It has been nearly twenty years since Chico Mendez was brutally murdered for defending the rights of Brazilian rubber tappers. Perhaps his most notable legacy have been the extractive reserves. Those reserves give secure tenure rights over large forests to people who live there, in return for their commitment to manage them well. As of 2000 the Brazilian government had established 16 such reserves, covering 3.4 million hectares, and was discussing 16 more.
Extractive reserves have been controversial. Some said the communities would destroy the forests. Others said they would condemn their residents to perpetual poverty.
Manuel Ruiz-Pérez and his colleagues used household surveys and satellite images to assess what actually happened between 1989 and 2002 in the first extractive reserve. Conservation and Development in Amazonian Extractive Reserves – the Case of Alto Jurua, published recently in Ambio presents the results.
The government created the Alto Jurua Extractive Reserve in a remote area of Acre in 1990. It has 4,600 inhabitants and covers half a million hectares. Local communities made the management plan, and it was formally approved by Brazil’s environment agency, IBAMA. The plan limits how much forest farmers can clear, and prohibits commercial hunting and logging.
Deforestation increased slightly soon after the reserve was created, but then dropped off. Even so, forests still cover 99% of the area. This is similar to nearby indigenous territories and parks, unlike local land reform settlements, which clear much more forest. Migration out of the most remote areas within the reserve has helped jaguar, tapir, and monkey populations to recover.
Due to low rubber prices local families now harvest less rubber, and produce more beans, cattle, and pigs. Meanwhile, government pensions and jobs have become the largest source of cash. Some families left the reserve early on, but these days 97% say they want to stay.
Overall, things have worked pretty well. The government has had to invest in the reserves, but it got its money’s worth. That is more than you can say for many things. Chico would be proud.
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Ruiz-Pérez, M., M. Almeida, S. Dewi, E.M. Lozana Costa, M. Ciavatta Pantoja, A. Puntodewo, A. de Arruga Postigo, and A. Goulart de Andrade. 2005. Conservation and Development in the Amazonian Extractive Reserves: the Case of Alto Juruá, Ambio, Vol. 34 (3) May: 218-23.