Adalberto Luis Val and José Alberto da Costa Machado*
*Adalberto Luis Val, a PhD in Freshwater Biology and Inland Fishing and current Director of the National Institute for Amazon Research (INPA). He is studying the adaptation of the aquatic environment of the Amazon. He has a 1A productivity scholarship from the CNPq. He has taken part in studies into the causes and consequences of the regional imbalances in Science,Technology, and Education. He is also a full member of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences and on the board of the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science (SBPC).
*José Alberto da Costa Machado, a PhD in Socioenvironmental Development, with a Master’s degree in Computer Science, an emeritus economist. He is a business administrator, an associate professor in the Economics Department of the Federal University of Amazonas, and a Coordinator of Research into Society, Environment, and Research at the National Institute for Amazon Research (INPA).
Since the famous Club of Rome Report on the environmental limits to economic growth*1 was submitted, Mankind has been seeking directions for getting around the incompatibility of its way of living with the planet’s capacity to support it. With the initial milestone being the 1972 Stockholm Conference, from time to time the UN System renews its agenda of debates around cognitive clichés that galvanize attention and revive the risks of civilizational impasses arising from our development model. This is when, therefore, eco-development, sustainable development, the Agenda 21, and others come up, the most recent being the green economy. The Rio+20 Conference is seeking to associate the latter with environmental sustainability and poverty eradication, as the premise of an economy that is based on low-carbon emission production dynamics and efficiency in the use of resources. Such an economy is also committed to social inclusion, especially of those deprived of the very minimum necessary for a dignified life.
Naturally, the Amazon will be an issue under discussion due to its global ecological importance, its situation as a space of national strategic interests and also due to its situation as the arena of regional production dynamics, almost always with significant effects on the biome. But such debates need to overcome the approaches that oscillate between preservationist radicalism, when everything is prohibited, and appropriation greed, when everything is permitted. After all, this is a region that represents 61.2% of Brazilian territory and where some 21 million people live, distributed across nine States*2 and more than 600 municipalities, with many thousands of villages and communities, in addition to 135 indigenous groups, whose socio-economic indicators are an expression of acute shortages.
Throughout History, the region has been the stage of economic dynamics, which have left their environmental impact on it, of social destructuring and economic poverty. So it was with the backlands drugs*3 and rubber cycles, and the major agricultural, livestock, mining and metallurgical projects, and other similar initiatives. Nowadays, alongside the new wave of hydroelectric power projects and major intra-regional and inter-regional highways, new and major mineral exploitation projects are being consolidated, like those involving oil, natural gas, and metallic minerals. What all these initiatives have in common are their exploitative nature, little or no regional added value, a low impact on regional income and the usual environmental effects and social destructuring.
Little by little, however, the regional scientific intelligentsia seems to be realizing the urgency of a change in the scenario. New universities are springing up throughout the region; research and innovation support funds and foundations are setting up in the States; Master’s and PhD programs and hundreds of specialization courses are being put together. Research institutes are also beginning to adopt agendas more associated with regional production demands and that are capable of generating economic wealth. The difference is that these are in harmony with the need to use and conserve the region’s complex and delicate ecosystems and to improve the lives of those who live there.
Scientific knowledge for a new economy
There lies the expectation of a new future for the Amazon. The region’s teaching and research institutions have wide experience in forming highly qualified human resources and they are producing a lot of scientific and technological knowledge about the region’s ecosystems. This is capital that can be mobilized to encourage a new economic base that is supported by the conversion of these intellectual accumulations into production factors and business opportunities. The themes that are candidates for such initiatives include biodiversity and ecosystem services, agrosylvopastoral and aquaculturebased production, forest and water management, vegetable extraction, hunting, and other production dynamics based on the Amazon’s natural resources.
These institutions, however, need human and managerial resource strengthening, regularity and sufficient financial resources as well as a clear role in public policies that deal with regional development. In fact, human resources in the Amazon need to be rethought from basic education, where homogeneous education is maintained and that ends up taking children out of their environment and their culture. At the higher education level, there are still qualitative and scale problems. A little more than 4% of the country’s postgraduate courses run in institutions in the Amazon region, most of them classified as initial on the scale of concepts of the Coordinating Agency for Advanced Training of Graduate Personnel (CAPES). Moreover, there is an absence of programs for forming Masters and PhDs in areas that are absolutely vital for the region, despite the enormous effort of CAPES and the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq). There are just over 4,200 PhDs on the faculties of all teaching and research institutions in the nine Amazon States. This generates a very fragile situation with regard to the aspirations of the region, particularly at this time when alternatives are being sought for what is called green economy.
The Amazon has conditions that are conducive to an effective experimentation of the ideas behind a green economy, as is being presented at Rio+20: a rich, vast, and important biome, which is still largely conserved; a regional population that is demanding income expansion, social inclusion, and improvements in the quality of its life; the consistent emergence of a regional science, technology, and innovation system based on university and research institutions; a technical and scientific elite engaged in the search for new development models for the region; and (so it seems) a strategic interest on the part of the federal government faced with the attention of the global community.
God willing the effect of this new galvanizing motto brought up by Rio+20—green economy—can be converted into a renewing framework for the Amazon! Let us hope that with this the region can overcome its situation as a globally important space, which is strategic at the national level, but with a poor and longsuffering people and an environment that is being constantly explored, with little or no benefit for its population.
___________ *1 MEADOWS, Donella H.; MEADOWS, Dennis L.; RANDERS, Jorgen; BEHRENS III, William W. (1972). Limites do crescimento: um relatório para o Projeto do Clube de Roma sobre o dilema da humanidade. [The Limits to Growth: A Report for the Club of Rome’s Project on the Predicament of Mankind] São Paulo: Ed. Perspectiva.
*2 The legally-defined Brazilian Amazon region includes nine States: Acre, Amapá, Amazonas, Mato Grosso, Pará, Rondônia, Roraima, Tocantins, and Maranhão—part of its territory; to the west of longitude 44o W. Together they extend over an area of 5,217,423 km2.
*3 “Backlands drugs” was the name given to describe products like vanilla, cocoa, guaraná, ipecacuanha, and urucum.