As fires continue to rage in the Amazon, governments and conservationists alike are scrambling to find ways to avoid the environmental catastrophe that scientists say will result from widespread destruction of the world’s largest rainforest. However, the most sustainable and secure way to save the Amazon may also be the most profitable – and could rely heavily on the knowledge of the region’s indigenous people.
Since 2010, the Amazon has lost over 42 million acres in Brazil alone. If left unchecked, the destruction of the Amazon will result in the loss of tens of thousands of species and the release of tens of billions of tons of carbon dioxide. Scientists anticipate that the situation may reach a tipping point, leading to irreversible damage that could leave the Amazon a degraded savannah.
Agricultural practices are mainly responsible for the fires currently raging in the Amazon, and cattle and soy production dominates huge swaths of land. “Brazil has turned certain states like Mato Grosso into Iowa,” said Mathew Hanson, quoted in an article for the New York Times. “You’ve got rain forest, and then there’s just an ocean of soybean.”
The soybean farmers and cattle ranchers who are currently operating on former rainforest land are decidedly short-sighted. The true potential of the Amazon lies in the tremendous biological wealth that grows naturally within the forests.There are thousands of products that can be sustainably harvested from the Amazon and sold for profits that exceed those of cattle and soy.
Until now, the governments of the world have been operating under the impression that they have to choose between protecting the rainforests and allowing business to benefit from them. But, thanks to the emergence of new harvesting techniques and the increased popularity of new products, there may be a solution that can preserve the Amazon and make it profitable.
For example, the açaí berry is a wildly popular fruit that can be sustainably harvested from the Amazon without having to degrade the forest. Demand for açaí has grown immensely, and the fruit has become an important niche product in the health food market. Açaí is one of the many profitable products that the Amazon can produce without sustaining damage.
The indigenous people of the Amazon region may be crucial to this effort. With their unequaled knowledge of the rainforest’s biodiversity and their intergenerational commitment to preserving the land, the indigenous may be the most capable of harvesting the Amazon’s products sustainably.
The governments of Brazil and Bolivia have made it clear that they are more interested in short-term financial benefit than they are in rainforest conservation. However, they fail to realize that there is tremendous profit to be made in leaving the rainforest as it is. With the help of the indigenous people, it is possible to sustainably harvest highly profitable niche products such as açaí, avoiding environmental disaster without hindering economic growth.
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