RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – In 2003, deforestation had devastated Brazil’s environment. As its economy continued to grow, cattle ranchers expanded their grazing land by burning down large segments of the Amazon rainforest. This caused unprecedented environmental damage, but it was much lower on the government’s list of priorities than were issues such as widespread poverty.
Environmental laws passed by the government from 2004 to 2008 did little to address the problem of deforestation. Though rates of deforestation fell, local governments struggled to meet the guidelines set by these laws and suffered when they had to pay fines for noncompliance.
Local economies were also hit hard when a beef embargo barred farmers from selling their meat to mainstream supermarket chains if their municipality had failed to reduce deforestation to accepted levels. The federal government confiscated cattle herds and tools from farmers who burned down areas of the rainforest but offered them no solutions for expansion.
Things began to look up when Imazon, a local nonprofit, helped the government of Brazil’s Para state to band together with the Brazilian farmers it had been punishing. The organization created training programs for Para’s local governments that taught them how to employ satellite imagery to track deforestation.
Most of the land subject to deforestation was not titled, so Imazon helped farmers formalize their land titles in addition to teaching them improved farming techniques. Farmers learned how to make their land more productive by rotating crops and limiting overgrazing.
Imazon’s work in Paragominas, a municipality in Para, helped to reduce illegal deforestation by more than 80 percent. Farmers also saw their incomes increase as their techniques became more efficient.
The state government of Para followed in Imazon’s tracks, creating a Green Municipalities Program in 2011. This program promotes the same type of collaborative approach championed by Imazon but at a higher level. Today, more than 94 of Para’s 145 municipalities are participants in the program.
More recently, the Investment Innovations Alliance, a new partnership between Mercy Corps, USAID, and the Skoll Foundation, announced that it would give a grant of $3.4 million to Imazon in order to help the organization expand even further.
While BBC reports that Amazon rainforest deforestation increased sharply between April 2010 and April 2011, most of the deforestation occurred in Mato Grosso state, an area Imazon has not yet reached. Deforestation may still be an issue in parts of Brazil, but the growing number of partnerships between local governments and nonprofit organizations like Imazon will help to drastically reduce environmental degradation and increase farmers’ quality of life.
– Katie Bandera