Title Page
 The political ecology of acre
 The UF-UFAC collaborative...

Title: Building institutions for sustainable development in Acre, Brazil
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00071951/00001
 Material Information
Title: Building institutions for sustainable development in Acre, Brazil
Physical Description: 26 leaves : ; 28 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Schmink, Marianne
Publication Date: 1990
Subject: Sustainable development -- Brazil -- Acre   ( lcsh )
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Spatial Coverage: Brazil -- Acre
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references (leaf 27).
Statement of Responsibility: Marianne Schmink.
General Note: Cover title.
General Note: Typescript.
General Note: "June 1990."
General Note: "To appear in Kent H. Redford and Christine Padoch (eds.), Traditional Resource Use in Neotropical Forests: Past, Present and Future. New York: Columbia University Press, forthcoming."
Funding: Electronic resources created as part of a prototype UF Institutional Repository and Faculty Papers project by the University of Florida.
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Bibliographic ID: UF00071951
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: oclc - 75292635

Table of Contents
    Title Page
        Title Page
        Page 1
        Page 2
    The political ecology of acre
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
        Page 6
        Page 7
        Page 8
        Page 9
        Page 10
        Page 11
    The UF-UFAC collaborative project
        Page 12
        Page 13
        The training strategy
            Page 14
            Page 15
            Page 16
                Page 16
                Page 17
            Rubber trappers
                Page 18
                Page 19
                Page 20
                Page 21
        The research and extension strategy
            Page 22
            Page 23
        Page 24
        Page 25
        Page 26
        Page 27
Full Text


Marianne Schmink
Center for Latin American Studies
University of Florida
Gainesville, Florida 32611

June 1990

To appear in Kent H. Redford and Christine Padoch (eds.), Traditional Resource
Use in Neotropical Forests: Past, Present and Future. New York: Columbia
University Press, forthcoming.

Building Institutions for Sustainable Development in Acre, Brazil

Marianne Schmink

In 1986, the Federal University of Acre (UFAC) and the University of

Florida (UF) began a program of technical cooperation focusing on. ecological,

social and economic aspects of forest extraction, agroforestry and agricultural

systems used by rubber tappers and settlers in the state of Acre. The

collaborative project sought to strengthen the technical capacity of UF, UFAC

and other local and national institutions through a research and training

program based on the methodology of "adaptive research". The core objective

of the program was to explore means to increase the income of local small

producers and to reduce pressures on the resource base and on biological

diversity. The multidisciplinary, inter-institutional project sought to

contribute to the formulation of sustainable policies for agroforestry and

agricultural development, emphasizing the rational use and conservation of

natural resources.

The concept of sustainability has the virtue of drawing attention to the

complex conditions under which socioeconomic and environmental change

take place over the long term. Beyond these general notions, however, there

is little consensus regarding the precise time-frame, measures, and practical

requirements for sustainability. Many definitions focus on technical

production criteria for sustained yield harvests or on economic sustainability

as measured by supply-demand and market projections. Broader questions of

social and political sustainability, and of strategies to institutionalize

sustainable development alternatives, are also essential determinants of the

long-term success of technical and economic planning. Addressing these

institutional issues requires the integration of insights from the natural and

social sciences, with the technical focus that has dominated the development

field for the past few decades. The UF-UFAC project is designed to build a

coherent institutional strategy within which technical, social, and political

issues can be addressed over the long-term.

Sustainable development requires a favorable social, political and

economic environment, including the organizational mechanisms to support

the design, experimentation and implementation of appropriate practices.

Building these institutions is a time-consuming and elusive process, and there

are few models. Just as technical solutions must be adapted to each specific

site, strategies for institutional change are necessarily unique to local

settings. One of the key potential contributions from social science to the

conservation and development field is in the analysis of local responses (by

specific social groups in particular ecosystems) to macro-level economic and

political changes.

The experience of the UF-UFAC project in Acre provides lessons in

institution-building strategies that may be useful elsewhere. First, the Acre

project is grounded in an on-going analysis of how political and economic

processes influence resource use. This "political ecology" approach provided a

framework for adapting institutional strategies to changing political and

economic circumstances (Schmink & Wood, 1986).

Second, the project promoted an integrated approach to development

and conservation problems. The project experimented with mechanisms to

bring together the resources of local institutions, and with inter-disciplinary,

participatory methods of research and extension. It drew on the expertise of a

network of specialists from Brazil and the U.S. The "adaptive research"

methodology (described below) brought together researchers and

extensionists from different disciplines in a formal, structured dialogue with

producers that provided a common reference point for reaching a consensus

about priority problems and potential solutions. Technicians who participated

in the training program formed an inter-institutional group capable of

coordinating a common research, action and policy agenda. This capacity was

enhanced as several project participants moved into key decision-making

positions in local governmental and non-governmental agencies.

Definition of a common set of goals, and an integrated, participatory

work philosophy shared by representatives of a dozen organizations involved

in development and conservation work in Acre, are key accomplishments of

the project so far. Another is the newly-created interest group composed of

project participants, who can orient their various organizations in the

direction of more effective collaboration in work with small producers in

Acre. This group, representing public, private, and research sectors in Acre

and their collaborators elsewhere, is in a position to adapt to changing

opportunities and limitations and to build a sustained institutional effort on

behalf -of Acre's natural resource base and the small producers that depend on


The Political Ecology of Acre V

Many of the factors that influence land use practices lie outside the

control, or even the knowledge, of local producers who are part of an

increasingly integrated global system. The analysis of the interface between

the macro-level political and economic context and specific ecological systems

and local populations is therefore an essential complement to the focus on

individual producers. Even apparently well-conceived plans for sustainable

development often go wrong for reasons related to macro-level political and

economic realities and their penetration at the local level. The goals of

resource conservation and sustainable development are fundamentally at odds

with most post-war nationalistic development projects oriented to expanded

production and short-term capital accumulation. Ecological disasters also are

often political and economic successes for those in power and their

constituencies, which helps clarify why apparently "irrational" policies

continue to be implemented (Schmink, 1987).

Understanding the political and economic context of ecological change

requires going beyond the technocratic model often used in development and

conservation circles, or a pluralistic conception of the state as neutral arbiter

of competing interests. Actions by the state (including planning and

administrative agencies, legislative bodies, the courts, the military and police)

tend to favor the interests of the economically dominant social classes. But

different agencies and levels of the state apparatus have distinct agendas and

constituencies. The analysis of such political dynamics, and of the changing

configuration of state policies and practices, provide a stronger basis for

pragmatic approaches to institutional change. Such approaches can seek to

shift the balance of power in the direction of relatively disadvantaged groups

within society (Esman & Uphoff, 1985).

Brazil stands out as a country whose impressive post-war economic

growth was accompanied by environmental degradation and persistent

maldistribution of wealth. Capitalist investors were favored over the small

producers who typically bore the brunt of development policies. Amazon

development initiatives such as expansion of cattle ranching, hydroelectric

power plants, and charcoal-based processing of minerals typically benefitted

investors from outside the Amazon region, at the. expense of local economies

and ecosystems. At times, particularly under the military dictatorship that

held power from 1964-1985, the armed forces pursued their own agenda even

at the expense of the economic elites who were their main source of political

support. But since a civilian government took over in 1985, pressures for

reform have mounted, and a more open political system has forced the state to

respond to broader constituencies.

One of those new constituencies is the population of rubber tappers who

inhabit the forested areas of the western Amazon state of Acre. Their

remarkable political mobilization emerged in response to the local effects of

federal Amazon development programs. After a decade of local organizing

efforts, in the mid-1980s the movement gained the support of national and

international non-governmental organizations, and the rubber tappers

embarked on a successful campaign to convince the federal government to

create extractivee reserves", areas set aside for continued small-scale

extraction. Small producers, especially the organized rubber tappers, have

also gained greater access to resources and decision-making process in Acre's

state government. Analysis of the historical factors leading to this favorable

institutional environment highlights the interactions between world markets,

federal policies, migration, political organization, and local resource use

(Alegretti, 1979; CEDEPLAR, 1979; Martinello, 1988; Oliveira, 1985; Schwartzman,


Located on Brazil's western border with Bolivia and Peru, the settlement

of Acre by non-indigenous peoples began a century ago, stimulated by the

boom (1850-1920) in extraction of natural rubber for world markets. The

region's indigenous groups were also absorbed into the rubber trade. Tens of

thousands of migrants entered Acre as rubber tappers. At the time the

territory belonged to Bolivia, but after a series of conflicts it was purchased by

Brazil in 1903. A second wave of migrants were recruited during World War

II, mostly from Northeastern Brazil with U.S. financing. Acre's culture is

strongly dominated by the Northeastern origins of the majority of its


The rubber tappers traditionally lived an isolated existence dispersed

among the distant colocag6es homesteads where each tapper extracted rubber

from trees situated along trails through the forest. At the end of each day the

tappers smoked the rubber until it formed large balls that were sold at the

trading post. The economic system was dominated by the supply and credit

system known as aviamento which maintained the rubber tappers in

constant debt to the trading posts, which were controlled by the owner of the

large rubber estates known as seringais The tappers also paid rent to the

owners for the right to tap the latex along the rubber trails on their land. The

rubber economy was entirely oriented to export, and the large export houses

in the cities of Bel6m and Manaus captured the profits from the rubber trade

and the aviamento system. The producers themselves were often prohibited

from engaging in subsistence activities so as not to distract them from rubber

tapping, and to maintain their dependence on the trading post.

The success of Asian rubber plantations beginning in 1911-1912 spelled

the end of the boom in Amazonian natural rubber, with the exception of the

short-lived war effort financed by the U.S. when Japan blocked access to Asian

rubber sources during World War II. With the decline of rubber, Acre's

economy gradually diversified to include collection of Brazil nuts, and

subsistence agriculture, fishing and hunting. After World War II, many

rubber estate owners found themselves unable to repay the credit they had

received under the special wartime programs. As a further threat to the

traditional system, rising inflation in the 1950s and 1960s undermined the

viability of the aviamento system, which depended on credit extended over

long periods. During this period, rubber tappers in many areas became more

autonomous as their erstwhile patrons went bankrupt or moved on to other


The territory of Acre was elevated to statehood in 1962. The beginnings

of federal investment in the region led to the growth of towns and new

economic opportunities that attracted rural elites away from the declining

rubber estates. More drastic changes began to take place in the 1970s,

stimulated by ambitious federal programs in the Amazon under the military

government that took power in Brazil in 1964. A road link was established

between Acre and the capital in Brasilia in the late 1960s, and the land along

its borders was transferred to federal jurisdiction in 1971. During the early

1970s, Acre's governor took advantage of the euphoria surrounding the

Transamazon highway colonization effort and other federal initiatives to open

up Acre's lands for sale to southern investors. The newly-created Amazon

Bank (BASA) provided easy credit for new investments in agriculture and

ranching, displacing previous support for rubber and other forest products.

Land turned over rapidly as indebted owners of rubber estates sold their rights

to outsiders. As elsewhere in the Amazon, land sales soon led to legal confusion

since titles had been issued in Acre by many different authorities throughout

the region's history: the state of Amazonas, Bolivia, the short-lived

independent republic of Acre under PlAcido de Castro, and the federal land

agency INCRA. Conflicting claims to title covered an area half again larger

than the whole state.

While the state's lands changed hands, however, the rubber tappers.

who occupied them remained in the forests, where they continued to tap

rubber, collect Brazil nuts, hunt, fish, and cultivate their subsistence gardens.

Most of Acre's new landowners were interested in establishing cattle ranches,

an enterprise that requires relatively little productive investment and for

which credit was readily available. Their first task was to rid the land of the

rubber tappers that occupied it, either by buying the rights to their modest

homesteads, by threats or by outright violent expulsion. Many tappers who

had little experience with money and few employment alternatives were

tempted to sell and move to town, where they quickly found they had few skills

to make a living.

By the mid-1970s, many tappers had drifted back to the rural areas and,

along with those who remained in the forest, began to organize through local

unions. Their movement sought to defend the legal rights they had acquired,

through long-term residence and use, to occupy the rubber trails. They

developed non-violent tactics to prevent the new landowners from clearing

land, such as empates or "stand-offs", in which whole communities camped in

front of bulldozers. They also sought to provide literacy and basic arithmetic

skills, health care, and marketing alternatives that would increase the rubber

tappers' autonomy from merchant intermediaries. The success of the tappers'

resistance movement led to violence against its leaders: among others, Wilson

Pinheiro (head of the union in Brasileia) was killed in 1980, and Chico Mendes

(head of the union in Xapuri) was murdered in 1988.

By the late 1980s, the rubber tappers movement began to receive

international attention due to links between local, national, and international

non-governmental organizations concerned with environmental protection

and human rights (Schwartzman, 1989). Environmental groups in the U.S. and

Europe had begun to pressure the multilateral development banks to pay

serious attention to the environmental impact of the projects they financed.

One of the key targets of criticism was World Bank-financed colonization in

the neighboring state of Rond6nia. The existence of an organized local

constituency provided an important argument against the extension of road-

paving and colonization efforts beyond Rond6nia's border into Acre. The

movement gained in strength with this international support. The formation

of the National Council of Rubber Tappers broadened the movement beyond

Acre's borders, and links were formed with organizations of indigenous

peoples. The prizes awarded to Chico Mendes in 1987 by the United Nations and

the Future Worlds Society lent legitimacy and visibility to their struggle.

A new governor of Acre, elected in 1987, responded to this changing

political scenario by declaring his intention to pursue "forest-based

development" for the state. He created new state agencies concerned with

environmental protection and with alternative technologies oriented to forest

products. Their efforts range from large-scale sustained yield commercial

harvesting of tropical hardwoods, to modernizing the logging industry, to

implementating extractive reserves in the state.

The Challenge for Acre's Institutions

Grass-roots pressure linked to local and international support networks

has helped to counterbalance the pressures leading to further forest

conversion for less sustainable and equitable land uses (such as cattle

ranching) in Acre. Their impact on both federal and state policies has created

a more favorable institutional setting for experimentation with sustainable

resource use systems appropriate for small producers. As dramatic political

and economic changes continue in Brazil, putting these alternatives into

practice still poses enormous organizational, technical and political

challenges. Not the least of these pressures is the continuing opposition by

the regional landholding elites to the extractive reserves and other alternative

land-use proposals (Schwartzman, 1989).

The tremendous technical problems are most evident in Acre's newly-

created extractive reserves. Although rubber tappers have occupied the state

for decades, current pressures on their production systems -have led to a

greater tendency towards forest clearing for agricultural and animal

production. The tappers lack schools and basic health services, as well as

technical assistance. The challenge is to increase and diversify forest

productivity in sustainable ways, and to improve the marketing and

processing systems so that forest producers are able to earn more and raise

their standard of living.

The success of the extractive reserves in Acre will depend not only on

resolving these internal problems, but also on the changes beyond their

borders. The paving of the BR-364 highway from Porto Velho (Rond6nia) to

Rio Branco (the capital of Acre), now underway, will increase pressure on

land and other natural resources. Development initiatives oriented to road-

building and occupation by ranchers and farmers from outside the state

threaten to increase deforestation, with ominous consequences for the local

flora and fauna in an area of high biological diversity. This change in the

state's productive base undermines the principal sources of survival for the

rubber tappers (both inside and outside the reserves), traditional agricultural

colonists, and indigenous communities. The whole range of land uses,

competing interests, and multiple goals will affect the future of forest-based

alternatives now being considered.

The diversity and complexity of these production systems, and the

pressures they suffer, call for a comprehensive institutional approach that

addresses the whole context. The implementation of both ecologically and

socioeconomically sustainable development alternatives adapted to the

situation in Acre will depend in part on the long-term capability of local

organizations to monitor and influence the direction of development efforts.

This means addressing both technical and political issues, and strengthening

the potential collaboration between grass-roots organizations, non-

governmental support groups, research and teaching institutions, and

government planning and extension agencies.

The UF-UFAC collaborative project sought to build on the underutilized

resources of the universities to coordinate inter-institutional efforts to address

the technical problems in implementing sustainable development for Acre's

small producers. Like other organizations devoted to research and teaching,

universities have participated little in the planning and implementation of

Amazonian development projects. Yet because of their academic function,

universities are an appropriate forum for discussion and experimentation

with alternative technologies. Their quasi-governmental status also makes

them more stable than most local non-governmental organizations, yet

relatively removed from local political factors that constrain state agencies.

Historically, Amazonian institutions have had a relatively weak role in

shaping regional development processes. Most of the important economic

decisions concerning Acre and other Amazonian areas have been made by

national or international agents whose interests often run counter to the

needs of the local population. The current institutional environment in Acre

offers some promise of changing this pattern.

A network of local, national and international non-governmental

organizations currently provides technical assistance and support to the

movement organizations such as local unions and the National Council of

Rubber Tappers. These NGOs also represent the interests of local small

producers in negotiations with government and donor agencies. They are a

crucial vehicle for participation by local populations in decisions about

resource use.

The continued mobilization of local populations and of adequate

resources to support their efforts is the most urgent element in assuring

continued support for alternative development strategies now being proposed

in Acre. Grass-roots political pressure is key to a continuing dialogue between

government and local populations, especially in a country where

environmental politics are not yet institutionalized.

The responsiveness of public sector agencies is not only a political but

also a technical issue, since Brazil's agriculture and forestry research and

extension agencies have not developed programs to respond to the needs of

small producers. The UF-UFAC Collaborative project sought to build that

technical capacity among researchers and extensionists from Acre's agrarian

sector agencies. Their collective work would contribute to the prospects for

success in addressing the state's development problems over the long run.

The UF-UFAC Collaborative Project

During the initial two-year period (1986-1987) of reciprocal visits by UF

and UFAC faculty and administrators, the two universities formed

multidisciplinary groups of faculty and (in the case of UF) graduate students

and defined a set of common goals. These were to:

1) analyze small-scale, family systems of production in Acre, the
limitations they confront and the interrelations among members of the
household, crops, animals, forest products, the market, and the institutional

2) combine the methods of social, bio-physical and agro-economic
sciences to identify and solve urgent problems of small-scale production under
conditions of limited resources;

3) improve institutional and administrative relations and their potential
impact on agrarian policies, infrastructure, and sustainable development in

4) apply the adaptive research approach to the creation and
development of a program to generate, validate and disseminate scale-specific

technology for long-term resource management by small farmers and rubber
tappers; and

5) synthesize and disseminate the results of the program to a broader
audience of researchers, policy-makers, and the public in Acre, in Brazil, and
in other tropical countries.

Once the inter-university linkage was cemented through substantive

discussions and a formal exchange agreement, a planning grant from the Ford

Foundation permitted the UFAC and the UF to broaden their ties to other

institutions in the U.S., and in Brazil, especially in Acre. The UF provided a

channel for exchanges with institutions and funding agencies outside Brazil.

In Acre, governmental and non-governmental, agencies that work with small

farmers, rubber tappers, and Indians participated in a two-day seminar to

discuss the proposals of the two universities. This meeting laid the foundation

for the participation by representatives of a dozen federal, state and private

agencies in the training and research phase of the project.

At the outset, project participants focused on two principal groups of

small producers in Acre. The large number of rubber tappers who inhabit the

region, with their profound knowledge of the Amazonian forest, are central to

the project. Rubber tappers exploit rubber (Hevea brasiliensis) and Brazil

nuts (Bertholetia excelsa), both products of great importance to Acre's

economy. They also exploit many other forest products. It is the contention of

this work and the object of UF-UFAC collaboration that proper technical

assistance, the economic viability of their traditional activities can improve

without irreversibly altering the environment.

A second target of interest to the project is small agricultural producers,

comprised of former rubber tappers from Acre and migrants from other

regions of the country. With the paving of the BR-364 highway from Porto

Velho to Rio Branco, the number of small farmers is sure to increase.

Population growth creates an urgent need to identify and encourage

sustainable and environmentally sound agricultural practices. Such methods

must be developed, not with ideal conditions in mind, but rather based on a

realistic assessment of the constraints small farmers confront in the region.

The Training Strategy

The primary activity of the UFAC-UF collaborative project was training

of the inter-institutional group (later named "PESACRE") during two short

courses, in 1988 and 1989, with the support of grants from the Ford Foundation.

Participants included specialists in agronomy, soils, forestry, biology,

economics, sociology, anthropology, geography, education, statistics,

chemistry, and physics. They represented seventeen institutions, including

universities in Acre, Amazonas and Florida; non-governmental organizations;

state agriculture, forestry and environment agencies; and local branches of

federal or regional agricultural research and extension agencies and those in

charge of colonization and environmental protection. The participating

institutions have mandates in areas of teaching, research, extension,

agricultural settlement, community development, environmental protection

and Indian affairs. The UF trainers (an anthropologist, an agricultural

economist and an agronomist), developed the courses with the support of the

UF's International Training Division and produced a Portuguese-language

manual based on farming systems research and extension training materials

(Hildebrand et al., 1989). Several members of the PESACRE group participated

as trainers during the second course. The UFAC handled local arrangements.

The adaptive research approach presented in the courses was a modified

version of farming systems research and extension (FSR/E), with a strong

emphasis on environmental protection and natural resource management.

FSR/E is a multidisciplinary method that joins research and extension in a

common effort to develop appropriate technologies (Hildebrand, 1986).

Producers are integrated with researchers and extension agents in a

systematic procedure to identify and resolve problems. Multidisciplinary

teams are composed of personnel from different research and extension

institutions, who work with producers to identify problems and limitations and

then to create, adapt and test specially designed solutions.

The teams use rapid surveys (called sondeios in Portuguese) to identify

existing problems and limitations on small farms or rubber trails. The

producers are incorporated into a sequence of activities that formulate and test

solutions, in the producers' own fields as well as on experiment stations. Close

contact is maintained with producers, and the activities of research and

extension are integrated instead of separated. As a result, communication

problems are reduced and the gap between problem identification and

technology adoption is minimized. In this way, the method incorporates the

adaptation, learning and diffusion by the "client" population, steps that have

always been very important for innovation and change in agricultural

technology. Participation by representatives from key institutions also

provides a direct link to planning and infrastructural development.

The two-week course in 1988 covered FSR/E diagnostic methods whereas

the second three-week course provided a complete sequence including

diagnosis, design and analysis of on-farm or on-site experimentation. The 34

course participants in 1988 and 41 in 1989 included four UF graduate students

who developed their own research projects based on the course. Other

research and extension project proposals emerged from the discussions of

priorities by the PESACRE group during and after the two training courses.

Interviews with producers using the sondeio method provided the

material for the diagnosis of key problems. Seven producers, including two

tribal Indians, were invited to the training site in 1988 to provide information

about their production systems as the basis for training in interviewing and

modelling systems. During both years, course participants carried out three-

day sondeios with agricultural settlers and rubber tappers. A total of 112

settlers were interviewed in two colonization areas near Rio Branco. The

diagnosis of settler systems indicated that colonists who had previously lived

in Acre as rubber tappers used the forest resources on their lots more

intensively than did the migrants.

During the same period the group interviewed 30 rubber tappers

dispersed in five different areas near the towns of PlAcido de Castro and

Xapuri. The rubber tapper diagnosis yielded significant insights into the

differences between these two regions. In both 1988 and 1989, course

participants produced written diagnostic reports with conclusions and

recommendations for both groups of producers (PESACRE, 1988; 1989a; 1989b).



Interviews with settlers showed that planning and implementation of

the colonization projects was carried out without due consideration of the

area's natural resource potential. The project failed to take advantage of the

empirical knowledge of the rubber tappers who were already living in the

colonization areas. In contrast to the rubber tappers, the majority of the

settlers came from other regions of Brazil and lacked knowledge of the

potential of the natural resources and how to use them rationally. Moreover,

technical knowledge to indicate areas appropriate for colonization was not

derived from field studies This led to deforestation of areas rich in Brazil nut

trees and rubber trees for agricultural purposes, despite their low soil fertility

and poor water resources.

tribal Indians, were invited to the training site in 1988 to provide information

about their production systems as the basis for training in interviewing and

modelling systems. During both years, course participants carried out three-

day sondeios with agricultural settlers and rubber tappers. A total of 112

settlers were interviewed in two colonization areas near Rio Branco. The

diagnosis of settler systems indicated that colonists who had previously lived

in Acre as rubber tappers used the forest resources on their lots more

intensively than did the migrants.

During the same period the group interviewed 30 rubber tappers

dispersed in five different areas near the towns of PlAcido de Castro and

Xapuri. The rubber tapper diagnosis yielded significant insights into the

differences between these two regions. In both 1988 and 1989, course

participants produced written diagnostic reports with conclusions and

recommendations for both groups of producers (PESACRE, 1988; 1989a; 1989b).



Interviews with settlers showed that planning and implementation of

the colonization projects was carried out without due consideration of the

area's natural resource potential. The project failed to take advantage of the

empirical knowledge of the rubber tappers who were already living in the

colonization areas. In contrast to the rubber tappers, the majority of the

settlers came from other regions of Brazil and lacked knowledge of the

potential of the natural resources and how to use them rationally. Moreover,

technical knowledge to indicate areas appropriate for colonization was not

derived from field studies This led to deforestation of areas rich in Brazil nut

trees and rubber trees for agricultural purposes, despite their low soil fertility

and poor water resources.

The production systems used by these settlers are based on cutting and

burning the forest and planting rice, corn, beans, cassava and different fruit

trees. However, many of these settlers do not remain in the areas they initially

colonized, since their production systems are not sustainable. The instability of

the production systems is usually a result of inadequate use and management

of natural resources, leading to general environmental degradation.

A host of problems undermine the economic potential of colonists'

agricultural production. Most of the agricultural products are harvested

during and at the end of the rainy season when unpaved roads do not permit

access to markets. The lack of on-site storage facilities reduces the quality and

value of the products. In many instances, production costs and the end price of

the products place these small farmers at a distinct economic disadvantage.

Yield declines, either as a consequence of changes in soil fertility or increased

weed infestation, the lack of technology, extension and inputs (seeds,

fertilizers, pesticides and equipment) increase the vulnerability of these small

farmers to the prevailing economic forces. Other factors limiting the

activities that could be developed by the settlers include the lack of water

sources or its poor distribution in the property, and the poor quality of the

public health services.

The small farmers understand the fragility of their production systems

and hope to base their activities on crops (such as coffee, cocoa, black pepper

and sugarcane) and cattle (as a source of protein and as savings for

emergencies) which demand less labor once established and have more value

in the market. Once accomplished, this would result in more stable production

systems that could guarantee enough income.

The expansion of the areas with these crops and with pastures is a reality

in the colonization projects in Acre. Pasture establishment in areas formerly

used for agricultural purposes is also a means of increasing the sales value of

the land. The migration of the small farmers in search of new forest areas or

to the urban areas (where they live in slums), once the natural resources are

exhausted, and the high rate of land turnover reflect the results of this

sequence of conversion from forest to agriculture to pasture.

Despite the problems mentioned above, there is an increase in

agricultural production on the colonization projects, and some small farmers

have managed to consolidate their holdings. Among the settlers who still

remain in their areas, property is seen as a means to guarantee the family's

future. They believe that despite their difficult living conditions, they would

not be able to guarantee the same standard of living in the city. There, they

would necessarily depend on a salary which, besides being difficult to obtain,

is not enough for the family's survival. On their properties, even under the

worst of conditions, they are able to feed their families.

Rubber Tappers

The extraction of rubber and Brazil nuts from the natural forest

provides most of the income for rubber tappers in this region of Acre. In

addition, they make use of a variety of other natural forest products, cultivate

small swidden subsistence plots, and raise domestic animals for their own use.

Some rubber tappers have begun to expand their cattle herds and pastures.

The productive unit of the native rubber tapping system, the colocagdo

is measured not by land area but in accordance with the distribution of the

looping trails through the forest along which the rubber trees are distributed.

A tapper family exploits an average of three trails, with about 150-200 rubber

trees each, from which liquid latex is extracted on a daily basis during the

drier season from April through December. Tapping and processing rubber

requires 9-10 hours per day of the adult male members of the family. During

January and February, men devote most of their time to the collection of Brazil

nuts if they are abundant within their colocaCgo. These two products provide

nearly all of the family's cash income. Women and children are responsible

for the care of domestic animals and help with most phases of production and

processing of maize, rice, beans, cassava, and fruits used by the family.

Compared with the small farm systems of the settlers, the rubber

tapping systems of production provide a relatively stable subsistence and have

a far less drastic impact on the natural environment. However, rubber tapping

systems are also undergoing change due to development pressures. Common

problems face the rubber tapper families in the five areas where fieldwork

was carried out, but the potential for resolving these problems depends to a

great extent on institutional factors.

The isolation of the tappers settled in small clearings several hours

distant from one another presents formidable problems of transportation,

marketing, and access to services. Growing pressures on the natural resource

base and uncertainty regarding land tenure have tended to undermine the

stability of the natural forest extraction practiced over decades. Finally, the

dependence of most rubber tapper families on the sale of rubber and Brazil

nuts as their sole source of monetary income will become increasingly

untenable as new plantations of both products within Brazil enter the market

in the near future.

Despite these difficulties, the rubber tapper system of production is

remarkably stable compared to other land uses in the state. The impact on

forest resources has been minimal and selective. Rubber tapper families are

closely tied through informal kin and non-kin cooperation and show little

disposition to move on to other activities. Instead, they seek to diversity their
production systems and improve their productivity in order to remain as forest
production systems and improve their productivity in order to remain as forest

dwellers without undue dependence on the market for their subsistence needs.

Their possibilities for achieving these goals depend on the potential for

resolving the problems of land tenure, marketing, access to technical

assistance and other services through increased autonomy and internal

organization. The degree of autonomy from landowners and intermediaries,

and the extent of political organization, determine significant differences

among current systems of natural forest rubber tapping.

Tappers located near Xapuri, where most tappers have been free of

domination by patrons for some time and where political organization is

particularly strong, have begun to address some of the most important

constraints to improving productivity and sustainability. With the support of

non-governmental organizations they have constructed a number of schools

in remote areas, which provide basic literacy and arithmetic skills that allow

the tappers and their families to defend themselves in market transactions and

other interactions (Campbell, 1990). The schools also provide an important

focus of community activity and a meeting place for political discussions.

Their presence helps to stabilize a population of young people who would

otherwise move elsewhere because of the lack of schools. In contrast, there

are no schools in the rubber areas close to Plicido de Castro, where political

organization is weaker, and tapper families must send their children to nearby

towns to study.

Near Plhcido de Castro, the rubber tappers still depend to varying

degrees on trading post owners or other intermediaries, sometimes referred to.

as patrons, for transport of their rubber and other goods and for provisions.

Only those fortunate enough to be located close to a road can choose with

whom to trade, and can purchase what they need in the nearby town. Because

the traders control transportation and prices, the producers have responded

by expanding their subsistence activities in order to avoid market dependence.

By contrast, the rubber tapper movement near Xapuri recently founded a

cooperative that purchases rubber, Brazil nuts and other products from

producers at a better price, and provides transport at cost between central

warehousing points and isolated colocag6es The cooperative also sells basic

provisions at a lower cost to its members. As a result, other traders in this area

have adjusted their own prices in order to compete.

The sustainability of the rubber tapper system depends on finding ways

to improve productivity while maintaining a functioning natural ecosystem.

Development of technologies and market strategies to exploit a wider range of

forest products on a sustained-yield basis requires a long-term research and

extension effort in collaboration with the people who know and live in the

forest. Assurance of current land rights and of those of future generations are

a prerequisite for such a project. In response to immediate market pressures

and to the uncertainty of their future as rubber tappers, producers sometimes

knowingly overexploit rubber trees or produce lower quality rubber through

less time-consuming processing methods. In politically organized areas,

especially those set aside as extractive settlements, however, the population

has begun to impose its own regulations on rubber extraction and processing;

clearing for pasture and along watercourses; extraction of timber for sale or

cutting of fruit trees for fruit; and hunting with dogs or for more than

subsistence needs. Tappers also protect useful trees in the forest, along rubber

trails, and near clearings, and experiment with transplanting local species in

abandoned fallows. These innovations, and the local organizations that have

supported them, provide the potential for future research and extension


The Research and Extension Strategy

The diagnosis carried out by the PESACRE group indicated the dynamic

character of local small production system. The evident diversity and change

underscored the need to build long-term problem-solving capabilities. The

research revealed the lack of cooperation among local institutions as one of

the main factors limiting the capacity to develop a process of planning

rational policies for agricultural and agroforestry development in the state of

Acre. This suggested the need not only to strengthen the institutions, but also

to intensify the cooperative nature of activities in search of sustainable

agroforestry and agricultural systems adapted to the soil and climatic

conditions of Acre.

Priorities for these cooperative actions included: a) study of sustainable

agroforestry and agricultural systems aimed at recovering degraded areas; b)

development of rational methods of use and management of natural resources;

c) study of methods of pest and disease control for the main annual, perennial

and horticultural crops in the field and during storage; d) study of the

economic potential of native plants and animals; e) development of

mechanisms aimed at strengthening rural communities; f) adaptation of

education techniques and school calendars according to the activities of small

farmers and rubber tappers; and g) recuperation and study of the culture of

rubber tappers.

As a result of the diagnostic reports, several research and extension

projects were initiated in 1988 and 1989 by members of the PESACRE group and

by graduate students from the UF. A small "seed money" fund from the Ford

Foundation supported preliminary research, and local institutions contributed

their human resources and infrastructures. Some studies have already been

concluded and the results made available for future applied work (Campbell,

1989; 1990).

PESACRE group members have also begun to integrate the goals and

philosophy of the project's work with low-resource producers into their own

organizations' programs. By the end of 1989, group members had taken

positions as President of the Workers' Center (CTA a key NGO supporting the

rubber tappers movement) and as Chairman of the Agrarian Sciences

department at the UFAC. Other active group members held responsible

positions in local offices of national and regional research organizations,


In 1990, UFAC project coordinator Mdncio Lima Cordeiro was named

Secretary for Agrarian Development of the state of Acre. He named several

PESACRE group members to chief advisory positions, including technical

director for state agricultural extension services. The Secretariat's work

program focused on small producers, including rubber tappers, farmers and

native groups, with an emphasis on participatory research and extension

activities. Many of the specific proposals built on the diagnostic work already

carried out by the PESACRE group. In keeping with the goal of building inter-

institutional cooperation, the Secretariat's programs are to be implemented

through formal cooperative agreements with the research institutions

(university, EMBRAPA, INPA), with NGOs and with producer associations.

The proposals of Acre's state agricultural secretariat provided an

opportunity to orient PESACRE activities to a new emphasis on activities state-

wide. A proposal for the next phase of the project, now being formulated, is

designed to strengthen the integration of research, extension, and policy

initiatives oriented to small producers in the state. The PESACRE group, with

the collaboration of the University of Florida, will provide the mechanism to


coordinate the work of diverse institutions in a common work program that, if

successful, stands a chance of being sustained beyond political changes in the


The UF-UFAC Collaborative Project experimented with a novel

combination of strategies to build institutional capability and to develop a

sound methodological basis for research and action. Participants included

researchers and extensionists selected because of their common interest in or

on-going work with small producers within their own organizations. The

project provided these technicians with the skills to be responsive to

emerging problems, and with the opportunity to work with those from other

agencies with different points of view. The links between research, extension

and policy help to mold an integrated, not a sectoral, perspective. The

multidisciplinary, inter-institutional group called PESACRE is a key product of

the project. The working group neither substitutes for nor competes with

existing organizations, but rather provides integration, and a forum in which

group members can work and discuss common issues outside the constraints of

their own institutions. The group functions not as a political "interest" group

but as a professional collective, a cross-institutional vehicle for debate,

discussion, sharing of information and linking of research, policy and


Experiences elsewhere have shown that issue-oriented working groups

can be an effective way to draw together the resources and knowledge of

researchers, planners, and extensionists who are otherwise dispersed

(Schmink 1986; Schmink et al., 1986). More efficient use of existing

information provides a firmer basis for innovation. The ascension of several

Acre project participants to decision-making positions was an unforeseen


opportunity to strengthen the institutional bases for the project. Other group

members have shifted from one agency or job to another during the course of

the project. Over time, these connections help to consolidate an "institutional

field" to meet the challenge of implementing sustainable development

programs now being proposed for Acre.

The UF-UFAC training strategy was the key to establishing a strong

basis for the PESACRE group in a short time. The FSR/E methodology,

especially the sondeio and discussion of its findings, trained participants to

listen to producers and understand their logic and priorities, and to observe

whole systems and their interrelationships rather than focus only on their

particular professional interests. Preparation of reports forced participants to

listen to one another, reach a consensus on findings, set priorities and develop

recommendations. Literally every word of the sondeio reports was discussed

by the group, and the reports were finished within a week after the end of the

fieldwork. The collective research and training experience provided a vehicle

for agenda-setting in a matter of weeks, that took more than a year of monthly

meetings for working groups elsewhere to achieve (Schmink, 1986).

A relatively favorable political climate for the implementation of

alternative technologies for small producers exists in Acre, at least for the

short term. The continued strength of grass-roots political movements will

help to assure the possibility of continuing these programs. The state of Acre

is small enough to make a state-wide impact possible, under current

conditions. The state agency FUNTAC is coordinating a special, intensive effort

to implement Acre's extractive reserves. The new work thrust of the

Secretariat for Agrarian Development will complement that effort with a state-

wide extension program. The university and other research agencies will

provide the long-term research and training support.


It is impossible to predict Acre's political future, which could change

drastically with the gubernatorial elections to be held this year. The inter-

institutional character of PESACRE gives the group the flexibility to adjust the

overall work strategy to future constraints and opportunities. Whether they

continue as an informal group attached to other organizations, create' a

formal, legal entity, or are absorbed into the programs of one or more

organizations, their expertise will contribute to Acre's development initiatives

over the long run.

The UF-UFAC collaborative project is oriented to the long-term process

of building the strength of existing local institutions .by making more

efficient use of scarce and dispersed human and material resources. The role

of outside "experts" was primarily as facilitators and as equal collaborators in

this process. The project philosophy was not to introduce exotic technical

packages or solutions, nor to produce world-class research based on external

technical assistance. Building up from existing human and institutional

resources takes longer, but has important multiplier effects that improve the

long-term capability to work with outside experts, to develop appropriate

technical solutions, and to sustain the political support for their

implementation. If the program is successful in achieving its goals, the

ultimate beneficiaries will be the limited-resource producers in Acre, and the

natural systems on which they depend for their livelihood.

Schmink, M. 1985. The "working group" approach to women and urban
services. Ekistics 310: 76-83.

--- 1987. The rationality of tropical forest destruction. Pp. 11-30 in J.C.
Figueroa Col6n, F.H. Wadsworth & S. Branham (eds), Management of Forests in
Tropical America: Prospects and Technologies. Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico:
U.S.D.A. Forest Service.

-------, J. Bruce & M. Kohn. 1986. Learning About Urban Services for Women
in Latin America and the Caribbean. New York: The Population Council.

-------. & C. H. Wood. 1987. The "political ecology" of Amazonia. Pp. 38-57 in P.
D. Little & M.M. Horowitz (eds.), Lands at Risk in the Third World: Local Level
Perspectives. Boulder: Westview.

Schwartzman, S. 1989. Deforestation and popular resistance in Acre: From
local movement to global network. Presented at the meeting of the American
Anthropological Association, November.

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