by Dr. Miguel Milano, Senior Advisor Permian Brazil

May 21, 2024



Mike: Hello and welcome to the Permian Podcast where we focus on nature conservation for the public good. Today, our special guest is Dr. Miguel Milano, expert, and Senior Advisor at Permian Brazil. Welcome, Miguel, to the show.

Miguel: Thank you for the invitation and the opportunity to speak here.

Mike: First of all, could we start with maybe a little bit of your background academically and then your career in conservation.

Miguel: Yes, I did forest engineering at university, and I also got a masters and PhD degree in forest science. And then I took around the 25 years as a professor in the university in Brazil, the oldest faculty in in forest science in Brazil with master and doctorate degree teaching, advising master and PhD also degrees and dissertations as well as doing research. And at some point, I started to have a kind of a double life also working in practical conservation in public institutions like status and also the federal government. I had for some months the position of the head of the protected areas in Brazil. That was exactly at the time of the Rio Conference of ‘92 and you can imagine the situation, the pressure on that situation.

That is my general background in doing research, doing practical services in conservation for State and federal government and a long time also running organizations publicly, not publicly, but private public organizations. I would say some way foundations like Fundação Grupo Boticário for Nature conservation that I would say the main private funded foundation in Brazil for conservation.

Mike: Was there some kind of moment when you were young where you thought I have to get into the forest science aspect of conservation.

Miguel: That is a really good question. Thank you for asking that because that is part of the reason for all (of) this situation.

I was born in a very small town. It’s not a town properly, it’s a small village in the back country areas of Parana state. Which is one of the southern states of Brazil, the most developed area and possibly you would not imagine (what it was like) that 15 or 16 years ago. We still do not have any electricity in the areas like that in this mostly “developed” part of the country and well I was born there, I grew up (there) until the age of 11 years old and well the main thing is for me was to have fun was to go to the forest, to fish, to hunt, swimming the rivers and things like that.

Well and when I needed to leave my home to study a little bit more. I started to live out in kind of schools with intern programs and then more and more away from home and used to come back to my home just in the holidays and I started to feel that most of my forests in my hills were farther and farther from my home.

And they also to use to say the same as today, “developed” It not it was not developed it was being destroyed and I start to feel with no counterbalance in information if that was wrong or right.

It was not the issue, but I started just to feel that and to lack the lack of my place(s) and that moved me. When I arrived to the University (to start at university), I discovered until that time I had no idea(what to do). I was thinking about to do a kind of mechanical engineering or civil engineering and I discovered this career called a “Forest Engineer”.

See this should be the right way and I did that but the main orientation the career by the time it was well how to correctly I would say, use the forest talking about how to explore how to cut and how to process the wood and also how to plant intensive forest plantation/reforestation things like that.

And that was I think the start of a turn in my life to go to into conservation because it was not that that I was looking for and that I wanted. And I started to study by myself reading books articles and things like that until I found my way to move into that.

And then I started my work in conservation from that moment and becoming more a self-made person in conservation. Just studying and connecting with people in Brazil, important ones that became my friends, also with important researchers abroad in other universities especially in USA and some other countries in Latin America.

And then all that made it possible for me to run this career in conservation, I would say.

Mike: It’s just fascinating that somebody has a moment in their youth and then that just sets them on a course and for you that was that was the forest and then forest science. But my question is, are there many forest science engineers, is this a popular career path in Brazil for people?

Miguel: We have lots of universities with this (kind of) career in Brazil, even Parana that’s uses just 2% of the area of the country. I could not say now at the thinking the percent of the population here but is a state with 10 around 10 million inhabitants and we should have I guess four or five different schools of foreign science in this state.

If you go to the Amazon, all the states have two or three. Most of these schools still are running more for, I would say, economic purposes of use of the forest (but directly say not indirect) not the other benefits are still looking for the right way to use the forest eventually or to just fulfil the legal needs to explore the forest that is the main orientation it’s not conservation.

I would say that four or five of the forestry schools in Brazil were oriented to conservation, but it means 85 or 80% at least are much more oriented to the economic use of the woods.

So, it’s focusing on the economics of forest use rather than directly conservation and preservation and reforestation. It’s important to mention that the economic could be biodiversity, conservation could be tourism in the forest, could be indirect use of the of the forest. But its much more direct use of the wood. That is the main economic orientation I would say.

Mike: So, let’s move on to the topic of the podcast today which is partly entitled “Sustaining Our Shared Spaces”,  leaning into the forest and tropical forest areas like Brazil and managing public land for the public good. Could you unpack what you what you think about that title, what does that mean to you?

Miguel: Very tough question because it brings some ideas about when you have the idea of private land and public land when you we divide that situation.

I would say along of the development line of the societies, the sense we have of the private property comes from the Middle Ages up to a 100 years ago. All this process started when the nobles and landlords started to share land, not because they wanted to, but because what’s needed for their society. The UK is a good example of that situation that created roads for this process.

I think in most of the European countries there is more private landed than public land. In Brazil we still have a little bit of a different situation.
Even if we have more private land, we have a huge part of the country that is public land and public in different conditions because the indigenous lands are public, because they are federal land, they are for the use and the benefit of the traditional people, but they are public lands which is one point.

The second point is that we have the call it the protected areas in different scales and systems that are public. And we also have in Brazil huge pieces of land if I can say that and huge piece of the cake that are not defined yet.

If its public or private it is still up to the government to define if it will be publicly as protected there or Indigenous land or some any other proposed or if you will be given as private to be developed. That’s the situation we have here.

It is important to have the situation clear because of the philosophical the idea of public lands, comes from this thinking that everything is to go and to be appropriated by people. No, I would say it’s not right, and even that part that can be private should be well cared for, should be really well conserved in order to keep the conditions for their life the human life at least on this planet. And this is a really important part I’m being really anthropocentric at this point but it’s to help to people to understand that if you do not care about nature being possible for us to survive here, this is one point.

Going now to the central point of your question.

Yes, it is really important we have more and more where possible, public land and must be collective, the benefits must be shared but also should be a collective responsibility to care about that land and to protect the (conservation) plan to receive the benefits we need like climate stability, pollination, well, fertility of the soil and many other things we need that space for recreation (as another example).

Tourism, well these public lands in different scale can bring in lots, lots of economic benefits if you’re not the direct benefits to avoid the many losses we have, the things we lost in different situations of climate events.

Mike:  In our kind of area of conservation, we talk about environmental services and that maybe is not so easy to understand for general people outside of science and conservation. Of course, saving the forest helps the biodiversity and it helps the weather systems. But for the people as you said, the Indigenous people, what are the kind of the benefits for them for protecting the forest and maybe you know reforesting and those kind of conservation ideas.

Miguel: I would say it’s difficult for some people understand that situation because there is no background information during the regular education for all the people.
I think we should have this as regular education from the start of the of university. always having some information, good information and education regarding the environmental issues we have about civics, we have about some other things we have about history, but we do not have (knowledge) about the environment we live in, the nature we depend on. Would make things much easier.

But one example I could give you is that a big tree in the Amazon for sure will transpire. At least one ton of water, 1000 litres of water a day, at least eventually two, eventually three. And where does this water go? It goes to the sky and there it will move according to the wind, I would say, and this brings rain to the southern part of the country. This is really important!
If you do not have plants to transpire, we would have probably just half of the rain we have because half comes from the oceans, but the other half come from the transpiration of the plants. And well, to have rain here in the South, they would say well, also to have a rain part of the Argentine also to have a rain part of Paraguay.

We should keep the Amazon Forest standing and to keep it standing we have to have a hard pressure for other goods, well we should be able to compete paying for that.If it’s much more profitable in some way for people cut (down) and plant in the soil, they will do that. If we have ways to pay more to conserve standing (forests), they (people) will do that. Then it’s part of the political policies or the public policies we should work to make this work on the ground benefiting the indigenous people as an example. Benefiting the local economy. Oh, even the private owner of land because he or she could receive more conserving and not destroying, that is part of the situation.

It was recently said I think in a book, that conservation itself is easy. Ecology is not too difficult. The big issue when doing conservation is to move the public policies to make that (happen), also convincing society that we will elect the politicians that will do the right thing is the tricky part of this discussion.


Mike: To come back to what you said, I think perhaps in Brazil maybe it should be a subject at school, you know forest science, there should be chemistry, biology, physics, and forest science, you know, so the people get that.

Miguel:  Or conservation not just for science. I’m talking about conservation and what is behind conservation. That would be everywhere, in the UK, Brazil, and in the US.

Mike:  Let’s look at the challenges and solutions.
So maybe a couple of challenges that you’re facing and maybe talk about projects that you’re that you’re currently working on or in progress and some of the challenges faced maybe even starting a project you know to initiate conservation.

Miguel: Well, many good examples could be given regarding the challenges. I will try to bring you two different examples. That thing is interesting for me at this point.

One is the case of the Iguazu National Park in Parana state. This is a nice piece of the territory with almost 200,000 hectares. It has 180,000 hectares on the Brazilian side. On the other side of the border, we have the Argentinian one with more than 50,000 Ha plus provincial or State Park in Argentina. That’s a huge piece of land together kind of mosaic that forms a big corridor. In the middle of that, we have the really nice waterfalls that bring (only on the Brazilian side), around 2,000,000 visitors a year.

But that that kind of visitor, that kind of situation, tourists around the half of that is coming from outside bringing dollars to our economy create lots of jobs create many of the employees direct or indirectly, sending the taxi drivers to the hotels the restaurants and all that process moves a huge piece of the economy in that town or that city.

The other part probably comes from the Itaipu dam, probably today the second biggest dam in the world regarding energy generation that’s (situated) between Brazil and Paraguay and also brings lots of the benefits for the economy. The one creates a small number of jobs is Itaipu with tourism in the national parks (lots of) but people many times think ah, we should have just the waterfalls protected it and doesn’t mind(matter) if we do not have the rest but it wouldn’t not be possible to have the waterfalls, (this is) it’s one point but it’s very interesting public land many times is threatened by different tribes or invasions and things like that to use the land for other purposes.

The other good, very good example is the one we are running with Permian in Rondonia state. The forest carbon project we are running at the extractive reserve of Rio Cautario in Rondonia state is one kind of category of protected area under our legislation.

The framework of protected lands in Brazil that is created when we have traditional people depending on extractive projects of the forest in that case the rubber and Brazil nuts especially but also Acai that’s very popular nowadays all around the world that is the main 3 extractive products in the area. The local population have been fighting to first to create and then to protect the land that’s almost abandoned by the state. Well, they got the land, and they are formally created in a formal act, but they are living by themselves there.

We arrived there as they asked in a public selection (process) to implement this kind of project. We, Permian won the competition by 92 votes in the community against one, so it was almost unanimous! The project now brings services with a monthly payment for every family living there. The climate fund of the state created a fund to do the same in other places so at least you can protect the other protected areas that are not really protected.

It’s one point but we also invest in development of the community in order they can move things along and do better than they were doing and they can keep the extractive processes they have. But we are trying to create and aggregate value into those products we are moving them aggregating value to the products for them. Well, we also do many other things. We will also create around 30 jobs in the community to really protect the areas. We do the monitoring processes of the area to avoid invasions and other kind of illegal activities.

And we have been working through the community and with the community and also close to some authorities protecting the land and improving the quality of life of that community on average it’s possible to say that that community itself, the community that lives or we have locally say, seven different communities inside, but I’m saying communities as the whole group living inside the reserve.

In that case, I would say that the project brought eventually three times more income for the families considering the environment services payments, but also what was possible for them to do with their products because now they have the security to have a minimum from the environment services.
With that (leverage) they can discuss the price, the products they will sell and before they just need to sell for the first one that arrived there to buy.

Now they can say no, I want to have this (price) and if the person doesn’t want to buy (at that price) they can wait for another one(customer) because they can wait now because they have the security of payments. So that’s moved the economic condition of them.

It’s so interesting the situation that the closest supermarket of the Reserve told us before they didn’t like you to sell to the people of the reserve without money but that now they can sell good via the Internet because we provide the Internet(access) to them. And also, the supermarket hired three or more people to deliver the goods in the reserve. See, that’s creating jobs around the project. We went to the bank and the bank manager there told us that well they are giving loans to the people of the reserve because they use the contract of environment service payment as a support, as security for the bank that they know they can receive the payments for the loan.

There’s this simple project that makes it possible to conserve 146,000 hectares in that region and is moving an entire economy around.
And the people now are much prouder now about the work they do because before they had some kinds of discrimination (against them) as they are the “poor people living inside the forest”. Now they are kind of guardians of the forest, and they are moving the economy. They are bringing benefits to the small town and the society around that is different.

But I did not mention the other benefits like the climate protection and resilience against climate instability and water and rain and biodiversity and pollination and many other things. That is comes back to my history in forest engineering and not directly using the wood but trying to bring the economy to move all the processes in the economy to do other things like tourism indirectly supporting the community well and paying well.

Mike: I think there’s so much to unpack what you just said and there’s so much information and so much value to what you just said.
What occurs to me is that there needs to be a shift in thinking in people as you said, if you can’t shift the thinking in people, you can’t shift the emphasis on the forest and the value of the forests. As you said, it boils down to wood as a resource and then how they get that will either damage the forest or do something else with it (less detrimental).

Mike: I would say that you’ve seen it on the ground with Cautario that the communities have changed their thinking, is it something that you’ve kind of put into their minds with the project and they can grow that themselves in their own minds and keep that mindset to keep being guardians in the future. What’s the road map for the long term for this project?

Miguel: I think we still have a long road to get a clearer understanding even for the local people.
They understand the benefit and they want to keep that. They understand in some way that the benefits are because they are working as the guardians of the area. But they still need to move a lot regarding their mindset because that was not the mindset was created rather, it was forged and that was a completely different situation.

Take in mind, your words in your question, you mentioned the value of the forest in one point. For them, I would say it’s not exactly just the value, the value they can understand eventually when talking, they know about that. But value is one thing and price is another thing.
One thing could be impossible to calculate the value (of), but the price they can understand the price is what you pay.And well, it’s difficult to talk about this, these two small words, “value” and “price”. But the price is what the people can understand because that will make difference for their lives and well, the price is what they are receiving for the project. And that is part of the conversation. We must help them to understand and also to help them to always think about and always say to the governor and to the others, we want the real value, we want a better price, we want things like that. That is part of the situation that I think will take a long road to move (along).

The mindset that it’s not cutting the trees but making the forest or keeping the forest standing, that will change their lives potentially.

Mike: Just to kind of finish things up in light of everything that we just discussed, which is a whole ocean of things to talk about in details and information on the project and the value as you said in price. Could you kind of summarize today’s discussion with say three really important points, what you feel are really important about conservation, the project community, all those things may be wrapped up is the three most important points to you that stick out from today’s discussion.

Miguel: It’s very, very difficult. One key issue in the challenge is the quality of education for everybody. General society must understand more and then emphasizing conservation and its real value for the planet and for the society is a key, a key challenge. We need to put that in the scene, the political scenario, and the political arena must include these ideas. It’s not just environmental education. It’s a little bit different than I’m trying to say this one point a second a really important one is economical funds to move this process.

Why we still have time to do something regarding climate change as an example and it also includes having funds also should include the process to move the funds to go to the people to really benefit the people. It can be the Indigenous people, it can be the traditional communities, it can be the private owner of the land that is doing the right thing.

I also want to bring to this conversation, the importance of the private land and not the ones just using it for soybean plantations or cattle ranching. No, it’s the ones that can be shared in different kinds of production and one (of those) is nature production. Nature production can be from reforestation, restoration but also just keeping the area conserved.

I think these are two very critical points and the two of them are sat in the political arena.

How to change the mind of the politicians in place to understand this and to move this because their mindset that was created in the other times with other values in other conditions.

I want to say that well, many of the environmental services you have, we are still benefitting from today, Mike. These benefits were always for free but that won’t be possible to keep doing for free because if you have now (almost) 8 billion people on the planet and we are looking more and more for land to produce goods for them. Well, how to compete conserving. It’s an impossible mindset that is still the case.

I mean, in some ways I think I’m an exception of the people of my age thinking what I think for sure we have lots of other exceptions for sure. We have people doing that many more in the world. But we are collectively saying who wants to be doing that and it’s hard with few groups of people in the world, trying to move politicians to another mindset. That is critical.
I would say then education, economics and the political for sure. That, I would say that is the main challenge for this process.

Mike: Thank you for kind of bringing those key points to the end of the discussion.

Thank you so much, Miguel, today for talking and sharing your time and your insights and expertise on this, on this massive subject of conservation and managing a public land for the benefit of the local people and the broader ecosystems and the earth in itself. Thank you so much.

Miguel: Thank you, Mike. Thank you for the opportunity.

To hear Dr. Milano’s parallel interview in Portuguese:


Visit the Permian Brazil website (Portuguese) HERE

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