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Seeds of Hope in the Amazon

Ecologist, co-founder of the Sustainable Amazon Network, graduate professor at Federal University of Pará, researcher at Embrapa Amazônia Oriental and member of the Scientific Panel for Amazonia.

Joice Ferreira

Translation by Silvia Benchimol and Ewerton Branco


On an afternoon in September last year, while granting an interview to an international journalist, in an environmental park in Belém, I was surprised when he asked if I had hope for the future of the Amazon. I quickly replied that I had no other choice but to believe in a more prosperous future for this region. Today, I caught myself thinking over hope again because of a work carried out by a research group to which I belong. The results of this work are summarized in the article entitled “Searching for innovative sustainability initiatives in the Amazon” (original title in English) published in the scientific journal Sustainability.

In this work, data collection consisted in dialoguing with key actors who work in different Amazonian states in order to spot successful experiences of sustainability. They were invited to share their perceptions of what is being done aiming at a more sustainable Amazon. We understand that the word ‘sustainability’ is often void of meaning, but in addition to welcoming the concept of the interviewee, we were basically referring to what is going on having in mind a more environmentally friendly future, more equitable and socially just.

The study revealed more than 150 initiatives underway in the Amazon, out of which, 50 were described in more detail. Of course, there are many other ongoing initiatives, as anticipated by previous researches. The most relevant aspect was to find out that there is a wide range of inventive actions focusing on sustainability, which we have grouped into seven main categories ranging from green business opportunities, land protection to multi-institutional coalitions that seek to deal with the complexity of problems and enhancement for the region. These involve, for example, business incubators linked to the bioeconomy, promoting connections among different actors, engaging young people and women, platforms and applications to track the export of commodities such as soy and beef, private investment funds, indigenous associations for protection of their own territory and activist campaigns through social networks. These initiatives are being promoted by NGOs, governments, rural communities, social movements and even individuals.

One can always choose to see a half-full or a half-empty glass. On the one hand, we could see the diversity of initiatives perceived as innovative actions, which have proliferated in a critical period of increasing environmental degradation, inequality and violence. On the other hand, we were able to learn that there are crucial limitations to be overcome in order to reach the necessary levels which might lead to a true transformation in the region. Most of these actions promote only incremental changes, which, although important, are not able to challenge the status quo and eliminate power and social asymmetries, aspects that are absolutely necessary to be tackled today.

A more optimistic view of the scenario allows us to consider such experiences as “Seeds”, according to the theoretical framework proposed by some scholars. Basically, Seeds are initiatives – for example, social, technological or economic – that are not yet dominant or prominent in society, but which have the power to inspire, be proliferated and generate social transformation.

A more sustainable future for the Amazon turns out possible if ‘seeds of innovation’, such as those we have mapped, are widely dispersed, especially through public policies. Under this conception of  future, there is no room for environmental degradation, social inequity, nor tragic events such as the brutal death of Dom Phillips, the British journalist barbarically murdered in the state of  Amazonas, along with Bruno Pereira, to whom I spoke about hope last year.