In the Amazon rainforest of Brazil, a small but significant movement is underway to protect the rainforest by connecting small-scale producers tapping rubber trees with multinational brands, report Brian Barth and Flávia Milhorance in FERN’s latest story, produced with The New Republic.
The links give settlers and Indigenous groups a means to make a living from the forest, although it hasn’t been strong enough to counter the growing trend to cut trees for beef cattle ranching.
“Rubber is one of dozens of products that activists hope may help save the rainforest by bolstering the Amazon’s emerging bio-economy—a term applied to industries that encourage forests to be kept standing. Açaí, the fruit of a native palm sold as a superfood, is the most famous example and the most lucrative to date,” the story says.
Preserving the rain forest, experts say, will actually require trends like these in order to change the region’s political economy. Specifically, it will require a redistribution of wealth from rich countries to families who produce these products, who otherwise have few options to make a living that don’t involve cutting the trees.
In one instance, the international sneaker company Veja pays about $2 per kilo of rubber, more than four times the current market value. It’s a wealth transfer that high-end brands are positioned to promulgate because their customers can afford to a pay a premium for exotic products.