Condom plan 'to conserve forest'

Posted: 26 January 2004

A condom factory in north-west Brazil is being built to help prevent the spread of Aids in the country, and there are hopes it will ease rainforest destruction at the same time.

Brazil has a condom shortfall of 500 million. Photo BBC
Brazil has a condom shortfall of 500 million. Photo BBC
Brazil has a condom shortfall of 500 million.© BBC

The factory, in Xapuri, a remote province in the north-western state of Acre, aims to produce 100 million condoms a year by 2005, and 200 million by 2006.

"Brazilians need to consume 1.2 billion condoms a year to prevent the spread of Aids," Alessandro Grangeiro, Brazil's Aids programme co-ordinator, told BBC World Service's Science In Action programme.

"The government is distributing today 700 million. So the factory will make the whole situation a lot better. And the idea is to expand it throughout the years."

Local latex

Despite a successful campaign to tackle HIV/Aids, Brazil has still struggled to get condoms to its poorer people.

The condoms are expensive, and currently have to be imported. Local production is seen as essential.

Brazil Xapuri_map. Image BBC
Brazil Xapuri_map. Image BBC

According to the Brazilian Government, which provides free condoms through its national health system, the new factory will make cheaper condoms and will also bring development to the Xapuri area.

"Those condoms are going to be used initially in public distribution among high-risk groups in the poorer population," Mr Grangeiro said.

As well as helping to tackle the Aids virus, it is hoped the factory can spearhead sustainable development to the area, too.

The latex extracted from the rubber trees in Xapuri has been tested successfully for condoms, and the factory will use only this latex.

Currently, Xapuri extracts rubber only to make tyres, which is a totally different process.

Tree protection

Local rubber-tappers are very happy with this news. The factory will create thousands of jobs and keep the population in the area.

The factory could reduce the pressure on forest clearance for land in the region© BBC

"You will not only raise the price of rubber - adding value to it - you will at the same time tackle the rubber trees' destruction," Jose Maria Barbossa Bakierno, of the National Rubber-Tappers' Council, told Science In Action.

"You won't have to destroy them anymore. Now, we can make a profit by preserving them."

The hope is that the development of the latex industry to make condoms will increase the market for rubber, and mean the trees will not have to be cut down to make land for farming.

There are, however, still a number of problems that need to be worked out.

Long march

Prime among them is the issue of the variable rubber output of trees in the region.

"The latex that we are working with is from native rubber trees that have totally different characteristics from the cultivated ones," said Maria Christinabo, from the Brazilian National Institute of Technology.

"Those cultivated ones are common in almost all the other countries that produce rubber, like India, Thailand and Malaysia.

"The soil in the Amazon is more irregular - the trees are very distant from each other and the rubber-tapper sometimes has to walk many miles to find the quantity they want.

"To deal with those problems is a big challenge, but we are being helped by the local people."

Source: BBC NEWS, 21/01/2004, © BBC MMIV