Rodrigo Castro

Ashoka Fellow
Fortaleza, Brazil
Fellow Since 2007


This profile was prepared when Rodrigo Castro was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2007.
The New Idea
Rodrigo is linking conservation to economic growth in Brazil’s caatinga region, through a series of mechanisms that on the one hand help rural landowners comply with existing environmental laws, and on the other, promote the laws’ enforcement and expansion. Faced with an annual deforestation rate of nearly 500,000 hectares, Brazil's caatinga region—the country’s only ecosystem that cannot be found elsewhere in the world -is under considerable threat. Yet unlike the Amazon and other regions in the country, it remains outside the protection of any national conservation network. With the vast majority of the caatinga in private hands, Rodrigo has found a way to unite the interests of rural farmers and landowners and the government in order to create an equivalent network for the caatinga.
Working through the Associacao Caatinga, Rodrigo begins by helping farmers who own what are known as Private Natural Heritage Reserves (RPPN units) to better manage their landholdings, lobby for improved financial and governmental support, educate their communities about private conservation, and finally, engage in income generation and alternative methods for sustainable economic growth. Through this and accompanying awareness building efforts, Rodrigo has created a system that encourages farmers to set aside portions of their property as preservation areas, and through careful land management and the assistance of the Association, improve their economic standings. Moreover, Rodrigo works with the smaller farming communities that typically surround the large private preservation areas. He introduces income-generating projects in these communities that allow them to sustainably use forest resources and benefit from rather than be hurt by conservation.
In an effort to better scale the idea, Rodrigo formed Asa Branca in 2003, in order to link private landholders and local conservation efforts across the entire caatinga region. Asa Branca pools together RPPN owners from different states, and advocates for expanded conservation policies. On the public policy side, Rodrigo and Asa Branca are lobbying for the creation of a state sales tax as a fund for local nature reserves, as well as tax breaks for donations to environmental groups and other conservation incentives. The two complementary organizations work hand-in-hand, with the goal of together building up a social, economic and political infrastructure to foster conservation and development in the caatinga.
Rodrigo is now working to scale up his currently volunteer-based Asa Branca initiative, and ultimately plans to take his ideas to similar semi-arid regions around the world.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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