From Rio de Janeiro we will fly
3473 kilometres in approximately
two and a half hours to a destination
which could never be accused of
being a tourist destination, the
This is our
entry point into the Brazilian Amazon.
Rondônia is a key state for us to visit because it is the site of
a programme heralded as a model for sustainable development throughout
the Amazon–Planafloro. Planafloro has caused much controversy in
Rondônia and there are ongoing debates over its capacity to meet
the needs of the population. We will explore the claims and controversies
prompted by Planafloro.
Stepping off our
air-conditioned jet, extreme weather conditions will confront us. When
we arrive in Rondônia it will resemble a sauna. We can expect average
temperatures of 30ºc, an average humidity of 75 per cent, the odd
downfall and spectacular lightning displays in the evening sky. We will
arrive during the Amazon regions dry season which lasts
from June to December. It still rains but relatively lightly and for only
four to twelve days a month. In the wet season, from January to June,
torrential tropical downfalls can occur up to twenty days in every month.
Travelling by plane
participants will find it hard to pinpoint the location and appreciate
the size of Rondônia. Rondônia is at the south western edge
of the Brazilian Amazon region. It runs the length of Brazils frontier
with neighbouring Bolivia and is one of the medium sized states in the
Amazon region of Brazil. Yet, at 238,512 square kilometres, it is only
6,000 square kilometres less than the size of the UK. Nearly sixty per
cent of Rondônias population live in the states main
urban centres, the state capital Porto Velho and the smaller centres of
Ji-Paraná, Ariquemes, Cacoal and Vilhena.
Guide books and newcomers
to the state always comment on its wild west, cowboy and indjun
feel. It is indeed a rough and ready region of Brazil. This is due to
the character of its recent development. From the 1960s Rondônia
has been the location of successive projects aimed at rapidly colonising
the state and transforming it into a vast region for agricultural development.
These projects became the targets for international environmental campaigns
accusing the projects of causing high levels of deforestation and social
The objective of
Planafloro is to resolve these problems. Advocates argue that it can promote
the economic development of the state whilst protecting its natural resources.
The centrepiece of Planafloro is an environmental zoning scheme. The state
is being divided into zones which are dedicated to specific activities.
Some will be protected areas, such as Indian reserves and nature parks,
whilst others will be areas for economic development. In addition, all
economic activity must be sustainable which means it must not destroy
the states natural resources. These zones are being monitored by
the Government. The objective of our visit will be to explore the impact
of this zoning scheme on the lives and economic fortunes of the states
We begin our visit
in Porto Velho, located in the far north of the state on the Rio Madeira.
Porto Velho is the administrative base of Planafloro. We hope to meet
with the Rondônia Non-governmental Forum. This forum was set up
to have a central role in the running and monitoring of Planafloro.
We will visit the
Porto Velho port project and the Rio Madeira waterway project. These are
two of Rondônias major economic infrastructure development
projects. The Government sees the success of such projects as key to the
success of Planafloro. The Government argues that in order to protect
natural resources it is necessary to make the present economy more productive.
Previous colonisation and development projects, such as cattle ranching,
have been accused of being unproductive and wasteful of natural resources.
These infrastructure projects are designed to increase the competitiveness
and value of the states agricultural produce by speeding up their
export to foreign markets. Other initiatives, such as milk and coffee
production plants, are designed to process the produce and thereby increase
its market value.
We will visit the
port facilities and discuss their impact with the port staff and its owners
and maybe take a boat ride on the Rio Madeira waterway project which involves
the deepening and widening of sections of the Rio Madeira. It is part
of Brazil on the Move. The Rio Madeira is the Amazons longest tributary
at 3240 kilometres. This waterway will provide transport for produce to
the US and Europe via the Amazon river. It will also be used to overcome
the major obstacle to Rondônias economic development, an energy
shortage. Rondônia has one dam, the Samuel Dam but the Government
will not build another for fear of damaging the environment. Therefore
it must import power supplies from other regions. The Madeira waterway
will provide a transport route for natural gas supplies from the Amazon
region to be used to supply a new power station at Caiari.
Next we will visit
areas near Porto Velho which have been affected by the Planafloro environmental
zoning scheme. This has been the most influential component of Planafloro.
It is seen as a model for sustainable development planning right across
the Amazon. It was developed in Rondônia as a way of resolving problems
caused by previous development projects.
In the 1960s and
1970s the Brazilian Government looked upon the Guaporé territory,
as Rondônia was previously known, as a resource for solving problems
incurred in other regions of Brazil. In the south of Brazil, agriculture
was being modernised. Land was being concentrated into large farms and
agricultural techniques were being mechanised. In response the Brazilian
Government promoted the colonisation of the Guaporé territory by
the thousands of peasant farmers who had been denied land and work. Cattle
ranchers were also subsidised by the Government to set up in Guaporé.
This colonisation project was part of the Governments first development
plan for the entire Amazon region. It wanted to colonise the region in
order to integrate it into its modernising economy and its national territory.
This was known as frontier economics.
of Guaporé exploded after the completion of the now infamous BR-364
highway in 1965. Any map of Rondônia or satellite image reveals
the states defining feature, its road network. This is dominated
by the BR-364 roadway, the one major road artery which dissects the state
on a virtual north-south axis. Like a spinal column it strikes through
the state in a straight line with feeder roads breaking off at right angles
like a spindly rib cage. These smaller roads service the myriad of farms,
cattle ranches and mining areas which have sprouted since the construction
of the BR-364. In the 1970s this road led to a virtual stampede of migrant
farmers and cattle ranchers.
The most explosive
boost to colonisation came with the World Bank-funded Polonoroeste development
programme. This project, inaugurated in 1981, the year in which the state
of Rondônia was formally created, was designed to turn the north
west region of Brazil into a massive agricultural development pole. It
was argued to be an advance on the frontier economics Amazon
development strategy because it was part of a comprehensive development
plan which recognised that the Amazon could only accommodate limited areas
or poles of development. Polonoroeste was intended to promote the controlled
colonisation and reforestation of Rondônia. Yet by the mid-1980s
Polonoroeste became the target of a massive international environmental
A central part of
Polonoroeste was the paving of the BR-364. This led to a huge influx of
settlers all staking a claim on the states resources. This led to
the rapid deforestation of parts of Rondônia and created severe
social conflicts. Rondônia was the focus of global media attention
in 1987 when record forest burnings were recorded in the Amazon.
Media attention and
environmentalist campaigns led to the temporary freezing of World Bank
loans to Polonoroeste and by 1987 the World Bank conceded that it had
been a failure. Today environmentalists remain firm opponents of infrastructure
projects in the Amazon. In response the first stages of Planafloro were
put into action in 1986. The state Government financed an initial division
of the state into 32 land use zones.
The objective of
the Planafloro zoning scheme is to utilise 30 per cent of Rondônia
for sustainable development whilst protecting the remaining 70 per cent.
Twelve per cent will be kept aside as areas in which no human activity
will be permitted. By 1996, 61 areas had been turned into state parks,
ecological stations, Indian reserves, biological or extractive reserves,
covering an area of nearly three million hectares.
This project is