Rubber tapping has been a traditional way of life for many people living in the Amazon forest since the start of the century. It is not damaging to the forest as it does not require the tree to be cut down in order for the latex to be extracted.
As many as 63,000 families now earn their living from rubber tapping in extractive reserves in the Amazon forest. These reserves cover up to one percent of the Amazon forest and were established by the Brazilian Government to allow the rubber tappers to maintain their traditional way of life. To date only 5,000 tons of rubber is extracted from the Amazon to supply 1.4 percent of the national market for rubber in Brazil. The National Council of Rubber Tappers is trying to address this imbalance.
Palm Fruits and Palm Hearts
The fruits of the Acai Palm found in the Amazon, are traditionally used to make a juice which is rich in minerals. A single palm tree produces up to 20 kg of fruit per year. The fruits produce a tasty, dark violet colored juice which is the most financially viable non-wood forest product from the Amazon's delta. In 1995 almost 106,000 tons of wine was produced at a value of $40 million U.S. dollars.
Although the palm tree has to be felled in order to extract the palm hearts, the relative ease of replanting the trees in the middle of the forest and their rapid regeneration make this a far preferable and sustainable alternative to large-scale logging. The biggest importers of palm hearts from the Amazon are France, Canada, the United States, Spain, Japan, Holland and Belgium.
Fruits and Nuts
The growing attraction towards new products from the Amazon, including vitamins, minerals, exotic fruits, nuts and spices are providing growing opportunities to market these products both nationally and internationally. Over 48 native fruits in the Amazon have been identified with the potential for sale on the international market.
The camu-camu fruit for example contains a higher concentration of vitamin C than any other fruit known in the world and is imported to the United States for the production of vitamin tablets. Cupuaçu is another fruit with a unique tropical taste that is expected to enter the world market in the coming years. In addition, many indigenous tribes in the Amazon collect Brazil nuts as their main source of income. Amazon collect Brazil nuts as their main source of income.
Over two-thirds of all mass-produced pharmaceutical drugs are derived from medicinal plants. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) eighty percent of the world's population use plants to treat a wide ranging spectrum of illnesses from hypertension to syphilis. Natural extracts from the Pacific Yew in the rainforests of North America, for example, have proven effective against cancer and is just one example of a natural occurring remedy in the world's rainforests.
The potential of the Amazon has only just begun to be realized. At present, close to 650 species of plant with pharmaceutical properties and economic value have been discovered in the Amazon. There are countless more.
Ecotourism in the Amazon, and indeed in other areas of the world's ancient forests, has huge potential but is at present managed in an unsatisfactory way.
Ecotourism has the potential to guarantee minimal environmental impact on the Amazon rainforest through the application of environmentally friendly technologies and environmentally sympathetic accommodation for visitors. It could also guarantee that the income received from such activities would directly benefit the local communities.
Due to its outstanding natural beauty the Amazon forest offers many wide ranging options for ecotourism and adventure tourism such as trekking, rafting, diving, cruising, bird watching and wildlife observation. In the Amazon, there are currently 16 jungle lodges (1997) registered with the official Tourist Office of Amazonas state, offering over 1007 beds collectively.
It is essential that any further development of ecotourism has to be carefully monitored to ensure the sustainable expansion of the industry.
There is huge potential to utilize the existing fish stocks in the Amazon in a more sustainable way. One economic alternative would be to set up community based fisheries operated in a sustainable and ecological way.
Greenpeace believes that customers have the right to know whether or not the products they buy have resulted in forest destruction.
Where logging is appropriate in the Amazon basin, or in any forest worldwide, every effort must be made to ensure that social and environmental concerns are addressed. Certification of forestry operations can be an important step towards the elimination of destructive and illegal timber harvesting and also safeguard workers, local populations and the environment.
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) offers the only certification with international market credibility. The FSC certification is assessed on independent environmental, social and economic performance standards, audited in the forest. The criteria for certification cover basic principles including:
- Conservation of ancient forests of major environmental, social and cultural significance
- Environmental impact of logging methods
- Tenure and land-use rights and responsibilities
- Community relations and workers rights
- Monitoring and assessment of management plans.
Currently there are three forestry companies working in the Brazilian Amazon that have received FSC certification: Precious Woods Amazonas, Gethal Amazonas and Jurua Florestal Ltda.
For more information on the Forest Stewardship Council see: www.fscus.org