12 / 1997
Brazil has around four per cent of its territory within different types of protected areas, mainly national parks, ecological stations and national forests. These correspond to around 380,000 sq km, an area larger than many European countries.
Most of the environmentally protected areas are located in Amazonia, covering around 13 per cent of the total Amazonian region. In addition, there are some protected marine and coastal areas along the coast of the Atlantic covering adjacent coastal ecosystems such as mangroves, estuaries and coral reefs: areas used by artisanal fishermen.
According to the Brazilian legislation on protected areas, which follows the model of the Yellowstone National Park in the US, people living inside have to be resettled elsewhere. This imported model has had a catastrophic impact on the livelihood of thousands of small-scale fishermen and other small producers who have lived in the area for many generations and who, due to their mode of production, were able to protect the forests and adjacent seas. These traditional peoples have a deep knowledge of the environment where they live and have
developed knowledge-intensive management systems.
The establishment of protected areas in coastal regions has led local communities to a situation of social revolt, as the conditions for their subsistence are abruptly suppressed. Often local dwellers consider the newly established areas as nobody’s land and start to overuse natural resources and fish illegally, practices they had refrained from earlier.
In addition, when these traditional communities move outside the park area, other users, such as tourists, poachers, mining and sawmill operators, may act more freely, leading to the degradation of the coastal area.
In the last few years, however, local fishers in Brazil are getting organised, with the assistanceof the Catholic Church (Pastoral of Fishermen)and the recently established MONAPE-National Movement of Fishermen.
In the beginning, local fishing communities started closing the entrance of important lakes to commercial/industrial fishing boats. These actions led to violent conflicts. They attracted the attention of socio-environmental organisations which then started fisheries management schemes involving all the actors, particularly local fishing communities (as in Lago Grande de Monte Alegre in the middle Amazon).
The basic idea was to create areas where access to resources is restricted to local fishermen, while retaining other areas for commercial/industrial fisheries. ln these restricted areas, local fishermen agreed to regulate their fishing activities so as to achieve a socially and ecologically optimal sustainable yield, applying the same principles that orient the extractive rubber tapping industry.
One example of these efforts is the establishment of the Mamiraua Ecological Station in a wetland area covering one million hectares along the Japura and Solimoes River, where 4,500 people live by fishing and harvesting forest products.
According to existing legislation, all the 50 small communities should be resettled outside this protected area. However, with the assistance of local organisations and NGOs, including the World Wide Fund for Nature, a conservation project was established in co-operation with the fishing communities. The communities themselves organised management institutions that regulate fishing, particularly during the dry season when several lakes are formed.
The management plan delineates six different types of lakes, some of them being considered as exclusive conservation areas, some left for subsistence fishing and others reserved for commercial fishing, also for upcountry commercial boats, provided that rules (particularly those banning the use of some predatory nets)are respected.
From the experience in Brazil and elsewhere it is becoming clear that the imported national park model, bereft of traditional dwellers, is a failure. In fact, the establishment of protected areas may lead to the degradation of ecosystems and their natural resources, as well as to the increasing impoverishment of local populations who should actually be benefiting from these activities. While some conservationists might argue that without uninhabited protected areas biodiversity might disappear, in tropical countries it is becoming clear that biodiversity is protected- and even enhanced- by traditional practices. A new model has to be devised and implemented, making the traditional knowledge and management schemes of local communities the cornerstone of an effective conservation that also benefits traditional people. Local populations, particularly the traditional dwellers should
be involved, from the outset, in the planning process.
Articles and files
DIEGUES, Antonio Carlos, The view from the other side in. Samudra Report, 1996/11, 16