ITATIBA, Brazil—Hit by drought in his hometown of Marilândia do Sul, Brazilian farmer Carlos Roberto Koch decided to move to Apuí in the Amazonas State in 2005, where he could take advantage of the more stable climate and the fertile grounds of the Amazon forest.
He started farming grains once again, and the outlook was optimistic. Having learned a lesson from his first farming experience, however, Koch didn’t take any chances, and started farming cattle and developing pasture land on the side as well.
What started as an alternative means of income gradually became his main source of livelihood, and farming cattle and selling dairy products became his main focus as they proved to be more stable in the long term compered to farming grains.
But it wasn’t long before Koch’s consciousness caught up with him: Like many others farming along the Amazon rainforest, Koch’s profession was contributing to the demise of the world’s largest rainforest; it wasn’t hard to see that he was gradually destroying his own source of income as well.
Besides logging, mining, oil exploration, and construction of infrastructure, cattle farming and expansion of agricultural land along the Amazon rainforest are one of the main factors of deforestation of the Amazon.
According to the Amazon Network for Georeferenced Environmental Information (RAISG), pastures account for over 90 percent of the farmland along the Amazon.
“The issue of deforestation of Amazon is an economic issue,” says Mariana Pavan, a researcher with the Institute for Conservation and Development of the Amazonas (IDESAM), a nongovernmental organization dedicated to preserving the Amazon and promoting the use of sustainable resources.
The reality is that Amazon deforestation occurs because people need to make a living.
—Mariana Pavan, researcher with IDESAM
“The reality is that Amazon deforestation occurs because people need to make a living.”
That is why Pavan and other researchers with IDESAM created a program that, with the contribution from the government and people in Apuí, focuses on maintaining income for the farmers while helping to preserve the rainforest.
Since the time of its inception in 2005, the program has been tested with five farming families, including Koch’s.
Minimizing Environmental Footprint
One of the main elements in IDESAM’s program is the development of a “rotational grazing system.”
Under this project, an area of around 30 hectares is divided into seven equal segments, and livestock is allowed to feed in each area for a period of seven days, while the grass in the other areas is left to grow and recover. This way, cattle always have good quality grass to feed on, and thanks to the optimized grass recovery system, the number of animals that can feed per unit area has increased three to four times compared to a traditional pasture. This removes the need to deforest new areas of the Amazon to develop more pastureland.
IDESAM also has a number of other projects directed at preserving the rainforest, including reforestation of permanent preservation areas along the rivers, as well as projects directed at maximizing the income of local farmers, including the development of a cattle fattening model, a model for optimizing dairy production, and other initiatives.
Koch, who is also the president of the rural union of Apuí, says the program has been a success, and besides minimizing their environmental impact, he and other farmers in the program have been able to triple the number of their cattle thanks to the savings and optimization achieved through the program.
“Our motto today is forest preservation and maintaining man in the field,” Koch says.
Changing Habits Hardest Challenge
Gabriel Cardoso Carrero, the program coordinator for climate change and environmental services at IDESAM, says the main challenge in implementing IDESAM’s programs is helping people change their habits, and having them become used to continually changing their habits.
“We have good relations with the farmers, thanks to several years of interaction; however, many [farmers] have no confidence that the project will succeed,” Carrero says.
“There had been several projects before IDESAM’s where farmers promised [to implement changes] and nothing happened. But there are also projects that really lead to change.”
He thinks one of the reasons some programs fail is that they are not developed keeping in mind the needs of the farmers.
“I think the government needs to be more realistic in their initiatives because they are not usually very connected with what happens on the field,” he says.
‘The hands that produce are the same that preserve’
As for Koch, he is satisfied knowing that he can generate income while playing a role in preserving the rainforest at the same time.
He now wants to show to the government that the IDESAM program has been a success, and encourage authorities to improve farming production in existing sites and prevent the development of new areas, so that no more areas of the Amazon have to be deforested.
“The hands that produce are the same that preserve,” says the 49-year-old farmer.
“If you provide living conditions for farmers, they will become guardians of the forest.”
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