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Tapping into safe sex in the Brazilian Amazon

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Xapuri, a small town in the state of Acre in the Brazilian Amazon, was the home of Chico Mendes, a rubber tapper and environmentalist who fought to protect the Amazon from loggers. In 1988, he was shot dead by a cattle rancher, but his legacy survives in a factory producing millions of condoms from local latex.

Mendes saw rubber tappers as the natural custodians of the rainforest. He thought the best way to prevent land clearance was to improve the rights and income of those who make a living from the forest. Based on Mendes’s ideas, the state of Acre has adopted a policy known as ‘florestania’ or citizens forestry. One of Brazil’s poorest states, Acre is seeking to increase the value of products extracted from the forest.

The flagship of its programme is a condom factory opened in 2008 in Xapuri in conjunction with the federal government. The factory is the first in the world to use latex collected from wild, rather than cultivated, trees. Each year, it makes more than 100 million condoms to be given away as part of the government’s ambitious HIV programme.

The factory was opened by the then environment minister Marina Silva. Herself the daughter of impoverished rubber tappers from the region, she is a strong advocate of ‘florestania’. Silva is a candidate in Brazil’s presidential elections on 5 October and stands a strong chance of becoming the country’s first black female president. 


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