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close this bookAmazonia: Resiliency and Dynamism of the Land and Its People (UNU, 1995, 253 pages)
close this folder9. Trends and opportunities
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentEnvironmental degradation
View the documentWealth and well-being
View the documentVulnerability
View the documentFine-tuning the policy environment
View the documentA team approach
View the documentConservation and sustainable development

A team approach

A better integration of research efforts across the many institutions conducting research within and outside of Amazonia would also help further our understanding of biodiversity patterns, sustainable agricultural practices, and the potential and impact of new technologies. Networking is poorly developed among Amazonian research institutions, ranging from basic and applied science to university centres. Networking could help avoid redundancy and could make more efficient use of resources, particularly important in countries with limited resources (Plucknett, Smith, and Ozgediz 1990).

Fortunately, innovative farmers and ranchers and skilled researchers are adopting and developing new technologies to help overcome constraints to raising and sustaining agricultural and silvicultural yields in Amazonia. Although much more research and testing of agricultural technologies developed at scientific institutes and in farmers' fields are needed, there is reason for hope that many tracts of Amazonia's unique forests will survive.

This dynamic nature of Amazonian agriculture, so important for the cultural and ecological integrity of the region, is not new. Farming systems have been evolving in Amazonia since the first fields were cleared at least 10,000 years ago. Peoples in Amazonia have always been open to new crops and resource management strategies. Maize made an early entry into Amazonia, while other crops were incorporated by indigenous groups in the region after contact with Europeans, such as plantain by the Yanomamo in northern Amazonia, and sugarcane by the Jivaro, the Chácabo of the Bolivian Amazon, and the Maku of north-western Amazonia (Boom 1989; Boster 1983; Milton 1984). Only the pace of change has quickened, particularly in the twentieth century.

If properly managed, a wide range of agricultural and silvicultural activities are possible in the region. Both small-scale farmers and corporate operations are achieving sustainable yields in various parts of the basin. The continued vitality of Amazonian agriculture will rest on controlling inflation, a deeper understanding of the natural history of Amazonian ecosystems, including manmade environments, and greater support for research at agricultural research stations, basic and applied research institutes, and the growing universities in the region.

To further research on the many pressing sustainable development issues, much broader cooperation will be required by research organizations and NGOs in the region. Closer working ties need to be forged along several dimensions: between research organizations; between NGOs; and between research organizations and NGOs (Blake 1992). Although NGOs often have many advantages, such as flexibility and their links to grass-roots causes, they usually lack the capacity for scientific research. Sustainable development in Amazonia, as in any region, will require long-term commitment to research in many fields among various institutional players. Exciting opportunities lie ahead for allying the strengths of NGOs with research organizations in seeking solutions to the complex problems facing people and the environment in Amazonia.

With restricted funds for research, citizens of Amazonia can ill afford scientific institutes going their own ways, with little regard for the activities of other organizations involved in research and extension. Even if a flood of funding suddenly became available, it might not be spent wisely if viable research priorities and programmes have not been worked out.

Fortunately, research institutions in the region increasingly recognize the need to coordinate their efforts better. One sign of this positive trend is the creation of the Regional Commission for Research in Amazonia (CORPAM - Comissão Coordenadora Regional de Pesquisas na Amazonia) in 1989. CORPAM advises the President of Brazil on research and training needs for the region and involves a range of institutions, from universities to development agencies.

Stronger collaborative links also need to be developed among NGOs. The very ease with which NGOs can be formed, essentially with a phone, fax, copier, and portable computer, can quickly overload the system. The spectacular growth of NGOs, reviewed in chapter 3, has been largely fuelled by exterior donors in response to their distrust of government agencies. By 1989, NGOs from industrial countries were distributing an estimated US$6.4 billion to developing countries (Livernash 1992), and countries with territory in Amazonia received a good share of this largess. But little effort has been made to encourage consolidation, or at least closer cooperation to avoid redundancy. Donors must accept some responsibility for possibly superfluous organizations with poorly defined agendas and questionable efficacy in Amazon basin countries.

Perhaps the weakest link in the research field is cooperation between NGOs and government research organizations, such as the agricultural research institutions, scientific institutes, and researchoriented universities. Ironically, many NGOs are flush with funds from foreign donors, but are devoid of any expertise to carry out research. The funds being channelled to NGOs in Brazil would be sufficient to pay off the external debt of several smaller developing countries, such as Uruguay.