This profile is dedicated to the memory of Roberto Lamego who passed away in 2016. Roberto Lamego is creating alternatives for land use that provide farmers and others with economic incentives for preserving the rapidly disappearing forests of Brazil's Atlantic Forest region. He is changing the relation between humans and the forest from one of extraction to one of cultivation and conservation.
The New Idea
Roberto is promoting the spread of agro-forestry systems directed at environmental, economic, and social recovery in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest. Farmers there have been practicing agriculture that degrades the land and decreases productivity. Roberto has developed ecologically sustainable alternatives that are economically attractive to growers, and is teaching farmers and ranchers the economic benefits of growing trees for harvest. His system employs species with both short- and long-term cycles to provide current and future income to farmers. The newly forested regions also serve as a buffer for the old growth portions of the Atlantic Forest, which are being destroyed through burning and felling, conversion to pasture, and agriculture. Roberto believes that if farmers planted trees with high economic value, they would have a greater incentive to protect their land from fire and felling. To serve organizations and groups interested in research, experimentation, and sustainable and innovative land use, Roberto has established the Center for Regional and Agro-Forestry Technology (CETAR) in the mid-Paraíba do Sul River Valley. Robert plans to use the spread of agro-forestry to generate understanding about environmental conservation and sustainable development.
Brazil's Atlantic Forest is rapidly being stripped. When the Portuguese arrived in the sixteenth century, the forest covered nearly one percent of the earth's land area, from Rio Grande do Norte to Rio Grande do Sul. It occupied large portions of six Brazilian states as well as parts of Paraguay and Argentina. Today less than one-tenth of that coverage remains, but the surviving forest hosts hundreds of bird and animal species and thousands of kinds of plant life. While about a third of the forest is "protected", all of it is under pressure from farmers struggling to compete in an increasingly competitive agricultural market. The Paraíba River Valley possesses pastures, which are burned annually to accelerate their growth, a practice that threatens the remaining forest. Agro-forestry offers solutions to the grave environmental, economic, and social problems that the region is experiencing. The sustainable use of the wood could produce thousands of dollars in the future.
Years of living and working in rural areas have familiarized Roberto with the exhaustion of agricultural lands and the cutting down of forests. In his search for alternatives he began developing a model of agro-forestry that involves the cultivation of trees and other plants that are more economically beneficial to the grower than traditional crops. In 1992, on some land from his family, Roberto established the Serra da Concórdia Wildlife Sanctuary in the Paraíba do Sul River Valley, in the state of Rio de Janeiro, as a place for demonstrating his approach. Drawing on an approach developed by Jean Dubois, director of the Brazilian Agro-Forestry Network Institute, Roberto has developed Sistemas Agrosilvipastoris (SAFs) that enrich the forests and the underbrush in newly planted areas. Since forest products require more time for growth and harvesting than traditional crops, Robert has augmented his model for growing high-value, hardwood trees by including species of plants and brush that can be harvested within a single growing season. Part of the sanctuary serves as a demonstration site, attracting interest not only from local farmers but also from large companies and government agencies.It is very important, Roberto believes, to raise environmental awareness among the affected communities. He is developing a Rural Environmental Education pilot program aimed at increasing understanding of the Atlantic Forest's great biodiversity and its importance to water supplies and climatic equilibrium. Schools, residents associations, and other groups will be invited to participate in these events, which will consist of guided visits to the forests of the Serra da Concórdia. Through CETAR Roberto is establishing partnerships that will spread his work to new regions. A prestigious Brazilian firm, the Brazilian Company of Farming Research (EMBRAPA), selected the project at CETAR as the basis for the first rigorous study of agro-forestry in the Atlantic Forest region. EMBRAPA will quantify, document, and test the economic viability of Roberto's systems and will pay to use the land. CETAR also maintains an institutional partnership with REBRAF and the Institute for Advanced Research in Economy and the Environment (Instituto IPANEMA) in Rio de Janeiro. The partnership operates through the Group for the Environmental Protection of the Concórdia Range (SALVEASERRA), which Roberto founded in 1993. Together with these partners, Roberto is presenting his model to other citizen organizations and institutions. SALVEASERRA and REBRAF have begun discussions with the environmental division of a utility company, Light, to develop a partnership for disseminating Robert's systems in the Paraíba River Valley, where the company works.
After graduating from college with a degree in veterinary medicine, Roberto Lamego trained in homeopathy and obtained a master's degree in animal reproduction and artificial insemination. For more than twenty years, Roberto worked as a veterinarian in Brazil's interior, where he saw how agricultural methods were causing environmental degradation while failing to provide the farmers with sufficient income. Roberto reached a turning point when he took control of a piece of land, the Santo Antonio da Aliança Farm, in the municipalities of Valença e Barra do Pirai in Rio de Janeiro state, which his family had abandoned many years before. He used this opportunity in 1992 to demonstrate alternative models for land use, and created the Serra da Concórdia Wildlife Sanctuary in conjunction with the Pro-Nature Foundation (FUNATURA). Roberto decided to abandon the lucrative profession of being a rural veterinarian (and the only homeopathic veterinarian in Brasilia) and moved to Valença in 1993 to oversee creation of the sanctuary. Although FUNATURA left the project, Roberto resolved to carry on with his own funds. Roberto is a member of REBRAF and the Instituto IPANEMA, besides being a counselor and founder of agricultural groups and a defender of the residents of the Paraíba River Valley.