On Amazon Day, we need to remember that in order to develop the region's economy, it is first necessary to keep the forest standing.
The Amazon rainforest is one of the best known elements of the international imagination. Its forests are crowned by trees such as Brazil nut and kapok, where monkeys and birds of the most varied colors live. In its lakes, rivers and streams we find an incredible diversity of fish, and in the vast territory it occupies – 59% of Brazilian territory as well as parts of Peru, Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Colombia – different populations and cultures develop their ways of life in different ways. urban and rural areas.
It is also a territory of crucial importance for Brazil and the world. With a third of the planet's tropical forests, it is home to more than 60,000 species of plants and animals, including much of the planet's genetic heritage. This life is essential for the maintenance of the biome, in addition to containing several species that can be a source of food, medicine, cosmetics and other services.
With 20% of the world's fresh water, the forest plays an essential role in maintaining the climate, sending rain to different regions and countries through evapotranspiration from trees, the way in which water from the earth's surface passes into the atmosphere in the vapor state, capturing and retaining carbon.
The challenges of the Amazon
Currently, the potential of the Amazon is exploited incorrectly and its benefits are not reverted to the populations that inhabit it, generating several socio-environmental problems. One of them is deforestation, which has been growing significantly, driven mainly by agriculture that advances into the forest to produce commodities such as soy and beef. In 2021 alone, more than 970 thousand hectares were lost, which represents 59% of the total deforested area in the country, as shown the pushing made by MapBiomas.
For the community relations analyst at the Interelos Institute, Mariana Chaubet, there is currently a very large invasion of the forest by an agricultural model that concentrates power and wealth. This form of production generates a lot of environmental impact, employs few people, as it makes extensive use of agricultural machinery, and focuses on exporting its production. This is due to the demand for these commodities in the market, driven by the increase in world consumption, but there are also a number of issues related to the State's posture. “You have tax incentives that are given to agribusiness but are not given to family farming or to people who are managing the forest”, says Chaubet. Among these incentives are the money invested in this production and tax exemption for exported products, in addition to easier access to credit mechanisms.
The lack of incentive hampers the sustainable development of the Amazon biome. Chaubet explains: “it often happens that communities have an approved forest management plan, but do not have the working capital to manage it”. As a result, they often end up working for companies that have this capital and that keep most of the value generated by their production. Many of them also appropriate the knowledge of indigenous peoples and other local populations about forest products, developing products that neither involve nor benefit these communities. For Chaubet, this is a problem.
“Most of the medicines, cosmetics and other products we consume come from the forest, from raw materials that are found in nature”, she says.
Thus, the demand that has arisen for forest products, in the context of debates on bioeconomy of the Amazon, does not necessarily translate into models that benefit those who live there, due to lack of resources or infrastructure to develop their own enterprises or lack of direct access to markets that pay for these products. However, as Chaubet reaffirms, “it is necessary to discuss the bioeconomy, involving the communities that live in the forest, so that it can bring development and benefits to the people of the forest.”
Often, there is also no access to basic services such as health, education or even sanitation. In addition to hampering regional development, this lack also makes many people, especially young people, abandon their communities. For Chaubet, the lack of quality education is one of the main causes of this movement. According to her, it is not possible to promote change in the region without resolving this issue. “You are promoting a sustainable economy in this Amazonian territory, but the young population is leaving because they cannot find work opportunities to stay there”.
The challenges faced by the Amazon are many, but the solutions are within our reach. A starting point is to guarantee public services that promote access to health, education and other services necessary to improve the quality of life of the people who live there, in addition to creating economic alternatives based on the use of biodiversity to improve income.
For Chaubet, “it is the State's duty to promote public policies that can ensure the permanence of these people and their communities, and that also create conditions to boost their development”. It is necessary to engage different actors in the region to pressure the State to seek solutions where it is not yet present, and at the same time promote the sustainable management and use of natural resources.
It is essential to invest in education models that are adapted to the reality of young people, that bring the way of life as a driving force of knowledge, which helps them stay in their communities and have more opportunities to collaborate with local development.
A proposal that has shown promise in territories with low population density is the implementation of Family Schools. Based on the alternation pedagogy, in which students alternate between periods spent at home and at school, they combine formal education with the transmission of knowledge adapted to the local reality such as agro-extractive techniques, helping to train community leaders and workers capable of acting in their communities.
Interelos has supported this model, seeking to structure and implement a Heritage Fund, in conjunction with partners, to finance the Escola Família Agroecológica do Macacoari (EFAM) and the Escola Família Agroextrativista do Bailique (EFAB), both in the state of Amapá.
Fostering local economies and communities
Thinking about sustainability also involves dealing with the land issue, regularizing the territories in which traditional communities live and ensuring that these territories are protected. An article recently published by the scientific journal Biological Conservation indicates that indigenous and quilombola territories are the most preserved, especially the demarcated ones, which indicates that the demarcation of these territories is urgent and essential.
“Communities preserve the forest because they depend on it, and the development of the Amazon cannot fail to consider this”, says Chaubet. For her, it is important “to help the people of the forest to maintain their knowledge, their traditions and to keep the forest standing, bringing innovation, technology and alternatives that can benefit them from this knowledge”
This also includes fostering the development of the region's production chains by supporting inclusive and sustainable models that are driven by local populations. Interelos has sought to act in this area, strengthening administrative and financial management capacities through partnerships with enterprises such as Amazonbai, a cooperative that produces açaí from sustainable management in Amapá.
The implementation of infrastructure, technical assistance and technologies that allow adding value to primary products and facilitating access to different markets also contributes to encouraging a fairer and more inclusive economy. In Chaubet’s words, “We need to bring innovation and technology to the region, but it needs to be done in a way that contributes to the improvement of local economies.”
It is also essential to develop public policies that encourage family farming, such as the PAA (Food Acquisition Program), which buys food from this type of production for those who do not have access to healthy, quality food. Other important tools to develop these models are incentives such as access to credit, subsidies and other sources of financing, in addition to tax exemptions. On the other hand, it is necessary to reduce incentives for activities with a high environmental impact.
O recent study "Bioeconomy of Sociobiodiversity in the State of Pará", carried out by The Nature Conservancy (TNC), indicates a potential to generate R$ 170 billion in income in that state alone by 2040 through forest products acquired through sustainable management.
Keeping the forest standing is not an obstacle to economic development, but a condition for it to bring profound and lasting improvements to the region, making the most of its natural and cultural wealth. It is up to the state, companies and civil society to promote the sustainable use of biodiversity.