When the Portuguese finally decided to colonise Brazil in 1500 (with some encouragement from the British and French), they probably couldn’t even imagine the scale or magnitude of the natural resources that they were uncovering. It contains the “Lungs of the Earth”, the Amazon rainforest, responsible for absorbing 1.5 gigatons of Carbon Dioxide a year (… I can’t even fathom this!). The Pantanal, the world’s largest tropical wetland, with the highest population of crocodilian species in the world (eeps), and a staggering amount of incredible biodiversity. Not to mention one of the most jaw-dropping coastlines in the world, particularly in the state of Bahia in the North Eastern area of Brazil, which I was lucky enough to see with my own eyes last year along with the Amazon itself.
All sounds good, right?
So, my questions are these…
- Why does Brazil still have a lot of inequality? What’s holding it back?
- Why are vast amounts of the Amazon still being deforested?
- How could sustainable tourism encourage other industries to blossom
Brazil’s Wings Were Clipped – the Story of the Rubber Plant
Before looking at the current state of Brazil (or the Federative Republic of Brazil, to be precise!), I think it’s important to see how Brazil had its wings clipped before it really learnt to fly.
It all came down to the rubber plant.
Found naturally in the Amazon, it became a source of economic growth for Brazil for 30 years, between 1880-1910 (or thereabouts)… Guess what other huge business started to grow in this time? You guessed it (maybe?), the car. With Henry Ford setting up a gigantic rubber plantation and an entire town within the Amazon (Fordlândia), it was a chance for Brazil to make its mark on the world stage with one of the most precious commodities at the time. With the Amazonian capital city of Manaus blooming, there was a chance for Brazil to flourish.
Until a British botanist, Henry Wickham, took a sample of the rubber seeds with a view to setting up plantations in the Dutch, French and British colonies in Asia (which he did very successfully).
Sadly this devastated the rubber industry in Brazil, leading to Fordlândia’s decline, and is now essentially a ghost town.
The Amazon- Deforestation
With an abundance of resources naturally available in Brazil, from Rubber to Sugar (not to mention the potential to be an eco-tourism powerhouse, more on this later), you may find it surprising that vast swathes of the Amazon being cut down for beef farming and more recently soy farming (to produce cheap animal feed).
I discovered this while on my way to the Amazon in November 2017, much to my heartbreak and sadness, that the Amazon is still being torn down for cattle farming which isn’t good for the environment as it is, let alone taking chunks of the earth’s “lungs” away.
Luckily, it isn’t all bad in the Amazon. The Amazon Lodge we offer is a small-scale eco-lodge, supported by the government and designed to give the local people an income while protecting the rainforest. It also gives people like me the chance to see a completely different way of life. The more this kind of sustainable tourism is supported, the more value will be seen by the government and hopefully, stop the rainforest being destroyed for farming.
Thankfully, there are further efforts being made to protect the Amazon, around 45% is currently protected to protect the native people of the Amazon, as well as other national park initiatives.
An Opportunity in Sustainability – Praia Do Forte
During the road trip part of my Rickshaw holiday to Brazil, I saw many historic colonial towns like Olinda or Penedo and the first grand (and huge!) capital city of Brazil, Salvador. I was expecting to see these, and really enjoyed them during my trip for their history, charm and South American vibes – they were beautiful.
However, there was a surprise along the way.
Praia Do Forte, was one of the few places on the trips I didn’t have time to research before heading on my epic adventure to Brazil. On arriving in this town, I saw small-scale hotels, a self-claimed eco-resort.
The town was buzzing!
Vibrant cafes, boutique jewellery shops, independent restaurants, bars and clubs, all thriving off the back of the sustainable hotels and beautiful coastline. Unlike most towns I drove through, there wasn’t a sign of same levels of inequality while entering or leaving Praia Do Forte (at least as far as I could see!). The town felt safe, yet exciting – in the evening there was Capoeira fighters/dancers, Christmas lights up, smiling faces of local people making a decent living from a town that has adopted eco-tourism as its defining feature.
If other towns along the coast were to do the same (taking a look at the Costa Rica model, or Las Terrazas in Cuba) with so much to offer, there is no reason Brazil should not become a powerhouse of sustainable tourism. Embracing sustainability and ecotourism could be the spark to fuel other related industries (like science research for sustainability or green energy), and with the abundance of resources at its fingertips, and people eager to work and make a decent living, it could well flourish. There are obviously other places doing the same throughout the country, but during my trip, Praia Do Forte particularly stood out as an example of eco-tourism done right. More and more, people from around the world want to know they are visiting a destination that understands the importance of safeguarding the environment, cultures, and communities of where they are going.
Could Brazil be boosted by Ecotourism?
Unfortunately, Brazil’s reputation has taken a couple of knocks over the last 5 years, following several issues surrounding the 2014 Football World Cup & the 2016 Olympic games which certainly haven’t helped Brazil’s reputation on the global tourism stage.
But maybe it’s time for a rethink?
Brazil, should by all accounts be one of the world powers. Much like the USA, with manpower, resources, and sheer size on its side – Brazil has the potential to make up lost ground from the rubber industry fall in the early 1900’s by moving towards sustainable tourism, much like Costa Rica has done in a really positive way. As it stands, from what I saw, and from the people I spoke who work in the tourism industry while I was in Brazil is there isn’t enough awareness in the country about the value of sustainability in tourism, or even culturally in general. If Brazil can learn from the good work being done in the Amazon (with the eco-lodges), and places like Praia Do Forte (there are undoubtedly a lot more in this huge country!), it stands to gain so much.
And, with its increasingly green energy credentials, with 85% of its energy being generated by renewable energy (mainly from Hydroelectricity but increasingly Biomass energy & wind energy having huge potential as well), there is a huge success story to tell the tourism industry worldwide.
I think anyone can see, that Brazil has so much to offer, it’s truly one of the most breathtakingly diverse countries in the world. If it can make the jump, then the country can show itself to the world anew. Embracing a new-found meaning in the world, sustainability.