National Geographic : 2012 Apr
' Her father spent his days searching the forest for rubber trees, native to the Amazon, and tapping the saplike latex beneath their bark. If he found an especially productive group of trees, he knew that wealthier, more powerful people eventually would learn its location, kick out rubber-tappers like him, and take over. Unable to obtain legal title to land, Costa Cabral and her family lived hand to mouth selling shrimp, palm fruits, and tree oils. ey set up farms and were repeat- edly pushed o them. So in 1991 Costa Cabral and her siblings jumped at the opportunity to buy 25 acres on the banks of Igarapé Espinhel, a subtributary of the great river. To non-Amazonians, the property wouldn't look like much. Located in the maze of small tributaries that ow into the Amazon's estuary, it is ooded twice a day by tides. Even when the surface is exposed, it is thick with mud so gooey it rips boots from feet with alacrity. Just before Costa Cabral bought the land, it had been rav- aged by the heart of palm craze of the late 1980s, when every fashionable restaurant in New York and Los Angeles featured heart of palm salad. Pirate barges hunted palms across the lower Amazon with the implacability of paid assassins. Costa Cabral and her family set out to work the land with techniques they had learned from their father. ey planted fast-growing timber trees for sawmills upriver. For the market, they put in fruit trees. With woven shrimp traps--- identical to those in West Africa---they caught shrimp in cages that dri ed in the creek. Cultivated forests like Costa Cabral's are Jacey Mendes of Santiago "kills the hunger" with a shot of cachaça, or sugarcane rum. She's helping clear land to grow cassava root using a slash-and-burn method that some sharecroppers have come to rely on.