Maria Margarida Ribeiro da Silva, 2017 Wangari Maathai Award recipient, Global Landscapes Forum, Bonn, Germany. GLF/Pilar Valbuena

Maria Margarida Ribeiro da Silva: “Great pride for women who fight to defend forests”

On the right path to conserve forests and improve livelihoods of those who depend on them

Remarks by Maria Margarida Ribeiro da Silva, community leader of the Verde para Sempre Extractive Reserve, Porto de Moz, Pará, Brazil, delivered at ceremony on Dec. 20 where she received the 2017 Wangari Maathai Forest Champions Award

Today is a day of great pride for the Amazon and mainly for women who fight to defend forests. For me, receiving this award is recognition that our fight is on the right path to conserve forests and improve the quality of life of people who depend on them.

I feel thankful and moved. All the effort has paid off: the dedication, coordination, and partnerships. This award is a recognition not only of my achievements, but of every group of community managers on their daily fight for access to public policies in securing their rights. This award is for everyone.

I live in the community “Nossa Senhora do Perpétuo Socorro of the Arimum River, within the Verde para Sempre Extractive Reserve, the greatest extractive reserve in Brazil, with 1.2 million hectares, an area larger than Lebanon. Our community’s fight began in 1998 with the creation of the first community association for securing land rights and the protection of rivers and forests.

At that time, we had the support of the rural workers union and the Catholic Church, which was decisive in our fight. One defining moment was when we used our fishing boats to block the river to stop illegal loggers. After this event, the Brazilian government declared the creation of the Verde para Sempre Extractive Reserve in December 2004.

In 2006 we developed the first proposal for community forest management within a conservation unit supported by the KFW, a German organization (development bank). Because there was no Brazilian law or legislation that would ensure the rights of traditional populations, this pilot project supported our cause.

I went to Brasilia to talk to representatives of federal agencies where we were able to approve a community forest management plan for RESEX (extractive reserve). This allowed the residents of our community to manage and commercialize wood in a sustainable way.

This first experience allowed us to collaborate with several partners such as the Brazilian Forest Service, Ibama, Public Ministry, Universities, non-governmental organizations such as IEB (International Institute of Education of Brazil), GTA (Brazil-Amazon Working Group), FASE (Brazil’s Federation of Organs for Social and Educational Assistance) and CNS (Brazil’s National Council of Rubber Tappers), who supported us through a working group to develop community management in the reserve.

This pilot experience served as a basis for the creation of the Normative Instruction No. 16 in 2011 of ICMBio (Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation, the Brazilian Ministry of the Environment’s administrative arm), which regulated community forest management within a conservation unit. I had the opportunity to contribute to the development of this initiative.

Our work in RESEX focuses on enabling forest management with low impact techniques and allowing communities to adequately manage the economic resources resulting from the activities. Our work towards community empowerment was recognized in 2016, when our cooperative received the FSC (Forest Stewardship Certification) certification.

Our work gained national recognition through the program Florestabilidade, produced by the Roberto Marinho Foundation. Several episodes of a TV program aimed at public school students in the Amazon region televise our experience collecting forest products and sustainably using the forest, highlighting its importance to the planet.

Our work has also served to support young leaders who participated in the “Formar Florestal”, a course promoted by the International Institute of Education of Brazil, which allows community leaders to reinforce the relevance of the forest to Amazonian populations residing in areas with strong pressure on natural resources and territorial disputes.

I am currently a member of the Observatory of Community Forest Management, a group of 14 community organizations representing 2,500 families from 11 territories of Pará (state). Together with educational and research institutions, and nongovernmental organizations, we collectively work in pursuing alternatives that ensure autonomy of the communities in the management of their territories.

Finally, I would like to thank the organization of the event for the opportunity to internationally recognize the theme of community forest management, as the Amazonian populations lack continuity of support, especially financial, to guarantee the fight for their rights.

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