Safe Sex Courtesy of the Amazon

rubber treeLocal population’s finances and health rise thanks to Amazonian rubbers.

by Andreas Perez de Fransius, Peace Is Profitable Contributor

The Amazon rainforest has many well-earned claims to fame. A recent story highlights that the lungs of the world are not only home to amazing ecological diversity, industrial espionage and deforestation but also environmental conservation and even safe-sex. This turns out to be paradigmatic example of how peace can be both sexy and profitable.

The advent of the automobile and the vast reserves of rubber in the Amazon once sparked an economic boom in the region. Remnants can still be found, notably the amazing opera house in the Amazonian city of Manaus, which was financed by bumper sales of rubber. However, an early case of industrial espionage would bring the industry to its knees, as the British were able to extract the seeds and grow rubber in plantations in its Asian colonies.

That set the stage for a long period of economic decline in the region, which was exacerbated by rapid deforestation stemming from slash and burn agriculture. For the past several years, the prevailing message in the media has been about the rainforest’s rapid decline due to illegal logging. At the same time many Brazilians have argued that the preoccupation with environmental conservation has placed greater importance on trees than on people, who have struggled to make a living.

For these reasons, a recent article in The Economist highlights a fascinating new development in the Amazonian state of Acre. Nascent industries in this far-off corner of Brazil show that it is possible to achieve inclusive economic development that benefits the poor without sacrificing the environment. The Brazilian government has formed an effective partnership with Natex, which makes condoms using latex from wild rubber trees in the region. The firm buys the material from smallholder rubber-tapping families that help to conserve the forests. These families also benefit from a state subsidy in order to capture the positive externalities created in terms of forest conservation. The federal government subsequently buys the plant’s production, currently estimated at 100 million condoms annually. These condoms are used as part of Brazil’s world-renowned anti-AIDS program that has proved extraordinarily effective.

By using Amazonian rubber to combat AIDS, Brazil is an excellent example of how public-private partnerships can provide cost-effective solutions to serious social and environmental problems. And besides, what is sexier than safe sex?

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