Earning a Living While Preserving in Brazil

     Earning a Living While 
Preserving in Brazil

    The stance of defending
    growth for the sake of growth in Brazil
    has already ravaged 94% of the Atlantic Rain Forest and 18% of
    the Amazon Forest and decimated indigenous cultures. A new
    program financed by the UN is trying to change this mentality by
    recruiting communities to profit through sustainable development.
    by: Juliana
    Cézar Nunes

    In the last ten years the Brazilian cerrado (savanna) has obtained
    a new lease on life. Through a project implemented by the United Nations Development
    Program (UNDP), traditional communities in the region have begun to use the
    biome to extract their own sources of income and sustainable development.

    The project encompasses,
    for example, incentives for the breeding of wild animals, honey production,
    and the utilization of fruit, nuts, fish, and flowers.

    Each year the PNUD distributes
    around US$ 500 thousand for training and financing the efforts of these savanna
    communities. To date 127 projects have received resources derived from donations
    to the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

    "It is still an experimental
    project, but with excellent results," assures Donald Sawyer, coordinator
    of the UNDP’s Small Projects Program.

    The project showcases
    communities such as the one in which Luceli Moraes Pio, a 41 year-old descendant
    of slaves, lives. Her grandmother taught her the healing powers of typical
    savanna plants. Among them, the baru (tonka bean), the jatobá
    (courbaril locust) and the ipê roxo (purple tecoma).

    In the community of Cedro,
    in the municipality of Minérios, Minas Gerais, medicinal plants have
    been part of local tradition for at least 150 years. "But only with the
    support of the UNDP project in the last five years were we able to take this
    tradition outside," Pio recounts.

    The Cedro community produces
    as many as 500 units of syrup, dye, and pills. The sales don’t just yield
    income, directly or indirectly, for the 150 inhabitants. With the returns
    from medicinal plants, the community has already built a library and a school.

    The population has also
    gained access to extension courses at nearby university centers. Pio has already
    participated in twenty such courses. "My next goal is to enter the Faculty
    of Biology," she reveals.

    For the 33 year-old Mato
    Grosso do Sul resident, Rosana Sampaio, attending university does not represent
    a personal goal. It is a dream she intends to give her children. Sampaio lives
    in the Andalucia settlement in the municipality of Nioaque, Mato Grosso do
    Sul, and works at handcrafts and weaving.

    Her raw materials: souari
    nut, courbaril locust, and tonka bean trees, rice husks, and banana stalks.
    To transform this material into cloaks, scarves, and mats, the community received
    US$ 9.5 thousand (R$ 30 thousand) from the UNDP in a single year. The money

    is used to finance production and train the residents to practice sustainable
    extractive activities.

    "In order not to
    degrade, we took various courses. We learned that we can’t remove all that
    nature offers. The fauna and the proliferation of various species depend on
    it," teaches the weaver, who is now engaged in a new challenge: rural

    "Nowadays, a lot
    of people here already make a point of maintaining the tonka bean tree, for
    example, in the middle of their pastures. The community realized that it can
    receive many benefits from preserving nature."

    Among the benefits is
    the Center of Production, Training, and Research, built by the community in
    partnership with the non-governmental organization Ecology and Action (Ecoa),
    responsible for administering the project in the region.

    "In addition to the
    knowledge, we have already achieved various individual victories with weaving,"
    Sampaio commemorates. "Many women bought washing machines and cows. They
    were also able to improve their appearance, paying a dentist to take care
    of their teeth."

    Key to Development

    Ethical sustainability.
    For the Minister of Environment, Marina Silva, this is the key word for sustainable
    development in Brazil and the world. The first speaker to address the International
    Conference on Environmental Auditing, June 3, in Brasília, the Minister
    stressed the importance of creating a new cycle of civilization in which the
    relationship between developed and developing countries is based on respect
    for the use of biodiversity.

    According to Silva, the
    world continues to suffer from a substantial deficit in the implementation
    of environmental policies capable of ensuring to future generations the natural
    resources of the present. "Reconciling environmental, social, and economic
    sustainability is still a big challenge," the Minister affirmed, pointing
    out that environmental auditing can be an effective tool for sustainable development.

    She emphasized that Brazil
    has a great responsibility in this new process, since it possesses 11 percent
    of available fresh water supplies, 20 percent of the planet’s extant species,
    and the world’s largest tropical forest.

    But to discharge its responsibilities,
    according to the Minister, it is essential for a new culture to be solidified,
    in which the act of obeying the law represents a spontaneous desire linked
    to environmental awareness.

    As a result, Silva stated
    that the Brazilian government is in favor of a new development path structured
    around four basic guidelines: sustainable growth, greater social participation,
    strengthening of the national environmental system, and implementation of
    an integrated environmental policy. She cited as an example the Program to
    Combat Deforestation in the Amazon, which unites 13 Ministries in integrated

    According to the Minister,
    the logic of growth for the sake of growth in Brazil has already ravaged 94
    percent of the Atlantic Rain Forest and 18 percent of the Amazon Forest and
    decimated various indigenous cultures. "The option of not doing things
    correctly is very costly," she affirmed, underscoring that the challenge
    of development with sustainability is a task for all of society, not just
    the leaders.

    The contribution of external
    control to sustainable development is the main theme of the Conference, which
    began on June 2nd. According to Silva, environmental auditing can
    confirm whether companies are really complying with environmental legislation
    and whether governments are enforcing the laws and heeding the environmental
    variable in their investments. "Without a doubt this type of tool is
    an effective instrument for sustainable development."

    Juliana Cézar Nunes works for Agência Brasil (AB), the official
    press agency of the Brazilian government. Comments are welcome at lia@radiobras.gov.br.

    from the Portuguese by David Silberstein.

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