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The Brazilian Amazon rainforest. Photo credit: Haroldo Palo Jr.

The Brazilian Amazon rainforest. (Photo: Haroldo Palo Jr.)

By Steve Hamm, IBM Writer

With its warm, wet climate and vast expanse of 2.7 million square miles of land, the Amazon River basin has the potential to become one of the world’s most productive agricultural regions—essential for feeding a global population that’s fast-approaching eight billion.

Yet, at the same time, the Amazon rainforest is an invaluable—and imperiled–natural resource. According to The Nature Conservancy, no other place is more critical to human survival. The basin, which is about the size of the United States and touches eight countries, harbors one-third of the planet’s biodiversity, produces one-fourth of the fresh water and plays a key role in warding off the worst effects of climate change.

In the past 40 years, nearly 20% of the Amazon rainforest has been cut down, according to Brazil’s government, and deforestation continues. So it’s critically important for a large portion of the remaining forest to be preserved.

That’s why TNC, the world’s largest environmental organization, has launched programs aimed at preserving rainforest and promoting sustainable agricultural practices. And that’s why IBM’s Corporate Services Corps is helping TNC with one of its most critical projects—an effort to make it easier for municipalities in the Brazilian Amazon to establish land-ownership records, monitor land use and, potentially, stop illegal deforestation in its tracks.

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TNC’s Municipal Environmental Portal (PAM) has been used by a handful of Brazilian municipalities in a pilot phase to track land ownership. Now the organization wants to expand its capabilities and broaden its use—potentially to more than 100 municipalities in Brazil’s Amazon region.

As part of IBM’s non-profit Corporate Service Corps, 10 IBMers from around the world will help advance the PAM technology and develop a plan for encouraging its adoption throughout the region. They’re on the ground in Belém, Brazil, from Aug. 22 to Sept. 20, collaborating with TNC staffers and other stakeholders to contribute in ways that align with local strategies and goals.

“We can’t solve these big problems unless we have governments working with business, working with NGOs. It takes all three to be successful,” says Henry M. Paulson Jr., the former US Treasury secretary and co-chairman of the Latin American Conservation Council, which works with TNC to help design and fund its programs. IBM CEO Virginia M. Rometty is a member of the Conservation Council.

Says Stanley S. Litow, vice-president for IBM Corporate Citizenship & Corporate Affairs: “This partnership with The Nature Conservancy provides an opportunity for IBM to exert environmental leadership on the ground that will balance the need for economic growth with the need to provide sustainable performance in the environmental space.”

IBM and TNC have taken the unusual step of inviting anyone who is interested in saving the rainforest to contribute ideas through a crowd-sourcing forum—based within this Web site. We’re looking for ideas that help improve PAM and make it more useful and compelling for municipalities, land owners, farmers, loggers and environmental groups. But, in addition, we’re open to other ideas that have the potential to preserve the rainforest, improve the economy of the Amazon region and that make agriculture more sustainable there.

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Can you suggest technologies, farming methods, regulations or policies that could help provide solutions to the region’s problems, and, at the same time, help it fulfill its economic potential? If so, please contribute to the discussion early and often. And even if you don’t have ideas to offer, return to the web site and its crowd-sourcing forum to view the latest suggestions and get frequent updates on the TNC’s programs and the IBM team’s progress.

The Amazon rainforest is one of the world’s natural wonders. It belongs to Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela. But it also belongs to the rest of us. So, please, do your part and help save the planet.

Visit the IBM and The Nature Conservancy site for daily updates and insights to the project.

And follow us on twitter: #HelpCSCBrazil, #ibmcsc @ibmcsc

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