The National Council of Rubber Tappers is a Brazilian non-profit organization that serves as a platform to advocate the social, economic, cultural and environmental rights of the traditional forest population in the Amazon. When it was founded 20 years ago by Chico Mendes and his fellow activists, the mere idea of extractive reserves (RESEX) where communities work collectively, harvesting the natural resources in a sustainable manner, was revolutionary and met with fierce resistance. Today these RESEX have become an integral part of federal policies towards development in the Amazon; more than 70 extractive reserves have been created so far, apart from indigenous lands.
CNS’s success is the result of many years of peaceful advocating, mobilizing the communities and standing firm in the face of violence. The Council has always been and continues to be a bottom-up grassroots organization. Its leaders are rubber tappers, small farmers and other extractivists of the reserves, who continue to live and work in their communities. Apart from lobbying and campaigning for the rights of the forest people, CNS is actively proposing and implementing agroextractive projects: building capacities in the sustainable use of natural resources, sustainable fisheries, and social organizing; environmental justice; strengthening commercialization of fair trade natural products; environmental and health education; and creating sufficient infrastructure within the reserves in terms of schools, health posts, etc.
In all its activities, cooperation has been a focus for CNS. In the states of Acre, Amapá, Tocantins, and Amazonas, the Council has established successful and productive partnerships with state and local governments; it has partnered with the Amazon Working Group (which was actually born out of a CNS initiative) and seeks dialogue with communities that still apply harmful practices of agriculture. Despite repeated threats, attacks and violence against its leaders, the best known being the assassination of Chico Mendes in 1988, CNS continues its way of nonviolent action.
CNS is organized in regional coordinations with a board of directors comprised of representatives of each extractive reserve and an executive board:
President (Manoel Silva da Cunha); Treasurer; General Secretary; Secretary of Production, Commercialization and Cooperativism; Secretary of Education and Communication; and Women’s Secretariat.