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Author's profile photo Robin Meyerhoff

How Brazil’s River People Can Save the Amazon

Co-authored by Robin Meyerhoff and Renata Pompeu-Pividal

Brazilian Foundation helps build sustainable communities to watch over the forest. SAP data visualization solutions help improve programs management.

The Amazon jungle is distinguished by superlatives. Spanning 6.7 million kilometers, the Amazon contains the largest, most diverse forest on earth and is home to more than one third of all known living species in the world. Unfortunately, the superlatives also apply to the impact of deforestation. Close to 20 percent of the Amazon has disappeared in the past 50 years resulting from aggressive cattle ranching, logging and mining.

As has been well documented, rain forests play a critical role mitigating global warming by capturing and storing carbon dioxide, produced by fossil fuels, into oxygen. Today, it is estimated that 20 percent of the world’s oxygen is produced by the Amazon forest alone. Yet, a recent study showed that nearly 60 percent of all Amazon tree species risk extinction.

Ribeirinhos, The Guardians of the Amazon

But saving the Amazon is not just about protecting trees. The Ribeirinhos, or “river people” in Portuguese, inhabit the rural areas of the Amazon. Activists concerned with conserving the Amazon believe this community has an instrumental role to play in guarding the forest.

“When you don’t have any alternative, you do whatever you need to take care of your family. In the past, this meant cutting trees downs, so we could provide a better life for our kids,” says Roberto Brito, a former lumberjack that lives in a community located by the basin of the Negro River.

Now there are alternatives. Roberto and other community leaders work with Amazonas Sustainable Foundation (FAS), a non-profit dedicated to preserving the forest by supporting the communities that live there. To do so, the Foundation fosters an environmentally friendly path to economic development, bolstering industries like eco-tourism, craftsmanship, sustainable wood management and nut extraction.

In addition to creating economic opportunities for the Ribeirinhos, FAS develops educational programs that teach the community about the importance of maintaining the forest and how they can protect it. For example, workshops teach the Ribeirinhos how to alert authorities if they see unauthorized logging or razing for cattle pastures.

Data visualization shows path forward

But FAS has its challenges. “One common challenge faced by non-profits is increasing efficiency in a scenario of limited resources,” explains Virgilio Viana, Chairman of FAS. “We want to build a better world, and we need to make sure we are making the best of what we have.”

SAP provides technology to FAS that helps them to gain better oversight into their resources, so they can be more effective in their conservation efforts. The first phase of the partnership involved the donation of SAP Lumira, software that consolidates data from multiple sources and provides a visual representation of the information so it is easy to understand.

Previously, FAS tracked its educational workshops on paper and Excel spreadsheets. The organization used this information to see which villages had been visited, and determine where it needed to focus its efforts. Lumira brings together this data into an interactive dashboard. Now Virgilio and others at FAS can easily understand how effective educational outreach has been and pinpoint where they need to do more work.

“Anyone can use SAP Lumira, it is a really intuitive tool. With virtually no training, technology is helping us identify where we need to focus resources and where they will be most effective,” said Virgilio.

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