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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