Antonio Luiz Batista de Macêdo
Rio Branco, Acre, Brazil
Fellow Since 1989
This profile was prepared when Antonio Luiz Batista de Macêdo was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1989.
The New Idea
Macedo's goal is to show how Brazil's new extractive reserves can work in practice.The idea of the reserves is very persuasive. For the forest to survive, its human population must be able to make a sustainable, good living from it. To the degree this is true, each will support the other.Since the highest yield from a living forest requires many overlapping uses--rubber tapping, collecting nuts and medicinal ingredients, hunting, fishing--human rights and responsibilities should be organized accordingly. Traditional property law in Brazil, however, gives one person exclusive control over each piece of land. This arrangement makes sense for farms, ranches, factories, and home sites, but it makes orderly, multiple use of a forest all but impossible. Single ownership of forests has led only to exploitation and chronic conflict for the past several decades in the Amazon.Extractive reserves provide a framework for life in the Amazon specifically fitted to the realities. Every user is given a "property" right to continue and further develop the use (for example, rubber tapping) he or she had engaged in before, subject to environmental and community self-governance constraints. The government grants the use of the reserve to its residents through legally constituted associations, which in turn economically develop the reserve.Since 1989, approximately seven million acres of the Amazon have been set aside for extractive reserves. The implementation of these reserves is now at its initial and critical stage. If the reserves prove to be economically and organizationally successful, millions more acres of Amazon forest can be saved and the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of rubber trappers and other forest residents can be substantially improved as further reserves take root. Jurua was one of the first reserves to be established by law, and Macedo is credited with convincing planners to delineate the reserve at twice the size originally planned. Its full ecological impact will be especially great because it borders on a larger national park. Together they create an enormous protected area.Jurua is also one of the most advanced reserves in terms of implementation. The numerous new ventures Macedo is testing and developing in Jurua are applicable with different degrees of adaptation to most of the Amazon. Jurua is an important testing ground that will influence the future of the rest of the rain forest.Conscious of the importance of his work as a model for many other areas, Macedo is attacking several areas at once. First he is searching for new products with high value in the international markets. He has a team of experts and students working on "oils and leaves," identifying potential teas, medicines, perfumes, etc. Another example is vegetable ivory, a seed that has the same appearance as the ivory from elephants. This seed not only offers potential economic benefits from its export, but could create a local, environmentally sound, high-value-added industry if people in the reserves could be trained to carve and make jewelry with it.Second, he is working to improve production, cut costs, and add value to existing products. Rubber production costs, for instance, can be cut significantly by processing the raw material closer to the original collection spot and by incorporating new technologies such as solar panels. Macedo is also upgrading homemade sweets to sell to alternative markets willing to pay a premium for conservation. An extractive reserve trademark is in the works as well.Third, Macedo believes that extractive activities alone are not enough to support the reserve's present and future population at acceptable living standards. So he is developing a series of activities that involve more intense forest management along with appropriate farming, fishing, and animal breeding. For example, increasing the density of palm trees in certain areas would then make it economically viable to harvest hearts of palm regularly.Finally, Macedo is starting to work in portions of the reserve that have already been deforested, examining their potential for reforestation and special agricultural uses.