Since 1992, a boom of “sustainable development projects” has been registered in the Brazilian Amazon, turning it into a kind of open-air laboratory for sustainability. But their real impacts remain unclear, especially because of inadequate evaluation tools. A new device is therefore needed to unveil the inner mechanisms of development aid despite the difficulties linked with the diversity of contexts or the heterogeneity in the relevant parameters. Those are the challenges we met when we engaged in comparing the impacts of sustainable development programs in 13 sites throughout the Brazilian Amazon in order to identify determining factors of sustainability. To achieve our objective, we conceived an indicator system based on the results of intensive fieldwork, including social, economic, environmental, and biographical issues. Our results show that the most prominent problem of sustainability—evaluation of effectiveness—has not been tackled; life conditions and environmental preservation continue to appear antagonistic. At the same time, variability appears among outwardly coherent social groups, showing that a case-to-case approach is definitely indispensable and confirming the need to go “beyond panaceas” to find resolutions. This article successively addresses three points. First, we present the starting point of our research, or how the Amazon region was turned into a laboratory for sustainability and how our research project aimed at analyzing the consequences of this trend. Second, we discuss how available indicator systems fail to respond to the need for a multidimensional evaluation at the local level and, therefore, how we constituted our own analytical tool. Third, we focus on some results that can be derived from our system, especially in terms of identifying key factors needed to achieve sustainability in the Amazon.
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See a map of the location of each site in Figure S2 in the Supplementary Material.
Communities living from the non-destructive extraction of forest products.
The Amazon Cooperation Treaty was signed in 1978 by Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela. Its objectives were to promote joint actions toward the harmonious development of the Amazon Basin. In 1995, the members of the treaty decided to create a permanent organization, which was installed in 2002 in Brasilia (Brazil). As part of its tasks, this organization did elaborate an indicator system for the Amazon region.
The fieldwork protocol included three questionnaires: one for households (socioeconomic), one for individuals (life history events), and one for stakeholders. All questionnaires had multiple-choice questions and open questions, such as “How do you understand sustainable development?” All households of a given site were surveyed when there were less than 80; above this number, a sample was determined on the basis of parameters that would ensure representativity. More than 900 households were surveyed in the 13 sites for a total number of more than 1,200 days in the field.
This work was not carried out for the Yanomami site because of an accident. Even without the indicators calculated, the knowledge gathered around this site was used when interpreting the data.
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Le Tourneau, FM., Marchand, G., Greissing, A. et al. Assessing the impacts of sustainable development projects in the Amazon: the DURAMAZ experiment. Sustain Sci 8, 199–212 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-013-0200-1