BRASILIA, Jan. 19 (AP) Rubber extractor Raimundo Mendes de Barros prepares to leave his home in the rainforest for Xapuri, a city in the Brazilian Amazon.
He slips his 77-year-old long, scarred legs into sneakers from French brand Veja.
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At first glance, expensive, white-detailed urban tennis shoes seem at odds with the muddy rainforest.
But distant worlds have merged to create soles made from rubber native to the Amazon.
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Veja works with a local cooperative called Cooperacre. Cooperacre has reinvigorated sustainable forest product production and improved the lives of hundreds of rubber extractor families.
Although small in scale, the project provides an example of sustainable livelihoods from forests.
“Veja and Cooperacre are doing vital work for those of us who live in the woods. They are bringing the youth back.
They rekindled their desire to work with rubber,” Raimundo’s 24-year-old son, Rogelio Barros, told The Associated Press, logging rubber trees in his family’s grove in the Chico Mendes Extraction Reserve. I demonstrated how to
Mining reserves in Brazil are government-owned land set aside for livelihoods while maintaining forests.
Rubber was once the center of the Amazon economy.
The first boom came at the turn of the 20th century. Thousands of people migrated inland from Brazil’s impoverished northeast to work in the forests, often in slave-like conditions.
That boom came to an abrupt end in the 1910s, when rubber plantations began production on a large scale in Asia.
However, during World War II, Japan cut supplies and the United States began funding the resumption of rubber production in the Amazon.
After the war, Amazon’s latex commerce declined again, even though thousands of families continued to work in poor conditions for their rubber bosses.
In the 1970s, these relatively wealthy individuals began selling land to ranchers in the South, mostly because they didn’t actually own the land and had ties to government officials. had an interest in
These land sales have caused a massive expulsion of rubber extractors from the forest.
The loss of livelihoods and deforestation to make way for cattle farming inspired renowned environmentalist Chico Mendes and a cousin of Barros to discover and lead the rubber picker movement.
Mendez is murdered for his work in 1988.
After Mendez’s assassination, the federal government began creating mining reserves so that forests could not be sold for cattle.
The Chico Mendes Reserve is one of them. But the story didn’t end with the creation of reserves.
Government attempts to promote latex, including the state-owned condom factory in Shapuri, have failed to generate reliable revenue.
What makes Veja’s operation stand out is that rubber tappers are now being paid well above the commodity price of rubber.
In 2022, the Barros family received US$4.20 per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of rubber harvested from their groves. It used to be a tenth of his amount.
The price paid by shoe company Veja to loggers includes bonuses for sustainable harvesting and recognition of the value of forest conservation, explains Sebastião Pereira, who is in charge of Veja’s Amazon rubber supply chain.
Rubber workers also receive federal and state benefits per kilo.
Veja also pays bonuses to tappers that employ best practices and local cooperatives that buy directly from them.
Standards range from zero deforestation to good management of rubber trees. In addition, the top producer will receive a pair of shoes as a prize.
Veja’s rubber is produced by approximately 1,200 families in 22 local cooperatives spread across five Amazonian states (Acres with Chico Mendes Extraction Reserve, Amazonas, Rondonia, Mato Grosso and Parra).
All rubber is sent to the Cooperacre factory in Sena Madureira, State of Acre, where the raw product is cut, washed, shredded into small pieces, heated, weighed, packaged, and finally industrialized by Veja. shipped to contracted factories in the state of Rio Grande Sur. Thousands of miles to the south, not just the state of Ceara in northeastern Brazil.
From there, the sneakers will be distributed to many parts of the world. Over the past 20 years, Veja has sold over 8 million pairs of his shoes in several countries and has stores in Paris, New York and Berlin.
The amount of Amazon rubber it buys has surged from 5,000 kilograms (11,023 pounds) in 2005 to 709,500 kilograms (1.56 million pounds) in 2021, according to company statistics.
But it wasn’t a game changer for the forests of the Chico Mendes Extraction Reserve, home to about 3,000 families.
The age-old problem of cattle trespassing has come to light. Former President Bolsonaro failed to run for re-election and he resigned late last year.
The main economic activity in Acre was long ago replaced by cattle. Nearly half of the state’s rural labor force is employed on cattle ranches, and only 4% of him earn their livelihoods primarily from forest products such as Brazil he nuts.
According to an economic study by the Federal University of Minas Gerais, cattle account for 57% of Acre’s economic output. Rubber is less than 1%.
Surrounded by cattle pastures, paved highways and a deforestation gateway, Chico Mendes has the third highest deforestation rate of any protected area in Brazil.
With increasing cattle pressure on reserves that have already lost 9% of their original forest cover, Veja has even installed its own satellite monitoring system.
“Our platform shows specific areas where deforestation is prevalent. We recognize that,” Pereira told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
“Law enforcement should be a public agency, so we are careful not to cross the line.”
According to Roberta Graf, who heads the Acre Chapter of the Association of Federal Environmental Officials, Veja’s experience is essential because it points the way to sustainable living within mining reserves.
Achieving that, however, will require a concerted effort involving different levels of government, nonprofits and grassroots organizations, she argues.
“Forest communities still value rubber collecting. They enjoy making a living out of latex,” she told the AP in an interview at her home in Rio Blanco, Acre’s capital. “There are many forest products such as copaiba, andiroba (vegetable oil), Brazil nuts, wild cocoa, seeds, etc. The ideal is to work with all of them, depending on what each reserve can offer.” (AP) )
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