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La forêt en jeu

Laure Emperaire


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1Often decried and presented as an outdated activity incapable of progress, extractivism might today be nothing more than an obsolete testimony to one of the numerous economic cycles that Brazil has experienced. But the political movements of the seringueiros, whose demands are supported by various institutions, and a public opinion sensitive to ecological problems have placed this ancient activity in the centre of discussions concerning the management of the Amazonian forest.

2In the years 1990-95, the National Institute for Research in Amazonia (Inpa) and the French Institute for Scientific Research for Development in Cooperation (Orstom) carried out a programme of interdisciplinary research on extractivism in Central Amazonia. The main conclusions are set out below, in the form of short articles. The purpose of this publication, intended for a general readership, is not to present an exhaustive analysis of the many aspects of this activity but simply to suggest some themes for reflection and research on the subject.

3The articles fall into four groups dealing respectively with: extractivism in the historical context of the occupation of Amazonia, the numerous ways in which this activity is integrated in the Systems of production, the ecological aspects of the exploitation of different species, and current tendencies.

4The articles of Catherine Aubertin, economist, and Márcio Meira, anthropologist, illustrate — from their differing viewpoints — the way in which extractivism became the motive force in the occupation of Amazonia and an instrument of enslavement of the indigenous populations, and its présent place in the new social dynamics. In a few paragraphs C. Aubertin retraces the history of extractivism, which is often inseparable from that of Amazonia. She shows how the assumption of an unlimited resource, accepted until quite recently as justifying extractivism, has given way to the ideology of sustainable development and the utilisation of biodiversity: reality or another myth?

5M. Meira focuses on the relations between the Indians of the Upper Rio Negro and the traders as seen through the exploitation of palm fibre. He shows how disruptive this activity has been for indigenous societies and notes that the violence thus engendered persists still today. Extractivism is no longer simply an economic matter; for these Indians as also for the seringueiros of the Acre it has become a political and agrarian issue. The article raises the problem of the difficult cultural adjustments required if the local organisations are to take charge effectively of the protection of their interests.

6Arnaldo Carneiro Filho, geographer, describes briefly the history of Manaos. In the course of the last hundred years the town has experienced two periods of spectacular development. The first was based on the trade in rubber, the second on the creation of an important industrial sector, but neither was able to ensure a long-term, harmonious development.

7The second group of contributions points out that extractive activities are never isolated from other forms of production. They often constitute an appreciable part of family income and an essential element in family strategies. Thus, Florence Pinton, sociologist, and Laure Emperaire, botanist, discuss the close links between extractive activities and the production of cassava flour. Although these activities have, in the past, been an obstacle to agricultural development, the production of cassava flour continues nevertheless to play an essential part in the strategies of the small producers who seek to achieve a certain autonomy vis-à-vis the traders. Flour is a regulating element in the economic and social relationships between traders and producers.

8Henrique dos Santos Pereira, agronomist, compares the economic and calorific yields from Brazil nuts extractivism and the production of cassava flour. Although the comparison is unfavourable, the collection of Brazil nuts continues as a source of supplementary income and a protection against agricultural risks.

9The future of extractivism in suburban areas, in its relations with agriculture, is analysed by Elisabeth Rasse and Véronique Bressolette, agronomists. They emphasise that extractive activities maintain their place in agricultural Systems strongly influenced by the proximity of a consumer market.

10Next, various ecological aspects of extractivism are dealt with. A series of maps produced by A. Carneiro Filho illustrates the importance of extractive activities in the state of Amazonas.

11Problems of impact are examined by Danielle Mitja and Jean-Paul Lescure, botanists, and illustrated by the case of the bois de rose. Among the dozen tree species utilised in Amazonia for extractive purposes, it is the only one to pose serious problems of impact. Its continued exploitation today is only possible because of the existence of still virgin forest. New forms of management of these trees, whether in a managed forest or in new plantations, are discussed.

12L. Emperaire and D. Mitja analyse different forms of exploitation of the Brazil nut tree, in forest, pasture or fallow. They show that the transformation of the original ecosystem, the forest, has caused a heavy mortality of the species and blocked its mechanisms for natural regeneration.

13Taking as an example the formations in which piaçabeiras (palms exploited for fibre) predominate, A. Carneiro shows how remote sensing tech-niques can be a tool for evaluating the potentialities of ecosystems.

14Iliana Salgado, botany student, discusses briefly the potentialities of a multipurpose species, the andiroba, exploited both for its oil-bearing seeds and for its wood. This example raises problems inherent in the co-existence of forest exploitation and extractive activities.

15Aline de Castro, botanist, compares the advantages of a forestry, and an agro-forestry type of management of the açaí palm (Euterpe precatoria), whose fruits find a very active market in Manaos. The study shows that the natural populations of açaís are exploited in a non-predatory manner and underlines the advantages of this extractive activity in zones unsuitable for agricultural activities. It also points out the value of this species in agro-forestry Systems. The choice of the type of production seems to be determined not so much by the income to be obtained as by factors such as land tenures and avaibility of labour in the picking season.

16In conclusion of this group, L. Emperaire and J.-P. Lescure draw attention to the importance of the bioecological parameters of the species exploited in discussions concerning the possibilities for intensifying extractive activities. These parameters condition not only the productive capacities of the species but also methods of exploitation and hence the appropriateness of certain development models.

17The last group of articles deals with the prospects for extractive activities in different contexts. An article by F. Pinton and C. Aubertin examines the local demand for the creation of an extractivist reserve in a region of the Middle Juruá and the necessary links with other political and economic sectors in the region.

18The case of extractivist reserves, the original project and the problems they face today, is analysed in a few pages by C. Aubertin.

19As indicated in the article of Sylvia Bahri, botanist, the transitions with agro-forestry are graduai. Some species, originally exploited in the forest, can be included in agro-forestry Systems which maintain a certain biodiversity and cater for a much stronger market demand.

20Márlia Coelho Ferreira, botany student, discusses medicinal plants at Manaos. Although a large variety of species, both wild and cultivated, are to be found on the markets, the phamaceutical laboratories use only a small number of them. This situation illustrates the problem of valorising biodiversity.

21The article by Catherine Vial-Debas, botanist, provides an original approach to extractivism. The author analyses the market prospects for a product of extraction, the essential oil of bois de rose. In spite of competition from synthetic or cultivated products the forest product has strong advantages. The article underlines the necessary complementarity of the studies on extractivism among local, scientific and industrial actors.

22Finally, J.-P. Lescure sums up the results as a whole and places them in the more general context of the utilisation and valorisation of non-timber forest products. In particular he describes the advantages and disadvantages of extractivism in the new development options associating utilisation and conservation of biodiversity.

© IRD Éditions, 1996

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