Extractive Reserves

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Extractive Reserves

Extractive reserves are tropical forest areas set aside as a public trust for sustainable development by local residents. They first appeared in Brazil in 1990 with the formation of the 1,250,000-acre Chico Mendes Extractive Reserve. The idea is said to have originated in 1985 at the first national conference of Brazilian rubber tappers in Brasilia. This meeting formally united the tappers with environmentalists who were interested in saving the Amazon rain forest from destruction by loggers and builders of roads and dams. Struggling to protect their livelihood against encroaching cattle ranchers, miners, and land-hungry settlers, the tappers had already formed cooperatives such as the Projeto Seringueiro (Rubber Gatherers Project) of Acre. United, they strengthened their bargaining power with rubber merchants and pooled resources for food production, education, and health care. Whereas the environmentalists envisioned the establishment of pristine national parks, the tappers sought support for their co-operatives.

The anthropologist Carlos Teixeira is said to have coined the term extractive reserves, which was presented as a positive alternative to capitalist development strategies and promised to save both the forest and the way of life of those who exploited its abundance in the least destructive manner. The details of the concept were elaborated in Brazil's 1987 agrarian reform law.

The idea helped consolidate support for rain forest protection in Brazil and abroad. Nongovernmental agencies, already enamored of sustainable development schemes in other contexts, embraced the idea, as did politicians, human and cultural rights groups, and ecologists. In other Latin American countries, where tropical forests formerly had been preserved as national parks and Indian reservations, new campaigns were inspired by the Brazilian model. As in Brazil, anthropologists and environmentalists joined with local peasants, such as resin tappers in Honduras and nut gatherers in Peru, to establish extractive reserves. In Costa Rica foreign pharmaceutical companies encouraged establishing reserves in order to protect potential medicinal resources from being destroyed. Extractive reserves have been debated in Belize, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, and Venezuela. Ironically, the movement became even stronger after the 1988 assassination of Francisco Chico Mendes Filho, a leader among Brazilian rubber tappers and a principal force behind the 1985 conference. In March 1990 Brazil created the first extractive reserve, the 1,250,000-acre Reserva Extrativista Chico Mendes. Others were created in Brazil in later years, including five in 2002 alone.

Critics charge that as a protective entitlement, the reserves interfere in the free flow of market forces and block economically depressed Latin American nations from fully exploiting their natural resource wealth. Even some supporters of the reserve concept believe they ultimately will fail, given capitalist pressure to exploit Latin American's resources, and they advocate more diversified strategies for the protection of the forest and its people. Lines on the map, they say, will not be able to stop the in-migration of masses of hungry settlers, exploitation by debt-ridden governments, and entrepreneurs anxious to capitalize on forest resources.

In fact, the reserves depend on government protection, and few Latin American states have been able to commit adequate funding to the task. In 2007 the Brazilian president Luis Inacio Lula da Silva asked rich countries to compensate poor countries such as his for setting aside forest in different forms of reserves. All the same, studies show that the reserves have been effective in reducing forest destruction, with Indian reservations being the most effective barrier and extractive reserves just a little more effective than uninhabited parks. Thus, whereas fires set by commercial agricultural interests have continued to destroy rain forests, the reserve system has saved millions of acres from destruction. Extractive reserves have the added benefit of raising seringueiro income and autonomy.

See alsoForests; Rubber Gatherers' Unions.


Allegretti, Mary Helena. "Chico Mendes: tempo de convicção e ideologia." Revista Parabolicas (São Paulo, Brazil) 44 (1998).

Nepstad, Daniel C., and Stephan Schwartzman. "Extractive Reserves Examined: Non-Timber Products from Tropical Forests, Evaluation of a Conservation and Development Strategy." Bioscience 43, no. 9 (October 1993): 644-646.

Nepstad, Daniel C., et al. "Inhibition of Amazon Deforestation and Fire by Parks and Indigenous Lands." Conservation Biology 20, no. 1 (2006): 65-73.

Place, Susan E., ed. Tropical Rainforests: Latin American Nature and Society in Transition. Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 1993.

Revkin, Andrew. The Burning Season: The Murder of Chico Mendes and the Fight for the Amazon Rain Forest. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1990.

                                           Cliff Welch

                                    Bastiaan P. Reydon

                       Raimundo ClÁudio Gomes Maciel