Oral Presentation Lowitja Institute International Indigenous Health and Wellbeing Conference 2016

Food and power in Indigenous Brazil: Implementation of a rural electrification initiative in a local dietary economy (#51)

James R. Welch 1 , Marco Aurelio S. I. Xavante 2 , Carlos E. A. Coimbra Jr. 1 , J. Rodolfo M. Lucena 1 , Aline A. Ferreira 3 , Felipe G. Tavares 4 , Ricardo Ventura V. Santos 1 5
  1. Fundação Oswaldo Cruz, Rio De Janeiro, RJ, Brazil
  2. Aldeia Pimentel Barbosa, Riberão Cascalheira, MT, Brazil
  3. Instituo de Nutrição Josué de Castro, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil
  4. Universidade Federal Fluminense, Niteroi, RJ, Brazil
  5. Museu Nacional, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil

Beyond nutrition, dietary health and wellbeing involve broad issues of social inclusion, economic autonomy, and access to landscape resources. Begun 2003, Brazil’s progressive rural electrification initiative Electricity for All (Luz para Todos) aims to promote socioeconomic development and improve quality of life by providing universal subsidised domestic access to the electrical grid. While this program aims to benefit all rural Brazilian households, special priority is given to the country’s enormously socio-culturally diverse Indigenous population, as well as other traditional communities who wish to participate. In this paper, we explore how implementation of this national infrastructure program contributed to recent changes in a local Indigenous food economy, with repercussions for the community’s food diversity and social relations of resource sharing. Among the Xavante, one of Brazil’s ten most populous Indigenous groups, decades of participation in the market economy has led to a mixed dietary economy with substantial reliance on local wild and garden resources and industrial foods. In the absence of electrical food storage technologies, perishable foods were consumed immediately or exchanged with relatives and neighbours via extensive reciprocity networks. When this initiative reached Pimentel Barbosa village in 2011, many in the community welcomed the benefits of electricity in the home while expecting the introduction of new storage technologies, including refrigerators and freezers, to stimulate some changes in their food economy. While many households subsequently modified their patterns of acquiring wild foods, garden cultivation, and purchasing market foods, they continued to share food resources through local reciprocity networks. This case study illustrates how Indigenous communities reinterpret and mitigate some of the unintended dietary consequences of implementing national development initiatives in socio-culturally and economically differentiated local settings.