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Assessing the impacts of sustainable development projects in the Amazon: the DURAMAZ experiment

Le Tourneau, François-Michel, Marchand, Guillaume, Greissing, Anna, Nasuti, Stéphanie, Droulers, Martine, Bursztyn, Marcel, Léna, Philippe, Dubreuil, Vincent
Sustainability science 2013 v.8 no.2 pp. 199-212
development aid, development projects, environmental factors, sustainable development, Amazonia
Since 1992, a boom of “sustainable development projects” has been registered in the Brazilian Amazon, turning it into a kind of open-air laboratory for sustainability. But their real impacts remain unclear, especially because of inadequate evaluation tools. A new device is therefore needed to unveil the inner mechanisms of development aid despite the difficulties linked with the diversity of contexts or the heterogeneity in the relevant parameters. Those are the challenges we met when we engaged in comparing the impacts of sustainable development programs in 13 sites throughout the Brazilian Amazon in order to identify determining factors of sustainability. To achieve our objective, we conceived an indicator system based on the results of intensive fieldwork, including social, economic, environmental, and biographical issues. Our results show that the most prominent problem of sustainability—evaluation of effectiveness—has not been tackled; life conditions and environmental preservation continue to appear antagonistic. At the same time, variability appears among outwardly coherent social groups, showing that a case-to-case approach is definitely indispensable and confirming the need to go “beyond panaceas” to find resolutions. This article successively addresses three points. First, we present the starting point of our research, or how the Amazon region was turned into a laboratory for sustainability and how our research project aimed at analyzing the consequences of this trend. Second, we discuss how available indicator systems fail to respond to the need for a multidimensional evaluation at the local level and, therefore, how we constituted our own analytical tool. Third, we focus on some results that can be derived from our system, especially in terms of identifying key factors needed to achieve sustainability in the Amazon.