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Florestania: Amazonian Social Development in the Heart of the Forest

Building on the legacy of Chico Mendes’ socio-environmentalism, in the last twenty years his followers in the state of Acre have developed and implemented the most successful sustainable development strategy in the Amazon basin.

The pioneering work of the father and martyr of Brazil’s environmental movement has flourished in a series of innovative approaches guided by the concept of florestania, or forestinzenship, which brings together the expansion of citizenship rights with demands for better quality of life for the peoples of the Rainforest.

Chico Mendes legacy at the Wilson Center, Washington, D.C.
Chico Mendes legacy at the Wilson Center, Washington, D.C.

Development in the Amazonian region does not merely lie in laws and consultancy programs; “it presupposes a social pact, a permanent dialogue, that comprises all layers of the society in the region,” said Binho Marques, governor of the Brazilian state of Acre.

This type of developmental pattern is named Ecological Economic Zoning – EEZ. It is defined by FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) as a form of land use planning that takes into account all elements of the physic and biotic environment on the one hand and the socio-economic

environment on the other. It then matches both of them through multiple goal analysis, thereby providing a neutral tool for the various land users to arrive at a consensus on the optimal use or non-use of the land

The Acre developmental system is based on a strong social capital, assessment of environmental vulnerability, and an excellent educational system. “The main base of sustainability is education”, stresses Marques. The government of Acre has practically created a “digital jungle” of libraries, modern computers, and access to information and knowledge.

‘Ecosystem services’ is the economic concept that revolves around the development of Acre.“We are manufacturers for the forest,” stresses the governor, “an industrial park that takes good economic advantage of the forest’s resources functions as a mix of public and private investments.” The condom factories use natural rubber and enjoy successful exports, while a poultry processing plant involves a vast number of local households. Agro-forestry is at the center of both agricultural and environmental development of the small Brazilian state, giving as outcomes reforestation of the world’s most important carbon sink and sustainable exploitation of rubber and fruits.

As governments and environmental, scientific and business organizations prepare to launch the negotiations of a new global protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in December, in Copenhagen, the governor of the state of Acre militates for a global deal to be sealed in the Danish capital. “We need our sustainable practices related to forest conservation to be internationally assessed and recognized in order to lead to a certification of our products and services.”

Following Chico Mendes’ heritage, Foster Brown, Senior Scientist, Woods Hole Research Center, expert on the Acre experience, spoke on the capacity building given to the indigenous people in the Amazon under the REDD mechanism. Their observances of the regional changes are extremely accurate and noteworthy for any scientist, even though they are not published in Science Magazine.

A UN Framework Convention on Climate Change’s program, REDD – Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation mechanism – addresses incentives for conservation in tropical forests, so it does not maximize the carbon sequestration potential of natural systems worldwide – nor their social and biodiversity benefits. The mechanism is an important part of the solution, and leaving conservation out of REDD would be a monumental missed opportunity. It now looks as if REDD+ is in place for the climate talks in Copenhagen this December. This is an important step in the right direction – for people, for biodiversity, and for climate.

Chico Mendes (1944 – 1988) was a Brazilian rubber tapper, unionist and environmental activist in the state of Acre. He fought to stop the burning and logging of the Amazon Rainforest to clear land for cattle ranching, and founded a national union of rubber tappers in an attempt to preserve their profession and the rainforest that it relied upon. He was murdered in 1988 by ranchers who opposed his activism.

Raul Cazan

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