Jose Alves de Morais maneuvers a boat, in Carauari, Brazil, Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022. A Brazilian non-profit created a model for land ownership that welcomes both local people and scientists to collaborate in preserving the Amazon. "This is something that doesn't exist here in the Amazon, it doesn't exist anywhere in Brazil. If it works, which it will, it will attract a lot of people's attention," Morais, a resident, told The Associated Press. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
CARAUARI, Brazil (AP) — In a remote corner of the Amazon, Brazilian ecologists are trying to succeed where a lack of governance has proved disastrous. They're managing a stretch of land in a way that welcomes both local people and scientists to engage in preserving the world’s largest tropical forest.
The goal is ambitious, counter the forces that have destroyed 10% of the forest in less than four decades and create something that can be replicated in other parts of the Amazon.
It began with a four-month expedition along the Juruá River in 2016. Researchers visited some 100 communities that at first sight looked similar: rows of wooden homes on stilts along the water. But they were struck by contrasts in the living conditions.
To understand what they saw, it's important to know that 29% of the Amazon, an area roughly three times the size of California, is either public land with no special protection, or public land for which no public information exists, according to a study by the Amazon Institute of People and the Environment.
These areas have been shown to be more vulnerable to deforestation. Land robbers drive traditional communities off the land and then clear it, hoping the government will recognize them as owners, which usually happens.
“It's very unequal. Inside protected areas, there are many positive things happening, but outside, they seemed to be 40 years behind,” João Vitor Campos-Silva, a tropical socio-ecologist, told The Associated Press.
The researchers were aware that the part of the river known as Medio Juruá, near the city of Carauari, has remarkable social organization and people manage its fish and forest products, such as acai, sustainably. The land designation here is “extractive reserves,” public lands where residents are allowed to fish and harvest some crops.
But outside these reserves, in many places, people take orders from self-appointed landowners, Campos-Silva said. Entire communities are denied access to lakes, even to fish to feed their families. People don´t own the land, and they don’t know who does.
“We started thinking that it might be interesting to design a conservation model based on a basin scale,” where communities could harvest forest produce and fish and protect the forest, instead of moving to the city or resorting to illegal activities, such as unlicensed logging and overfishing.
So they created the non-profit Juruá Institute and purchased a 13 km (8 miles) rainforest property along the Juruá River. It includes about 20 lakes, some with good potential for raising prized pirarucu, the world’s largest freshwater scale fish, which can reach up to 200 kilos (440 pounds).
The goal, Campos-Silva said, is to promote high-quality science, grounded in working together with the region's people.
In the vicinity of the Institute's land there are 12 communities of former rubber-tappers. Brazilians call them “ribeirinhos,” or river people, as distinguished from Indigenous residents.
In the past, the chance to make a living from rubber trees drew their grandparents to the Amazon. Nowadays the main revenue comes from pirarucu. Controlling that fishery has proved to be sustainable, reviving a species that was in decline and generating income without the need to clear the forest, with all that means for loss of biodiversity.
The Amazon rainforest, covering an area twice the size of India, also holds tremendous stores of carbon and is a crucial buffer against climate change. Driven by land-robbers, deforestation surged to a 15-year high in recent years while Jair Bolsonaro, who left office in January, was president. Destruction in the eastern Amazon has been so extensive that it has become a carbon source, rather than a carbon sink.
To involve the riverine communities in governance, the institute set up a steering committee and launched a series of public meetings called “community of dreams,” where people could prioritize the improvements they want most.
To avoid potential gender and age biases, they worked in three groups - women, youth, and men, said Campos-Silva.
The president of the river communities' association, Fernanda de Araujo Moraes, said the main purpose is to prevent river people from moving to Amazon cities, where unemployment among low-skilled people is rampant and violence is widespread, thanks to drug-trafficking.
In her own community of Lago Serrado, where 12 families live in stilt houses, both the women and men listed 24-hour electricity as their top priority. Currently, it's only available three hours a day. The youths chose fishing training.
Moraes believes this kind of collaboration is the fastest route to progress. “We want to improve people’s lives and the Institute wants the same thing," she said, seated on the floor of her house, tending to her infant daughter. The government, she said, is not always on the same page.
“This is something that doesn’t exist here in the Amazon, it doesn’t exist anywhere in Brazil. If it works, which it will, it will attract a lot of people’s attention,” said resident José Alves de Morais, in an interview by the lake just behind the community.
Morais works as a lake keeper, watching for trespassers who might take fish or cut trees. His family hopes to take part in the institute's management of pirarucu fishing, which awaits federal approval.
On the scientific front, the institute has built a houseboat and a wooden house for as many as 20 researchers to spend seasons along the Juruá River. One is studying the uakari monkey. Others are looking at what makes social arrangements successful in the region. They created a program, Forest Scientists, to train local high school students in field collection, data systematization, and how to prepare reports.
The initiative is led by Carlos Peres, an Amazon-born professor of tropical conservation ecology at the University of East Anglia, in the United Kingdom. In April this work, begun as an experiment, got some recognition from a Swiss nonprofit when he and three other scientists won the Frontiers Planet Prize, which comes with $1.1 million. The money will be reinvested in the project, which has already received support from Synchronicity Earth, National Geographic and Rolex within Perpetual Planet Project.
The winning study used data gathered during that 2016 trip. Co-authored by Campos-Silva and others, it found communities living inside protected areas enjoy better access to health care, education, electricity, and basic sanitation, plus a more stable income, than communities in undesignated areas. They found only 5% of adults inside protected areas aspire to move to a city, compared with 58% of adults in unprotected areas.
The article argues that in tropical countries with limited resources, it is possible to achieve conservation and benefit local communities at the same time, by putting more power in their hands.
Peres, the Institute's scientific director, says it hopes to inspire solutions across the Amazon region, by integrating traditional knowledge with the science of Western models.
“We do not have all the answers,” he said. “But we have the audacity to try to advance on these issues.”
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Amazon Conservation has reforested degraded lands with over 250,000 trees to date, most through community-based reforestation projects in the Manu National Park buffer zone.What is the main reason for deforestation in Brazil? ›
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In 1965, Brazil created and passed its first Forest Code, a law requiring landowners in the Amazon to maintain 35 to 80 percent of their property under native vegetation. So, rural farmers of all kinds can buy land in the Amazon, but they can only farm 20 percent of it.Who is responsible for deforestation in the Amazon? ›
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Offer Brazil economic incentives to combat deforestation in the Amazon. By supplying foreign aid, the United States could support sustainable farming initiatives, practices that prevent forest fires, or the revitalization of the Brazilian forests.What solutions have been tried to stop deforestation? ›
- Government Regulations. ...
- Banning Clear-Cutting of Forests. ...
- Reforestation and Afforestation. ...
- Reduce Consumption of Paper. ...
- Educate Others. ...
- Eat Less Meat. ...
- Purchase from Sustainable, Forest-Friendly Companies. ...
- Reduce Consumption of Deforestation Prone Products.
Globally, beef and soy are the leading drivers of tropical deforestation and conversion of other habitats. In South America, cattle ranches and soy fields are ravaging not just the Amazon but also the Cerrado and Gran Chaco landscapes.What are the three main causes of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon? ›
- Unchecked Agricultural Expansion. Uncurbed expansion of ranching and unsustainable farming practices clear forests and leaves areas more prone to fires that can quickly become uncontrolled. ...
- Poorly-Planned Infrastructure. ...
- Climate Change.
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Large-scale deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon began in the 1960s, when government incentives to clear land for production coincided with more effective tools such as chainsaws and bulldozers.How bad is deforestation in Brazil? ›
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Promoting Sustainable Choices
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|Characteristic||Share of total deforested area|
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95% of this occurs in the tropics. At least three-quarters of this is driven by agriculture – clearing forests to grow crops, raise livestock and produce products such as paper. If we want to tackle deforestation we need to understand two key questions: where we're losing forests, and what activities are driving it.What has the greatest negative impact on poverty rates in Brazil? ›
Inequality of Land Distribution
According to USAID, inequality of land distribution is a major factor contributing to poverty levels in Brazil.
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New data from Brazil's National Institute for Space Research shows that more than 3,980 square kilometers of the Amazon—an area five times the size of New York City—were cleared in the first six months of 2022, the highest figure in at least six years.What is the Amazon rainforest being cut and cleared for? ›
The Amazon rain forest, harbouring probably millions of species, is being cut and cleared for cultivating soya beans or for conversion to grasslands for raising beef cattle.
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The demand for minerals and metals such as oil, aluminium, copper, gold and diamonds mean that rainforests are destroyed to access the ground below. Developed nations relentlessly demand minerals and metals such as oil, aluminium, copper, gold and diamonds, which are often found in the ground below rainforests.Why does Brazil want to cut down the Amazon rainforest? ›
In Brazil, cattle ranchers and land-grabbers set the Amazon on fire to illegally clear land and expand their destructive business. They do this because the global meat industry — and its paying customers — have historically been willing to sacrifice forests — and our futures — for profits.Why should we not cut down the Amazon rainforest? ›
Rainforests are natural air filters. They store and filter excess carbon and other pollutants from the atmosphere and release oxygen through photosynthesis. Without rainforests, our planet is unable to mitigate excess greenhouse gas emissions, which destabilizes the Earth's climate.Can the Amazon rainforest be restored? ›
Restoration in action. Large-scale forest restoration in the Brazilian Amazon isn't commonplace yet, and will require strategic planning based on up-to-date data to work out.Is deforestation still a problem in the Amazon? ›
The Amazon spans more than 670 million hectares, making it the largest rainforest in the world. 20% of the Amazon biome has been lost already, and it is estimated that 27% will be without trees by 2030 if the current rate of deforestation continues.Are trees being cut down in the Amazon? ›
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Brazil's most powerful weapon against deforestation in the short run is Ibama, which slaps fines on offenders, bans farming in deforested areas and destroys expensive equipment used in illegal logging.How much would it cost to stop deforestation in the Amazon? ›
It would likely cost more than $130 billion a year to end deforestation by the end of this decade, according to a report from a group of financiers, energy industry executives and academics.
No more rainforest
With the current rate of deforestation, the world's rainforests will be gone by 2100. The rainforest is home to more than half of all species on Earth.