The Mango City: Urban Agriculture in Belém, Pará
Isabel Maria Madaleno
Ph.D. in Geography
Portuguese Tropical Institute
Published by Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and the Portuguese Ministry of Science, in Portuguese, "A Cidade das Mangueiras: Agricultura Urbana em Belém do Pará", can be purchased through
or directly from FUNDAÇÃO CALOUSTE GULBENKIAN Av. De Berna, 45 A 1067-001 Lisboa, Portugal.
The wettest city in Brazil, Belém, was founded by Castelo Branco in a then Portuguese colony, Brazil. The urban settlement, initially located on a rare Eastern Amazonian hill, has nowadays more than one million inhabitants and an irresistible glamour. Its natural environment is dominated by islands, deep rivers and narrow green waterways which give a Venice like style to the municipality, dominated by plane alluvial soils suitable for almost any kind of vegetable crops. The old city core combines in shocking contrast chic neoclassic or art nouveau sets of buildings, dating from the rubber exploitation wealthier times, with high density lowlands, very poor neighbourhoods, periodically submerged by equatorial rainfall ponds, where ducks swim and Euterpe oleracea palms survive, giving low income urbanites reasons to persist and prevail.
The book describes the evolution of the metropolis, explaining how what we see in the very many illustrations is deeply intertwined with the History of the country, the human occupation and devastation of Amazonia, focusing in particular Brazilian Pará state, the second biggest in size, so rich in biodiversity as in culture not to mention socio-economic struggles. More than a case-study developed by a social scientist, it is a tribute paid to a hard working and ingenious people, who against all odds survive in one of the poorest metropolis in Latin America, frequently complementing their monthly income with fruits, herbs, spices, medicinal plants, and all sorts of animals, cropped or raised in front and backyards, in idle public and private plots, existent either within the urban tissue or in the wider peri-urban areas.
Belém is also known as the "mango city", an interesting example of a happy and lasting marriage between man and nature, a sort of flourishing concrete, an Eden like environment, only possible to be found in a quite hot and humid climate. The sample extracted from Belém, consisting of inquiries to urban agriculture practitioners, is detailed in the second part of the manual, including domestic herbal medicines prescriptions, local culinary delicatessen receipts and a scientifically identified vegetable species index, all intended to suggest how simple it might be to build a social, economic and ecologically sustainable urban centre.
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