The University of Arizona

Transforming power in Amazonian extractivism: historical exploitation, contemporary "fair trade", and new possibilities for indigenous cooperatives and conservation

Brian J. Burke


Cooperatives have been widely supported as vehicles for community-based conservation and development. However, these organizations are often developed around specific income-generating projects rather than broader considerations of how relations of power and ecological exploitation might be transformed. This article uses the case of AmazonCoop—a cooperative dedicated to the supposedly fair trade of Brazil nuts between Amazonian indigenous people and the multinational corporation The Body Shop—to illustrate how historical political ecology might facilitate the design of more radically transformative cooperatives. Contextualizing AmazonCoop within the history of Amazonian extractivism, and particularly the extraction of wild rubber, reveals the specific mechanisms and processes through which indigenous people have gained and lost power. This analysis thus creates opportunities for thinking more creatively about how contemporary conservation–development schemes might pursue ecologically sustainable and socially just social transformations.

Keywords: cooperatives, fair trade, conservation, development, indigenous people, Brazil

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