Peconheiros – design project in the Amazon

During a 10 day visit to the community of Boa Vista do Acará in the Amazon, the project team and locals worked on the issue of safety while collecting açaí.

Brazilian açaí berries took the market by storm. Usually served in the form of ice cream, juices or smoothies, they are valued not only for their taste, but also for their nutritional value. Yet, consumers still know little about the fruit itself, growing high up on palm trees, and the treacherous conditions workers face collecting the berries, which result in many accidents.

In the Amazon region, açaí is the main component of the local diet, and is usually eaten with tapioca or as an additive to dishes, such as fish or shrimp. It is served throughout Brazil, as well as in cafes around the world, in the form of ice cream or juice. The berries, containing vitamins, minerals, amino acids and large amounts of antioxidants, are sold in health food stores or as a diet supplement. They are also used as a component of cosmetics.

Traditionally, peconheiros (fruit pickers) climbed to gather enough food for their family. They go up the tree, which reaches an average of 15 meters, unprotected, with a knife behind a belt or between the teeth, with their feet tied by a rolled palm leaf or a bag called a pecohna. The collection is only possible early in the morning when the sun is not too hot. The rain is also an obstacle, making tree trunks too wet to climb on. Other risks include insects and snakes. Due to a growing demand for the Amazonian berries, locals are climbing the palms more frequently than before. Difficult conditions and fatigue are resulting in an increasing number of accidents.

The focus of the project at the community of Boa Vista do Acará was to improve the safety of climbing the palm trees. This topic has already been explored by various institutions in Brazil, but apart from the plantations, where the lower trees are usually grown, no concrete solutions have been developed. “While talking with the peconheiros, I realized that climbing without protection is the quickest and most effective way to collect açaí, and in addition it’s proof of their physical strength. New solutions may be interesting to them, but they are not ready for any radical changes. The involvement of the community in the design process was important – because of their experience, but also the sense of ownership of the project”, says Monika Brauntsch of The Spirit of Poland Foundation. “When working with the Boa Vista community, on one hand, we looked at applying practical solutions for sport design, rock climbing or arboriculture, and on the other hand, it was crucial to rely on local materials and techniques to make it easy to popularize “- adds Dorota Kabała, sport equipment designer from We design studio for physical culture studio. The final stages of the process involved tests with the prototypes by the designers and especially by the peconheiros themselves. Also integrating the project team was young Brazilian designer Carolina M.R.S. Menezes.

The developed solutions allow for increased comfort and safety while climbing. They also respect the local context in which peconheiros’ skills are of cultural importance. At the next stages of the project, the solutions will be further developed and popularized.

The premiere of the exhibition will be take place at Gdynia Design Days festival between 29th June and 9th July 2017.

The project in the Amazon was supported by Tołpa