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Tourism has become a source of income and a point of pride for the people of Jalapão in Tocantins, Brazil

The World Bank

"Golden grass lifted us from extreme poverty," says Railane Ribeiro da Silva

Mariana Ceratti/World Bank

For a decade, the World Bank has backed the development of local infrastructure, training programs, and sector-structuring activities

A tiny community in central Brazil has made a name for itself in tourism and design, all thanks to a native plant known as golden grass, which is used to craft accessories and decorative items. This natural resource now stands for both the earnings and the pride of Mumbuca's quilombola community in Tocantins, particularly for the Village's Association of Artisans and Extractors, who greet global visitors with music and tales.

"My golden grass, my golden grass that sprouted in the field unplanted

It was my beloved who said to me that the field's flower is my golden grass

It was Grandma Miúda who showed us how to weave

Golden grass with great affection

It was in Mumbuca that this craft began with much love”

"When you buy golden grass, you're not just purchasing a product; you're preserving a tradition that's over two centuries old and still standing strong," explains 28-year-old artisan Railane Ribeiro da Silva. "Golden grass lifted us from extreme poverty, which used to make us fearful of outsiders. If tourists came by, the locals would scatter," she adds.

Railane is the granddaughter of Grandma Miúda (Guilhermina Ribeiro da Silva, 1928-2010), who learned the art of braiding golden grass from her mother, an indigenous descendant, and passed on the skill to other women. Grandma Miúda played a crucial role in popularizing this craft nationwide and bringing progress to the region.

The World Bank joined this narrative by funding the golden grass supply chain through the Integrated and Sustainable Regional Development Project of Tocantins (PDRIS), carried out over nine years in partnership with the state government. This initiative poured $282 million into seven sectors: transportation, education, agriculture, the environment, tourism, water resources, and public management enhancement.

In tourism alone, $3 million was allocated for various projects. In Mumbuca, the project helped establish a modest museum, the Memorial House of Culture, where visitors can delve into Grandma Miúda's history, view golden grass cultivation and harvesting photos, and admire crafted items. "We managed to get cabinets, a printer, GPS, a fully equipped office," Railane rejoices.

The project also enabled sustainable harvesting training, attracting a new wave of artisans. "The training sessions made it easier to develop products from golden grass," remembers Fatima Amazonas, who co-managed the project for five years. "The women needed a proper place to sell their goods, as the previous setup was quite makeshift. They gained empowerment through sheer determination and joy," she continues.

The World Bank

Meanwhile, in Prata Community in São Félix do Tocantins, the project funded a plaza that's now a central hub for locals. Just four decades ago, this quilombola community was cut off from the world.

"We had no transportation back then. Our lives were very basic," teacher Osirene Francisca de Souza reminisces. "Electricity didn't arrive until the 2000s," she adds.

Now, with solar panels and internet access, the plaza symbolizes progress for Osirene. "It's even become a venue for school events," she notes. On weekends, the plaza is a lively spot where adults can unwind at food stalls while kids play in the playground.

Other project-supported initiatives include:

• The establishment of the Tocantins Tourism Observatory in partnership with local educational and commerce institutes for sector research and planning

• The creation of an adventure park in Cantão State Park with zip lines and acrobatic paths

• The formulation of a strategic plan to enhance sport fishing in several municipalities

• The commissioning of a bird-watching guide for Tocantins and training for bird guides

• The installation of tourist signs in the Serras Gerais region.

The tourism boom necessitated visitor-friendly infrastructure. At Tri Agro Farm, the gateway to Cachoeira da Velha, new restrooms and a rest area kiosk were constructed. Similarly, a shelter kiosk was built at the entrance to Jalapão State Park, famed for its dunes.

These enhancements have improved the visitor experience, as noted by 26-year-old advertiser Beatriz Fróes and 25-year-old food engineer Maria Julia Rossi from São Paulo. "The beauty, the cuisine, our guide, and the reasonable prices made our visit delightful," they commend. "Some services and signs could be better, but that's to be expected in an emerging tourist destination."

The charm and untouched nature of Jalapão also captivated Kàllyta Queiroz, 28, and Josias Rodrigues, 38, from Redenção in Pará. After a 500 km drive, they found the journey worthwhile. "We plan to bring our daughters when they're older," says Kàllyta, a mother of three. Traveling with young children is not advisable due to the lengthy dirt road drives.

For adults and youth alike, however, a trip to Jalapão promises an unforgettable blend of natural beauty, culture, and hospitality in a Brazilian region ripe for exploration.


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