The composition of rubber tapper livelihoods in Acre, Brazil : a case study of sustainability and peasant economy
Amazonia is both a diverse ecological space and a complex social place in which the conservation of its varied forest and aquatic environments cannot be divorced from the fate of its human inhabitants. Rural society is comprised of a wide range of socioeconomic, cultural, and historical groupings that includes several types of peasants or peasantries. One of the most important segments of contemporary rural society in Amazonia consists of traditional or historical peasantries, caboclo society or the so called "indigenous rural population". Events of recent decades in the Brazilian Amazon have shown that the region is susceptible to rapid degradation from modem pressures of development and an expanding population. Approaches to sustainable development need to reflect the diversity and complexity of the regions' social and physical environments. Caboclos are important for their historical place in Amazonian social ecology and for their potential contribution to the search for viable solutions to sustainable development. Sustainability will be achieved on the basis of incorporating sustainable livelihoods into a development paradigm that maintains and improves the social use of resources and the integrity of ecosystems. Rubber tappers in the state of Acre are a type of Amazonian caboclo. Their livelihoods exhibit many of the attributes of resiliency and adaptability that characterize peasantries. Resources are used, based on the demands and capabilities of household economies and in recognition of their dependence on the forest and its resources. The livelihoods that rubber tappers pursue are to a large degree, ecologically sustainable; rubber tappers are practitioners of sustainability. The diversity and flexibility of their livelihoods is geared towards low impact, long-term use of forest resources and is highly adaptable to variable socio-political, economic and environmental conditions. Extraction of forest resources is a major component of rubber tapper livelihoods that encompasses rubber tapping, Brazil nut collection, hunting, fishing and myriad uses of other forest resources. Their livelihoods also include a farming system that is adapted to both the social conditions of rubber tapper society -limited capital and technology, dependence on household labour - and to the ecological constraints of Amazonian environments - weak tropical soils, seasonal changes, and variability. The composition of their livelihoods permits each sector of the household economy to function within local environmental constraints and to escape the need to independently fulfill household subsistence requirements. Extractive reserves provide a locally derived model of socially acceptable, conservation oriented development.