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Nine key lessons for sustainable development from Brazil’s Amazon

Press release –International Institute of Environment and Develop

Brazil’s Amazonas state has important lessons for the rest of the nation and other developing countries as they search for green and sustainable economies, says a new report published by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).

The report will be launched at the Commonwealth Forestry Conference in Edinburgh on 29 June.

It was written by Virgilio Viana, the former Secretary for Environment and Sustainable Development in Brazil’s Amazonas State who is now head of the Sustainable Amazonas Foundation, a nongovernmental organisation.

Viana has spent the past decade promoting sustainable solutions to development challenges in Amazonas. During this time the vulnerability of Amazonas to threats from deforestation has declined. The state now sustains real value-chains in forest-based goods and services that confer ecological, social and economic resilience.

In the report, Viana details the following nine key lessons that have emerged from his experiences.

  1. Change the ‘natural resource liquidation’ paradigm of development by making forests worth more standing than cut;
  1. Create political support for sustainability and the environment by focusing on jobs, income, votes and other mainstream incentives;
  1. Place environmental and sustainability concerns at the centre of policy design and implementation – expanding environment institutions to become catalysts of sustainable development;
  1. Pay people for environmental services rendered – such as through the Bolsa Floresta scheme. This fights poverty and protects biodiversity by rewarding forest households with monthly payments into credit card accounts for practicing ‘farming without fire’, which is monitored by satellite;
  1. Invest in good communications – especially relations with the media by helping journalists to bridge to politicians, the public and the forests;
  1. Provide simple and attractive green solutions: engaging the public in identifying and developing solutions that most help them and the forests;
  1. Demote “problemologists” and promote “solutionologists” – changing the paradigm from a problem focus to solutions;
  1. Make bureaucracy and regulation work for people – not the other way around;
  1. Invest in partnerships for policy implementation – NGOs connecting government and local organisations.

Viana says: “I would like these lessons from Amazonas to be a source of inspiration that encourages greater South-South cooperation on sustainable development.”

He see the biggest political challenge as “changing the paradigm that guides public policies and private investments – forests have been seen as obstacles for development, not as opportunities”.

He says the practical challenge is to “develop solutions that are scientifically based, but which ordinary people can easily understand — solutions that fire the imagination, are simple and attractive, and have wider benefits for as many stakeholders as possible”.

James Mayers, head of IIED’s Natural Resources Group, says: “For decades, Brazil and the Amazon in particular have been synonymous with a ‘frontier’ style of development that has destroyed forests. Professor Viana has led a unique experiment to explore and implement more forest-friendly forms of development.”

Mayers adds: “The ideas Viana has developed and honed are both timely and inspiring – for Brazil as a whole and indeed for many other countries, as they now search for new green economies.”

The report describes many schemes that are beginning to surmount the political and practical challenges.

It is schemes like these that offer real lessons for taming the potential tsunami of international forest and carbon funds, so that they contribute to local sustainable development, rather than submerge other local needs.

Download Sustainable Development in Practice – lessons learned from Amazonas


Contact for interviews

Virgilio Viana: virgilio.viana2@fas-amazonas.org

James Mayers: james.mayers@iied.org +44 131 624 7041

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