Working for the next generations
DIS Southern Lowlands environmental capital project focuses on Pratigi nature preserve
Written by: Vivian Barbosa
Photos by: Almir Bindilatti
Fernanda da Silva: mission of raising awareness
The Southern Bahia Lowlands Region contains some of the richest biodiversity in all of Brazil. Its natural wealth has attracted the attention of experts and institutions from the world over. This is where the first rural research center has been set up with the support of the United Nations, in partnership with the Odebrecht Foundation: the Center for Participatory Governance and Community Development Studies and Practices.
The Southern Lowlands of the northeastern state of Bahia used to be one of the most important parts of the country. For nearly a century, it was the largest hub of the Brazilian textile industry. Although it has been overlooked by the history books, it will always be remembered for its magnificent landscapes and valuable water resources and plant and animal life.
All told, the Southern Bahia Lowlands cover a 615,600-ha (1,521-acre) area divided into 11 counties. The region also contains five environmental protection areas (APAs), some of which are associated with the Atlantic Forest’s Central Corridor. The Pratigi APA alone contains 63,000 hectares of surviving forest tracts.
“That figure used to be much bigger. Rural workers who lack the wherewithal to make a decent living have destroyed the forests for farming and grazing,” observes Fernanda da Silva, a graduate of the Rural Family House (CFR) in Presidente Tancredo Neves. Estimates show that the preserved area of Atlantic Forest was 48% larger in 1970.
Nineteen-year-old Fernanda believes this situation can change if everyone does their part. After studying at the CFR for three years, Fernanda has become an agent for development in her community – and more. “Today I am a champion of nature. My mission is to raise awareness among the people who are benefiting from the CFR,” she says. She is running an environmental education project involving about 30 young people. They work together to analyze, conduct diagnoses and propose environmentally sound solutions for crops grown on their families’ small farms.
When the issue is upholding the next generation’s right to live in a healthy environment, anything goes. According to environmentalist Rui Rocha, a professor at the State University of Santa Cruz, Bahia, and the Director of the Floresta Viva (Living Forest) Institute, hundreds of forest clearings can be seen from the air during a quick flight over the Pratigi APA. “Deforestation is associated with itinerant farming. The farms are small but they are scattered across the mountains, which affects headwaters and watersheds.”
One of the main focuses of the DIS Southern Lowlands Program, the Pratigi APA was created in April 1998. At the time, it was limited to the coastal strip. Then, in November 2001, its boundaries were redrawn to include the valleys and mountain ranges, making it the only environmental protection area in Brazil to include an ecosystem that encompasses the source of a river and its estuary. The Pratigi APA Guardian Association (AGIR), an OSCIP (Civil Society Organization) sponsored by the Odebrecht Foundation, is a tool for social unification among the communities in that region, as well as for organizing activities aimed at furthering sustainable development.
About 450 types of forest trees and plants live together in harmony on this preserve. “The aim of adequately using these natural resources reflects the need to create opportunities for work and fair income distribution for local residents,” says Joaquim Cardoso, the Chair of the Land Conservation Organization (OCT), an OSCIP that is also an Odebrecht Foundation partner. “Some strategies are already being implemented, such as the creation of lakes for fish farming, which can boost individual farmers’ incomes. We are also establishing environmental corridors and restoring the forests along waterways, headwaters and watersheds,” adds Cardoso. Studies are being conducted to determine the area’s hydroelectric potential to produce clean, renewable energy that can also finance the project.
The link between all these projects is the Park Road, which connects the three environmental hubs in the Pratigi APA. Following the routes historically used since Jesuit times in the second half of the 16th century, Park Road is being maintained and expanded through a partnership with the State of Bahia. “It is the basic infrastructure for communication and wealth production, bringing people and their businesses together,” says Cardoso.
The driving force behind all these initiatives boils down to a single word: balance. Establishing a synergetic harmony between human beings and their habitat is the main goal and dream.