Tropical rainforests circle the equator, covering seven percent of the Earth but has more than 50% of its biodiversity. A single hectare of western Amazonian forest can contain over 300 different species of trees as well as numerous herbs, shrubs and epiphytes. In one hectare of mountain habitat, over 100 different species of trees may exist. The forest is bound together in a web of intricate interactions and to break one part affects all the others. Uses of many rainforest products have already been discovered, e.g. cocoa, coffee, rubber, rattan cane, quinine, mahogany and other timbers; many new medicines, foods and fibres no doubt exist. Many tropical species have localized distribution and can easily be lost when a rather small area of forest is destroyed. Tropical forests play a vital role in the cooling of tropical regions and in conditioning the global atmosphere; their destruction adds carbon dioxide (CO2) to the atmosphere, heightening the greenhouse effect.
Pro-Natura adopts the strategy of implementing specialized eco-development projects organized around agroforestry practices to meet the needs of Indians and others who depend on the tropical forests for their livelihood. Its action is based on the expertise of a network of NGOs and scientists, its knowledge of rainforest peoples and its foundation experience in Amazonia and the Atlantic rain forest of Brazil. Management and consultancy services are provided in product development, setting up of cooperatives, revitalization of degraded land, reforestation, sustainable gathering activities, low-cost, simple technologies, renovating traditional land management practices, ecological agriculture and forest conservation and stewardship. The Juruena Project is located in the south of Brazil where less that 8% of the original forest has been altered. 1,000 families have been struggling to survive using existing farming practices and there is strong pressure from cattle-ranching interests. The project is identifying appropriate sustainable agro-forestry practices in order to provide economically viable options to the farming community, thereby preventing further destruction of virgin rainforest and encouraging the restoration of degraded areas.
In December 1991, an agreement was reached to provide US$250 million for the Brazilian Tropical Rainforest Fund to finance the first phase of a pilot programme to conserve the Brazilian Amazon rainforest. The specific objectives of the project in the pilot phase are to conserve biological diversity and indigenous areas, to consolidate policy changes and strengthening implementing institutions, and developing scientific knowledge and applied technologies for environmentally benign development in the Amazon and building support for their adoption. Nine "extractive reserves" totalling over 30,000 square kilometres have been established in the Brazilian Amazon forest. These reserves are, in essence, conservation areas that guarantee the rights of indigenous populations to sustainably harvest non-timber forest products such as fruits, construction materials, medicinals, and other goods. Along similar lines, community reserves have been established in the Peruvian Amazon.
Brazil's ambitious US$1.4 milliard project for the Amazon has been designed to maintain a watch on the tropical rain forest with fixed and airborne radars and other monitoring devices. Called the Integrated Amazon Vigilance System and shortened to Sivam, it is supposed to give Brazil an important measure of control over the vast and vulnerable Amazon region in what is seen as a high-tech solution to an age-old concern over national sovereignty. Sivam's proclaimed benefits include eliminating a radar blind spot for commercial airlines and the policing of illegal drug flights, which are virtually impossible to track now. The system could also prove an invaluable environmental tool, capable of monitoring illegal logging and mining, forest burning and even incursions into indigenous reserves.
By keeping the farmers on the land they already have, pressure can be taken off the limited forest reserves that still exist. This is enhanced by research on indigenous and local agroecosystems; much information can be gained for the development of resource-conserving, ecologically sound land-use strategies that promote the sustained-yield management of land already cleared in tropical regions. The importance of the sustainability of the natural resource sector linked to the sustainability of the agricultural sector is an integral part of tropical forest preservation strategies of the future.