I met today with representatives of the Foundation for Amazon Sustainability (FAS), a Brazil-based NGO which seeks to end deforestation of the Amazon. Founded in 2008, the FAS is the largest organization of its kind in Brazil. It is run by Professor Virgilio Viana, a Harvard-trained scientist, whose aim is to protect the local community to keep the forest alive. This is happening at a turning point for the Amazon; if the deforestation rate continues at the present rate, the Amazon will face ecological collapse by 2025. The deforestation rate went from 5,000 sq. kilometers in 2012 to over 10,000 sq. km. in 2020, the highest rate in a decade.

I found several aspects of the strategy deeply exciting:

  1. Multinational Approach—The rainforest is in Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guyana, Peru, Surinam and Venezuela. This is a regional challenge, not for one nation.
  2. Network of NGOs—Among the partners are the Water & Access Alliance, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network Amazonia and Green Economy Coalition.
  3. Corporate Support—The Brazilian corporate sector has taken the lead, including the two largest banks (Itaú Unibanco and Banco Bradesco) and local offices of MNCs such as Unilever, J&J, Microsoft, Schneider and SAP. There are 110 private sector partners and 20 government or multilateral partners.
  4. The Virtuous Circle—End extreme poverty and thus stop forest degradation. In the eleven areas in which FAS operates, it has increased family income by 200 percent to $300 per year. The techniques include showing local communities how to distribute their products (arts and crafts, fish such as the pirarucu) to markets in São Paulo, yielding much higher prices. They also install solar panels to eliminate the need for outside fossil-based energy sources.
  5. Model Community—Tumbira, two hours from Manaus, is a demonstration project that aims to teach people to prosper in a bioeconomy. All the tools are given to the community, from teaching how to fish Matrinxã (a very common Amazon fish) to support manioc production for individual and commercial use.
  6. Results—There has been a 53 percent reduction of deforestation in the 16 areas in which FAS operates from 2009 to 2019.

The FAS concept is to partner with villages all around the perimeter of the rainforest, in all nine countries. It seeks to establish versions of Tumbira, essentially small forts which are outposts to signal the superiority of this approach to illegal activities, mainly logging and mining. The battle will be won or lost at the perimeter as trucking is easiest from the extremities (no roads in the deepest Amazon). To do this, the NGO must fundraise $100 million towards sustained development in the Amazona as the first step.

Business can step in and help support the FAS and its mission; from company partnerships and access to wealthy individuals to marketing products that signal sustainable sourcing to recruiting global board members to go along with former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Ilan Goldfajn, Chairman of the Board, Credit Suisse Brazil and Brazilian singer Fafa de Belem. This is a battle that cannot be lost; the Amazon is too big to fail.

Richard Edelman is CEO.