News, Special Articles

Cantão State Park, in the state of Tocantins (TO)

By Cristina Ávila

Environmental management makes the difference

Arpa methodology and the exchange of experience among the protected areas were crucial for the Cantão State Park in Tocantins state.

The Cantão State Park (PEC), located in Tocantins, is a corner of beauty and wildlife diversity, and it is considered to be one of the most relevant protected areas in the Brazilian Amazon Region.  This PA has an area of 90,000 hectares and very special features:  it shelters 843 lakes out of the 1.100 found in Araguaia, besides having an efficient management and achieving results which have turned the park into an example for the country.

Its ecosystem is an ecotone (biomes transition area) between the Cerrado and the Amazon Forest.  There are 44 mammal, 316 bird, 22 reptile, 17 amphibian, 56 fish and 134 vascular plant species in the park.  The preservation of this wealth is due to the joint efforts of the state government and the investment of R$ 1,640 million by the Ministry of the Environment’s Amazon Region Protected Areas Program (Arpa), during almost 10 years, in 2003-2012.

“The great Arpa contribution is the possibility of protected areas organization, of having an organization model”, states Alexandre Tadeu, president of Tocantins Nature Institute (Naturatins), the state environmental agency, in charge of managing the Cantão State Park.

Naturatins president says that Arpa provided the scientific methodology to manage the protected area and also the possibility of its managers taking part in national meetings with the managers of other PAs, so that they could learn the solutions found by them and seek their own path in biodiversity stewardship in Tocantins.

As examples, Alexandre Tadeu mentioned the models for hiring consultancies, for creating the Advisory Council with the participation of society, and for management plan design.

“If it were not for Arpa, Cantão would be in the same way it was 10 years ago.  With Arpa methodology, today we have a lot more knowledge on the park and therefore better conditions to find solutions for the problems”, says Naturatins president.

He mentions the participation of a non-governmental organization, called Missão Verde (Green Mission), in the Advisory Council of the state park.  This organization works with a biofuel producing company and it was created because of the park.  Through the use of tools which they learned in the Council, the organization leaders contribute to diversify the production of the families settled there through the agrarian reform; they created a collective area to plant soybeans to produce a bioenergy fuel.

“Today, in Tocantins, this NGO accounts for the insertion of small producers in the Brazilian Development Bank’s (BNDES) Social Fuel Label, which funds this kind of production”, says  Alexandre Tadeu. “I have seen the farmers planting 200-250 hectares of soybeans in a communitarian way, and the company buys all of it.  This increases by R$ 800 the monthly income of each settler, and there are over 70 families, so this meant a high increase in their buying power”.

Natural resources – The Park is located in the municipal districts of Caseara and Pium. To the west, the Araguaia River places the Amazon Forest into evidence.  Across the river there is the Southern Pará, where the jungle is permeated with areas which were deforested by large farms.  To the East, in Tocantins, there is the Cerrado, with well conserved riparian forests (along the water courses) and the characterized biome up to the margins of the Coco River, which demarcates the Park boundary.

The freshwater within the Cantão State Park is one of its most interesting features.  The PA food chain depends on those waters with their flood and ebb movements driving the fish and suspended organic matter.  There are lakes, lagoons and hundreds of kilometers of “loopholes”, which are the aquatic links between the rivers. During the floods, all “holes” are linked like in a huge reflecting pool.

The park is a true wildlife nursery and a refuge for the giant arapaima (pirarucu), one of the largest fish in the world.  Its meat is highly valued by the Amazonians and it known as the ‘Amazonian codfish’, because it is marketed in salted fish sheets.  In the Cantão Park, the pirarucu can breed and catch is not allowed.  There is also an abundance of tucunaré (Cichla spp.), the Amazonian Peacock bass, which also breeds in this area.  Other animals found in the Cantão State Park include the spectacled caiman (jacaretinga), the black caiman (jacaré-açu), the freshwater dolphin (boto), the giant river otter (ariranha), the spotted jaguar (onça pintada), and various birds, among which there are several diving birds, such as the cormorant (biguá) and the anhinga (biguatinga).

Alexandre Tadeu says that the management plan was crucial to protect such a wonder.  “The consultant lived for eight months in the Cantão Park and he wrote the entire management plan while he was there, meeting with the actors involved in this reserve.  This made the document quite dense and truthful.”

Brazilian Biodiversity Fund (Funbio)

The director of Naturantins for Biodiversity and Protected Areas, Nilza Verônica Amaral, says that the consolidation of the Cantão State Park provides security to the partners who wish to implement projects and contribute with the PA preservation.

Among the partners there is a non-governmental organization, the Araguaia Institute.  “We are users of this Park and we produce knowledge here.  The presence of researchers helps to inhibit hunting, fishing and any illegal activities”, says Silvana Campello, an ecologist and founder of the Institute, together with her husband, George Georgiadis, who represents this NGO in the Park’s Advisory Council.  They are involved in research carried out in the Cantão Park since the 1990’s.

This year, the Araguaia Institute signed a term of technical cooperation with Naturatins and the Onça D´Água Association, to develop the Cantão State Park Protection, Public Use and Monitoring Project, which was approved by Funbio for management plan implementation.  It will focus on protection, ecotourism and income generation activities, involving the community in the park surroundings.

Naturatins plans to have the Park opened for public visitation by June 2013, according to the document which sets the rules of use.  “Cantão Park is the only place in the Amazon where you can watch a river dolphin going about in its natural environment, late in the afternoon, after having your morning breakfast in Rio de Janeiro”, says George Georgiadis.

Results management – All activities developed in the Cantão State Park management are decided and evaluated through methodologies aiming at efficiency. In 2008, the work was approved by the Planning, Budget and Management Ministry’s National Program for Public Management and Debureaucratization (GesPública).

The acknowledgement was a consequence of Arpa’s investment in the capacity building of the PAs managers.  At least nine introduction courses on protection area management, with 300 participants, were provided through WWF-Brazil.  The program also funded the participation in meetings and seminars.

“There was a big change in the protected areas management organizational culture”, reports Gino Machado, a member of the technical staff in Naturantis and the focal point of Arpa in Tocantins state.  He graduated in Business Administration and is doing his Ph.D. in Tourism and Sustainable Development.  He says that, through Arpa methodology, the professionals learned how to plan their mission and develop all activities focusing on this mission.

Gino Machado stresses the relevant role of the German technical cooperation agency (GIZ) in building the managers capacity to deal with the communities.  Besides funding meetings held in the Amazon country areas, the organization provided, through consultants, techniques to facilitate communication.

“In the spirit of capacity building on management for results, the teams were oriented on how to deal with the councils and even how to talk the same language of the communities”, recalls Verônica Amaral.

Naturantins director for Biodiversity and Protected Areas says that those GIZ workshops prepared the technical staff to work with the population and to use alternative materials.  “During those workshops, various techniques were addressed, even how to draw maps on the ground, using a stick or a stone, or using large and small pieces of paper. There is a power break and I cannot use the data-show projector, what can I do? Leave? No.  There were also many discussions on the kind of language we should use.  There are local terms in each place and, if we use the wrong one, sometimes this makes communication difficult”, explains Verônica Amaral.

Projects with the community – The alliances with the populations dwelling in the surroundings of the protected areas are crucial for people to understand the relevance of environmental conservation.

In Cantão State Park, examples of positive results obtained with Arpa financial support include the projects which were developed in partnership with Naturatins and the Rural Assistance and Extension Cooperative (Coopter).

“We work with the communities in the municipal districts of Caseara, Pium and Marianópolis, to develop beekeeping (apiculture), net-lined tanks for fish farming, and arboretums for forest species. This line of work went well with raising the awareness about preservation together with income generation”, says Coopter’s financial director, Antônio Filho.

According to Antonio Filho, the communities used to regard the Park as an obstacle; with the project, and the follow up provided by technical staff who worked with the producer families, they began to understand the reasons for fighting the forest fires and protecting nature.

In Marianópolis, at the Incra settlement called Manchete, where 380 families live, producers are enthusiastic about the beekeeping project funded by Arpa.  “Honey is a complement to our income. We believe in this project because we see the results”, comments Antônio José de Carvalho. He says that their (honey) production has already been delivered to the schools and children nurseries, and some of it is sold in Palmas (capital city in Tocantins) and the neighboring town of Paraíso.

Anísio Pereira da Silva recalls that, before the project, there were four people working with bees.  Coopter provided basic information which completely changed their way of work.  “They taught us how to place the swarm, for we did not know how to place the bee cases; they provided us with direct assistance during two years, and taught us the right distance to place one case from the other”.

Legal – The community started with only six bee cases and today it owns 27 cases, producing 300 kg in each yearly harvest.  The honey eaten by adults and children in the project is not all.  One important detail is that the community is using their collective legal reserve (a percentage of the rural property which must be set apart for conservation, according to the Brazilian Forest Law) to extract their nourishment from it, and this makes preservation even more important.  “We have already raised a fight with those who want to destroy the environment”, emphasizes Hildo Pereira da Silva.

The legal reserve comprises an area of 5,000 hectares and 70km run along the Machado River.

“I did not know what preservation meant.  I was a predator”, realizes Galdêncio Alves de Souza, who is also happy with the production.  “I used to plant, then the animals would come to eat, and I wanted to destroy them.  Now I think differently.  It is like helping somebody, we need to help others, and we need to help the animals from the forest.  Now I plant beans and I set apart some for the dear.  After all, his forest was destroyed.  Time makes us see what we did not see before. Now, I do see”, emphasizes the producer.

Even those who are not involved in honey production end up learning from the project.  “I have been here for 13 years now.  I fight for preservation.  I do not wish to see any animals dying of thirst nor due to the fire.  Everyone here is traumatized by fire; yet there are malicious individuals who light up fires.  If such a person burns the pasture and the crops, the forest will burn and the animals will die”, complains Bernardo Coelho de Resende.

Intelligent patrolling – The time of patrollers merely going around by boat, car, or on foot, in the protected area, restraining illegal activities in the Park through the use of traditional methods, it is now part of the past.

“Today, monitoring is based on indicators.  Lakes, rivers, lagoons, forests, they are all monitored through GPS use; the hours of the field team are controlled, and so are the night watch hours, the outings in the field; and there is a register of fines for the infractions within the park and in its surroundings; everything is done according to the management for results planning, explains the Park’s patrol leader, João Batista.

The way of presenting the information has also been changed.  Today there are not just reports, but also charts are made using the routine data.  “In a chart the information is at hand, easy to visualize.  The drawing allows us to see which types of infractions occur and where they occur.  The indicators are good for the day-to-day work; they are helpful in planning the activities.  Even the expenses are registered and planned in the same way.”

Something which is very interesting in the Cantão State Park is to watch dwellers in the surroundings approve the patrolling of the protected area.  They even report the places where there is pressure from invaders, who are particularly interested in fish, since breeding is abundant.  “The population helps a lot, making anonymous complaints”, says João Batista.

The work is done by Naturatins, with the assistance of the State Police Station for Crimes against the Environment and Urbanism (Dema), which is in charge of monitoring, which in turn is done by teams composed of an expert, penman, agents, and often even the Police Chief herself.

Benefit s for the community – The area which is now the territory of the Cantão National Park was once occupied by hunters – they used to hunt caimans, jaguars, and the giant river otter – for the skin was traded with buyers abroad.  This hunting activity went on until the late 1970’s.  Thousands of animals were killed to take their skin taken off and used to make coats for rich women.  Many local dwellers took part in that traffic; yet their lives did not improve because of it.  Today, however, their expectations are far better due to environmental preservation.

“I bet on sustainable development, it is going to happen”, says Francisca Helena Rosendo Martins, the owner of two lodges and a club with 200 members in Caseara, a small town which is the gateway to the Cantão State Park. “The park is my salvation,” she says.

The female entrepreneur says that all her money is invested in that municipal district, and that the protected area is the reason for her choice of activity.  “Whoever loves Caseara, invests and has roots here.  I love it here”, she says. “The park creation brought with is lots of capacity building for the dwellers along the water courses; for the hotel keepers; the dealers, salesmen and merchants; the boatmen.”

Francisca Helena offers some examples of the action and stirring caused by the park: “during the shooting of ‘Xingu’ (a motion picture by Cao Hamburger, who shot some scenes in that state park), seven lodges and hotels were full.  Lots of people made money.  My mother did the laundry for the team working in the movie and she made R$ 9,000 in one month”, she said.