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Protected areas and territorial exclusion of traditional communities: analyzing the social impacts of environmental compensation strategies in Brazil

Felisa C. Anaya, Departamento de Saúde Mental e Coletiva, Universidade Estadual de Montes Claros, Minas Gerais, Brazil
Mário M. Espírito-Santo, Departamento de Biologia Geral, Universidade Estadual de Montes Claros, Minas Gerais, Brazil


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The creation of the protected areas (PAs) of restricted use dominates conservation policies throughout the world and reflects the western idea of separation between pristine nature and human-modified habitats. However, this conservation strategy has caused the proliferation of environmental conflicts involving territorial rights of traditional peoples and local communities throughout the world. Our study aims to analyze the impacts of the creation of a system of PAs of restricted use on the livelihoods and well-being of traditional communities in the north of Minas Gerais State, in Brazil. We analyzed the conflicts emerging in the study region from the perspective of the environmental justice paradigm. We used the extended-case method, conducting fieldwork to observe and register the movements of social resistance of traditional communities, and interviews with key stakeholders. Between 1970-1990, the Jaíba irrigation project was implemented in the north of Minas Gerais and, to compensate for the huge environmental impact of the project, several PAs of restricted use were created, disregarding the traditional peoples that inhabited the region. As a consequence, these populations were expelled from their territories without compensation or resettlement, causing severe restrictions to their traditional livelihoods and well-being, including access to natural resources such as water, fisheries and timber, and nontimber products, jeopardizing their food security, cultural identity, and social integrity. They initiated the “Movement of the People Cornered by Parks,” lately evolving to “Vazanteiros in Movement,” incorporating elements of the environmental arena to politically dispute alternative conservation projects. Sustainable development policies that incorporate the “economy of repair,” expressed as environmental compensation strategies, are intrinsically contradictory and inappropriate from the perspective of environmental justice. Inclusive conservation planning must account for historical, social, and cultural contexts of the affected region and prioritize the preservation of rights and well-being of local communities.

Key words

conservation strategies; environmental conflicts; protected areas; territory; traditional communities; well-being

Copyright © 2018 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087