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Letter from the editor | 102

Far beyond rhetoric

With a certain frequency, the expression “sustainable development” sounds like a sort of rhetorical lure to cover the dearth of practical, good, and sufficiently consistent projects to produce some economic or social transformation and, at the same time, to preserve the environment, in a desirable manner, in certain regions. But it is certainly an entirely different notion that the concept conveys when related to two projects of technological innovation presented in the cover story of this issue of Pesquisa FAPESP. Both are being implanted by the same company in the Ribeira valley, an extensive region between the cities of São Paulo and Curitiba, in which there is a combination, not, incidentally, at all rare in Brazil, of precariousness in the living conditions of the local population and noteworthy wealth of their natural patrimony. The largest remaining area in Brazil of the Atlantic Rain Forest, that is about 600,000 hectares of forest, is in the Ribeira valley.

The first of these projects, as reported from page 66 onwards by assistant editor for technology Dinorah Ereno, dealt with identifying and extracting for the forest, with scientific methodology, medicinal plants that are beginning to be sold, dry and packaged. Let it be recorded that gathering plants is a common activity in the region, in general harmful to the preservation of the native species. In this case, this current practice arrives at very different results: besides the guaranteed regeneration of the plants in their habitat and the scientific gains, there are evident economic and social benefits. Amongst others, the knowledge acquired, both as far as extraction is concerned and the processing of the raw material, is being passed on to the quilombo communities (the former runaway slaves communities) of the region, in a just return for the information about the plants that their members gave the researchers at the beginning of the work. The second project, with a technique that uses small bits of sprouts from the plants, allows large scale reproduction in the laboratory of the beautiful native bromeliads from the region, without destroying the original specimen and without removing specimens from the forest. Both are examples of a project that are to be imitated by other companies concerned with development and the issue of social responsibility.

On the subject of development and its paths, valuable reading is the story on the first (and still unpublished) results of the 2001 São Paulo Economic Activity Survey (Paep), drawn up by the Seade Foundation, which opens the Humanities section. As the editor for policy Claudia Izique reports, beginning on page 82, the study in question indicates that, in spite of all the changes undergone by the productive universe in recent years, industry is still the dynamic pole of the expansion of the São Paulo economy. And among other surprising data, the survey reveals that the job market in the service sector is indeed growing, but in the large companies of the sector; it suggests that betting on the building industry may not produce the desired effects on unemployment, and that the public policies aimed at small service companies may have more effect if, instead of employment, they focus on the business competitiveness. Getting to know this data, obtained with a rigorous method, can prevent unnecessary earthquakes in the management of economic policies.

There are, however, earthquakes that cannot be avoided. The editor for science Carlos Fioravanti explains the cause of the tremors in a region of Brazil that ought to be very stable (page 36). A team from the Astronomy, Geophysics and Atmospheric Sciences Institute of the University of São Paulo analyzed almost one quarter of the Brazilian territory to be found within the tectonic plates and that should not shake frequently. The researchers found that these areas are subject to tremors because they have a thinner lithosphere – that layer of rocks that lies at a depth of from 100 to 200 kilometers.