Making Conservation Work with the Private Sector

In Focus, March 2005

by Evy Wilkins

Innovative partnerships are key to preserving the Atlantic Forest biodiversity hotspot, where urban areas and privately owned land dominate much of the landscape. In Brazil, the Atlantic Forest region is also the most heavily populated part of the country and is the source of 80 percent of its Gross Domestic Product.

Decades of deforestation and urban expansion have taken a dramatic toll. Once stretching more than one million square kilometers across tropical South America, the Atlantic Forest has been reduced to only 8 percent of its original extent. Most remaining forest blocks are small and highly fragmented, leaving rich pockets of biodiversity isolated from one another and unable to survive in the long term.

Despite this, the Atlantic Forest remains one of Earth’s biologically richest places. It boasts 20,000 plant species, 40 percent of which are unique to the area. Endemism in trees is also particularly high, with more than half the species found nowhere else.

Here's where Instituto BioAtlântica (IBio) is making a difference. A Brazilian nongovernmental organization, IBio brings together conservation groups and private companies to find joint solutions for conservation and sustainable development in the Brazilian part of the Atlantic Forest Hotspot.

It was, and still is, a revolutionary idea for this area – conservationists and private business representatives sitting at the same table willingly working toward a common goal. But the time to launch such an initiative was right, and the success of its first project is positioning it as a model for other areas.

Pressure Leads to Innovation

After the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, many forestry companies in the states of Bahia and Espírito Santo came under increasing pressure from the international environmental community to change their behavior. Several of the companies began experimenting with new practices to improve the environmental management of their lands.

Yet, local communities and the public did not realize some companies in the forestry sector were in fact changing their behavior. The companies recognized they needed to communicate with local groups and communities if their environmental and social reputation was to improve.

At the same time, some conservation groups realized that because a majority of the Atlantic Forest was privately held – including large tracts of commercially owned and operated land – they had to find a way to work with the commercial interests in the region to conserve the remaining forest fragments.

Nonetheless, when IBio launched in 2002, the challenge was daunting.

“We started from scratch with five organizations with the best intentions and a promise to contribute $200,000 each over five years; six sheets of paper; myself; my computer; and my cell phone,” IBio Executive Director André Guimarães said.

The original partnership included four companies – Aracruz Celulose, DuPont do Brasil, Petrobras, and Veracel – and Conservation International. Since then, The Nature Conservancy and a Brazilian electric utility company, FURNAS, have also joined this unique group.

The idea: IBio acts as a catalyst drawing together diverse stakeholder groups who have differing priorities to effectively restore and conserve key pieces of the Brazilian Atlantic Forest.

Each IBio partner brings something uniquely valuable to the table – biodiversity science, forestry conservation management, or private sector assets. But most importantly, each partner brings a spirit to cooperate and act in favor of conservation.

Pilot Success

IBio’s first project, now underway, attracted the support of the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) and subsequently the United States Agency for International Development, alongside counterpart funding from the private sector partners.

Launched in 2003, it provides large private landholders with the necessary scientific information and legal options to play a pivotal role in the creation of biodiversity conservation corridors through the strategic use of their own land.

The work is initially being piloted on land owned by the companies Aracruz and Veracel, both of which are IBio partners and among the largest private landholders in the Central Corridor of the Atlantic Forest.

Under Brazilian law, the companies have to set aside 20 percent of their operational land area as reserves. They must also replant a percentage of their land with native species each year. Influencing exactly how and where the companies do this on their land is where the real opportunities lie.

IBio’s nongovernmental and private sector partners first determine where important native forest fragments exist and identify areas where creating reserves or reforesting activities on the companies’ land could connect these fragments and maximize conservation impact.

In restoration efforts, the organization works closely with the companies to restore native forest in the corridor areas and create management plans for their sustainability.

IBio brings the right mix of partners together, helps craft the conservation plans and gets the strategy moving on the ground. Its nongovernmental partners provide the scientific expertise. The companies do the work: Aracruz and Veracel, two large-scale eucalyptus producers, supply the trees, labor and will for restoration on their land.

For example, IBio identified a 14-hectare area on Aracruz’s land lying between the Reserva da Vale do Rio Doce and a large block of native forest owned by Aracruz - two substantial but isolated forest reserves. Armed with this knowledge and scientific assistance from IBio, Aracruz planted native forest species in this small, but very important area.

Ultimately, with a relatively small investment, the newly planted area will connect more than 50,000 hectares of native forest and provide a continuous habitat and migratory area for globally significant wildlife. View the project map illustrating the corridors being created (PDF).

This is IBio’s modus operandi - targeted investment, big impact.

The corridor strategy is at the heart of the CEPF investment strategy for this hotspot. It’s also an approach endorsed by the Brazilian government and the World Bank’s International Pilot Program to Conserve the Brazilian Rain Forests (PPG-7). Ideally, IBio’s unique approach and ability to get results will be replicated in other parts of the Atlantic Forest.

Better Bottom Line

It’s not only the conservationists who win. Aracruz and Veracel are benefiting in many ways from partnering with IBio, including improving their bottom line.

By connecting forest fragments into a contiguous block with a single perimeter, the companies reduce the amount of time and money spent controlling forest fires and poaching as well as managing other potential risks.

It is a win-win scenario for both conservation and the eucalyptus producers, according to Ricardo Rodrigues Mastroti, the coporate environmental affairs manager at Aracruz, the world’s largest supplier of bleached eucalyptus pulp.

"It’s in our interest to have a balanced environment, a healthy ecosystem on our land,” said Mastroti, whose company has designated almost one-third of its land as private reserves. “The risks diminish, and we’ve found that if we do things in a very structured way like this, we can actually contribute a lot.”

The company also benefits from an improved corporate image. By demonstrating its commitment to environmentally sound practices, companies can sometimes receive lower interest rates on loans and access to new clients.

"Clients and the whole finance chain are looking at the environmental aspects of our business," Mastroti said. “It’s a very important and key aspect for a company like ours to share with our stakeholders, from financial institutions and clients to local communities. Sometimes they also have the same problem and many times they don’t know what to do.”

Scaling Up the Strategy

While IBio has already improved connectivity on private lands in the Atlantic Forest, the partnership is still in its youth. What is the greatest challenge?

“Scaling up,” Guimarães said. “I mean scaling up to incorporate conservation processes and applications into the regular procedures of more companies; to scale up in terms of hectares, moving from 3,000 to 80,000 hectares as our goal; and to scale up all our work in the forestry sector itself.”

Each year, fiber companies buy more land and increasingly these companies are branching out to third party suppliers from neighboring farms to increase their production potential.

IBio is meeting this challenge in several ways by investigating new approaches to incorporate the biodiversity conservation corridor approach into the wider forestry sector in Brazil.

During the October 2003 meeting of The Forest Dialogue (TFD), an ongoing international multi-stakeholder dialogue process focused on forestry issues, IBio realized that there is a huge potential to create a regional spin-off where Brazilian environmental groups and the forestry sector can meet regularly to discuss forest and biodiversity conservation. IBio has since approached TFD with the idea and plans are in the works to launch such an initiative.

IBio is also exploring ways to influence the practices of third party suppliers, known as fomentados, by working with the buyers.

In some cases, the fomentados cut native forests to make room for eucalyptus plantations on their land. Often, these forest producers do not comply with the legal reserve law of setting aside 20 percent of their land for conservation. By encouraging buyers, such as Aracruz and Veracel, to contractually mandate or offer incentives for ecologically sound best practices, fomentados can lessen their impact just as the companies are doing.

Using this approach, Guimarães estimates IBio could reach not only two large companies but extend its influence to more than 2,500 eucalyptus producers – significantly scaling up its ability to impact conservation throughout the hotspot.

“There’s a huge amount of money, interest and goodwill,” he said. “These are all floating out there – you just have to grab those and that’s why this project is right. The companies had the land and the international organizations, CI and TNC, had the science but they were not achieving all they could. We’ve brought them together and helped them work in the same direction.”