“Now we have a voice, a real participation … our role is not only to sign papers as it used to be in the past,” says Izaque Corre, a farmer and resident of the Tapajós-Arapiuns Extractive Reserve in western Pará, Brazil. Izaque is also a member of the reserve’s board, an entity that has the power to approve projects that will decide the future of this 6,500 square-kilometer (2,520 square-mile) region — a territory almost the size of Delaware. In the past, many projects have been initiated in the reserve without prior consent of the local communities, causing frustration and distrust among the population, and ultimately the failure of the projects.
Conservation International (CI) and partners recently held a meeting and a capacity-building program for the reserve board, bringing together more than 80 people in the community of Cameta on the banks of the Tapajós River. Participants learned more about environmental legislation and its relation to the reserve — in Brazilian law, an extractive reserve allows communities to harvest rubber and other natural resources free of interference from loggers and deforestation.
“The main goal of this course is to reduce the gap between the technical language in legislation pieces and that of the local communities,” says Mariana Balieiro from Imaflora Institute, an NGO partner in the project.
In addition to the capacity-building program in environmental legislation, 30 young people from different communities participated in a leadership and communications course. Adailson Carvalho, 18, was one of them. He lives in the community of Cabeceira do Amorim where he works for a community-based radio station. “Our communities really need projects that bring education, culture and alternative sources of income. Our voice is heard through the board; I learned a lot here and I will pass this information onto my community,” Adailson said.
The reserve draws its strength from its organizational power and cooperation with local populations — the board represents 74 communities. Rosinaldo dos Santos has been the president for almost two years and works to improve the quality of life and create alternative income sources for the communities. “Currently, we have access to loans that allow the construction of better housing,” explains Rosinaldo. “We have internet access in the communities due to the arrival of cybercafés; and now the training program on youth leadership, which would not have been possible without CI’s project.”
Cesar Haag, the environmental policy coordinator of CI-Brazil’s Amazon Program, highlights the importance of social organization in extractive reserves for this region of the biome. “One of the strengths of the Tapajós-Arapiuns Extractive Reserve is the level of social organization, a characteristic that is usually absent in sustainable-use protected areas in the Amazon. Because of that, it is possible to develop partnership projects to have qualified partners in the local governance body, and most importantly, it shows the world that it is possible to establish a complementary relationship between man and nature in the Amazon. This is undoubtedly an important area for investments in conservation and social participation in the Tapajos-Abacaxis Corridor.”
About the Tapajós-Abacaxis Corridor: The Tapajós-Arapiuns Reserve is one of four protected areas supported by CI’s Biodiversity Corridor Conservation Program, a partnership between CI-Brazil and the Alcoa Foundation. Begun in 2007, the project’s goal is to create the social and technical basis for the establishment of a biodiversity corridor in the region between the Tapajós and Abacaxis rivers in western Pará and the eastern state of Amazonas. The corridor concept serves to integrate the management of protected areas, indigenous lands and private lands in order to promote the sustainable use of natural resources and biodiversity conservation while generating social and economic growth. The project encompasses an area of approximately 100,000 square kilometers (38,610 square miles) in seven municipalities.
Fernando Cardoso is the communications coordinator for CI-Brazil.