Economic sustainable chains in the Amazon: the role of innovation, local ownership and new institutional arrangements

In June 2016 the Amazon Fund, the main initiative for financing sustainable forest management in the Amazon biome, organized the first workshop to promote the exchange of experiences for sustainable chains between the different initiatives being supported by the fund. The event was attended by about 120 people, including public actors and NGOs, project beneficiaries, representatives of the fund and the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES), as well as technical consultants from the German Cooperation for Sustainable Development. Participants were divided in different groups to share lessons learned and debate successful solutions.

The workshop started by honouring the forest and its ancestors while Uiban from the HuniKuin  indigenous group, in the state of Acre, was singing. Juliana Santiago, head of the fund, then opened the first session emphasizing the importance of sustainable chains for reducing deforestation. “From the 81 initiatives currently supported by the fund, 44 include the development of sustainable productive activities, totalling BRL 300 million (USD 92 million) in support of various supply chains”, she added.

These investments resulted in 13,651 people trained for sustainable productive activities, 265 small organizations supported, 3,759 rural properties in sustainable production projects, 4,922 rural properties benefiting from technical assistance and rural extension, 6,923 hectares of reforested areas, plus BRL 50 million (USD 15 million) of additional income from the sale of fresh products and BRL 12 million (USD 4 million) of revenue from the sale of processed products.

Gabriel Visconti, head of the BNDES environmental area, pointed out the different reasons why the fund has been successful: the strong partnership with the Ministry of Environment; the institutional arrangement of the fund; but mainly the engagement of different actors (from donors to managers and local organizations) in an effective collaborative governance.

Economic activities: How to preserve the forest?

Participants debated the challenges of activities that promote sustainable production in the Amazon from the perspective of producers, public and private actors. For Luis Fernando Fonseca, from the Kaeté Investments, the main challenges are related to issues of logistics, infrastructure and transportation. “Although there was a progress in such initiatives, scaling up them remains a challenge”, he pointed out.

According to Juliana Simões, from the Brazilian secretariat of extrativism and sustainable rural development, logistics, transportation and infrastructure are challenges related to inter-sectoral policies. In her view it is time to better integrate public policies and to increase dialogue between different ministries. It is also important to add value to products that increase social and biodiversity positive outcomes. “There is a lack of information and understanding from the demand side about the potential of these products”, she emphasized.

Land tenure regularization, less bureaucracy for accessing financial resources, respecting diversity and increasing capacity of monitoring agents are crucial pieces for successful economic activities on the ground. Sérgio Lopes, from the Association of Smallholder Agroforestry Producers, affirmed that “without land titles it becomes impossible to guarantee long term sustainable activities”. It is also important to shape initiatives according to local heterogeneities and diversity, “there are many different realities on the ground”, he said. Increasing capacity of monitoring agents, so they are able to recognize different species and better monitor who is practicing activities that promote environmental degradation is also fundamental. “There is still a lot of burden and bureaucracy for the ones who work with sustainable activities”, Lopes concluded.

Structuring supply chains: What works?

Different representatives of civil society debated how to better structure supply chains. Empowering local organizations with dialogue, communication and transparency is the first step. For Rodrigo Junqueira, from the Socio-Environmental Institute, working with old partnerships increases the chances of successful outcomes.

Technology innovation also plays a key role in changing old production patterns, in creating sustainable solutions and in engaging the youth. Together with technical assistance and capacity building they promote better practices and positive outcomes in the long term. Having a hybrid basket of products for local productive arrangements and adding value to them is also important to reduce investments risks. Native seeds, for example, should get more attention in the process, once they are crucial for forest restoration but also for increasing local income. Negotiating tax exemptions with state agencies could support certain supply chains.

The group also pointed out that governmental organizations often are unaware of the reality of farmers and traditional peoples. In addition to public policies it is also important to increase the dialogue with local actors in order to promote openness and the ability to generate collective learning.

Paulo Cezar Nunes, from the Cooperative for Farmers in the Vale do Amanhecer, emphasised the cooperative integrated governance that supports women, agrarian settlers and indigenous in a way that privileges trust and complementarities of different actors and organizations. The cooperative is a good example of how production diversification can lead to economic sustainability, while partnerships with local governments can strengthen the institutional market.

Ana Patricia Gomes, from the Institute of Agricultural and Forest Management and Certification, presented the newly created initiative Origins Brazil, which functions as a collaborative platform connecting producers to buyers and consumers. Through QR Code technology, demand-side actors can access through their mobiles the information on communities and supply areas. This helps consumer to better choose their products and adds value to items that promote socio-environmental goals.

Local ownership for good practices and sustainable production

In this group, innovative strategies to deal with the challenges of the Amazon reality were debated by organizations working with large territories in the area. Alexandre Olival, from Ouro Verde Institute, shared lessons from the Sementes do Portal initiative where local and regional committees work together to stimulate local ownership and dissemination of different technologies. Communication and conflict management form a solid basis for successful outcomes.

Strengthening of local organizations is at the heart of The Nature Conservancy strategies with indigenous lands in the Amazon, according to Fernando Bittencourt. “Capacity building for enhancing indigenous autonomy is key in this process”, he added. Increasing capacity and supporting local households for environmental and social entrepreneurships are strategies also implemented by the Amazonas Sustainable Foundation. According to Eduardo Taveira, systematizing and disseminating the content, methodologies, lessons learned and innovative solutions could lead to better practices.

The participation of local actors in all stages of initiatives implementation should be central and investments in communication and transparency can not be neglected. Monitoring results from time to time and capturing local perceptions on the strategies being implemented is vital for guaranteeing effectiveness. Technical assistance that include the youth is also key for fostering long term results. According to the group, reconciling land use planning with sustainable productive alternatives helps to promote sustainability. Finally, constant communication with the Amazon Fund team helps avoiding problems of management and accountability and also exposes the difficulties of the initiatives in the Amazon region.

Cultural change: the tipping point

The event closed with Juliana Santiago on messages about how structuring the chains of sociobiodiversity products is fundamental in the process of building an environmentally sustainable economy in the Amazon. She pointed out how important financial resources from Amazon Fund are in this process, but without local organization it seems utopic to reach successful outcomes. There are also still a number of challenges to overcome, but one of the main needs “is to accelerate cultural change aimed at valuing social biodiversity products and at promoting the development of technical and regulatory frameworks compatible with the specificities of these supply chains”, she concluded.





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