transform their culture and traditions in order to satisfy mass tourism, were it to come about.

Following this line of thought, in 2008 they founded, along with other organised communities, the Network of Community-based Tourism of Ceara (TUCUM). Today, 11 coastal communities and two associations in Fortaleza (one for women and the other on MST [2]) are part of the network. The main aims are to raise visibility, to disseminate community-based tourism and to create strategies which generate greater political awareness within the communities, in particular regarding systematic violations of their rights. Thanks to the network, they have better access to training and the amount of tourists in Prainha has increased, thus creating more visibility and creating links with tourism and environment students who come to see for themselves that community-based tourism works.

The community members are aware of the threat which the potential arrival of mass tourism would pose.

On June 5th 2009, the area was declared, by presidential decree, as a reserva extrativista [3], thus creating a protected zone spanning almost 30,000 hectares whereby neither mega-projects nor industrial projects, which compromise the survival and wellbeing of the inhabitants, are allowed.  Beyond the legal perspective, there is a will amongst tourism entrepreneurs to preserve the environment and defend their territory, as the aim of the eco-walks and other activities is to preserve the eco-system.

In order to achieve greater participation and a more horizontal approach, in 2009 the Council of Community-based Tourism ceased working as an informal cooperative and became open to all, via assemblies. Unlike mass tourism, this is a democratic and inclusive process. In fact, Prainha is one of many tried and tested initiatives which prove that tourism based on many small-scale entrepreneurs is possible, whilst preserving culture and the environment. However, there is a problem which worried Aila: young people are leaving the community and migrating to the cities. Even if there is a marked improvement in quality of life when it comes to cross-cutting issues such as gender equality, sexual and reproductive education and drug prevention, there are not enough jobs for the young. Progress has been made but the major challenge remains improving prospects for artisan fishermen and the young people of the community, and to do so in a sustainable way.

[1] Not all of the posadas and tourist entrepreneurs of la Prainha are part of the “community-based and sustainable tourism” initiative.

[2] This is the Frei Humberto Centre for Training, Capacity Building and Research, of the Rural Workers Landless Movement (Movimiento de los Trabajadores Rurales Sin Tierra). They offer, amongst other services, solidarity based accommodation, in Fortaleza.

[3] Legal Brazilian figure which declares an area as protected, where the survival of populations depends on the extraction of natural resources (in this case, fish) and coupled with this, subsistence agriculture and breeding of small animals. In the protected areas, land cannot be bought or sold, which de facto eliminates the problem of speculation.


Related links: – Official website – Network of Community-based Tourism of Ceara – Brazilian Network of Community-based and Solidarity Tourism – Tour operator specialised in Community-based Tourism