RIO DE JANEIRO - A range
of natural goods from the Amazon forest, among them
fruits, rubber derivatives and cosmetic and medicinal
oils, are the raw material for products of mass consumption
that are providing the basis for a robust ''green''
industry in Brazil.
Natural latex is used to
manufacture condoms and sophisticated handbags and
sandals, while the fruit of the 'azaí' palm serves
to dye jeans made by the transnational Levi's, and
'guaraná,' an energy food, is the basic ingredient
of a soft drink that, according to its producers,
will soon be competing with Coca-cola.
Like the 'azaí,' many colorants
and natural fixatives, like 'urucum' and 'jenipapo,'
used by the Amazonian indigenous peoples in creating
crafts and artwork, have awakened market interest.
The Kaxinawás, for example,
paint their cloth black with a local mud and fix the
color with mahogany bark and banana tree sap, said
Joao Augusto Fortes, owner of Amazon Life, a Rio de
Janeiro-based firm specializing in ecological products.
It involves products of
''sustainable extraction,'' a process that has the
backing of a program financed by the Brazilian government,
the Group of Seven (G-7, the wealthiest of the industrialized
nations), and non-governmental organizations (NGOs),
he told Tierramérica.
Extractive Reserves, the
brainchild of Chico Mendes, the social and environmental
leader who was assassinated in 1988, have multiplied
in recent years. So far, there are 17 areas, with
the participation of 30,000 people, and another 14
are in the planning stages, according to the government's
Coordination Secretariat for the Amazon.
''We know the potential
for sales of some products and what must be done,
but we lack investment,'' pointed out Juárez Leitao
dos Santos, president of the National Council of 'Seringueiros'
The pulp of the 'azaí'
has ''a fantastic market,'' also as a beverage or
as a food for athletes, because it boosts muscular
elasticity, indicated Dos Santos.
A chain of athletic clubs
is interested in purchasing it, but investment is
needed to develop a distribution system, he said.
this year there will be regular source of income,
with greater official contributions and financing
from the Amazon Development Bank, Mary Alegretti,
head of the environment ministry's Coordination Secretariat
for the Amazon, told Tierramérica.
The major challenges in
extractive production now are to achieve high technological
qualifications and a stable supply.
''The model for developing
the activity,'' said Alegretti, was adopted for wood
on the Xapurí Reserve in Acre state. The project involves
forest management, small industry with environmental
certification, an education center and training in
design in Italy. In other words, it covers the entire
process for selling furniture and other value-added
final products, she pointed out.
Beautiful and Resilient
The so-called "Sandalia
d'Arvore" is a product created for the sophisticated
fashion market and contributes to the preservation
of Amazon forests.
The sandal made its debut
at the ''Rock in Rio'' music festival, which brought
1.2 million people to the concert grounds from Jan
12 to 21 with the slogan ''for a better world.''
''Bold design, comfortable,
resilient and beautiful'' describe the shoe developed
by the Eco-Business Institute of Amazonia, with financing
from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), said Moacyr Bittencourt,
coordinator of natural product marketing for WWF/Brazil.
The sandal's relatively
high price, 96 'reais' (49 dollars), is justified
because its quality meets European standards and because
it reimburses the people who are protecting the forests
by living in a sustainable way, Bittencourt explained.
The materials - natural
latex and plant-based leather - come from associations
of rubber tappers and Kaxinawás Indians in Acre. The
sandals are made in a factory in southern Brazil.
Production can reach 4,000 pairs a month, limited
only by the supply of raw materials. Buyers from Switzerland,
the Netherlands and Great Britain have already expressed
interest in the footwear.
Also taking part in the
sales, in addition to the WWF international network,
is Amazon Life, founded 10 years ago to develop and
market the plant-based leather, a rubberized textile
that replaces the animal-based product.
Annual invoicing is nearly
1.5 million dollars, two-thirds from exports. In addition,
diversification to other products - handbags, backpacks,
clothing and shoes - has already begun, as evidenced
by the Amazon Life website: http://www.amazonlife.com.br
Natural latex will also
be processed within the Amazon region for condom manufacturing
through a project combining the efforts of the Acre
state government, the Coordination Secretariat for
the Amazon, and the Ministry of Health, the latter
affirming that it plans to buy the entire stock.
But all of these products,
like plant-based leather, condoms and latex gloves,
represent a limited demand for rubber, the major market
of which is the tire industry, pointed out Atanagildo
de Deus Matos, the new head of the government's Development
Center for Traditional Peoples.
As a result, he places
greater hope on a project of the Pirelli company to
make the ''Xapuri'' tire, made entirely of natural
rubber and due out on the market by mid-year.
''That, of course, will
absorb the Amazon's rubber production,'' affirmed
Matos. The tires will cost more than those made from
petroleum-based rubber, but one can think of it as
an ''environmental tax that society should pay for
the preservation of the Amazon forests,'' he said.