Case study: Protecting the Amazon – an unusual collaboration

Situated almost perfectly on the other side of the globe from Japan is the Amazon. Two organizations from completely different age groups and interests have come together to protect the Amazon forest, animals and the livelihood of the locals. The two groups are: the NPO Wildlife Research Society, engaged in grassroots conservation activities, and NPO Session with Earth, comprised of aspiring young musicians. How are these organizations with different interests and from different generations working together? We interviewed the representatives of both NPOs; Akihiko Kuroda, Head of Board of Directors from the Wildlife Research Society and Toru Tsudani from Session with Earth.

Each group’s take on the amazon and its issues

The Wildlife Research Society has worked on conservation, biodiversity research and teacher training for nearly 20 years in the Kawanishi City area of Hyogo Prefecture. There are about 20 members. All male, all in the baby boom generation. 10 years ago, the NPO arranged a visit to Tome-Azu, a town known for its large number of Japanese immigrants, near the Amazon River. What they learned there were about the livelihood of the locals and the extent of the damage to the Amazon forest sparked interest in the organization to launch an international corporation branch in 2013; something none of the members had any experience in at the time. With the support of JICA, the NPO established a nature school in the village and trained instructors. The work was followed by providing support for the development of local agroforestry.

The Wildlife Research Society

Now onto Session with Earth. The young aspiring musicians and musical instrument makers, mostly born in the Heisei era, came to learn the link between musicians and the Amazon forest. Mahogany is critical in the production of guitars but they are facing extinction because of the destructive lumbering in its place of origin around the Amazon River. In 2002 Mahogany trading become illegal under the Washington Convention but it hasn’t stopped the trading of Mahogany at a cheap price, most of which appear to be obtained through illegal logging. The members of Session with Earth had no experience in environmental activities and were looking for a way as musicians to participate in the Amazon forest conservation.

The Session with Earth

How it all happened…

The Wildlife Research Society had hit a wall a few years into their work. The bananas were harvested from the first year and became food, the black pepper and cacao were harvested from the third year and provided cash income. Both were a welcome to the locals and production grew. However, in order to conserve the original ecosystem, it was essential for other trees which did not yield food to be planted as well. It quickly became clear the locals needed a reason to want to plant such trees and a system for planting and protecting the trees. Mahogany especially takes 40 to 50 years to grow before its suitable for instrument production. A breakthrough was needed.

In the meantime, Session with Earth was established in 2010 and set up a system for collecting donations at music events. The money was to be donated to an organization working for the conservation of the Amazon forest. Just as they were preparing to donate, trouble struck. The organization they had intended the donation for had shut down their Amazon project. That was when Session for Earth consulted an environmental counselor and was introduced to the Wildlife Research Society.

This is how the Wildlife Research Society’s agroforestry was joined by Session with Earth in which the latter contributes to the cause by collecting donations at music events to be used for planting Mahogany trees. They also collaborate on exhibitions in Japan for increasing public awareness.

The locally held Seminar on Agroforestry organized by the Wildlife Research Society has enjoyed increased popularity every year and currently has over 200 participants. The project has reached a new era in which early participants from the village now stand in front of others to showcase their success. Mahogany planting has increased every year. The food supply of the locals has improved and although slowly, the ecosystem is on the mends as well.

Points on collaboration

At first, some felt the collaboration between the baby boomers and the youth may be tricky, but surprisingly they say “there were no issues.” On the contrary, Mr. Kuroda from the Wildlife Research Society says the collaboration with the youth organization has “opened our eyes to new ideas and I often feel I can learn from them.”

Points to note are:

  • Have a clear understanding of your own organization’s strengths and weaknesses:

    The Wildlife Research Society, given their expertise, is responsible for the locals’ training and work with the ecosystem and agriculture. Session with Earth is responsible for increasing awareness and organizing charity events. They have a clear understanding of each organization’s strengths and is careful not to invade the others’ field. Mr Tsudani from Session with Earth says “I have an image of those in the Wildlife Research Society as the head (knowledge, on-ground activities) and us youth as the legs (PR, awareness building) and together we form a body.” In general organizations tend to seek partners in the same field but stepping back to assess your organization’s strengths and weaknesses, and collaborating instead with an organization in a field or area that fills the gaps in your organization can be a good strategy, as seen in this case study.

  • Modesty :

    Modesty was a shared characteristic that came through during the interview from both organizations. The Wildlife Research Society believes their “organization doesn’t need to be in the limelight as long as the forests and the locals are protected.” At Session with Earth, they made sure their members understood the local activities are owned by the Wildlife Research Society and only allowed new members to take part in joint meetings after they understood where they stood.

The dream

In the future, Session with Earth will like to organize music concert cafes serving Amazon fruit and coffee made with coffee beans from the Wildlife Research Society’s agroforestry project. They will like to make the switch over from charity to business and continue their part in protecting the Amazon in a sustainable manner.

We truly look forward to seeing this collaboration grow, and the day we sit and listen to the heartfelt music by these visionary young musicians while sipping drinks made with the produce of the environment and local community-friendly agroforestry.