An Interview with John Cain Carter:
Rhett A Butler, mongabay.com
June 7, 2007
The key to making conservation successful is making it profitable. John Carter may hold that key.
The reasons for land-clearing in the Amazon are compelling: cheap land, low labor costs, and booming demand for commodities driven by a surging China and growing interest in biofuels. These factors have helped Brazil become an agricultural superpower – the world's largest exporter of beef, cotton, and sugar, among other products – in less than a generation. Amazon landowners have seen their land values double every 4-5 years in areas that just a decade ago were pristine rainforests. The market is driving deforestation.
John Cain Carter with his Xavante Indian neighbor
While deforestation rates in the Amazon have accelerated, the problem is not a lack of laws, but rather a legal system where enforcement is so slow and so corrupt that it renders the laws effectively useless. On paper, cattle ranching in the Amazon may be the most restricted in the world, with landowners required to keep 80 percent of their land forested – a limitation no rancher in Texas faces. Carter wants to see farmers in Brazil benefit in following the law, by turning this restriction into a marketing advantage. However in order to do so, Amazon producers have to ensure that consumers ( i.e., buyers of commodities like McDonalds, Wal-Mart, and Cargill) can confidently say that agricultural products are produced legally and even more sustainably than stipulated by the law. The incentive for producers is market access: Aliança da Terra helps Brazilian farmers and ranchers get the best price for their products, but only if they follow the rules. While producers get higher prices for their goods, buyers like Burger King and Archer-Daniels Midland can say they are using legally and responsibly produced beef. Meanwhile more rainforest is left standing, ecosystem services preserved, and biodiversity conserved. Everybody wins.
What is most remarkable about Aliança's system is that it has the potential to be applied to any commodity anywhere in the world. That means palm oil in Borneocould be certified just as easily as sugar cane in Brazil or sheep in New Zealand. By addressing the supply chain, tracing agricultural products back to the specific fields where they were produced, the system offers perhaps the best market-based solution to combating deforestation. Combining these mechanisms with large-scale land conservation and scientific research offers what may be the best hope for saving the Amazon.
In a June interview with mongabay.com Carter explains his experiences in Brazil and his approach to saving Earth's largest and most important rainforest.