Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Brasilian Postcard 2 - Ecotourism and the nature of nature

Ecotourism has been central to both weeks in Brasil.  And the experience overall has been a delight.  In the first week, along with a small group of Systems scholars, we explored different parts of the National Parks Aparados da Serra and Serra Geral accompanied by a young guide who, with a partner, had set up an ecotourism business.  As the week progressed several colleagues and I  began to be concerned about the praxis of guiding and the mental models that underpinned this praxis as well as the management of the parks complex.  It became clear that the dominant mental model was one of humans outside nature, the conservation of a pristine nature devoid of humans except as sensitive (controlled) voyeurs of the landscape.  The dominant practice of guiding was to relate the facts of the matter - not to engage with the situation.  Talking dominanted listening.

In the National Parks the mental model was one of conserving 'natural systems'; there was only limited place for agro-ecosystems.  Many people had been ejected from within the perimeters of the park and it appeared that a lot still awaited compensation from the State. Some examples of new agro-ecosystems development concerned with biodiversity managment and types of forest/crop permacultures were beginning to appear.  These had support from the Santa Caterina State extension service (EPAGRI), so perhaps the barriers between these mental models may break down over time.  The buildings for drying and curing tobacco - one of the main former crops - were common in the park as were bananas - both organic and non-organic. Experience in many parts of the world suggest that unless local people become stakeholders in the park and its governance then the social and ecological objectives will be hard to meet.

The araucaria forest on the plateau was particulalry spectacular.  This forest is clearly is in need of more extensive conservation and it is a shame, in the scheme of things that so much of the land bordering the parks has been turned over to cattle grazing on low quality tropical grass pastures.

Cattle are clearly built into the psyche of most rural inhabitants in this part of the world - they still provide draft power for small holders as well as being central to many sporting activities.

It was a challenge for most of us to be in the landscape - to listen and silence the internal voices - perhaps a 'pathology' of the now urbanised world we inhabit.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Brasilian Postcard 1 - 'diverse perceptions'

Brasil must be getting it right - they know how to keep bottled beer cold.  By a particular Australian standard this might be the height of cultural achievement.  Having just spent two weeks in Brasil I am left with a myriad of perceptions which undoubtedly say as much about me as they do about Brasil. Here are some.
  • This is my third visit to Brasil since 2002 and now, more than before, it seems  important not to leave Brasil out of any discourse about emerging 21st century states i.e., China, India and Brasil need to be used in the same phrase.  Of course the development challenges remain enormous - as they are for China and India.  This came home to me in a particular way.  We spent one week based in Bonito and travelled out by mini-bus to different ecotourism destinations.  Many of these trips were on dirt roads (see photos). Four of these journies involved back-breaking travel over side-tracks.   Side tracks are those rough tracks which run alongside the main road when it is being prepared for surfacing with bitumen.  In the 1950s and 60s side tracks and dirt roads were very common in Australia.  These days most Australians, Europeans and Americans probably never encounter one.  They are symbolic of the massive public invstement that is being made, and still needs to be made, in transport infrastructure.  But with this form of development exploitation - possibly over exploitation - can quickly follow.
  • The land cleared for soybeans, corn, sugarcane in Matto Grosso do Sul state is immense.   Brasil is now an integral part of the global grains trade with strong ties into China and Europe (supply) and the USA - signs for varities and chemicals from Dow, Cargill, Dekalb, Agremon etc litter the road from Campo Grande to the south. I am told that weeds that are Roundup resistant are already becoming a major issue in soybean production.  From a systems perspective this was to be expected.
  • During my stay I had news of a BBC report about expansion of rainforest clearing in Matto Grosso - the state immediately north from where I was.  The report said:
'Deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest has increased almost sixfold, new data suggests. Satellite images show deforestation increased from 103 sq km in March and April 2010 to 593 sq km (229 sq miles) in the same period of 2011, Brazil's space research institute says. Much of the destruction has been in Mato Grosso state, the centre of soya farming in Brazil.  The news comes shortly before a vote [in the Brasilian Parliament] on new forest protection rules.

Brazilian Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira said the figures were "alarming" and announced the setting up of a "crisis cabinet" in response to the news. "Our objective is to reduce deforestation by July," the minister told a news conference.'

  • Whilst  meeting with colleagues from Santa Caterina in the National Parks Aparados da Serra and Serra Geral, another example of the systemic failure of public policies became apparent.  Brasil has legislation making it illegal to harvest and use native tree species (though as can be seen from the BBC report this is not really effective as all regulations require resources for enforcement and these are just not available).  But the policy is delivering other unintended consequences.  We learnt of people who would like to replant native species but because the legislation precludes them harvesting any of what they plant they instead turn to exotic Eucalyptus which sits outside the ban.  They can then selectively harvest the eucalyptus for personal use and income.
  • One of the books I have been reading here in Brasil is  Tim Jackson's 'Prosperity Without Growth' (2009). In the context of Brasil - and elswhere he poses some big questions - but ones that need to be asked.  I do not feel optimistic.
  • I am intrigued by the possible systemic implications of the rapid expansion of evangelical religion in Brasil.  A further decline of the Catholic church?  Release through diversity as in the UK in the 18th and 19th centuries?  A precursor to a largely atheistic state? In Bonito with about 20,000 people there were Assemblies of God and Assemblies of God (Primitive) churches plus at least five other evangelical variations.  The Catholic church was not apparent!  In Campo Grande (population about 800,000) there are five Morman churches and countless other evangelical denominations.
  • Brasilian breakfasts are a delight.  So are the people - though it is hard going for English (only) speakers compared to some other countries. Of course the reverse is true as well - and people have been extremely polite and welcoming.
  • Sohisticated schemes such as recycling - which is widespread and easy to use combine with a propensity for kitsch - as with the jaguar phone booth in the mainstreet of Bonito.