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Ecotourism for the Amazon

Many attempts have been made to open up Brazil’s vast Amazon region to rubber production, mineral and timber extraction, and ranching. To one degree or other, these efforts have succeeded, but often at a great cost to the environment.

Now once again there are plans afoot to open up the Amazon: this time to tourists.

A new IDB-funded project will lay the groundwork to turn the Amazon, with its vast attractions as the world’s largest intact rain forest, into a major tourist destination.

The project, called Proecotur, will include studies of selected ecotourism sites, assessment of market demand, establishment of a legal framework, training programs, and local investments. The studies will form the basis for a much larger project set for the near future.

Participating in the project will be the nine Brazilian states making up what is called the Legal Amazon: Acre, Amapá, Amazonas, Maranhão, Mato Grosso, Pará, Rondônia, Roraima and Tocantins. The region is home for some 20 million people. Nearly one third of the world’s fresh water flows through its river systems, and it contains the largest portion of the world’s biodiversity. Deforestation has already affected large areas of the Amazon. Protected areas are too few and inadequately staffed and managed to adequately provide protection. As in many other parts of the world, ecotourism is seen as a way for local people to derive revenues from natural areas that are left intact.

As part of the project, master plans will be developed and pilot infrastructure works will be carried out in priority areas in five of the participating states. The areas, ranging in size from 66,900 hectares to 441,600 hectares, were selected on the basis of their natural resources, transportation access, hotel infrastructure and the commitment of local government and other groups to support the program.

While ecotourism is one of the fastest growing segments of the tourism industry, it is largely undeveloped in Latin America. In the Brazilian Amazon, ecotourism is carried out largely on an ad hoc basis, limited mainly to jungle lodges and some river cruises in and around the city of Manaus and in the northern part of the state of Mato Grosso. Very few of the tourists are non-Brazilian, and they stay on average only 3.3 days.

A major focus of the project will be to educate and train local people, including providers of tourism services and local government officials, in how to conserve the natural resources on which the ecotourism industry depends.

The project’s total cost of $13.8 million will be financed with the help of an IDB loan for $11 million. It will be carried out by the Secretariat of Coordination of the Amazon, an agency of the Ministry of Environment.

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