Despite recent improvements in environmental protection, the Brazilian Amazon is still responsible for the highest absolute rates of deforestation in the world. In addition, the Amazon biome is home to more than 30 million people, and provides locally, regionally and globally significant benefits for humans including economic goods and ecosystem services such as climatic regulation and biodiversity conservation. Identifying and designing ways to reconcile development and environmental objectives in the Amazon is a major challenge facing society. Science plays can help address this challenge by: identifying priority problems and threats, assessing the social and ecological implications of alternative policy options, and helping to design and implement more sustainable land-management trajectories for individual regions in the future.

The proposed work addresses this challenge at two levels. First, we will employ data and experience from a large social and ecological assessment of two flagship municipalities in the eastern Amazon (the Sustainable Amazon Network, www.redeamazoniasustentavel.org) to assess conservation-development trade-offs and realistic policy and management scenarios to improve opportunities for both the conservation of forest ecosystems and the wellbeing of rural communities. Second, we will draw on experiences in the Brazilian Amazon, together with case studies of land-use sustainability problems globally, to identify ways to improve the process of generating knowledge that can be used to inform effective societal responses.

The Sustainable Amazon Network (RAS in Portuguese) encompasses work from more than 30 research organisations with strong links to local and state-level government in Brazil as well as farmer groups and civil society. We will use data already collected on the impact of landscape change on biodiversity, carbon stocks, soil fertility, agricultural production and human well-being to assess the potential for trade-offs and synergies between conservation and development objectives. Comparisons will be made between individual farms and entire catchments that are distributed across a gradient of historical deforestation. These analyses, in partnership with government and civil society partner organisations, can then be used to help assess improvements in the ecological and socioeconomic condition of each region following different policy and management interventions and transition processes.

We also draw on experiences in the Amazon, together with a systematic survey of other initiatives related to land sustainability conducted by both SEI and other partners, to develop a project assessment tool for characterising strengths and weaknesses across the full cycle of: problem scoping and prioritization, assessment of opportunities for positive change, assessment of enabling conditions and risks, and requirements for building long-term social and ecological resilience. By helping to contextualise and prioritize both scientific contributions and policy concerns regarding regional sustainability challenges this framework seeks to identify common shortcomings and oversights in bridging the science-policy interface, providing a much needed evaluation tool for funding, research and policy organisations.