The role of non-timber forest products in the sustainability of social-ecological systems: A critical analysis of selected case-studies in the Brazilian Cerrado
The Brazilian Cerrado is the second largest biome in South America. It occupies an area of 2,036,448 square kilometers – which corresponds to approximately 22% of the Brazilian territory – spanning over the states of Goiás, Tocantins, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Minas Gerais, Bahia, Maranhão, Piauí, Rondônia, Paraná, São Paulo and the Distrito Federal (www.mma.gov.br). It is one of the world´s biodiversity hotspots and is recognized as the richest savanna in the planet (PPCerrado, 2010). This biome is home to 11,627 native plant species, 199 mammal species, 873 bird species, 1200 fish species, 180 reptile species and 150 amphibians (www.mma.gov.br). Furthermore, the headwaters of three major river basins in South America (Amazônica/Tocantins, São Francisco and Prata) are situated in the biome. The Brazilian Cerrado is also rich from a social and cultural perspective. Many traditional communities inhabit the biome and possess valuable traditional ecological knowledge. The traditional communities of the Brazilian Cerrado include indigenous groups (more than 80 ethnicities), quilombolas (ethnical groups predominantly constituted by slave descendants), and ribeirinhos (groups of people living in the proximities of water bodies and whose ways of life resemble those of indigenous groups). Indigenous groups, quilombolas and ribeirinhos share the characteristics of preserving ancestral culture and a cosmovision that does not separate human beings from nature, but believe in their entanglements. From a socioeconomic perspective, the traditional communities of the Brazilian Cerrado have been suffering different types of pressures from the exclusionary economic development model ongoing in the region. Since the 1960s, cattle ranches and croplands have been dominating the biome, resulting in accentuated deforestation. Between 2000 and 2012, 308,410 square kilometers of the Brazilian Cerrado were deforested (IBGE, 2015). In 2013, natural forests accounted for only 20.54% of the Brazilian Cerrado area, whilst pasturelands accounted for 29.46% and croplands for 11.8% of the area (INPE, 2013). Under this model, the traditional communities of the Cerrado are deprived from access to land and to the forest resources on which they depend (Garret & Rausch, 2016; Ganem et al., 2013; Spavorek et al., 2010). In addition to incurring in intricate social issues, deforestation results in several environmental impacts, such as forest fragmentation, biodiversity loss, forest fires, increase in aerosol concentrations, greenhouse gases emissions, soil nutrients imbalance and disturbances in the water cycle (Artaxo, 2005; Davidson et al., 2012). Considering projections of growing demand for soybean and meat production (KPMG, 2013), it is not equivocated to assume that deforestation pressures in the Brazilian Cerrado will continue to increase in the future. Thus, controlling deforestation – which will lead to securing traditional communities´ rights – is indispensable. Within this context, extractive reserves (RESEX) play a crucial role. Hence, understanding how RESEX function as a cross-scale and multi-actor approach to conservation is fundamental. For that matter, it is essential to explore how local communities, governmental actors (ICMBio, in the realm of this research) and agroindustry actors perceive outcomes and opportunities to improve activities within RESEX and environmental regulations in the Brazilian Cerrado. This PhD research will do so by employing a mixed methods approach and drawing on integrative fields that bring significant contributions to sustainability: political ecology, social-ecological systems and social innovation.