Brazil: Amazon Resource Management and Human Ecology

Key Features

Examine the conflict between finite ecological resources and seemingly infinite human development demands on the Amazon River Basin.


Belém (program base)
Belém is one of the two large urban centers of Amazonia. Located in the Amazon River estuary, the city hosts a number of research institutes, universities, NGOs, government agencies, and other entities engaged in Amazonian issues. In Belém, students live with Brazilian families and have interdisciplinary seminars and language instruction in Portuguese.

Ecological fieldwork
During visits to different areas and ecosystems throughout the region, students engage in ecological fieldwork with scientists from the different institutions with which SIT works. An integral part of the program, field experience reveals current land use and conservation strategies and struggles throughout the Amazon River Basin.

A range of knowledge sources
Coursework is delivered at the SIT center in Belém and in the field by professors, researchers, community leaders, NGO managers, movement activists, and journalists. Issues and challenges are discussed by the individuals directly engaged in them.

Portuguese for the natural sciences
Students are placed in small, intensive classes, based on in-country evaluation including oral proficiency testing. Special arrangements are available for advanced speakers of Portuguese. Language learning is integrated into the other program components. An emphasis is placed on increased language skills in areas related to the thematic foci of the program, including environmental studies and human ecology.

Lecture in the mangroves in Curuçá

Activities and notable visits (see Excursions page for more detail):

  • Ten-day boat trip down the Amazon and tributaries
  • Curuçá/Abade. Students visit the second-largest area of mangroves in the world, talk with communities involved in the conservation of the Mãe Grande Extractive Reserve, and discuss a large-scale development project (a new port) to be constructed in the region.
  • São Francisco do Pará/Igarapé Açú. Students see primary, undisturbed terra firme forests, consider the impacts of slash-and-burn traditional agricultural practices, and visit initiatives such as the Tiptamba Project (Embrapa) working on alternatives to improve traditional systems.
  • The Health and Happiness Project pioneers alternative methods of rural development with more than one hundred riverine communities in the Santarém region of Amazonia. The project's participatory development methods have become a model for other areas of Brazil.
  • Mineração Rio do Norte and the Trombetas River system (MRN). Inside the Saracá-Taquera National Forest, students visit one of the largest bauxite mining operations in the world. In the Trombetas River system, they visit quilombolas communities and witness the ensuing struggles surrounding conservation within the different conservation units that exist there.
  • Monte Alegre is home to archaeological sites that have caused researchers to question the traditional theories of early human colonization of the Americas. A state park has been created to preserve this history, and local communities are implementing a management plan to sustainably utilize the natural resources surrounding the park.
  • Altamira/Anapú is the main town in the Xingú River region (another large tributary of the Amazon) where the controversial Belo Monte Dam is being built. Students meet with different social actors and discuss the impacts of the dam’s construction and the transformations it’s generating in the region. The program also crosses the Transamazon Highway, giving students an important opportunity to consider the controversy the highway’s construction has generated. Students examine the case of Sister Dorothy Stang and visit the people for whom she fought in Anapú.
  • Tucuruí/Jacundá. The program visits the fourth-largest dam in the world (Tucuruí), where they discuss the dam’s impacts and the different issues it has generated.
  • Marabá/Eldorado dos Carajás. Students discuss the aggressive colonization efforts undertaken by Brazil’s military government in the 1970s and 1980s to "occupy and develop" the region. These efforts prompted the destruction of large areas of forest in the Amazon (the so-called “arch of deforestation”). Students then examine the social-environmental issues that these efforts ignited and look at social movements like the Landless Workers Movement (MST).
  • Parauopebas/Carajás. Students visit what has been described as the richest geological province in the world. Students experience different colonization projects and consider the survival struggles of those who live there. Student also visit the largest iron mine in the world and discuss the controversial conservation issues related to Carajás National Forest from mining and conservation perspectives.
  • Paragominas. The program visits what went from an old frontier town to become a major center of logging; this region had the highest ratio of deforestation in the Amazon up until a few years ago. Students consider the practices local communities adopted as a result; Paragominas has become an example of responsible natural resource management, through programs like Municípios Verdes and through sustainable cattle ranching.

Conducting a field exercise in Monte Alegre

Independent Study Project
Students spend four weeks of the program focused on an Independent Study Project (ISP), pursuing original research on a selected topic of interest to them. The ISP is conducted in Belém, Santarém, Manaus, or another approved location in the Brazilian Amazon appropriate to the project.

Sample topic areas for the ISP include:

  • Land use within MST communities
  • Environmental consciousness
  • Alternative energy resources
  • Alternative farming practices
  • Sustainable tourism development
  • Informal market economics
  • Commercial fishing
  • Waste management
  • Sustainable hunting practices
  • Park-based conservation

Costs Dates

Credits: 16

Duration: 15 weeks

Program Base: Belem

Language Study: Portuguese

Prerequisites: Previous college-level coursework and/or other preparation in environmental studies, ecology, development studies, or other related fields is strongly recommended but not required. Although there is no language prerequisite, a background in Portugues Read more...


View Student Evaluations for this program:

About the Evaluations (PDF)

Fall 2013 Evaluations (PDF)
Spring 2013 Evaluations (PDF)
Fall 2012 Evaluations (PDF)

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