Amazon communities turn the tide against deforestation

By Peri Dias

After two years bogged down by environmental bad news, residents of Cumaru do Norte, in the Brazilian Amazon, can breathe a sigh of relief. Literally. The municipality is set to become one of the first in the region to leave the list of the largest deforesters of the Amazon, drawn up by the Ministry of the Environment.

Thanks to a joint effort by the municipal government and farmers and ranchers, with the support from TNC, the State Environmental Secretariat and the Amazon Fund, managed by the BNDES (National Bank for Economic and Social Development), Cumaru do Norte achieved in 2011 the three conditions defined by the government for excluding that community of the Ministry of Environment deforestation blacklist.

The document includes more than 40 municipalities where fighting deforestation is at an emergency level. Being listed on it is like being in an environmental Intensive Care Unit – a clear indication that forest destruction is out of control.

Consequences of being on the list include greater difficulty in obtaining credit from banks and selling products from ranching, agriculture and legal timber harvesting.

The mayor of Cumaru do Norte, Vilmar Farias Valim, says that the effort to get off the list has brought about a profound change in behavior on the part of ranchers and farmers.

“Before, we thought that we had to knock down and burn. Setting fire to the forest was a common practice. Today, every day there are farmers going to the Environmental Secretariat office to get tree seedlings for planting on their properties,” he notes.

Multiplying the impact

The case of Cumaru do Norte is the result of a large-scale initiative for promoting environmental adjustment in rural properties in the Amazon, in other words, to guarantee that rural producers in the region are compliant with their environmental obligations.

Thanks to the support of the Amazon Fund, TNC is acting in 12 municipalities in Pará and Mato Grosso, in some of the areas where the Amazon is under the greatest threat.

Besides Cumaru do Norte, three other communities where the initiative is underway are on the list of major deforesters: São Félix do Xingu, Nova Ubiratã and Cotriguaçu.

Another eight cities were included, since despite not being at the top of the destruction ranking, they present a context similar to that of the municipalities listed by the Ministry of Environment. These are: Tapurah, Nova Mutum, Sapezal, Campos de Julio, Juruena , Ourilândia do Norte, Tucumã and Bannach.

The total of resources invested by the Fundo Amazônia in the initiative is equivalent to about US$8 million. The Conservancy complements this amount with a counterpart of about US$1.6 million.

That investment helps TNC to act in both an articulating and technical role. As an articulator, the organization calls on municipal and state governments, ranchers, farmers and other organizations to mobilize the greatest possible number of rural producers to enroll in the Rural Environmental Registry (CAR), the first step in the process of environmental regularization.

In its technical role, TNC hires specialists in geolocalization to help farmers and ranchers include their properties in CAR, by offering information and expertise. Communities can benefit from this service for free, which allows more families to register their farms.

Getting municipalities out of the environmental ICU

As is the case with Cumaru do Norte, any municipality that wishes to get off the deforestation list needs to achieve three objectives. Two of them have to do with the rate of forest destruction, while the third depends on the entire community and requires a more profound change. They are:

  • Reduce deforestation to less than 40 square kilometers per year;
  • Have an average deforestation rate for the last two years that is lower than what was recorded from 2005 to 2008;
  • Include at least 80% of the recordable area in the municipality in the Rural Environmental Registry, in other words, all of the non-urban area except for indigenous lands and full-use conservation units.

Inclusion of properties in CAR does not depend only on the municipality wanting to register properties, but on the owners themselves acquiring satellite images of their properties, hiring technicians who can analyze them and inserting the necessary information in a specific virtual system managed by the Environmental Secretariat for each state.

With this data, the municipal, state and federal governments can not only identify where deforestation occurred, but also locate and punish those who deforest illegally. That information can also allow the municipalities to develop plans and strategies for growing without deforestation, as well as benefit those who fulfill their environmental obligations.

Quality of life on the horizon

With the effort to expand application of CAR, on the boundary between the Amazon and the Cerrado savanna TNC is replicating the experience developed in Paragominas, another municipality where the Conservancy and its partners have been achieving great results. This community was the first in the country to get off the deforestation blacklist, the result of a joint effort between TNC and the municipal and state government, the Rural Producers Union and partner institutions, such as the non-profit Imazon.

The results are starting to appear, but the expectation is that the entire region can breathe a sigh of relief with the end of forest fires and illegal deforestation, a sensation that residents of Cumaru do Norte are now experiencing firsthand.


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