Payment for protection: an innovative program boosts incomes and saves trees

Payment for protection: an innovative program boosts incomes and saves trees

Mercy Corps made cutting down trees for cooking fuel more sustainable through a reforestation project in Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. Photo: JGrant for Mercy Corps.
Mercy Corps made cutting down trees for cooking fuel more sustainable through a reforestation project in Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. Photo: JGrant for Mercy Corps.

A new program in Brazil is turning tragedy on its head by paying the poor to preserve their natural surroundings.

Resource depletion and environmental degradation are common echoes of poverty. Desperate to get by, many rural poor turn to the only income source around: the natural environment.

That's why Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff outlined a new program called Bolsa Verde (green allowance) to promote environmental protection and decrease deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, according to mongabay.com. The program will provide BR $300 (US $180 US) every three months to extremely impoverished families living in national forests and sustainable reserves. Recipient families must currently have monthly incomes of less than BR $70 (US $40) to qualify.

In exchange, residents pledge not to deforest illegally or to poach timber. It’s a huge jump in income for the poor, and in one of the world’s most rapidly growing economies, it's a small price for the public to pay.

“Incentive is important because we assign an economic value to nature. It's as if it were compensation for conservation," said Manuel Cunha, president of the National Council of Extractive Populations of Amazonia.

The program is modeled after Brazil’s existing and widely respected Bolsa Familia (family allowance) program, which has helped reduce poverty and inequality over the past several decades, according to The Economist.

Bolsa Verde seeks to expand these successes, reducing the strain of poverty on ecosystem services as well. And when the environment is protected, the poor lead better, healthier lives. So Brazil plans to increase people’s income so they take better care of their environment and themselves.

The government, however, isn’t trying to stop resource consumption that people depend on. "It is an incentive to have sustainable use of natural resources. [Residents] have the right to use biodiversity, but in a sustainable manner," Roberto Vizentin, Secretary of Sustainable Rural Development of the MMA, told Globo News.

If effective, this could mean both improved financial livelihoods and reduced vulnerability for Amazonian residents. And the environment and the rest of the world get something from the deal as well.

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