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Brazil '98: Introduction
Brazil '98: Participants
Brazil '98: Map of Brazil
Brazil '98: Itinerary
Brazil '98: Itinerary - Introduction
Brazil '98: Itinerary - Rio de Janeiro
Brazil '98: Itinerary - Rondonio
Brazil '98: Itinerary - Roads to hell
Brazil '98: Itinerary - Deforestation
Brazil '98: Itinerary - Acre
Brazil '98: Itinerary - The working day of a Rubber Tapper in Acre
Brazil '98: Itinerary - The Chico Mendes story
Brazil '98: Itinerary - Manaus
Brazil '98: Itinerary - Para
Brazil '98: Itinerary - Dam Busters
Brazil '98: Itinerary - The Gold Rush and bombing of air strips
Brazil '98: Itinerary - Brasilia D.F.
Brazil '98: Itinerary - Rio de Janeiro and the return
Brazil '98: Debates
Brazil '98: Sponsors
Brazil '98: Brazil Facts

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

Amazon state of

Amazon state of Rondônia

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 region’s ‘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 Brazil’s 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 Rondônia’s population live in the state’s 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 conflict.
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 state’s 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 state’s inhabitants.
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 Rondônia’s 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 state’s 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 Amazon’s 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 Rondônia’s 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 Government’s 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’.
The colonisation of Guaporé exploded after the completion of the now infamous BR-364 highway in 1965. Any map of Rondônia or satellite image reveals the state’s 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 campaign.
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 state’s 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