Ecosystem Studies & Management
Community Forestry and Sustainable Livelihoods along Brazil’s Tapajós River
Community forestry is widely regarded as a promising strategy through which smallholders can increase income and improve quality of life, while conserving local forest resources. Over the last 15 years, community forestry initiatives have proliferated throughout the Amazon. Most of these initiatives have adopted a commercial forestry approach that involves mechanized extraction and either the sale of logs or local processing by community sawmills. Despite early optimism, results thus far have been mixed due to the difficulties communities have in mastering the organizational and technological complexities of a commercial logging operation.
In a few places, an alternative strategy for community-based forestry is emerging that could be called “boutique” capitalism, in contrast to the “commodity” capitalism approach that characterizes conventional forestry. This approach combines small-scale, technologically and organizationally simple production of high quality finished products for green consumer markets.
One such initiative is the Caboclo Workshops of the Tapajós. Since the early 2000s, the Woods Hole Research Center and the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM) have worked with traditional communities on the shores of the Tapajós River to develop forest management systems supplying local furniture workshops.
The six communities participating in the Oficinas Caboclas Cooperative are located in two reserves, The Tapajós National Forest along the eastern shore of the lower Tapajós River and the Tapajós-Arapiuns Extractive Reserve located across the river on the western shore (see map). Three of the communities, Surucuá, Nuquini and Nova Vista, are located in the Extractive Reserve and three, Pini, Itapaiuna and Prainha in the Tapajós National Forest.
Named for the local caboclo peoples of mixed European, African, and Indian descent, the Caboclo Workshop participants began making stools, cutting boards, and other small household objects by collecting and using the dead wood that was left in agricultural clearings; no trees had to be felled. Use of deadwood has enabled groups to continue furniture production while they develop management plans so they can begin to harvest standing timber. Most communities have developed management plans, although not all have been approved by the government as yet. The plans are based on the approach developed by Dr. Charles Peters of the New York Botanical Garden. The plans require collecting baseline information, including a forest inventory (a measure of how much wood is in the forest) and a growth study (how much new wood the trees produce in a year). This work establishes a sustainable harvest level, in which only the number of trees that equal the amount of new wood grown in a year is logged in cycles of five to ten years.
The strategy for work with the OCT Cooperative consists of four main elements that distinguish this approach from that taken by the majority of community forestry initiatives that are based on timber production. First, the focus is on production of rustic furniture using hand tools most of which are available locally. Second, the organizational structure is consistent with the experience and capacity of members. Third, rather than exploiting all commercial timber on a 30-40 year cycle, the management system extracts the annual increment in growth of timber volume. Fourth, the project takes an incremental approach in which organizational and technological complexity increase in step with the development of group capacity. As is the case with many community forestry initiatives organizational development and marketing are two of the main areas with which the Coop is grappling.
Current support for work with the OCT cooperative is funded by ICCO. The project has also received support from the Overbrook Foundation, the Tinker Foundation, the European community and USAID.
For more information on the Caboclos Workshops, please contact
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