Over the past few years, an increase in the participation of rural producers’ families and their economic and representative organisations has been noted in activities relating to management and conservation of resources in the Brazilian Amazon. Mainly for traditional peoples --whom the enormous socio-environmental deficit of the Brazilian State has left to economic subordination by capital destroying natural resources-- development alternatives based on resistance and the struggle to improve their living and working conditions, involve the appreciation of forest resources and therefore, their management.
The Federation of Social and Educational Assistance Bodies (FASE), has implemented a project for local development in the estuary zone of the River Amazon, with the rural communities of the municipality of Gurupá in the State of Para. Working in collaboration with the trade union movement and other local organisations, its objective is to contribute to the generation of development alternatives based on social justice, environmental conservation and citizenship enhancement. For this purpose, its working methodology is based on education of the people through direct action with the beneficiary peoples, the strengthening of grassroots organisations and autonomous collective actors, proposals for public policies, legal defence actions in the public sphere and implementation of relevant projects having a multiplier effect.
Located in the area known as the “Island Region”, between the cities of Belén and Santarén, on the estuary of the River Amazon, the Municipality of Gurupá is very similar to so many other riparian Amazon cities, where isolation and the water regime still determines the rhythm of the social and economic relationships of the people who traditionally inhabit the forest. Gurupá covers a total area of 8,578 km2 and has a population of close on 23,589 inhabitants (IBGE, 2001), with 6,729 people living in the urban area and 16,860 in the rural area.
Social indicators show that the development of Gurupá --in spite of having been an important financial market during the rubber boom at the beginning of the last century-- is far from having achieved decent living conditions for the majority of its population. The IDH-M (the Municipal Index of Human Development) of Gurupá is 0.396, with levels of human development similar to countries such as Gambia (0.398) or Rwanda (0.395). The average number of years of schooling in the municipality is 1.29, while in Brazil the average is about 5.8 per inhabitant. Gurupá has less than one hospital bed per thousand inhabitants (the number recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) is four), and one doctor for every ten thousand inhabitants (WHO recommends ten).
Thanks to the vigorous social movement and to the great variety of forest products --Brazil nuts, timber, Açaí (Euterpe oleraceae Mart.), hearts of palm, environmental services, among others-- the Municipality can potentially play a strategic role in the construction of sustainability references in the Amazon. Thus, over these three years of activity, the FASE Gurupá Project has worked, not only in the generation of these references, but also by adding participatory methodologies and concrete initiatives aimed at local development.
Forest management activities carried out by FASE with the Gurupá communities are pioneer activities in the Brazilian Amazon. In the first place by considering that these activities are part of a family and/or community production system, and therefore should be considered within the peasant rationale of production and reproduction. In this respect, it should be highlighted that the use of forest resources is not limited to timber exploitation, but involves the multiple use of the forest by these populations. Secondly, these activities are long-term activities and therefore, guaranteeing land to producer families is a basic condition for their sustainable development. Finally, the preparation, negotiation and adoption of a law that will include community organisations to legalise their forest management activities is necessary, as these were not contemplated in the Brazilian legal forestry system.
Regarding management methodology, FASE also introduced innovations in the planning of timber exploitation, adapting it to the situation of the producer families according to the extraction of the number of trees/species to be exploited per year and not according to the size of the plot, which is generally what forestry companies do and what is recommended by IBAMA. In this way, forest management is adapted to the amount of resources in Gurupá, and this can be replicated in other neighbouring municipalities.
The adoption of the Plan for Community Management of the Camuta del Pucurui Forests in the year 2001 --the first in the State of Pará-- led to other community-based management initiatives in the Eastern Amazon. Actions carried out since 1999 in order to regulate land tenure, preparation and implementation of Land Use Plans for planning, management and territorial control, the preparation of forestry inventories and their legalisation with the organisation regulating this activity (IBAMA), and planning of exploitation and marketing, have resulted in the forestry exploitation of 102 m3 of round wood timber during the first year (2002), marketed at an average price of 80 US dollars the cubic metre, representing an increase of 233% over the price obtained previously by the families undertaking this activity. In addition to the above, monitoring of impacts on the forest show that with the techniques used in the logging and extraction operations, the average number of trees damaged per hectare, having a diameter over 30 cm (DBH/diameter at breast height), was 11, which shows the sustainability of low impact exploitation recommended by FASE, as with conventional exploitation this figure amounts to 27 trees per hectare.
As a result of this action, another timber management plan was adopted, the first for the Gurupá quilombolas(*) (ARQMG) in the community of Camatá de Ipixuna. In this plan the offer of products was broadened and for the 2003 harvest it is hoped to obtain 800 m3 of timber, that already has a buyer. At the same time, IBAMA approved plans for the management of the native Açai Palm by two other associations, who are considering the associated extraction of hearts of palm and Açai. It should be noted that the management plans for the Açai Palm recommended by IBAMA are aimed at the exploitation of hearts of palm only, which has generated severe devastation of this palm in the region. Associated extraction of hearts of palm and Açai has made it possible to increase up to 30% the production of the fruit, generating an average gross income per family/month of 124 US dollars, against the 65 US dollars previously earned without this management.
Factors hindering increased community-based forest management, such as the lack of markets and training of producer families, high costs to satisfy legal requirements and regularise land-tenure, still exist. Although the issue of community-based forest management is being discussed and efforts are being made to successfully implement the initiatives in this respect, it is still necessary to overcome the political, institutional and financial obstacles still in force. In this respect, the State carries out a key role, mainly regarding revision of legal requirements for the adoption of management plans, instrumentation of a forest-promotion programme and establishment of special lines of credit for community-based forest management in the Amazon. Furthermore, it should also promote projects that, like the one carried out by FASE in Gurupá, are submitted as isolated, but relevant initiatives, and include them in strategic actions within the regional development programme.
(*) This was the name given to the run-away slaves who took refuge in places of difficult access known as quilombos (Translator’s note).
By Paulo Oliveira, Executive Coordinator of FASE Gurupá, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org