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Citizens of Caraíva, Unite!

In Focus, March 16, 2007

By Ben Jolliffe

The Atlantic Forest that once covered all of southern Bahia in Brazil has had more than its fair share of short-sighted exploitation and ecological mismanagement.

In the 1500s, Portuguese colonists started to plunder it for “pau brasil” or brazilwood – the now Endangered Caesalpinia echinata – while today, cattle ranching and unsustainable logging pose a grave threat to the 12 percent of original forest that remains.

Although there are four protected areas covering 50,000 hectares of the Atlantic Forest biodiversity hotspot, private landowners who own the bulk of the land in between often lack the knowledge or resources to manage their holdings sustainably.

In the Rio Caraíva watershed, however, the tide is slowly turning. Since 2004, the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) has supported community engagement group Instituto Cidade as it has pulled together a diverse group of partners and stakeholders to develop a regional environmental action network.

The project has been one of the most successful in stimulating landscape management initiatives led by civil society in the Central and Serra do Mar biodiversity corridors, one of CEPF’s strategic directions in the Atlantic Forest Hotspot.

Water Concern

Instituto Cidade recognized that widespread concerns about decreasing water supplies in the region would mobilize local farmers, landowners, environmental groups, and officials in both state and municipal government.

“Working with local environmental groups, we first held meetings about the water issue with local citizens who would then go out and encourage farmers to attend,” Instituto Cidade Project Manager Paulo Dimas Menezes said. “Many of these farmers have traditional backgrounds and wouldn’t typically go to such events.”

Once people discovered that there was an opportunity to voice concern about the state of the local environment, the network grew quickly. Their expertise fed into the advice of biodiversity experts and conservation professionals drawn in through other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) such as Associação dos Nativos de Caraíva and Grupo Ambiental Natureza Bela.


After discussions with stakeholders, Instituto Cidade started restoration work by developing a 10,000-hectare biodiversity corridor following the Jambreiro and Capoeira rivers – both tributaries of the Caraíva – in order to link fragments of original Atlantic Forest habitat already protected by the region’s national parks.

Working with local farmers, Natureza Bela established two nurseries to provide seedlings of a wide range of different species for forest restoration as well as for medicinal and commercial uses such as food, dye, and timber.

To date, local farmers and volunteers have planted about 48,000 seedlings of 80 different species on the first 18 rural properties participating in the program while another 40 property owners have expressed interest in taking part.

“It’s great to have this help in enrichening our land,” said Fernando Mascarenhas, who has a 60-hectare farm in the area. “I also discovered that I can get help from the state in creating a private conservation reserve on my property and I’m very pleased to be going ahead with that.”

Regional Sustainable Management

Together with the project’s environmental NGO partners, these property owners now form a key part of a new civil society conservation network.

The network has 18 full-time staff based in partner organizations. The staff have all received training in campaigning, communications, environmental planning, and sustainable resource management. Together, they manage the network, running two local offices and organizing the frequent meetings that inform the area’s nascent environmental management system.

“CEPF helped us work with local people to develop a bottom-up management system in the area for the first time,” Menezes said. “That’s one of the reasons we’ve engaged such a wide variety of different partners. Now we’re helping them empower themselves, we hope to see our work bear fruit environmentally in a more balanced and healthier ecosystem.”

Private Enterprise

In another important step, Instituto Cidade encouraged stakeholders from the private sector to get involved. Contracts have been signed with Veracel, one of the biggest timber companies in Brazil, and Coelba, a regional energy company, in order to restore degraded concessions.

The work will generate about 70 jobs and will be carried out by Cooplantar, an agroforestry cooperative founded in June 2006 with help from Instituto Cidade.

“We now have more land to replant than we can handle with our current resources,” Menezes said. “So our next challenge is to increase the scale of financial support and infrastructure. Not a bad problem to have! It shows how successful you can be when you tap into one of the most overlooked natural resources available – the people who live here!”

For more information, contact , project manager, Instituto Cidade.

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© Cooplantar
Insituto Cidade has engaged a wide variety of civil society groups to create a unified approach to conservation in the Caraíva River watershed.

© Cooplantar
Volunteers and farmers work together planting seedlings to restore forest areas cleared for agriculture.

To find out more about CEPF’s work in this region, visit the Atlantic Forest Hotspot section of our site.

Visit the News & Feature Archive for the Atlantic Forest Hotspot.

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