Farmers paid to conserve river basin
Wed, 20 Jun 2012 2:56p.m.
Water has always been so abundant in Brazil's Guandu basin that locals would never have imagined they could someday get paid to protect it.
However, widespread water misuse and deforestation of riverbanks has forced officials to take stronger measures in Rio de Janeiro state's main food-growing region.
In 2009 the government launched a programme to step up water management in the area, which changed the lives of many people in the district of Rio Claro.
Over 80 percent of the water used in the city of Rio de Janeiro comes from the Guandu basin, which is home to over 10 million people.
One of them is Carlos Alberto de Souza, a farmer whose property is located near the source of the Pirai river - an important tributary of the Guandu.
He is one of the 43 ranchers in the region who agreed to limit his cattle ranching and planting in the areas considered critical to the environment. They are paid between NZ$7,500 and NZ$15,000 dollars per semester depending on the extent of their land.
According to authorities, over NZ$630,000 dollars will be paid to farmers and residents in the region by 2014.
Souza said the project would help farmers find more efficient farming methods.
"There must be balance. If farmers want to breed livestock today, they must have a limit, maybe choosing cattle of better breeds and using more efficient methods to be able to manage them in a smaller area," he said.
The project, which has so far proven to be a success, will be one of the items on the discussion table at the Rio+20 sustainable development summit this month. Environmental group The Nature Conservancy (TNC), which is backing the initiative, will propose the model to leaders of other countries at the landmark conference that will gather over 50,000 participants in Rio.
River basins provide a wide range of services - irrigation water, food, direct supplies for industry and domestic use - but because water supply is limited, some regions claim disproportionate amounts of the resource.
If deforested, riverbanks are sensitive to erosion which may lead to silty waters and wildlife being harmed.
The programme is also being extended to owners of small properties like slave descendant, Benedito Leite, who led the conservation efforts in their quilombola community.
His work, among others, is to make sure neighbours are following the programme's rules. People like him are being trained by 38 environment agents who teach them in sustainable agriculture.
Leite said he felt good to be helping the environment after years working in coal farms.
A study by consultancy Frontier Economics, estimates that by 2050 the world's ten most populous river basins will be producing a quarter of the globe's gross domestic product, compared with 10 percent now.
Head of TNC's water fund in Latin America, Fernando Vega, said the project was a perfect example of green economy.
"We are generating and developing a new economic process which is totally in line with this debate about green economy, by showing the value of preserving biodiversity, creating jobs that are directly linked to restoring and preserving forests and at the same time creating a new source of income for farmers based on the proper use and conservation of forests," he said.
According to TNC, some 185 hectares of deforested areas have been recovered and over 3,000 hecatres of native forests have been preserved so far in the project in Brazil.
3 News / Reuters
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