Economic Development of the Amazon is Essential for Conservation, thinks Bertha Becker
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To keep the Amazon as a pristine environment without human touch seems like a beautiful idea, but hardly a real possibility. First of all, deforestation is happening and moving forward fast, and second, the Brazilian government has stated that it is not the country's desire to keep it "as a sanctuary for humanity."
So if the region is in fact going to develop, is it possible that it goes through that process in a responsible way? Prestigious Professor and Investigator Bertha Becker thinks that is not only possible, but essential for the preservation of the Amazon. How do these two concepts go together? Read on.Bertha Becker is a prestigious Brazilian geographer and investigator that has been studying the Amazon region for over 30 years. But even after having walked the forest and seen deforestation take lands first-hand, unlike other defenders of this area she thinks economic development of the Amazon is the only way to preserve it. In her book, "A future for the Amazon," (Um futuro para a Amazônia) she explains her idea of an urbanized forest.
On a recent interview with National Geographic Brazil re-published at Planeta Sustentavel, Becker comments on the idea of development and conservation going together. Even though it's hard to believe that such thing as responsible exploitation of the forest can exist, the geographer's ideas are an interesting twist. She focuses on the needs of the people that live in the Amazon and on adding value to the extracted products instead of exporting raw materials.
As the interview is in Portuguese, here are few interesting pieces of her words.
On why the Amazon needs to go through economic development:
"The Amazon has always been used to extract resources and send them abroad, as if it was an endless storage of natural goods. And there's nothing left for the region itself. I stand by a different model for exploration of the natural patrimony, a new perspective that has science and technology as a base."
"We need modern companies, advanced technology and great investments; always articulated with the environmental and social issues. There are more than 20 million people that live in the Amazon and they are living poorly, because resources are explored with the idea of sending the material abroad, outside the region where it was extracted. We need to add value to those materials inside the region."
On how to add value to natural resources while keeping an eye on conservation:
"There are multiple ways of adding value to natural resources. The world is already changing, leaving the idea of the mega-industries towards other models that are more flexible, using resources in a more efficient way, without waste. That's the real sustainable development, not leaving the Amazon closed, without mobilizing its resources, as many people are asking. The issue is to shape a new development model in which science and technology can define adequate ways of using resources without destruction and with an equalitarian distribution of the income in the local economies."
"For example, we can adopt a modern wood industry, one that doesn't explore wood to burn it or to export logs. Is it possible to organize a decent wood industry? Yes, it is. Another point is biodiversity. Its potential for medicine and cosmetics is immense. One more potential area is fishing, but there is not an organized productive chain, but disperse and incipient initiatives."
"The Amazon has little organized productive chains. [...] Processes have always been oriented towards exportation and not with the aim to benefit the people. We need to organize a productive chain from inside the forest, involving local communities with the service providers. [...] We need to strengthen the Amazon cities, as in them there are services, industry and commerce. The cities have to be the not of the productive chain, not only in larger cities like Manaus or Belem, but also in smaller towns."
On the potential of 'environmental services' at the Amazon cities:
"In this region there's a great potential, which is natural capital. And this opens a great possibility to offer environmental services. A while ago, people used to value only the stock of natural resources from a forest, but now there's value in the functions of nature. Nature is a capital and offers various means of production. An example is the carbon market, which is growing fast and is essentially an environmental service. We have the possibility to transform nature in a capital, but we need science and technology to do so."
"One of my ideas is to transform Manaus in a global city. [...] I propose a stock market in Manaus to negotiate carbon and environmental services. Why would that have to be in Chicago or a European city?"
On the issue of land ownership:
"We live in a capitalist society, and if someone is not defending its property there's always the idea that you can move forward taking lands. [...] But instead of giving definitive ownership, I think we should give public concessions to projects that contribute to the sustainability of lands."
On native communities that live inside the forest (remember the uncontacted tribe photographed last year?):
"[The issue of traditional cultures] is a great dilemma. We have the obligation to preserve the Amazon cultures, but that doesn't mean we have to isolate them. Regarding the indigenous people, we need to establish a program of activities that gives communities income to allow them to preserve their culture. Without economic means to support themselves, none of them will survive."Read the whole interview with Bertha Becker (in Portuguese) at National Geographic Brazil.
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