Biodiversity Conservation Program in the Amazon

Our recent Knowledge Management Survey indicated that many USAID missions would like to learn more about building partnerships with host countries to enhance biodiversity conservation. To address this question, this article illustrates how USAID/Brazil is working with the government, public and private sectors and nonprofit organizations to conserve biodiversity in the Amazon. The robust partnership between USAID and the Government of Brazil may inspire other missions and USAID projects and provide practical examples to adapt to their own host country environments.


Brazil Amazon Project AreasUSAID has a 50-year-long, rich history in development cooperation in Brazil. When a decision was made in 2013 to transition into a new and different development model, it was felt that USAID still had an important role to play in building public-private partnerships to conserve the Amazon, the world’s largest tropical rainforest. In 2014, USAID/Brazil became the Agency’s first “Strategic Partnerships” mission, using a “Whole of Mission” approach to leverage partnerships. With a moderate budget, it is doing business differently and relying on a lean, capable Foreign Service National cadre. To support this approach, USAID/Brazil adopted the Agency’s guiding principle of Partnership as a Catalyst, shifting focus from being an aid provider and program implementer to acting as a strategic partner and catalyst for country-led growth, from managing resources to managing partnerships that are often complex. This is an experiential learning model, whereby the USAID/Brazil team is proactively seeking ways to focus on projects with the most impact, that leverage innovative resources and best leave a legacy in the Amazon, and that are in line with the Administrator’s priorities.

Holistic approach

USAID/Brazil’s holistic approach to partnerships includes horizontal, cooperative relationships and co-creation of development interventions and solutions with the private sector and the Government of Brazil. The mission uses its moderate funding strategically as “seed capital” to stimulate and leverage catalytic investments with the private sector and local NGOs. This model helps Brazil move beyond traditional development assistance to an organic partnership to address shared development challenges.

USAID/Brazil implements two broad components

  1. Conservation of the Amazon. USAID/Brazil serves as a catalytic platform for partnerships in the region to address Agency’s priorities, while adding unique value to the diplomatic mission in Brazil through the State Department.
  2. Trilateral cooperation jointly with the Government of Brazil in third countries. This cooperation is based on shared global concerns and joint technical assistance approaches.

Bilateral agreement

In the spirit of working with Brazil as a partner, in 2014 USAID signed a new five-year bilateral agreement “Partnership for Conservation of Amazon Biodiversity” with the Government of Brazil to support its efforts to conserve the Brazilian Amazon, while beginning to foster the participation of the private sector in social and economic investment activities.

Importance of bilateral cooperation

Amazon Forest
The landscape of Uaçá Indigenous Territory in Eastern Amazonia is the home for more than seven thousand indigenous people. Photo: José Caldas / USAID Brazil

The Amazon rainforest affects the whole world - “What happens in the Amazon doesn’t stay in the Amazon.” The sheer scale of the Amazon, almost the size of the continental United States, directly impacts regional weather patterns, agricultural production, jobs and well-being in the Western Hemisphere. A home for the largest collection of living plants and animal species on earth, producing 20 percent of the world’s oxygen and freshwater, a healthy Amazon forest is not only critical to Brazil but also to the U.S. and the rest of the world.

Brazil is strongly committed to conserving the Amazon forest and has established a protected areas system as diverse and comprehensive as any in the world. However, a multi-year economic recession left the country under-resourced, posing a challenge to the conservation work. Brazil welcomes continued support and engagement from other countries to protect the Amazon. Despite the significant progress Brazil has made in protecting its forests during the last decade, there was a sharp increase in deforestation in the last two years. In fact, over the past 50 years, the Amazon has lost 20 percent of its forest, increasing droughts and wildfires in Brazil. An additional 20 percent change could alter the rainfall patterns and affect the ecosystem, health and livelihoods of the entire region.

The U.S. is one of Brazil’s critical bilateral partners and one that Brazil looks to work with in safeguarding the health of the Amazon for the future. Their history of cooperation forms the backbone of USAID’s “Partnership for Conservation of Amazon Biodiversity,” with the Government of Brazil’s Ministry of Environment, the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation, and National Indigenous Foundation.

Youth for Amazon
These young Maroons learned to conduct socioeconomic surveys and design management and life plans after a training in the Abuí Community, part of the Mãe Domingas Maroon Territory. Photo: Vanessa Eyng / Ecam

Capacity building

Through the partnership agreement, USAID focuses on strengthening the capacity of the Government of Brazil and local stakeholders in key areas needed to better manage the Amazon’s protected area systems (including indigenous lands), specifically related to expanding the economic value of sustainably managed forests and biodiversity for local communities, increasing private-public partnerships, and introducing technologies centered around improved natural resource management and socioeconomic development.

USAID works with other U.S. agencies such as the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service and its partners, including U.S. universities and local stakeholders, leveraging 100 years of experience managing conservation areas in the United States, fostering shared learning by both countries in implementing programs that benefit both Brazil and the United States.

Innovative partnerships with the private sector

Partnership with Google
Partnership with Google Earth and the use of Open Data Kit (ODK) technology enables indigenous and other local populations to manage and monitor over 14 million hectares (140,000 km2) of the forest. Photo: USAID/Brazil

Based on USAID/Brazil’s ten-year history with private sector platforms and fostering social investments among companies, the Mission is also working with new private sector partners focusing on conservation. For example, the partnership with Google Earth and the use of Open Data Kit technology benefits indigenous and other local populations to manage and monitor over 14 million hectares (140,000 km2) of the forest. A USAID partnership with Coca Cola is strengthening value chains, and another with AB Inbev/Ambev is supporting a broad coalition of partners to enhance sustainable guarana production for beverages. In addition, Natura, a Brazilian cosmetic company, is pioneering biodiverse agroforestry systems on degraded land for sustainable palm oil production through a public private partnership with USAID. As businesses increasingly look to invest to support social causes, USAID/Brazil serves as a bridge to convene across sectors. As a result of its experience establishing several win-win public-private partnerships around these shared priorities, and proactively thinking about the future potential of such work, USAID/Brazil is taking a first step to leave a strong legacy by launching a new private-sector led partnership platform called the Plataforma Parceiros para la Amazonia based in Manaus, which will bring together dozens of companies, both U.S. and Brazilian, to jointly work on solutions for a sustainable Amazon.

Key Highlights

  • Amazon, spanning 6.7 million km², 80 percent of which is rainforest, is virtually unrivaled in scale, complexity, and opportunity.


  • The Amazon basin covers an area the size of the continental United States, it is twice the size of India and includes parts of eight countries, with 60 percent located in Brazil.
  • If the Amazon were a country, it would be the ninth largest in the world.


  • The Amazon rainforest has been described as the lungs of our planet because it produces 20 percent of the world’s oxygen

Rainforests and Biodiversity

  • The Amazon encompasses the single largest remaining tropical rainforest in the world.Facts about Amazon
  • The Amazon is the largest and most biodiverse area in the world.
  • One in ten known species in the world lives in the Amazon rainforest. This constitutes the largest collection of living plants and animal species in the world. One in five of all the bird species in the world lives in the rainforests of the Amazon and one in five of the fish species lives in Amazonian rivers and streams. Scientists have described between 96,660 and 128,843 invertebrate species in Brazil alone.


  • The Amazon is home to more than 30 million people living across a vast region subdivided into nine different national political systems.
  • People living in the Amazon include 385 indigenous groups who depend on its resources and services.


  • One-sixth (16 percent) of the world's fresh water is in the Amazon Basin.
  • The basin is drained by the Amazon River, the world's largest river in terms of discharge, and the second longest river in the world after the Nile.
  • For reference, the Amazon's daily freshwater discharge into the Atlantic is enough to supply New York City's freshwater needs for nine years.


  • Jeopardizing a pillar of life on Earth, the seemingly endless Amazon has lost 20 percent of its forest cover in the last 50 years more than in all the previous 450 years since European colonization began.
  • Scientists fear that an additional 20 percent of the trees will be lost over the next two decades. If that happens, the forest's ecology will begin to unravel.
  • The Amazon produces half its own rainfall through the moisture it releases into the atmosphere.
  • Biologists worry about the long-term consequences including drought. Some rainforests, including the Amazon, began experiencing drought in the 1990s and the largest tracts of Brazil’s agriculture production depend on the rainfall and rivers that stem from the Amazon basin, as do the 34 million people living there.

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