Extracting the value of forests

01 November 2011 | News story

In the extreme west Amazon region, on the border with Peru and Bolivia, IUCN has helped strengthen community-based forest cooperatives that are improving the incomes of local people and securing forests for the future.

Acre State is one of the Amazon’s frontier regions and it is in these forests that Chico Mendes and the rubber tappers staved off the forest-clearing cattle ranchers with the pioneering idea of ‘extractive reserves’, a system that benefits both local farmers and their forests. With the market price for rubber dropping, the sale of forest nuts has become more important and plays a key role in generating income for local farmers.

Since the implementation of extractive reserves, more than 100 million hectares of forests in Brazil are under some kind of community ownership or management arrangement.

Starting work in the region in 2007, IUCN’s Livelihoods and Landscapes Strategy has helped to improve the effectiveness and coverage of these community-based forest co-operatives, supporting hundreds of families involved in forest product production, promoting political reforms and expanding the market for community products.

Efforts to reduce poverty have focused on the restructuring of three forest product chains, those of timber, Brazil nuts and natural rubber.

In the past, Acre’s farmers struggled to secure a fair price for their nut harvest from Peruvian and Bolivian commercial companies and their middlemen who were gaining massive profits without any social or environmental benefit for the farmers who collected the nuts. So, the farmers organized themselves into cooperatives, coordinated by the Central Cooperative, which cut out the middlemen and bought from the farmers directly. During the past six years, the 1,500 local farmers involved have seen the price they are paid for their nuts increase by 300%. Nut farming has become more lucrative than agriculture and livestock in this area, saving thousands of hectares of forest from being cleared.

By 2010 more than 2,000 families involved in Brazil nut production were being supported—an increase of more than 50% from 2007. For timber production there has been a 63% in the number of households, and for rubber, an increase of 825% in Acre state and 114% inside the LLS landscape.

Today’s nut farmers in Acre continue to demonstrate what Chico Mendez and the rubber tappers of Acre proved years ago—that it is the people who live off the forests who are the key to sustaining them.

For more information contact: Daniel Shaw, Communications Officer, IUCN Forest Programme: daniel.shaw@iucn.org

The full landscape report of the Livelihoods and Landscapes Strategy in Brazil is forthcoming and will be available for free on the LLS pages: www.iucn.org/forest/lls