Case Study by: Austin Dever
Scientific assessments over the last 20 years have determined that any ecoregion will thrive only if approximately fifty percent of its ‘wilderness’ remains intact. This means intact, high-functioning natural systems, and this is the philosophy of Nature Needs Half. Few places on earth better embody that philosophy than Amapá State, Brazil.
Located in northern Brazil on the borders of French Guiana and Surinam, Amapá State is defined by superlatives. It is home to the world’s largest tropical forest national park, Tumucumaque National Park, and its conservation protection zones shelter plants and animals found nowhere else on earth. The WILD Foundation promotes the goal of protecting at least fifty percent for nature and, incredibly, Amapá, (in collaboration) with the Brazilian federal government and international and local conservation organizations, has designated nearly three-quarters of its total landmass of 143,000 square kilometers as protected conservation zones. As rainforests across Brazil continue to fall prey to deforestation driven by infrastructure development, mining, logging and agriculture, an amazing 92 percent of Amapá State’s rainforests remain intact.
Amapá’s dedication to conservation dates back to the early 1990s, when visionary governor João Capiberibe instituted a sustainable development plan for the state. Following the path he charted, the Amapá state government in 2002 announced the creation of Tumucumaque National Park, a nearly 40,000 square kilometer tropical forest larger than the U.S. state of Indiana. The new park abutted the Guiana Amazonian Park in neighboring French Guiana, creating a cross-border preserve of 59,000 square kilometers. The next year, Amapá announced the creation of the Amapá Biodiversity Corridor, covering 70 percent of the state, and linked to protected areas in the neighboring state of Para and the wider Guiana Shield. To date, Amapá and the Brazilian federal government have established twelve preserves and five indigenous areas covering the state’s forests, savannas, mangrove swamps and wetlands.
Amapá constitutes the easternmost extent of the Guiana Shield, a 1.7 billion-year-old Precambrian geological formation called a “craton” that covers more than 2.7 million square kilometers of northeast South America. Stretching from Colombia to Brazil, the Guiana Shield has a higher percentage of intact tropical rainforests than any other region on Earth and is one of the world’s greatest regions of biodiversity, harboring more than 20,000 plant species, 4,000 vertebrates, 1,200 freshwater fish species and nearly 300 mammals.
Amapá exemplifies this biodiversity. A 2013 scientific survey identified more than 180 mammals in Amapá’s protected zones, including multiple species on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) ‘red’ list. A small sampling of these species include the jaguar, the only the only living representative of the genus Panthera found in the New World; the giant brazilian otter, an endangered species notable for the fact that only one-quarter to one-third of its population reproduces; the red-handed howler monkey, the large leaf-eaters of the South American primate community; the giant anteater, a solitary species whose females give birth to a single young per year; and the Amazonian manatee, which migrate from flooded river areas to deep lakes during the Amazon’s dry season. Further illustrating Amapá’s unique biodiversity, scientific expeditions in the state over the last decade have discovered multiple species previously unknown to science, including a tree rat, poison dart frog, tetra fish, and many others. Untold additional species no doubt await discovery.
Fulfilling former Governor João Capiberibe’s vision, Amapá has also become a regional leader in green development. Sustainable forest industries are a major source of revenue for the state, and key cash crops include the acai palm, the brazil nut and the cipo titica vine. The acai palm is particularly important for the state, generating approximately U.S. dollars 250 million annually (as of 2013) and creating thousands of jobs in the supply chain. The acai palm yields two valuable products: the acai berry, a protein rich nutrient and critical food source for indigenous Amazonian peoples, and heart of palm. The acai berry is a particularly lucrative export due its growing popularity in the United States as a ‘superfood’. While this interest has increased the commercial potential of the crop for Amapá State, it also risks incentivizing industrial production methods, including clear cutting to establish tree plantations and the application of pesticides. Numerous conservation and green development organizations are working with indigenous people and the Amapá government to encourage sustainable production and harvesting methods.
In addition to establishing sustainable industries based around the exploitation of forest products, Amapá State has drafted a law that provides incentives to landowners to manage their lands in a manner that provides ecological benefits, and is working with the international community to monetize the state’s forest carbon stocks, including via the United Nation’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, Conservation (REDD+) program. Planning is also underway to increase funding for the Amapá Research Institute to identify forest resources that can be leveraged for new pharmaceutical and therapy products.
Challenges remain. Amapá’s relatively small population of approximately 700,000 citizens, 90 percent of whom live in urban areas, facilitates community engagement and support for conservation. However, Amapá is also among the poorest of Brazil’s States, with a Gross Domestic Product per capita nearly 40 percent below the Brazilian average. Amapá also places near the bottom of Brazil’s states in many measures of human wellbeing, such as infant mortality, life expectancy, and doctors per capita. As Brazil has modernized, pressure has increased for the Amapá State government to improve its population’s standard of living, including by permitting increased mining and other resource extraction on protected land.
The Amapá state government is well aware of these risks. In a 2013 interview with Conservation International, Amapá State Governor Camilo Capiberibe (son of former Governor João Capiberibe) stated:
“In order for us to continue to conserve the forest, it must be recognized that conservation is a service that is being paid to humankind. It is a fundamental service which helps to combat climate change, helps to preserve the development potential of thousands of products that are not even known yet… This is an important message: let’s put a value on this service. Otherwise, it will be difficult for us to face the mounting pressure that exists. Capitalism puts pressure on our natural wealth — the pressures are huge…”
Amapá State has demonstrated visionary leadership in establishing one of the world’s most comprehensive and robust wilderness protection areas. Its efforts embody the philosophy of Nature Needs Half and testify to the creativity and vigilance necessary to balance development needs while safeguarding mankind’s wilderness heritage.