About Muriel Saragoussi
Muriel Saragoussi is a leading agronomic engineer. Fluent in Portuguese, French, English and Spanish, she is currently the Program Officer for Forests and Fair Climate for the South American Regional Office of the ICCO Alliance, a Dutch organization for international cooperation in sustainable development.
Only 17 years old when she first entered a pristine rain forest, Saragoussi was so impressed with ‘natural environment’ that she decided to choose a profession that would not force her “to be a prisoner in an office.”
Renown for more than twenty years in the international arena of forging a common strategy to stop the rapid decrease in the planet's biological and cultural diversity, her major concerns include the unique ways in which indigenous and traditional peoples perceive, use, and manage their natural resources and how programs can be developed to guarantee the preservation and strengthening of indigenous communities and their traditional knowledge. In 1988 she helped prepare and was chosen to read the Declaration of Belem (Brazil) that launched the International Society of Ethnobiology.
At the time Muriel was a young researcher at the National Institute for Amazonian Research (INPA), and one of the few doctors who had chosen to work and live in the Amazon. There were only twenty-seven PhDs at the INPA, among more than 200 researchers in varied fields of knowledge, but principally in the biological sciences Zoology, botany, genetics, ecology, and entomology.
Muriel Saragoussi’s career has always been interlinked with a strong activism on the rights of Traditional Populations. In Brazil traditional populations or communities include not only Indigenous Peoples, but also rubber tappers, Brazil Nuts collectors, small fishermen, babaçu collectors; in the Amazon, they are known as Peoples of the Forest. She also actively champions the need for a new model of development, first looking at the Amazon Region, and eventually embracing the planet, taking an holistic approach.
With a scholarship for “young doctors,” in 1985 Saragoussi began her work on plant breeding, and in less than 5 years was involved in multidisciplinary teams, working with small land holders and traditional populations on agroforestry systems, land tenure and land use. In February 1990 she took part in the Keystone International Dialogue on Plant Genetic Resources meeting in India. The purpose of the dialogue series was to develop consensus recommendations on the conservation and utilization of global plant genetic resources and strengthen an international commitment to plant genetic resources that respects the rights of traditional farmers and populations.
In 1991, supported by the National Council of Rubber Tappers(CNS) that she voluntarily helped through the quagmire of fundraising for their projects. The CNS supported Saragoussi and she was elected the co-chair of the International Steering Committee of NGOs for the UNCED (Rio’92), representing the Brazilian Forum of NGOs and Social Movements for Environment and Development.
In June of that year she moved Paris (with her 6-month old son) where she organized the meeting “Roots for the Future”, gathering 850 delegates from 150 countries, to prepare Civil Society for the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). Saragoussi then traveled to Rio de Janeiro to help organize the International Forum of NGOs and Social Movements. Her mission encompassed the multi faceted task of organizing and achieving results. Her main focus were the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Earth Chart, especially through “sociodiversity” and gender points of view.
Back in Manaus in mid 1992, Saragoussi was invited by the National Institute for Amazonian Research to initiate a Social Sciences Department. Although this was not her background, she had long navigated the borders between natural and social sciences to start drawing a proposal that could link the actual researches of the Institute on biodiversity with a new vision connected to the rights of traditional population on their knowledge related to biodiversity. She was selected to be part of the LEAD Program, where people from Brazil, India, China, Mexico, Nigeria, Indonesia and former USSR were interacting and learning developing leadership on environment and sustainable development. In 1996 she helped Fundação Oswaldo Cruz (FIOCRUZ) to establish it research center on socio and biodiversity in Manaus.
In 1997 Muriel Saragoussi left the comfort of a public employment, and joined the Vitoria Amazonica Foundation, and steered it into becoming a national and international reference on participatory planning for National Parks, involving local population, and on public policies for environment and sustainable development. Utilizing her previous experience, this emerging Foundation was able to take the lead in networks operating in the Amazon and represent them in national and international policies and activities especially in the discussion processes for the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) implementation in Brazil and other public policies related to conservation and sustainable use of natural resources.
In 2002 Senator Marina Silva was appointed Minister of Environment by the elected president Lula in Brazil and invited Saragoussi, whom she had met when they cooperated with the Senator´s mandate on CBD issues, to be part of her team as Director of the National Council of Environment. One year later, Saragoussi became Vice Minister for the Coordination of Amazonian Policies, and in her last year at the Ministry (2008) Silva asked Saragoussi to help her create a department of Extractivism and a policy to improve the sustainable use of natural resources in all Brazil, including the means to add value to these products in ways that respect and include traditional communities but also take into account the private sector.
In her years as a member of the Federal Government Saragoussi faced many challenges to lead and mediate complex processes of negotiations involving different and often opposite interests of groups such as loggers, agribusiness, small holders and traditional communities as well as Government ministries that had different plans for the same area. Among her many achievements was her strategic position in the complex multi-sector and inter-ministerial planning in the participatory construction of the Sustainable Amazon Plan; the Regional Sustainable Development Plan for the BR-163 Highway Region; and the National Policy for the Promotion of Sociobiodiversity Products. In addition Ms Saragoussi represents the Ministry in the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization discussions and in the Pilot Program for the Protection of the Brazilian Tropical Rainforests (PPG-7), also taking part in international negotiations.
In 2001, Muriel Saragoussi was among the 15 finalists of the Women of the Year Claudia’s Award. In December 2002, she received the Chico Mendes Award for Individual Leadership in environment and development, along with her future boss Senator Marina Silva. Muriel Saragoussi said, “I love to travel. I love to meet and understand people and cultures. I had lived in Brazil and France and visited 31 countries. Challenges are one of the things that move me. My son, a very special person, is my companion through my journey in this planet.”
Other Career Milestones: For most of her career Muriel Saragoussi has managed budgets and fundraising that facilitated millions of dollars for the organizations she led. In 2009, Saragoussi was the executive secretary of Amazonian Working Group (GTA), a network of more than 600 Amazonian organizations. From 1985 to 98 as teacher at the National Institute for Amazonian Research she taught post-graduate courses and tutored MS students and was active on popular education and processes of citizenship and environment. She acts as member of the Board of National Fund for Biodiversity (FUNBIO) and of the Institute for Agricultural and Forest Management and Certification (IMAFLORA). With her strong leadership and conflict management skills, Saragoussi helped to establish the collective building of proposals in the Amazon region, such as the Sustainable Amazon Permanent Forum of Debate.
TheWIFTS Foundation IOnternational Visionary Awards is honored that Muriel Saragoussi accepts its Gaea Environment Award 2010 in respect of her outstanding work
in biological and cultural diversity.