“The anthill from below and from above”
By Mario Osava*
Brazil's environment minister,
Marina Silva, comes from a movement that "defends the jungles
inseparably from the people who live in them." And that means
"introducing all aspects of sustainable development into the
heart of government," she told Tierramérica.
RIO DE JANEIRO - "I want to see the best
of modern times, but also the best of tradition, the anthill from
below and from above. It is the marriage between tradition and modernity,
between city and forest, sky and earth that will make Brazil into
the nation we seek," Marina Silva, Brazil's environment minister,
said in a conversation with Tierramérica.
Silva, 45, daughter of the Amazon and of the
struggle of the "peoples of the jungle", as a young girl
worked helping her father, a 'seringueiro' (rubber-tree tapper),
to collect natural latex in the forests of the northwestern state
She woke up very early and walked 14 km in
her daily rounds. Silva did not learn to read and write until she
was 17, but she graduated in history, studying at night and working
during the day as a maid.
The decision of President Luiz Inácio
Lula da Silva to name her minister in his new administration was
widely received with applause.
Marina Silva spoke with Tierramérica
recently in an exclusive dialogue:
- What awakened your concern for the
- It is the result of values that were cultivated during hard times.
It is also due to my participation in a social movement that contributed
to the creation of the "socio-environmental" concept,
which defends the jungles inseparably from the people who live in
them. That struggle seeks to introduce all aspects of sustainable
development into the heart of government. Strength grows through
combined effort. The Environment Ministry is guided by three pillars:
transversality, which is the interaction of environmental policy
with all sectors of government; community oversight and sustainable
- How do you ensure that the environmental
aspect cuts across all government decisions?
- Many officials (in the Lula administration) come from a long history
of social activism and the struggle against the Brazilian dictatorship
(1964-1985). What stands out now is the challenge of governing without
forgetting commitments to social justice.
- What should be changed in Amazonian
agriculture in order to prevent the burning of forest to clear more
- Farmers and ranchers in the Amazon are following the wrong model.
Recent fires in the northern state of Roraima prove this. There
are more than 20,000 families squatting on public lands there who
engage in this "iron-and-fire" agriculture that has reigned
for centuries. The effects are the loss of biodiversity, depletion
of the soil and harm to water resources and human health. We need
profound changes in the mode of production and in land settlement,
with perennial crops, agro-forestry system and sustainable harvesting,
in addition to lines of credit and new technologies. Several ministries
and government agencies are fighting the culture of fire jointly.
This is an example of transversality.
- What role will the traditional knowledge
of the peoples of the jungle play in promoting sustainable development?
- As an example, I like this story: a group of young researchers
set up their tent on the sandy bank of a river in an Amazon rubber-tree
forest. A local resident suggests that they should move to higher
ground because it will rain and the beach will flood. The experts
respond that their modern equipment does not forecast rain. At two
in the morning they knock on the man's door seeking refuge from
the storm. The next morning they ask him how he knew it was going
to rain. "Do you see that anthill near the river? When the
ants move from below to the upper part it's because it will rain,"
he told them. I want to see the best of modern times, but also the
best of tradition, the anthill from below and from above.
- What measures are being considered
to combat what is known as bio-piracy?
- Brazil is the world's richest country in terms of biodiversity.
We have more than 20 percent of all known living species, and in
recent years have seen the value of natural resources in creating
new products. To fight bio-piracy we have the Biodiversity Resource
Access Law, which must be reinforced. A recent case of bio-piracy
involves the cupuaçú, an Amazonian fruit that was
patented by a Japanese company.
* Mario Osava is an IPS correspondent.