Amazonian youth

Image: Paula Nardini


Public policies for youth, understanding the specificities of different experiences of being young in local spaces

As data from the Brazilian Census begins to be presented and the country resumes the discussion on public policies committed to social diversity, it seems interesting to hold debates on regional and local specificities, claiming that they become part of the elaboration of development policies. In this sense, it is important to talk about public policies for youth, understanding the specificities of the different experiences of being young in local spaces, especially when these spaces, because they are on the margins of Brazilian national society, demand specific attention.

With this objective, I would like to bring to the debate, with this article, some considerations about the need for State actions for the different youths of the rural Amazonian space.

The northern region aggregates a significant number of young people in Brazil – around 8%. Of this population, 27% live in the countryside – against 16% in the Brazilian average. This makes a ratio of five young people for every seven adults. In Pará, specifically, this proportion rises to three quarters, in a state that concentrates more than 47% of the population of the northern region.[I]

Despite the fact that youth conforms to a specific generational age group, which demands consistent general policies, the specificities of this social group are many. With regard to the Amazonian rural space, considering this diversity, it is necessary to make youth policies coincide with environmental, educational, cultural, health and employment and income generation policies, among others. In summary, it is necessary to develop development planning models that make longitudinal cuts, overcoming the classic isolation of State actions.

Let us think of rural Amazonian youth through the notion of “trajectories”. The Amazonian rural space is made up of different social, historical and economic trajectories that shape different technological ways of dealing with the environment. That is, each economic pattern, in its historical dimension, makes a specific use of Amazonian environmental resources.[ii]

Through this understanding, we can say that both the Amazonian space, its cultures, its institutions, the State and regional public policies are built from the interaction between intensive livestock, agro extractivism (ribeirinhos, indigenous, quilombola, peasant populations ), extensive livestock, beef livestock, permanent crops, forestry and grain cultivation (especially soy cultivation). However, they all come together between employer models and peasant models of production, with employer models being those that hold economic and social hegemony in the region, transforming the vast majority into an underrepresented minority in the economic and power spheres (Costa, 209) .

Technological or techno-productive trajectories have a significant impact on the regional and sustainable development of the Amazon. Some of them are associated with environmental degradation and vulnerability to neglected tropical diseases (Codeço et al., 2021), while others follow the opposite path, becoming the paradigm of environmental preservation associated with the economical use of natural resources.

In this sense, public policies for youth inserted in a context of agroextractivism and traditional Amazonian ways of life should not be precisely the same for youth inserted in Amazonian trajectories dedicated to beef cattle raising and grain cultivation. Understanding technological trajectories in the Amazon is crucial to promoting sustainable development and biodiversity conservation in the region.

And it is, therefore, fundamental to contextualize the different experiences of being-youth in the Amazon.

Trajectories that threaten environmental and social sustainability

Although Costa (2019) maps seven different technological trajectories in the Amazonian rural space – and we can see seven different Amazonian experiences of being-youth in the interior of the Amazon –, we focus on two large paradigmatic blocks, to clarify our perspective: the associated Amazonian youths to productive trajectories that constitute a threat to the environmental and social sustainability of the Amazon and those associated, on the contrary, with youths that integrate trajectories whose productive action contributes to the preservation of the Amazon.

Let us begin by better characterizing the first of these two groups. It includes the technological trajectories of the Amazonian populations dedicated to beef cattle and grain cultivation. They are the most harmful to nature and society, as they are guided by sets of solutions selected based on the pure idea of ​​productive efficiency and control of nature, not taking into account the economic potential of the rational use of forest assets, the damage caused to this and to the original and traditional populations that inhabit it.

For these individuals, nature is presented as an obstacle to the consolidation of economic activities and, therefore, should be eliminated – noting, still, that here it is identified as nature, by this reactionary ideology, the original and traditional populations of the Amazon, interpreting it as a hindrance to development. These are, therefore, the trajectories that are a broad base of support and articulation to coup movements and ideals. They aggregate around 30% of rural workers in the Amazon (Costa, 2021), for example.

Extensive livestock farming alone aggregates 27.831 establishments in the region, occupying 60% of the state's productive area (IBGE, 2017 Agricultural Census), and presenting a degradation rate greater than 70%, making it the technological trajectory that emits the most CO2 (Costa, 2021). It is also clear that both beef cattle and grain cultivation can have negative social impacts, such as land concentration, labor exploitation and the exclusion of traditional communities and family farmers.

Trajectories that constitute the Amazonian paradigm of environmental and social sustainability

On the other hand, there are trajectories whose productive actions not only contribute to sustainability but also shape a paradigm that is still very little known, by public opinion, in Brazilian national society.

In these trajectories, we deal with agroforestry systems that have the forest as a starting point. These are agroextractivism, intensive livestock farming and extensive livestock farming. Of these, only agroextractivism represents 21% of the gross value of rural production, bringing together 130.593 productive establishments in the Amazon, corresponding to 25% of its rural population (Costa, 2017; IBGE, Censo Agropecuário 2017), adding quilombolas, indigenous people, riverside dwellers and settlers agroextractivists, whose organization takes the form of collective land ownership.

Incredible as it may seem, it is the trajectory with the greatest growth, resistant to the multiple mitigating public policies that the history of Brazil has imposed on it, and constituting a concrete paradigm of efficiency and environmental preservation that needs to be known (Costa, 2021).

In fact, agroextractivism – and agroecology – are models of economic activities that combine traditionally developed agricultural and extractive practices, naturally reconciling the production of food and forest products with environmental and social preservation. In its core, intensive monoculture is avoided, which, by promoting crop diversification, biological diversity, contributes to the resilience of production systems, reducing the risk of total losses resulting from pests, diseases or adverse weather conditions . In this sense, priority is given to the sustainable use of natural resources, guaranteeing the regeneration of ecosystems and the maintenance of biodiversity. This involves practices such as crop rotation, agroforestry, selective extractivism and soil conservation. Such traditional knowledge comes from generational elaborations.

Agroextractivism and agroecology go hand in hand with the traditional knowledge of local communities, who have a deep understanding of ecosystems and cultivation and collection techniques appropriate to the region. This knowledge is fundamental for environmental preservation and the sustainable use of resources. Therefore, the importance of the forest as a productive environment, capable of providing diverse resources without the need for deforestation, is recognized.

The sustainable extraction of forest products, such as nuts, vegetable oils, fibers and medicinal plants, thus promotes the conservation of the forest and the generation of income for the communities, for the family – the productive unit of this model –, and for the food security of across the region, notably in urban areas.

Different technological trajectories demand different sectoral policies

Faced with this complex scenario, can one ask the public authorities what policies have been designed and implemented aimed at workers and young people from these very different trajectories?

It is evidently easier to relate public policies aimed at the productive sector. However, realizing the impact, usually amalgamating, that they have on youth and, specifically, on youth thought of as future or active labor, we ask whether it is not possible – considering the accumulation that science, in the Amazon, already produced about their own populations – to build frameworks for more precise, active and comprehensive development policies regarding regional diversity.

In addition, going beyond the issue of State planning, it is worth raising the issue of listening to social experience. One can ask, in this sense: what are the democratic mechanisms of communication to favor the dialogue of the different sectors of the Amazonian rural society – and, specifically, of the different Amazonian youths – with the State, with the productive sector, with the union organizations and, above all, each other? Wouldn't we need a communication policy that was more concerned with favoring dialogue between different social experiences than with disclosing government actions? We are convinced that, without the exchange of experiences, without communication that is not guided by persuasion, it is not possible to carry out social development.

Furthermore, it is worth asking: Which projects, which State actions, are necessary to increase the productive efficiency of each trajectory, respecting their specificities and associating them with environmental and social sustainability? What are the possible solutions to intensify production in already devastated areas, avoiding the expansion of land erosion? What are the solutions to promote productive growth without harming jobs?

And, with regard to youth, it would be appropriate to ask: What is the role of youth in building dialogue between the different social experiences in the Amazon? What is the role of the State in the construction of public policies that include youth present in predatory paths of nature in sustainable perspectives? What is the role of culture, sport, leisure, education in the countryside, food security and education in promoting horizons that empower young people associated with the trajectories that constitute the Amazonian paradigm of environmental and social sustainability and give them a long-term role? denied by the Brazilian State? And what is the role of all this in bringing social and environmental awareness to young people associated with productive models that threaten environmental and social sustainability?

In our perspective, it is about defending a model of protection of the socio-environmental diversity of the Amazon based on the social and historical experience of the Amazonian populations, including the experience of the Amazonian youth, which is always little recognized, if not even perceived, by the Brazilian State.

Naturally, it is not about understanding that one block of trajectories is better than the other, but simply realizing the vital need to build public policies contextualized with social experience, maximizing knowledge, combating misinformation and taking the knowledge of a paradigm from social and environmental responsibility to models marked by a more predatory and conventional mentality of the relationship between man and nature.

*Pedro Neves de Castro é Master's student in Sustainable Development of the Humid Tropics at NAEA/UFPA. He is head of the Sectorial Nucleus of Strategic Planning of the Municipal Secretariat for the Environment of Belém.


IBGE. Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics. 2017 Agricultural Census. Available at: Consultation on: 09/07/2023.

________ Demographic Census 2022 Population and households First results. Available in: Consultation on: 10/07/2023.

CODEÇO, Cláudia Torres et al. “Epidemiology, Biodiversity, and Technological Trajectories in the Brazilian Amazon: From Malaria to COVID-19.” Frontiers in Public Health 9 (2021).

COSTA, Francis of Assisi. A Brief Economic History of the Amazon: 1720-1970. 1st ed. New Castle Upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2019.

COSTA, Francis of Assisi. Structural Change in the Agrarian Economy of the Amazon: An Initial Assessment Using the Agricultural Censuses (1995, 2006 and 2017). In: Regional, Urban and Environmental Bulletin. IEPA, Rio de Janeiro, 2021.


[I] It should be noted that, according to data from the 2023 Population Census, young people – individuals aged between 15 and 29 years – correspond to 23% of the Brazilian population, totaling more than 47 million people (IBGE, 2023). In the data already released from the 2022 Census, it can be seen that, in the specific range between 18 and 29 years old, there was a proportional decrease from 20,9% to 18,7% of the inhabitants, between 2012 and 2022, while in the range of people with under 18 years old, this decrease went from 29% to 24,6% in the same period.

[ii] For this concept, we start from the perspective of “technological trajectories” present in the work of economist Francisco de Assis Costa, a researcher at the Núcleo de Altos Estudos Amazônicos (NAEA), at the Federal University of Pará (UFPA) and from the use of the concept by several other researchers. .

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