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Environmental protection: learning from latin america

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​​​​​Local initiatives have been set up all over the world to protect the environment. These initiatives are vital especially in places where the consequences of global change are immediately felt. As part of an international team, two scientists investigated particularly promising projects in Latin America. One of their goals was to transfer the solutions to other affected regions with the support of the local population.​​​

Sooner or later, no one will be able to escape the effects of global environmental changes such as climate change and the extinction of animal and plant species. The people in the fishing villages of the Osa peninsula in Costa Rica, for example, are already feeling the effects of the changes with the metre-high mangrove forests disappearing on their coasts. The forests serve as »tsunami breakwaters«, protect the soil from erosion and are habitats for many animal species. Their widespread root network is »a nursery« for numerous fish and other marine life. But the global decline in mangrove forests did not stop at Osa either. Hotel complexes spread around the area, mangroves were replaced by white sandy beaches for tourists, and agriculture fields sprawled into the coast areas as well. For the people of Osa, it means the loss of an important part of the delicate ecosystem their livelihood is based on. In order to not just stand and watch, a local environmental protection initiative was set up, which is now attracting considerable attention.​​ 

Prof. Dr. Bettina Matzdorf and Dr. Claudia Sattler from the ZALF Institute of Socio-Economics studied these and other environmental protection initiatives in the EU-funded »« research project in Latin America to find out why they are so particularly successful. Their research is supposed to help facilitate the transfer of the strategies to other regions. »We conducted interviews with stakeholders in various projects in Costa Rica and Brazil, mainly to better understand the role of civil society stakeholders,« says Matzdorf.​


Joining forces for environmental protection

The project in Osa started when the local »Fundación Neotrópica« environmental organisation encouraged the affected fishing communities to take an active role in the protection of mangroves. During the closed period for fishing, they began to grow and plant mangroves. »They showed us their nursery where they grow mangrove seedlings. Later on, the seedlings will be planted out together with the communities, for example, with school children,« says Sattler. The project was co-funded by the national VW retailer. »The success of this project was also owed to the fact that the NGO leadership established good and early networking contacts, for instance, with the Costa Rican Ministry of the Environment, companies and local fishing villages. But our results also showed how important it is to make the benefits of nature available to the local population. The broad recognition of mangrove forests as an crucial component of the common livelihood is an important cornerstone for success.«​ 

The ZALF team did not only study the project in Costa Rica. They also visited the inhabitants of Marujá in the Brazilian Mata Atlântica rainforest. Their community was ordered to leave their village and be relocated since their homeland was one of the last remaining parts of the primeval forest and was declared​ a protected area. In order to fight for their right to stay, they founded a local council and were ultimately successful. Now they support the park management with surveying the protected areas and reporting fish poachers or orchid thieves. In the Brazilian state of Tocantins, 2,000 km further north, owners of ceramic factories changed the fuel for their furnaces from wood to rice husks, which are a waste product from rice cultivation. This way, they protect both the rainforest and the health of their workers and with the sale of carbon certificates, they earn additional money on the free carbon market. »Different as the projects may be, they all have one thing in common: highly motivated, committed people who are willing to take the reins. They organised the necessary networks, which in turn provided resources. You have to invest in creative and motivated local people like these.« But this alone is not yet sustainable. »All the participants must have a measurable benefit from the project,« says Matzdorf.

Learning from success

In Costa Rica, the ZALF researchers supported the transfer of the Osa fishermen’s concept to other communities, such as the Térraba Sierpe wetlands or the Gulf of Nicoya, and studied the transfer process. »The fishermen encouraged the other communities to also look for alternative sources of income, such as oyster farming in the mangroves,« said Sattler. What’s more, the researchers are now incorporating their findings into the design of their own environmental protection projects in Europe. The »cp³« project, for instance, studies networks of stakeholders from civil society, the private sector and government who developed innovative solutions for environmental protection. Another project is an Internet-based »marketplace for ecosystem services and biodiversity« which collects environmental protection projects and is expected to establish new funding opportunities. What they all have in common is the determination to learn from thriving local projects in order to make environmental protection more successful.


Text by Jana Schütze 

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