by Peri de Castro Dias and Leandro Ramos
"The key to sustainable development in the Amazon is our municipalities – and Paragominas has set an example in that direction”, says Simão Jatene, governor of the state of Pará, long known as the epicenter of illegal deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. We are in a crowded auditorium in Paragominas – a municipality about the size of New Jersey – and, as governor Jatene delivers his speech, locals can’t help letting proud smiles flash across their faces.
Paragominas is situated in one of the most intensely developing regions in the world, where forests have been quickly disappearing, cleared to make way for ranches, farms or plantations. But since March 23rd, when the state government chose Paragominas as the reference for the Green Municipalities project, an official program to zero illegal deforestation by 2014 across 77 municipalities (and counting), pride is an understandable feeling around here.
After all, their model is being leveraged to an area larger than Texas and Colorado combined, where a portion of rainforest the size of the state of Washington has been deforested over the past decade.
The power of a simple idea
Since 2009, Paragominas has been one of the focal areas for the Conservancy’s work to curb illegal deforestation in the Amazon. Alongside Brazil’s Ministry of Environment, the Conservancy has been working here and in several other municipalities to implement the Farmland Environmental Registry – known locally as CAR.
The idea behind this strategy is fairly simple: once all of the country’s rural properties are registered in the system, Brazil’s government will be able to (a) more easily identify and track illegal deforestation through satellite monitoring, and (b) develop land use plans, creating alternatives for farmers and ranchers and guaranteeing the protection of Amazon lands and waters.
The work developed by the Conservancy and its local partners in Paragominas to enter its rural properties in the CAR resulted in the municipality being the first in Brazil to come off the government’s “blacklist” of top Amazon deforesters. Such an outstanding change led Brazil’s Ministry of Environment to award its prestigious Chico Mendes Environmental Prize to Paragominas. And now, as Paragominas becomes the official model for large-scale replication, the Conservancy can’t help feeling proud, too.
But pride isn’t enough when there’s yet so much work to do. As Pará’s state government announced its program, Mayor of Paragominas Adnan Demachki signed a new partnership between Paragominas and the Conservancy for the municipality’s next trailblazing step: the municipality’s ecological and economic micro zoning – a complicated name, but a pretty big thing for Amazon conservation!
Using science (and in the Amazon, that means over 110 researchers from more than 25 institutions, including the Conservancy and partners), the Conservancy will provide Paragominas with first-hand data to help them develop an action plan to reconcile local social and economic development with environmental conservation.
The question the Conservancy is trying to answer is how much benefit different types of land use – like cattle ranching, agriculture and forestry management – can provide in socioeconomic, cultural and biodiversity terms across the municipality. With that information in hand, government and people in Paragominas will be able to make more environmentally conscious decisions about their future.
Paragominas is taking important steps towards a more sustainable future, by implementing realistic and effective strategies and influencing public policies and decision. More importantly, they are becoming a model for large-scale conservation throughout the Amazon – and the Conservancy is helping them make it happen.