An Amazon bioeconomy is a path for Brazil

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Attacks on indigenous territories by land invaders (grileiros, loggers, miners, etc.) have increased in recent weeks in Brazil. Land conflicts in general have reached a worrying record – 1576 cases in 2020, the highest recorded since the Pastoral Land Commission began collecting this data in 1985 – and an increase of 25% over the number of cases in 2019. Land invasions too set records, doubling in 2020, with indigenous peoples accounting for 72% of registered cases. This situation, coupled with the resignation of Environment Minister Ricardo Salles, due to allegations of smuggling wood, bluntly shows how volatile and urgent things have become on the frontier of the Amazon rainforest.

The continuous increase in deforestation and environmental destruction in the Brazilian Amazon is clear evidence that the path to development in the region has been poorly conceived. Either way, federal and state governments need to reconcile economic growth to benefit the millions of Brazilians who live in this vast region. The challenge and opportunity that Brazil faces is to achieve this goal with private investments, promoting the conservation of the Amazon and supporting thousands of indigenous peoples and traditional communities in the forest.

The creation of innovative policies, markets, infrastructure and connections is urgent to point a new direction towards sustainable, inclusive and environmentally safe development. The Amazon Bioeconomy, or Amazon 4.0, as it has been called by Carlos Nobre, a member of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, is a promising path for the Brazilian Amazon. The New York Times described this new path as part of the fourth industrial revolution. As a prominent economic force and the country with the largest forest area in the world, Brazil is strategically positioned to be a global leader, creating a new way of doing business, a challenge and an opportunity as countries slowly enter the world. post-pandemic recovery.

As deforestation continues to grow in the Amazon region, local governments are under pressure to control forest loss and generate economic growth, both of which are dependent on forest conversion for agriculture and livestock. This puts immense pressure on the forest frontier and the indigenous communities living on the other side.

As a barrier to further forest loss, indigenous peoples are important contributors to the conservation of intact forest landscapes, benefiting biodiversity conservation and national climate commitments. Indigenous territories had 0.1% of net carbon loss from 2003 to 2016 – the lowest rate among protected areas in the Amazon. A third of the region's carbon stocks are in indigenous territories.

More than two decades of partnering with indigenous peoples has taught Forest Trends that long-term collaboration and support for indigenous communities is the best way to stabilize the forest frontier – helping them defend their forest from illegal activities and strengthening economies forests according to their self-determination. There is a balance to be struck between stewardship of the land and its sustainable use, something that indigenous peoples around the world have practiced for generations.

Traditional systems in the Amazon have been based on diversity, not monoculture, benefiting from the abundance of food from forest management, carefully carried out in different types of forest and arable areas, keeping the landscape intact. The “Amazon Bioeconomy” we propose mimics traditional management systems with the potential to create diverse supply chains based on the region's natural wealth.

The current model is based on monocultures such as beef cattle, soy or palm oil. The consequences of failing to change this practice are severe and will only get worse, as highlighted in our recent report, "Illicit Harvest, Complicit Goods", which showed that at least 69% of tropical forests destroyed for the production of commodities between 2013 and 2019 were the result of illicit acts, violating national laws and regulations. Now is the time to focus market and consumer attention on products that sustain forests and their communities, rather than those that promote their destruction. These are local strategies with a global impact, creating direct and measurable benefits for forest communities and a safe climate for all of us.

Article written by Beto Borges, Director of the Communities and Territorial Governance Initiative at Forest Trends (ICGT-FT) 

Source: Forest Trends, available on this link.