Even though journalist Pedro Andrade grew up in Brazil — in the footprint of the Amazon — he still has a lot to learn about the region.
“My fascination towards the Amazon started when I was a little kid,” says Andrade, who grew up in Rio and remembers his grandmother telling him about the region. “Ironically, I didn’t go to the Amazon until recently.”
These days, he’s learning about the Amazon and sharing his journey in a new docu-series, “Unknown Amazon with Pedro Andrade.” The six-part documentary by Icon Films was commissioned by Vice TV and Vice World News.
A travel journalist, Andrade has been to 65 countries and hosts “Pedro Pelo Mundo,” a South American travel show. He’s always wondered how people lived in the Amazon and what’s there.
According to independent conservation organization World Wildlife Fund (WWF), over 30 million people live in the Amazon, including 350 Indigenous and ethnic groups. The large rainforest region includes eight countries: Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Suriname, and Guyana.
“Whatever happens in the Amazon will have an impact around the world,” says Andrade.
WWF says there’s a clear link between the Amazon’s health and the planet’s health. That’s because the rain forests — containing 90 to 140 billion tons of carbon — help stabilize the climate, locally and globally. But deforestation releases substantial amounts of carbon. Additionally, warmer temperatures and less rainfall in the Amazon have resulted in historic droughts, which wither crops, devastate fisheries, and lead to forest fires. Fires in the Brazilian Amazon in 2020 were 52 percent higher than the ten-year average.
Andrade and his crew shot “Unknown Amazon” during the pandemic, being vigilant to protect everyone from COVID-19, including the crew and the Indigenous community they were profiling. He was tested 69 times during the shoot, everyone wore masks and used sanitizer, and they isolated as much as possible.
The show takes on the human element, exploring the different communities that exist within the Amazon. The episodes tell the truth in an emotional way and present both the problems and the solutions. Topics can be difficult, like discussions on the palm oil trade and meeting communities that stemmed from run-away slaves.
“Each episode, even though we’re talking about a community in the Amazon, we’re also talking about human rights, women’s rights, climate change, global warming, and sustainability,” says Andrade.
Soy is one of the big agricultural challenges in the Amazon. China gets most of its soy from Brazilian farms, which use a lot of pesticides and fertilizers to grow their crop. Those fertilizers poison the local bees.
In one episode, Andrade introduces viewers to the largest honey producers in South America, who lost their industry in the wake of industrial soy farming. “It’s gone because people weren’t sustainable enough when they decided to profit from that area,” Andrade says.
Andrade learned many lessons shooting the show. For example, there’s a notable generation gap where older people are not as environmentally conscious. But the new generation is more involved. He met one group that’s responsible for protecting eagles and another group that’s protecting bears in South America.
“I saw a lot of young people being really proactive and really having an impact and making a difference,” he says.
His visit to the Amazon was both a personal and professional game changer. He hopes the audience holds his hand and takes the journey with him.
Despite the somber stories, he’s optimistic. “You’ll see me cry. You’ll see me laugh,” he says, concluding, “Even though I did see a lot of the damage and I did see a lot of the greed, I also met a lot of people that gave me a ton of hope. I interacted with animals that people thought were extinct that are thriving now.”