Extractive Reserves in BrazilianAmazonia, Local Resource Management and The Global Political Economy

CATARINA A. S. CARDOSO:Hampshire: Ashgate Publishing, 2002.


In recent years, world attention has focused upon environmental destruction within the Brazilian Amazon, and the plight of indigenous peoples and rubber tappers living in the rainforest who depend on forest products for their very survival. In Brazil, public policy debate has centered upon the vexing question of how to conserve the rainforest, while simultaneously protecting the rights of people who live there. In Brazil, authorities think they might have the answer in so-called 'extractive reserves,' areas set aside by the government for local people who live in the Amazon. In 1990, in an innovative move, the Brazilian state set up the first extractive reserves, and there are now 16 federal and 21 state extractive reserves covering a total area of almost 45,000 square kilometers and benefiting a population of approximately 45,000 people.

Though the term 'extractive reserve' might have a novel sounding ring to many, the idea of protecting the environment through common property arrangements has been explored in many recent studies. One might cite Bonnie J. McCay and James Acheson's edited volume, published in 1987, The Question of The Commons, The Culture and Ecology of Common Resources, containing essays analyzing how common property regimes have been managed in different areas of the world. McCay's book has spurred further studies dealing specifically with Brazil. One could mention, for instance, Antonio Diegues' article on common property reserves in Grassroots Action, People's Participation in Sustainable Development, which explores the issue of wetland ecosystem conservation and people's participation. Diegues provides valuable discussion about economic and legal problems associated with extractive reserves in Brazil. Willem Assier's study, Going Nuts For The Rainforest, Non-Timber Forest Products, Forest Conservation and Sustainability in Amazonia, provides historical background on the rubber industry, the Brazilian rubber tappers' movement, and the setting up of rubber tapper extractive reserves. In the public policy arena, one might mention a report by the Environmental Law Institute, Brazil's Extractive Reserves: Fundamental Aspects of Their Implementation, which recommends important legal and economic initiatives designed to protect extractive reserves. Cardoso's book builds on much of this earlier secondary literature, citing historical studies as well as environmental and public policy reports. Cardoso's book also contains a chapter on particular extractive reserves where the author interviewed rubber tappers about their experiences. Breaking up the narrative with rubber tapper interviews could have conveyed a welcome personal note into the narrative, but Cardoso does not cite the tappers' comments extensively and in any case the respondents are, oddly enough, never identified.

In her book, Cardoso seeks to examine the relationship between Brazilian rubber tappers, on the one hand, and the wider socio-political and economic milieu, on the other. Cardoso poses two fundamental questions: first, what influences the creation of extractive reserves? And second, what affects extractive reserves' capacity to ensure sustainable development? On the first point, the book comes up short in many respects. The problem is, Cardoso does not come up with a convincing argument that can elucidate cause and effect: in other words, what led to the creation of the extractive reserves. At times, for example, the author refers to 'the South' or 'the North' and international disagreements over environmental issues, but does not tell the reader which countries are under discussion and which played prominently in helping to set up the extractive reserves. Cardoso is also vague in seeking to explain North American attitudes towards Brazilian Amazonia. We are told, for example, that 'people in the North' are interested in Amazonia because it is a mythical place (p. 78). At other times, Cardoso relies excessively upon the subjective tense, confusing the reader. So, for example, when discussing the Rio Earth Summit of 1992, Cardoso states: "consensus on the role of local people may have occurred [italics added] because support for local communities can circumvent to a certain extent disagreement on whether national governments or the 'international community' should have most rights over tropical forests" (p. 79). Aside from awkward phraseology, Cardoso's use of subjective tense does not help the reader understand the politics of the Rio Earth Summit.

Cardoso is similarly vague about domestic Brazilian politics, including the overall legislative process and political lobbying, and the role of the environmental ministry. She could have been more precise in dealing with the motivations of political figures such as Brazilian President Collor de Mello. Cardoso mentions media coverage of the Amazon question in passing, but the reader is left in doubt as to how much impact the media had upon public policy and formation of extractive reserves. On the second point, Cardoso makes a somewhat more convincing case. She argues that the legislative framework governing extractive reserves is adequate, but that tappers need economic development. Otherwise, she says, they will forsake the reserve entirely or turn to other economic activities such as ranching and logging, which have historically proven more ecologically destructive than tapping. The tappers need adequate enforcement measures to keep loggers out, yet also sufficient power to run their own affairs.

Cardoso has chosen a weighty and important issue well deserving of our attention. However, this book suffers from very serious grammatical problems that detract from the overall narrative. These mistakes are frequent and unrelenting. They include: unnecessary use of capital letters and commas, actions or historical events which occur in the wrong tense, problems with singular and plural construction, faulty word choice, and incorrect use of idiomatic expressions. All of these mistakes could have been avoided through a simple spell check. Did Ashgate or the author even bother? These mistakes are compounded by other more serious problems having to do with vagueness. Cardoso constantly uses unclear pronouns without naming the agent or subject in the sentence, a problem that not only affects grammar but also content and clarity. Finally, there are many redundant, self-evident, and needlessly jargonistic sections of this book that could have easily been eliminated. At times, it reads like a policy report written for a governmental or environmental agency. At other times, the author seeks to appeal to a more academic audience, with unnecessary theoretical jargon. The issue of forest conservation and property regimes is of immense importance to environmental NGO's; however, due to the shoddy grammar, any environmental activist, let alone English-speaking reader, will find this book frustrating.

Nikolas Kozloff CUNY, Brooklyn College

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