Iracambi – Protecting the Beauty of the Atlantic Rainforest

A few weeks ago on Mongabay we featured an interview with Robin and Binka LeBreton, Directors of a Research Centre situated in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest.  To read the full interview click  The following is an excerpt from the diary kept by Clare Emily Raybould, the author, who volunteered there in January 2010…

I love the way the world ticks round at Iracambi.  In the medicinal plants lab next door the Brazilians study and chat and when they aren’t studying they are lounging around in the sun or in the hammocks at ‘o centro.’ Wherever they are, you can hear their cheerful voices and music.

I am on a one-month Corporate Responsibility Placement at Iracambi Research Centre in Brazil’s Atlantic Rainforest. One of the first things that strikes you, the minute you lay a foot on the farm, is the sense of community here and how quickly you feel a part of it. It’s been one week into my placement, and I have already felt an array of emotions and faced a sea of challenges.

A night ago,  Jemma, the Volunteer Coordinator, sat down with me and we had a good chat about everything and nothing over a British cup of tea and a piece of cake.  We decided that I would divide my time between maintaining the Centre’s Nursery and working on the project’s Marketing Strategy and if I didn’t fancy spending all day doing one thing or the other, I could split my time between the two.

While the nursery tasks – maintaining the seedlings and their environment – are self-explanatory, the marketing tasks are a little more complex. Iracambi has this idea – Forest Futures – that they haven’t yet been able to get off the ground for one reason or another. The idea, basically, is about getting people (businesses, schools, individuals – the target markets are not yet defined) to purchase plots of land, which Iracambi will then reforest.

In the Atlantic Forest, unlike in the Amazon, most of the forest land is owned by local farmers, despite the fact that the land is really poor for farming. The farmers need the land for their subsistence and many of them, even if their land has become redundant, are unwilling to sell because of pride or because they intend to pass it down as inheritance to their children. A sizable portion of the farmers, however, would want to sell and under Iracambi’s ownership the land would be protected from further degradation.

Iracambi’s Director Robin Le Breton wants me to work on a marketing strategy and a new business model for Forest Futures so that this idea can achieve the financial sustainability necessary to move forward. Coming up with a plan that can work with his existing staff and make some money for the NGO is quite a challenge! However, the support provided for volunteers here is overwhelming and more than anything, it is so refreshing to spend time with such like-minded, interesting and interested people; it is an experience I have needed for a very long time!

The Brazilians are such good, happy, friendly people and everyone that I have met here has made me feel so welcome. Iracambi is also a wonderful place to spend time, with beautiful surroundings, many hours to think and new challenges to encounter daily. Even though you are working, it is as refreshing as being on holiday (just without the beach and bar!).

Working at Iracambi, as well as doing something good for the world and for you, is a real opportunity to reconnect with nature, which I think is a precious gift that we sometimes forget.  Politicians and conservation organizations may tell you about climate change and about environmental impacts and conscience, but if you were to spend just a week looking out upon the view that I look upon right now from Iracambi’s kitchen balcony, you would fall in love with nature and suddenly the reasons behind turning off that light or using one less piece of paper would all make sense.

Nature is beautiful. Every flower, every leaf, even every blade of grass and the bead of water upon it has a purpose; it is there for an explicitly important reason and everything around it relies upon it to survive.

We humans forget about our place in this natural world and we cut and we burn so that we can build just one more building that we can sell or plant just one more patch of crops that will make us even more money.  We need to get back to appreciating that we are part of nature and feel grateful, every day, for all the wonderful things it gives us.

Our natural world will live long after us humans have disappeared, if we choose to believe it or not and it will disappear and go back to how it began all those thousands of years ago before humans walked this planet and began to destroy it.  Part of me hopes that when this happens Mother Nature herself spits on our rotting graves because we will have deserved everything we, our children and their children will get, if we continue to take advantage of everything that is natural around us.

It saddens me to think that it is our own greed and selfishness that are destroying this beautiful world and I think it would sadden you too, if you were sat upon Iracambi’s kitchen balcony, looking at this view, because it is beautiful.

For more information on the Iracambi Research Centre and to learn more about how you can volunteer or offer other forms of support – visit their website

Author: clare

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