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Francisco Kennedy Souza: Steward of Western Amazonia

In celebration of the International Year of Forests, we are highlighting those individuals, communities and businesses actively safeguarding the lungs of the planet.

Francisco Kennedy Souza: Steward of Western AmazoniaThe state of Acre, in Brazil’s Western Amazonia, is a place of natural abundance. Almost 90 percent of its area is still maintained as primary forest, and it is home to an enormous variety of mammals, birds and tree species. About half of its territory is community-owned land, which is inhabited by forest-dependent people.

Given its makeup, it’s not surprising that Acre has also been a kind of testing ground for policies aimed at fostering sustainable development through the harvest and sale of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) -- including fibers, fruits, seeds and medicinal herbs as well the bounty of the rubber and Brazil nut trees, which are so abundant in the area. But almost two decades after the establishment of reserves in its community-owned forests, this Brazilian state is still trying to determine the most effective ways of putting its development and conservation objectives into practice.

Enter Francisco Kennedy Souza. A Fulbright Scholar and Ph.D. candidate at Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Souza was recently awarded the Rainforest Alliance’s Kleinhans Fellowship for 2011 to 2013. His proposed research will focus on Acre, where he hopes to help communities figure out exactly how NTFPs can be used to provide a viable source of income while preventing deforestation and forest degradation within this biodiversity-rich part of the world. No stranger to the Amazon, Souza is himself a native of Acre and has spent nearly 20 years studying and working with local and international NGOs, universities, government agencies and grassroots community organizations in the region to come up with market-based solutions to the challenges it faces.

As part of his fellowship, Souza also hopes to enhance the managerial skills of community members, through workshops on sustainable management and the marketing of forest resources. His research and fieldwork are expected to contribute directly to the well-being of approximately 9,000 families in Acre and the conservation of 2.96 million acres (1.2 million hectares) of forests in Western Amazonia.

According to Souza, information is the key to long-term success. “Efforts to reduce deforestation and establish a forest-based economy in Amazonia require a better understanding of the constraints and impacts of managing forest resources. I hope to help these communities move toward a more entrepreneurial form of forest management.”

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