Plantas do Nordeste (PNE)
The Northeast of Brazil
The Northeast of Brazil covers an area of some 1.5 million square kilometres, equivalent to 18.3% of the total landmass of the country. The region supports more than 46 million people of whom approximately 50% live in rural areas and 40% work primarily in the agricultural sector. This vast expanse of land, with an extensive flora comprising around 25,000 species of flowering plants, is of global biodiversity significance.
Geographically the Northeast of Brazil is very diverse. It is much drier than the surrounding regions and regularly suffers drought. There is considerable pressure on its natural vegetation due to the increasing requirements of agriculture and livestock and the growuing need for wood (both for domestic fuel and charcoal).
In addition to its intrinsic biodiversity value, the natural vegetation provides essential sources of food, fuel, forage, medicine and many other commodities. Thus the livelihoods of the people of Northeast Brazil are intricately linked to the fate of their native flora. When the vegetation is lost the land quickly deteriorates, leaving people with little option but to clear yet more land or to leave for the cities, adding to the crises of housing and sanitation in large urban areas.
Originally developed as a pilot programme in 1992, PNE is a multidisciplinary research enterprise whose purpose from the outset has been to promote the sustainable use of plants for the benefit of local people. The stated aims of PNE are:
To improve the existing knowledge base of the region's plant life, as well as the methods for its sustainable management, and to coordinate this information and disseminate it to those working in the area of environmental protection.
To strengthen botanical expertise, research and management of biological data within Northeast Brazil through training and exchange of personnel between Brazilian and UK institutes.
To contribute to an improved quality of life for the region's people by ensuring that new knowledge is put into practice at the grass-roots level, by the establishment of close links with local communities and organisations concerned with rural development.
A collaborative initiative
Whilst Kew played an instrumental role in the establisment and funding of PNE and continues to contribute important specialist expertise to project activities, the programme's overall success has only been possible due to the involvement and commitment of a large number of Brazilian institutions. These have included a range of Federal and State universities, research institutes, non-governmental organizations and local communities. Over the years this success has earned the programme strong support from the Brazilian National Research Council (CNPq) in the form of training grants, offering research opportunities to a number of students whose work contributes towards the project's goals.
In 1994 the non-governmental organization Associação Plantas do Nordeste (APNE), was established to take over the administration and development of the PNE Programme in Brazil. APNE's brief was to realise the stated goals of the PNE mission statement, especially with respect to the management of local activities and the establishment of links with the most relevant communities in Northeast Brazil. APNE, which has since increased substantially in size and scope, currently focuses on three main areas of activity
The research comprises three main disciplines