Paying to keep the rainforests standing

Editorial, Normal

A UN-backed scheme to reduce carbon emissions from the burning of forests could be one of the big winners of the Copenhagen climate summit, with the possibility of a big injection of funds. The BBC’s Paulo Cabral has been to the Amazon to visit one of the most advanced pilot projects.


FOR Amazon villager Paulo Dos Santos, money does not grow on trees. It drips from them.
At times, he spends up to two weeks deep in the jungle looking for copaiba oil, a resin highly valued for its medicinal properties, extracted from the Amazonian tree with the same name.
“I look for the trees in the jungle and drill a hole in them so the copaiba oil can be extracted. Then I plug the hole with wood and I can come back weeks or even months later for more,” Dos Santos explains. He takes the oil to town to sell it but, he says, does not get much money for it.
“To survive from this kind of work we do need (financial) help, otherwise the only solution is to cut the trees and sell the wood.”
Sustainable forest exploration – such as harvesting copaiba oil – is the kind of activity encouraged by the anti-deforestation scheme, known as Redd – reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries.
But agricultural activities are closely monitored, and villagers promise not to cut down trees.
In return for their “environmental services”, the community also gets help to build infrastructure such as schools and electric power, and each family gets a monthly allowance.
Paulo dos Santos’ wife, Josivalda, goes every month to the town of Novo Aripuana – a four-hour boat ride from their Boa Frente community – to get the family’s benefit. It is not much money, but US$360 a year does make a difference in a region where the average yearly income is less than US$1,000.
“It certainly helps. Before, people used to cut down trees around our village to sell to loggers but now we don’t see much of that any more,” Josivalda says.
The Juma reserve in the Amazon, where dos Santos lives with Josivalda and their six children, is one of the most advanced pilot projects of this kind in the world. It is all about changing the way forest economies work.
“Deforestation does not happen because people are stupid or irrational, but because it brings money. If we want to stop destruction we have to show that a forest can be worth more standing than cut down,” Virgilio Viana, general director of the Sustainable Amazonas Foundation (FAS), a public-private partnership which runs the Juma reserve Redd project, says.
Deforestation in the Juma reserve has not stopped completely but satellite pictures from the Brazilian Institute for Space Research (INPE) show that it has significantly slowed down – from some 150ha in 2006 when the reserve was set up to less than 80ha last year.
Anyone can monitor deforestation in the Amazon on the internet. The INPE website has up-to-date satellite pictures which are freely available to anyone who is interested. You can’t quite see every tree, but you can make out the canopies.
But if state-of-the-art satellite monitoring allows authorities to spot deforestation almost in real time, getting there to do anything about it is a very different matter.
Brazilian authorities have only 19 teams on the ground to police a region larger than the 27 countries of EU put together.
“Every week we inform the police and environmental authorities of hundreds of spots of deforestation or jungle degradation. They do make an effort but they are clearly overwhelmed with all the information we send in,” the co-ordinator of the Amazon Programme at INPE, Dalton Valeriano, says.
Amazonas state governor Eduardo Braga admits that more infrastructure on the ground is needed to police the Amazon more efficiently, but he is adamant that most of the surveillance has to be carried out by the people who live in the region.
“This can only work if we engage with the people in the Amazon. We cannot have police everywhere, but we do have communities everywhere,” Braga says.
In his state – 16 times the size of Britain or four times the size of Texas – 98% of the forest is still preserved, but projections show that if current rates of deforestation continue, almost a third could be devastated by the middle of this century.
Braga says that the only way to prevent this is to make the effort to save not only trees but also people.
“You can’t ask a mother to mind about saving a tree if her child is crying with hunger. If loggers come into her area willing to buy wood, she certainly will cut the trees to feed her family,” he says. – BBC