The role of human rights in the economics of sociobiodiversity

Eduardo Nicácio

Consultant Eduardo Nicácio with community leaders and rural producers from Amapá Aldemir, Zeca and Geová.

Strengthening the social fabric and transforming producers into protagonists requires time and investment in education.

If the Amazon is surprising for its rich biodiversity and economic potential, the social situation of the population reflects a very different reality. The lack of infrastructure and access contribute to the situation of abandonment faced by many regions, which suffer from the absence of essential services. In some places, such as sparsely populated parts of the Amazon, there is an almost total absence of state and public services, especially in isolated areas. For Eduardo Nicácio, a lawyer and doctor in Human Rights who works at the Interelos Institute, the situation is worrying: “The first absence that draws attention is sanitation, which is a pity”, he laments. "It also creates health problems." 

Many places are not serviced by ambulances, for example, and the nearest hospital is often miles away by boat. And although issues like this have become commonplace, they represent a visible disrespect for the human rights of individuals who live in these regions. The situation of vulnerability in which these communities find themselves collide with environmental and economic issues, “the whole issue is that these communities coincide with areas that also have a matter of stress, of environmental pressure”, he says.

Sociobiodiversity economics is a model that has been widely used by national and international governments as a new form of economic development that reconciles income generation, environmental conservation and the fight against climate change. However, environmental impact activities such as mining, logging and agriculture, for example, are among the main threats faced by indigenous peoples and other local communities, and are also one of the few sources of income available in the region in many cases. An integrated approach is therefore needed to deal with these issues. But to overcome these challenges, there is no ready-made recipe. Solutions depend on the context of each place and, most of the time, we must start from scratch.

Established by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, these rights refer to norms that seek to serve as a reference for guaranteeing a dignified life. This means both protecting people from abuse and ensuring the conditions for them to have access to what they need to have a quality life, such as food, housing and education.

But when we are dealing with situations of abandonment, people seldom have any knowledge about what their rights are. This is one of the reasons why education is a powerful tool for generating change. You need to start by telling people what their rights are so they can claim them.  

For Nicácio, “you cannot develop a productive value chain without having a strengthened social fabric”. And for this to be accomplished, he believes that it is necessary to return to assumptions of the solidarity economy that have often been forgotten. One of them is the importance of the protagonism of the communities and the need “for the producer to be the owner of his work, of the productive organization”, in his words. 

This is one of the pillars of Interelos Institute, which has adopted an approach that integrates human rights at all stages of its activities. It is also the starting point for its actions, which begin with the consultation of local populations in order to understand their needs, problems, and priorities.

Nicácio also draws attention to the importance of starting by mapping and approaching those who are already in the region in some way to start overcoming this situation of abandonment. “The first thing to do is to promote an articulation with the existing actors, with the public defender's office, with the public ministry that acts autonomously, a network of lawyers, in short, all this range of actors that deal with the justice system or social protection, and bring it inside, to the surroundings of that movement”, he says.

Based on the protagonism of the communities, and the creation of these networks, it is possible to begin to elaborate strategies to promote a sustainable and humane development Among the alternatives that have emerged is the creation of cooperative and self-managed business models based on the sale of forest products obtained through sustainable management. Some concrete examples with which Interelos has been working in the Amazon are the organic production of Açaí by the cooperative amazonbai, in the Bailique Archipelago, in Amapá, and sustainable Pirarucu fishing carried out by ASPROC, Association of Rural Producers of Caruari, in Amazonas.

The elimination of intermediary agents between producers and consumers and the inclusion of processes that add value to products have been strategies adopted to increase the income of communities. Throughout the entire process, the preservation of nature and human rights have been thought of together, always taking into account the context and challenges of each territory, including gender issues. Nicácio cites an example of how the need for gender equality emerged in a project.

“In the case of açaí, for example, it is usually registered in the name of only one person, often the husband, and the woman is there working in the management, or in other functions of income production, or subsistence, and she is not involved in the cooperative structure, so this is something that needs to be rethought.”

Education is another important pillar to generate changes that last over time. Through it, it is possible not only to train qualified labor, but also to train more aware citizens and strengthen local communities. 

In the words of Nicácio: “This cannot be done just to train technicians to operate the system, to know how to make the machine, to generate productivity. The idea is that this support for education is support for critical education, education that has the capacity to carry out a process of community emancipation.”

This has been done through the search for models adapted and suitable for different regions, such as the Family Schools, which serve young people from rural areas, and can have their existence maintained thanks to initiatives such as the Heritage Fund. For him, “when talking about the heritage fund, rural schools, training, we are doing nothing more than embracing one of the main human rights banners, which is guaranteeing education.”

What can be seen, therefore, is the importance that human rights have in generating economic development capable of promoting positive and lasting change within communities, revealing that it is possible to grow without exploiting people or destroying nature. By adopting integrated approaches and prioritizing the role of populations, it is possible to find more consistent solutions and build a more dignified future for the next generations.

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