Cattle avoid eating Capim dourado (Syngonanthus nitens) an Amazonia grass, in favor of other plants, but artisans in the region seek it out. Capim dourado, or golden grass, grows wild in Amazonian Tocantins, which lies at the eastern edge of the Amazon and the edge of the Brazilian Cerrado. The pliability of the grass is ideal for the elaboration of artisanal jewelry, baskets, and bags, while its golden color draws the eye of local tourists and international buyers in the United States and Europe.
Workers from local villages harvest the wild grass once annually after a yearlong growing season. At harvest, workers cut the seeds off and scatter them over the land to ensure the dispersal and sustainability of the grass. They then perform basic sewing work to prepare the grass and send it to artisans for final elaboration of precious goods. Finished products then are either sold locally to Brazilian and international tourists or exported.
Art da Terra, an artisan craft maker based in Palmas, Tocantins, uses capim dourado to make unique designs for an international market. Art da Terra employs fifty families from five local villages to harvest and prepare the grass for crafts and also employs several local artisans in the finishing work. Art da Terra trains local workers in both sustainable harvesting practices and in basic artisanal work. The fifty families have been able to use this income to improve housing conditions. Each family specializes in different areas, for example in wirework or grass work; large piece or small pieces. Prior to working as artisans, many were farm laborers in the region. Besides training provided by Art da Terra, knowledge and practices are passed down from current generations of workers to their children.
Fabiana Bezerra, owner of Art da Terra, is a trained architect from Sao Paulo, Brazil. Before founding the company in 2007, she lived in a small village near Palmas for three months to learn about capim dourado and local artisanal crafts. She notes that from the beginning the business was directed towards export markets and has participated at trade shows in Spain, France, Germany and the United States.
Lately, the biggest challenges for Art da Terra have been a shrinking international economy and disagreements with the artisans over aesthetics of jewelry or over preferred techniques. However, they continue to build on these differences and collaborate together to learn new designs and techniques. The economy looms larger as a challenge. The primary target for Art da Terra is upper-scale markets in the U.S. and Europe, a segment that has shrunk in recent years. To address this, Fabiana works to attend trade shows to demonstrate the quality of the product, the benefits of trade for locals, and the ecological qualities of capim dourado.
Fabiana plans to continue attending trade events. She will be in New York, Paris, and Switzerland this year, and is hoping to open up stores of her own in the United States and Europe. Currently Art da Terra products are sold in some large department stores such as Macy’s, boutiques and in smaller craft shops. Capim dourado, a product of Amazonian ecology and local artisans’ handiwork, is fast becoming known internationally and also providing reliable work in Tocantins. It is just as well that the cattle pass it over.