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Save a tree and get money, a brick walkway and new metal roofs?
NOVO ARIPUANA, Amazonas, Brazil — Lining the top of a steep slope down to the water is a row of solid but rustic wooden homes. A short walk into the brush behind, manioc root crops, and maybe some bean or corn or watermelon fields; beyond that, the primary forest that plays such a key role in the fight against climate change. Fish from the river and manioc flour toasted over communal ovens are the dietary staples.
At least to an outsider, the communities of subsistence farmers in the Juma Sustainable Development Reserve are remarkably similar. There’s no electricity, unless you count the generators that power up some evenings for a few hours, and no running water, unless you count what happens when kids rush up the slope with jugs they filled up in the river.
Since 2007, families in Juma have had one more thing in common: they are being paid monthly stipends of 50 reais — about $30 — by the Amazonas state government for agreeing not to destroy another square inch of primary forest for planting or pasture. Across the 2,277 square mile reserve, 321 families — that is, virtually all of them — have signed on. In other reserves acrosss the state, there are almost 6,000 more.
The Amazon, of course, is the world’s largest rainforest — or forest in general, for that matter. Its rapid deforestation has long been a focal point in efforts to control global warming and to balance development and conservation, but often through enforcement tactics rather than financial incentives. Amazonas state is the largest and best preserved of the several states that made up what is referred to as "the Amazon." But scientific models show that if nothing is done, it too will suffer the fate of its neighboring states in coming decades.
The Boa Frente community has already received a brick walkway and many shiny metal roofs.
“The environmental question is, above all, an economic one,” said Eduardo Braga, the governor of Amazonas and the leading proponent of the state’s “Bolsa Floresta,” or “Rainforest Stipend.” “If a tree is worth more standing than cut down, nobody will cut it down.”
Antonia Batista de Fonseca, a farmer in the Boa Frente community who also harvests Brazil nuts, said the 50 reais a month is most welcome. “I can buy a lot for that,” she said. “I just bought a pot for 45 reais. The other day I spent 100 on a set of pots and pans.”
Batista de Fonseca also stands to benefit from another element of the Bolsa Floresta: funds for training and equipment to increase income. Residents are learning how to dry the Brazil nuts they harvest from tall trees on their land, and will be connected with a regional cooperative that buys the dry nuts at higher prices than they got for the raw nuts.
Juma and the other Sustainable Development Reserves are administered by the Sustainable Amazonas Foundation, an NGO with close ties to Braga and the state government and funding from major corporations like Marriott and Bradesco, a major Brazilian bank.