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Condoms to Help Preserve Amazon Rainforest

Condom Factory in Brazil Gives Local People a Stake in Rainforest Preservation

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Condoms are used by millions of people worldwide to prevent pregnancy and stop the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, but now Brazil has come up with a new use for condoms: preserving the Amazon rainforest.

Why Did Brazil Build a Condom Factory?
On April 7, 2008, the Brazilian government started producing condoms using rubber from trees in the Amazon rainforest. The idea is to slow deforestation of the rainforest by giving local people an economic alternative to clearing rainforest land for agriculture and cattle grazing while simultaneously reducing Brazil’s dependence on imported condoms that the government gives away as part of a national program to fight HIV/AIDS.

Preserving the Amazon rainforest is a global environmental priority. Sometimes called "the lungs of the world," the Amazon rainforest plays a vital role in absorbing carbon dioxide and replacing it with oxygen. Tropical rainforests, like the one along the Amazon in Brazil, are also home to as many as half the world's plant species, many with medicinal and other properties mankind is only beginning to understand. Yet, despite its value to all humanity, 20 percent of the original rainforest already has been destroyed and more disappears every day.

How Will the Condom Factory Work?
The government-run condom factory in northwestern Brazil will produce 100 million condoms annually. That’s about 20 percent of the half million condoms that the Brazilian government—the world’s largest single purchaser of condoms—distributes free each year to help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.

The latex for the new condom factory will be drawn from trees in the Chico Mendes forest reserve by small-time rubber tappers. The Chico Mendes reserve is named for an internationally renowned rainforest conservationist and rubber tapper who was shot and killed by cattle ranchers in December 1988.

How Will the Condom Factory Benefit Local People?
More than 550 families will earn a total of 2.2 million reais ($1.3 million) every year, either by gathering latex from the rainforest to make condoms or by producing condoms at the new factory, the Brazilian health ministry said in a statement.

By giving local people an economic stake in keeping the rainforest intact, the government hopes to lessen the pressure for them to fell trees to earn money through timber sales, agriculture and cattle ranching.

Rubber tappers in the state of Acre in northwestern Brazil, where the new condom factory is based, already harvest about 6.2 million tons of latex a year, the health ministry said. Additional demand from the government-owned condom factory is expected increase the total latex harvest in the area by about 500,000 tons annually.

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