By Alex Jensen
Take a deep breath.
Chances are, some of the oxygen molecules you just inhaled came from the Amazon rainforest. Actually, you can find traces of the Amazon everywhere in North America, Europe and elsewhere, from cloud cover and morning dew to rainfall and air temperature.
Amazing as that may be to contemplate, it shouldn’t be news to anyone. We’ve known for decades how critical the rainforest is to sustaining life on Earth. And yet, although the rate of deforestation in the Amazon has generally declined since it last peaked in 2004, it jumped up by 16% in 2015 and claimed some 5,831 square kilometers (roughly half the area of Los Angeles). The short-term financial rewards promised by deforestation, it seems, continue to challenge abstract notions of biodiversity and long-term sustainability.
But an initiative based in the Brazilian state of Amazonas is hoping to change that calculus by fusing economic development with environmental preservation.
“The idea is to make the forest worth more standing than cut,” said Virgilio Viana, Superintendent General of Amazonas Sustainable Foundation (Fundação Amazonas Sustentável, or FAS, in Portuguese), a non-governmental organization that works with the riverine communities in Amazonas. “One of those ways is to increase the value of products that can be harvested sustainably.”
An innovative partnership among FAS, the State of Amazonas government and Marriott International Inc. is hoping to find the seeds of sustainability in an experimental program that encourages indigenous communities in the Juma Reserve, deep within the northwestern Amazon forest, to harvest and sell Brazil nuts to luxury hotels located more than two thousand miles away in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. The program aims to provide economic incentives for the farmers to become allies on the ground who can help fend off illegal loggers, miners and cattle ranchers in protected but remote areas where monitoring and enforcement are difficult or infrequent.