Designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Center, and one of the world´s biodiversity hotspots by Conservation International, the Atlantic Rainforest is one of the greatest repositories of biodiversity on the planet. Home to more than 20,000 known species of plants, 934 species of birds, as well as hundreds of endemic amphibians and mammals, this biome –which once spanned the entire eastern coast of Brazil—survives now only in fragments. The main driver for deforestation in Brazil is, as in the rest of the world, economic. Until the standing forest can generate income for landowners, there is no incentive for its protection. Small landholders, who carry out a subsistence survival, can ill-afford to let trees occupy the space of cropland or cattle-grazing. Until ways can be found for those who reside in the forest to generate income from that forest, there will be no long-term hope for preserving and enhancing what is left of the Atlantic Rainforest.
Since 2006, Instituto Perene has been working with rural cooperatives and private landowners to develop solutions that can protect and restore forests while generating income. Our first step was to acquire 400 acres of tropical forest to protect it, and design and implement conservation projects in the field. We named the land Reserva Paraguaçu, in recognition of the synergetic relationship between the forest and the Paraguaçú river that flows through the local watershed. Rather than fence off the area to protect from illegal logging and poaching, Perene partnered with a local association to design a sustainable management plan for the reserve. The resulting plan benefits the forest and the association: members gained access to harvest piaçaba fibers from native palms inside the property, and in turn became its guardians.