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Brazil tries to preserve the Amazon through financial incentives

Save a tree and get money, a brick walkway and new metal roofs?

The foundation conducted a two-day training, including lessons on climate change, that was a prerequisite for receiving the stipends, as well as the other benefits of Bolsa Floresta. Those include payments to communities for local projects, funding for a council representing the reserve as a whole and a budget for projects to boost income — currently focusing on Brazil nuts.

For Jose Marcos Aguiar, the elected president of Boa Frente, the restrictions on clearing primary forest do not present much of a burden, at least for now. “The danger comes from people from the outside,” he said.

Aguiar said that a few years ago, a soybean farmer from the state of Mato Grosso — a part of the Amazon that has been deforested at a vastly greater rate than Amazonas — attempted to buy up 30 square miles of land that included Boa Frente and planned to clear it for soybean production. He was stopped.

Still, some in Boa Frente feel that the system was more or less forced upon them, and not necessarily worth the small payment. “The only option we had was to settle for the small amount that came,” said Josivalda Barbosa dos Santos.

Elio Sebastiao Fermino Costa, a manioc farmer in Boa Frente, appreciates the money, noting it comes in handy to buy gas for boats, or snacks for the family when he goes into town. But he wonders what will happen when the families in the community expand and there are more people to work the now-limited fields. (The answer is actually in his Bolsa Family pamphlet: children of current residents can open up new land when they become adults and form new families.)

Local critics may yet be won over by more benefits to come. The “social” aspect of the Bolsa Floresta, which grants additional money to each community for local improvement projects, has not started up yet.

Plus, Boa Frente has received special attention for being located next to the Juma base, gaining projects that should eventually arrive at other communities. The snazzy brick walkway along the riverbank, the gleaming new metal roofs on the houses, and the blue rainwater-collecting basins and filter systems were part of the effort by the foundation and the government to create a model community for the reserve.

That also makes it the primary stop for outsiders. The stream of dignitaries — Governor Braga himself, Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the ambassador of Indonesia, Swedish officials and others — is such that Aguiar, the Boa Frente president, recently took a step likely unprecedented in the history of Juma’s riverfront communities: He has begun asking visitors to his home to sign a guest log.