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The Juma Sustainable Development Reserve, Brazil: “A lot of promises that aren’t being kept”

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The Juma Sustainable Development Reserve covers an area of 589,612 hectares in the municipality of Novo Aripuanã, in the state of Amazonas, Brazil. On its website, the project developer Fundação Amazonas Sustentável states that, “FAS is committed to protect forests and improving the life quality of people that live there”.

A documentary written and directed by Marie-Martine Buckens, broadcast on Belgian TV in February 2017, questions just how committed FAS really is to helping the people who living inside the project area.

The documentary looks at various aspects of the REDD project and the issues it raises. It’s an excellent film and well worth watching if you get the chance.

This post highlights just one aspect raised in the documentary: The impacts of the project on local communities’ livelihoods, and whether they are receiving adequate compensation.

Distributing REDD benefits

In the documentary, Virgilio Viana, Executive Director of FAS, tells Buckens that,

“We have to create a strong forest economy. And where do we find investments for this economy? From different mechanisms, like REDD. REDD is not a panacea, but it can and must be a component in increasing revenue from the existing forest.”

Viana claims to be concerned about making sure that the REDD revenue reaches the communities living in the project area:

“In total we invested 10 million Reais last year. And that’s what’s most important in the experience of the FAS, is the mechanism for the distribution of the profits, which is a major cause of debate with REDD. And the best contribution we can bring to the debate is to say that it’s possible to channel the resources towards the communities and their priorities, which they set themselves.”

Under the Juma project, villagers are paid 50 Reais (about US$15 at current exchange rates) per month, if they comply with the project rules. To collect the money, they have to travel to the nearest city. One of the villagers in the documentary explains that this makes little sense:

“If I want to go and pick up the 50 Reais, I have to pay 25 in transport. So, a roundtrip costs me 50 Reais. It’s useless, you spend the money you receive on the boat.”

Buckens speaks to several villagers who are critical of the FAS project. “Everywhere, voices are being raised criticising the system”, she says in the documentary.

Some villagers have refused the money from FAS. One of them says, “I don’t want the forest grant, because it prohibits a lot of things. Especially cutting down trees.” She adds, “I don’t want to replace my cassava flour with rice or pasta. I like my cassava flour too much.”

The film crew speaks to Raimundo, who they meet on the boat to Manaus. “What’s really scary is the lumber company that’s invading the reservation,” he says.

“It’s our land. We have the right to cut down trees there, to use the wood to build our houses, not to sell it on. But then we see the big companies come in with boats, tractors and lorries. They don’t come in with small chainsaws, they cut massive amounts of trees: 100 or 1000 cubic metres. They tear everything down. We just need 4 or 5 cubic metres to build a small house. None of us wants to let them come on to our land anymore. This causes a lot of conflict, sometimes even armed conlfict. There haven’t been any deaths yet, but still…”

Little change since 2010

In 2010, journalist Mark Schapiro made a documentary about the Juma project. Back then, the community members complained that the Juma project placed too many restrictions on them, for too little compensation.

Buckens’ documentary suggests that little has changed. Her documentary ends with a village meeting. Here are some of the villagers’ comments about the Juma REDD project:

“The people from the forest grant don’t want us to cut down trees or to plant. We can’t touch the forest. If we don’t have land to farm or fish to sell, then how can we support our families? By stealing? Then you’ll be killed or arrested. That’s even worse. This programme doesn’t work, doesn’t help. If they want to preserve the forest, then they should pay parents enough to provide for their children.”

“The government and the foundation say a lot of things, like that there are funds for the people that live in the reservations, that they receive ssubsidies from abroad. That they receive subsidies from foreign programmes. But does that exist here, in our community? We know that the money exists, but does that money reach our community? Not in our community. Maybe in others, but not here.”

“It’s a fact that with 50 Reais you can’t survive. You’re forced to grow crops or to go and fish in the forbidden zone over there. Everynoe knows that.”

“If we try to expand our small fields, the inspectors arrive. We’re being inspected and pursued from all sides.”

“But what really damages the planet in this issue of climate change? We, who live here in the Amazon? I would like to see those donors come and spend three days with us. Then they would see whether the benefits really reach the people who need it. Because it doesn’t.”

“Everything you’ve said is true. I’m one of the elders in the community, and what you see on television or in the papers is a lie. Everything is perfect. Life is great in the reservation and people are well off. But in reality it’s a disaster, and if it goes on like this, there will be no one left, because we can’t fish, we can’t cut down trees, we don’t have wood, we can’t do anything.”

“There’s a lot of money coming to Brazil, but that money doesn’t reach us.”

“That’s the reality in our communities from Tupe to Apuau. A lot of promises that aren’t being kept.”

 

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  1. I am not surprised. Many charities and environmental projects are being conned by authorities and politicians who may serve big companies out to exploit a resource such as timber and forest clearance for plantation farming or ranching. The people who matter are the indigenous and settled communities, wishing to live in balance with their forest areas. We have a famine in parts of Africa and Yemen, but what has made matters worse are the militias fighting to control people’s lives and using terror and violence to intimidate them. Aid cannot reach the victims, and many improvements to living better lives cannot be implemented. Corrupt people do not care about human or environmental welfare.