Whither the World's Last Forest?
Brazil bets that it can save the Amazon wilderness while tapping its riches
Braga calls the program the Zona Franca Verde, or the Green Free-Trade Zone. He's promoting a range of local products to help create stable communities: guarana berries, which make a popular soft drink; jute fibers; fish farms. This comes under the rubric of "sustainable development," an ill-defined buzzword of the international development community that has so far shown mixed to disappointing results elsewhere in the Amazon.
Much more important may be large-scale forest management through the creation of so-called certified forests. Braga wants to lease timber concessions to big companies that would practice sustainable forestry by carefully harvesting and replanting trees. The companies in turn sell their lumber to U.S. and European importers who agree to buy only certified wood.
And his ultimate goal is to tie the Amazon into some sort of international carbon market that, by putting a price on the carbon contained in the trees, would create an incentive to not cut and burn them. Carbon-trading markets exist in Europe and the United States on a mostly experimental basis. If they became global, the rights to billions of trees—whether in the Amazon or other endangered forests in South Asia and Africa—could become quite valuable.
That may be far off, but Braga sees a much more immediate possibility of bringing foreign investment to Amazonas as a way to break out of the traditional Third World cycle of exporting low-priced raw materials to advanced factories in the developed world. "People want to save the forest? They want to help?" Braga asks. "We need resources to establish these programs. Maybe Home Depot wants to build a factory here and will buy only certified wood. Let us add value here. Then we can take those profits and return them to the people." The area of Carajás has the world's greatest iron ore reserves, but there are no steel mills on-site. Trombetas has one of the world's greatest bauxite mines, but there are no aluminum mills in proximity. "It's frustrating," Braga says. "It's frustrating when the Kyoto Protocol does nothing to help us. It's frustrating when we try to open markets to products and we can't get the investment we need to support the production."
So for now, the Brazilians have decided to try to forgo the pleadings and promises of the international community and take their chances on promoting aggressive development while hoping they can control its effects. "Other countries just are going to have to trust us to take care of the Amazon," says Everton Vargas. "That's the way it'll have to be."
Excerpted from "The Last Forest" by Mark London and Brian Kelly. Copyright (c) 2007 by Mark London and Brian Kelly. Published by arrangement with Random House, an imprint of Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House Inc. Available at Borders, Barnes & Noble, and wherever books are sold.