How to develop eco-tourism and sustainable business in the Amazon rainforest

In the second part of our series, Richard Brownsdon explains how social enterprises can operate in the Amazon rainforest

green wing macawThe Amazon rainforest’s wildlife, such as green-winged macaws, offer unique opportunities for social enterprises in the area. Photograph: Itsuo Inouye/AP

In the second part of the series, we’ll learn three ways to work sustainably in the Amazon rainforest and three ways to develop ecotourism enterprise in the central-west region.

How to work sustainably in the Amazon

How do farming social enterprises in this region run sustainable, organic, fair-trade operations?

1. Connect supply and demand
100% Amazonia has found a way to work sustainably with the fair-trade farmers of the Amazon. They co-ordinate with individual farmers, collect their produce, freeze it and ship it to manufacturers around the world that want large amounts of fair-trade products. They’ve recently supplied the ingredients for a specialty beer for the UK market.

Owner Fernanda Stefani said: «We are a solution provider. If you want to use anything from the Amazon in a sustainable, fair-trade way, you’ll be happy to contact us.»

2. Repurpose Existing Technology
What do you get if you cross Nasa food storage technology with the açaí berry? Bio EcoBrazil has the answer. They are shipping freeze-dried, certified organic and biodynamic açaí berry powder to health-conscious consumers around the world, and they are seeing the market grow.

Leonilda Fagundes, chief executive of Bio EcoBrazil, said: «The international market and consumer understand organic and fair trade, and they are willing to pay extra for it. Until we started freeze-drying açaí, we couldn’t get it to them. Now we can.»

3. Solve multiple problems
Preserva Mundi sustainably and organically grows products not just for the health-conscious market, but also for the agricultural market. Preserva Mundi has two specialities: neem and noni. Noni is their organically grown superfood. Neem has much wider repertoire of uses.

Director Romina Lindemann said: «With cattle livestock, adding neem to the food supply improves digestion and stops the reproduction of pest insects in the cow dung. With vegetables, it helps their roots grow stronger and thicker. And it has a real effect on reducing the need for chemical insecticides … It’s amazing to work with neem. You can have better milk, better vegetables, and eliminate the insects with a natural product.»

Running an ecotourism enterprise in Brazil

«In Brazil, ecotourism usually means tourism in nature,» says land owner and business director Roberto Coelho.

Roberto has come to ecotourism through an unusual route: farming. His farm, Fazenda San Francisco is in an area called the Pantanal, and it now contains several lodges and a nature reserve.

«My business is agro-ecotourism. My family started this farm in 1975, but in 1989 we opened it for tourism too. We have 4,000 hectares for rice farming, 3,000 for cattle and 8,000 for a nature reserve. More than half is completely natural, and will remain that way forever.»

1. Integrate with farming
Why does Roberto add ecotourism to farming? «Of course, it brings in extra income, and I like the integration of the businesses. The men of the local families work on the farm, and their wives, who are not trained in farming skills, are still able to work with the tourists. For example, in the kitchen, providing the delicious food.»

2. Incentivise environmental care
Is there a clear environmental benefit? «Because of the mixture with ecotourism, farmers have an added incentive to preserve the natural beauty and wildlife. If the farmers stick to intensive, monoculture farming, it harms the environment, the wildlife moves away, and the tourists stop coming too.»

3. Activate unique ecosystems
Ecotourism entrepreneur Modesto Sampaio used to be a cattle farmer, but in 1986 he acquired an unusual piece of land. Part of the land included a giant sinkhole, a natural sandstone crater with a very rare ecosystem. He was advised to cover or fill it somehow, so that he could use the land for farming. However Modesto had heard that this area used to be home to wild green-winged macaws, and realised it’s unique potential.

Sampaio said: «The hole had been used as a local dumping ground for years, and the macaws had moved on. I convinced the fire brigade, the local university and the army to help remove three truckloads of waste from the hole, and a dumped car. Soon after, the macaws came back, and so did the tourists.»

Now he and his sons have stopped farming and are able to rely entirely on the income that the sustainably managed tourists bring into the area. Brazilian federal and state laws now permanently protect this site.

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Date / Fecha: 22/07/13

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