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Antônio José Motta Bentes Rodríguez is developing a strategy for participatory and sustainable forestry management where the organization and mobilization of the community is the key to the efficient use of wood resources. This strategy is being replicated in conservation units, where new conservation laws do not permit families to subsist from the forests, and is resulting in new models for forest use, as well as a new policy for governance of these areas.

This profile below was prepared when Antonio Jose Motta Bentes was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2003.


Antônio José Motta Bentes Rodríguez is developing a strategy for participatory and sustainable forestry management where the organization and mobilization of the community is the key to the efficient use of wood resources. This strategy is being replicated in conservation units, where new conservation laws do not permit families to subsist from the forests, and is resulting in new models for forest use, as well as a new policy for governance of these areas.


Antônio José believes in the promotion of a long-term forest conservation policy for the Amazon that involves traditional populations and the citizen sector in the governance of conservation areas. To accomplish this he is implementing a model that enables traditional communities living within conservation lands, like national forests (FLONAs) and extractive reserves (RESEXs), to benefit economically from forest resources while conserving biodiversity. By creating fiscal incentives for communities to preserve their environment, Antônio José is able to succeed where many others have failed.


Traditional communities in the Amazon region face a series of socioeconomic problems that compromise their ability to sustain themselves in harmony with the environment. These families' economic livelihood is based on exploiting forest and river resources, with families engaging in small-scale agriculture using slash-and-burn agricultural methods. This means that families burn the forest to plant small monocultures that make the land unproductive in little more than two years, causing them to seek new areas to clear. This practice both accelerates the process of deforestation and leads to devastating forest fires.

Because of the need to create alternative income-generation activities compatible with preserving the Amazon forest, there have been a few programs initiated that attempt to teach communities how to manage their forests and extract wood and other products in a sustainable way. Most of these projects have failed because they stressed technical aspects of forestry management or merely educated without actually developing a community base to ensure continuation of the work. These programs have been short-lived and are characterized by conflicts among community groups. Another problem with alternative income-generation programs is that they tend to promote the creation either of products using inputs that are not widely accessible to communities or of products that are not unique and thus cannot compete against large-scale producers. These communities also have trouble effectively accessing markets because of their remoteness, which increases transportation costs.

The situation facing traditional families living within conservation units, like national forests and extractivist reserves in the Amazon, is complicated by the fact that their traditional means of income generation are not compatible with preserving the biodiversity and integrity of the protected forest. The development of a model for participatory management for conservation units in the Tapajós region of the state of Pará is urgent because large numbers of communities are affected, and the protection of biodiversity in the area is critical. Tapajós National Forest, with 600,000 hectares, has 25 communities that reside there, forming a population of 6,000. The Tapajós Extractive Reserve also has an area of 600,000 hectares with 68 communities and a population of about 15,000. Since these areas became official conservation zones, these communities have been marginalized by the programs and projects focused on the area. There are few, if any, programs directed either at capacity building for local citizens or at allowing communities to participate in decisions about programs directed to their environments.


Other programs in community forest management have failed because of an overly technical approach and the absence of results in the short run. Antônio José's focus is to consolidate an efficient and self-managed community organization and avoid these difficulties. A system for community forest management will be created that is low impact, focusing on the intensive use of small amounts of forest material. The next step is to form Caboclo Workshops, which will generate income for the families involved, develop a community development fund, and support the workshop itself through the processing of products like handcrafted furniture to supply to regional and national markets.

To ensure access to markets each of the four communities develops a business plan to commercialize their products and join together in a larger network to increase the scale of production and distribution. Antônio José teaches communities how to utilize deadwood, a particularly important technique for restoring forest areas degraded by felling and fires, for ensuring immediate economic results for the community and for enabling ongoing forest management.

Antônio José is promoting a new policy of governance in conservation areas like FLONA and RESEX where management of the forest involves the representatives of communities and local NGOs as well as government. This new model of governance is already being implemented in the Tapajós National Forest where it was established through the First Consultative Committee of FLONA. The first step in the strategy is to create financial alternatives among traditional families of the region through community management, the conservation of forest resources, and the creation of income generation workshops.

The implementation process involves four stages. The first stage is the development of capacity-building for community members in forestry timber management. As part of their training, community members participating in the project are involved in the mapping of all the timber resources in the community and the preparation of their plan for forest management (typically involving from 100-200 hectares). They also learn how to carry out cost-benefit analyses and conduct studies on forest growth rates to define the technical coefficients used to determine the indices of annual tree cutting. Finally, the community group creates mechanisms for carrying out and monitoring the plan. Antônio José's methodology for forest management involves utilizing the same area continually in order to benefit from annual growth and minimize impacts on the structure and composition of the forest.

The second stage for implementing Antonio's strategy is to set up workshops to give community members the skills necessary to turn their wood resources into rustic handcrafts. The Oficinas Caboclas do Tapajós-OCT (Tapajós Caboclo Workshops) utilize the manual labor, traditional skills, and creativity of their members using simple, accessible tools. Each community that has a workshop has an area of managed forests to supply them with the raw materials. The high quality and uniqueness of the products has helped increase the value of the wood extracted. A tree that might have to be sold to a lumber company's middleman for R$10 (US$3) can produce furniture products with an aggregated value of up to R$6000. As this plan is implemented, the production of handcrafted items–primarily furniture–is carried out using deadwood that results from natural processes and from slash-and-burn agriculture. The workshops provide immediate economic benefits to the families and communities, and also generate development funds designed to reinvest in the community from 10 - 15 percent of profits from the sale of products. The workshop itself keeps 10 - 15 percent of the profit for its maintenance and the purchase of new tools.

The third stage involves organizational development that seeks to enhance the abilities of groups and the relationship between groups involved with the workshops, existing associations, and communities. Antônio José works to promote understanding and transparency in all stages of the process to ensure that the community itself is the primary supporter and manager of the program. He does this both through numerous meetings held to discuss and respond to problems as they arise and through training sessions on association management and building social capital in the community. In addition to strengthening community organizations, Antônio José is working to strengthen the organization of the workshops themselves. There are currently four workshops, each in a different community. These workshops are consolidating to form a cooperative in order to facilitate the selling of each workshop's products.

The final stage for implementing this model for community forest management is the commercialization of the products. Each community works to develop its own business plan to define strategies for selling the workshop's products. The work involves market research, educating sales agents, training in accounting and administration, producing advertisements, and participating in events and fairs to increase visibility and sales. Antônio José relies on the motivation of community members both to tailor these initiatives in the way that best serves their needs and to seek out the business links necessary to sell their products. By doing this, he helps the community invest in this process; he is more than a service provider since he creates an avenue for their community members to express.

Begun in 2000, the project for community forest management using productive workshops is currently implemented in four communities with a total of 198 families managing a total of 700 hectares of land. One of the communities is located in the Tapajós National Forest and the other three in the Tapajós Extractive Reserve. Though they differ in size and level of community organization, they share similar characteristics–marginalization and lack of socioeconomic opportunity.

Antônio José is already planning for the replication of his model in two more communities in the Tapajós National Forest and three others in the Tapajós Extractive Reserve during 2003 and early 2004; these are expected to involve another 91 families directly in the project. He is also planning to extend his model for community forest management to the family boat making industry of the Arapuins river communities, where boat making is currently being carried out in a process of unmanaged and illegal wood extraction from conservation forests.

Antônio José believes that this model can be replicated in other forests and extractive reserves in other regions, prioritizing environmental conservation areas that are home to traditional populations. He is in discussions with county governments to disseminate his experience in order to influence national public policies and to help change the governance of these forests by giving a voice to communities who would otherwise be ignored.


Antônio José was born in the Tapajós region of the Amazon. His family, like the majority in the region, was characterized by its mixed indigenous and European ancestry, which is called "caboclo" in Portuguese. He experienced firsthand the destruction of the natural environment and decided to dedicate his life to improving the quality of life for other Amazonian peoples by creating ways to balance the use and preservation of the land.

From a young age, Antônio José demonstrated a striking balance in his own life between a quest for knowledge and practical implementation of his ideas. Since schooling in his region was limited, he left his hometown to attend high school in the city of Santarém. There, at the age of 13, he became involved in marketing organic produce from an urban garden project. By age 16 he was coordinating an artesian well digging program in Santarém and the surrounding region that provided hundreds of families with potable water. During the same period Antônio José worked closely with other leaders that shared his vision for social change and became a founding member of the Grupo de Defesa da Amazônia-GDA (Group in Defense of the Amazon), providing technical expertise and support for training environmental educators in traditional river communities, work he continues as a volunteer.

After finishing secondary school at 20, Antônio decided to expand his horizons and went to a remote part of Amazonas state to coordinate a team of volunteers to develop a system for bilingual education in a Kulina indigenous community. Following five years of work, the team completed the training of indigenous teachers who took charge of a bilingual education system in their community that was recognized by the local school district and is today supported by the state government. Antônio's team also improved the process by which the rights to indigenous land were recognized in the region. At that time, the university in Santarém began offering degrees in the social sciences with a concentration in sociology. Having achieved his goals in Amazonas, he returned to Santarém to pursue higher education.

Back in his native Pará at university, Antônio soon became involved in community development and began working with an NGO that was developing community-run transportation cooperatives to counter the high cost and monopoly practices of river transport companies. During the seven years he collaborated with this project, Antônio helped implement 14 enterprises in community river transport. Seven of these cooperatives and small companies are still in business. When he started to analyze why some projects succeeded while others failed, he realized that the successful enterprises were those that had a strong organizational base in the community. It is this insight and experience working extensively with river communities in the region that led Antônio both to develop participatory forest management programs and handicraft production workshops to benefit people in the region, and to fight for a greater role of the community in the governance of conservation areas. As a caboclo himself, he feels that he is part of a process-building, home-grown leadership in the Amazon region, leadership capable of creating new paths for development and improving the quality of life in the region.