Brazil Opens Condom Factory to Help Preserve the Amazon Rain Forest

Brazil on Monday inaugurated a condom factory that officials say will help hundreds of poor Brazilian rubber tappers make a living while helping to preserve the Amazon rain forest.

The plant in the northwestern town of Xapuri will produce 100 million condoms a year, which the government will distribute for free as part of its massive anti-AIDS program, Brazil's Health Ministry said in a statement.

The latex will be drawn from towering jungle trees in the sprawling Chico Mendes forest reserve by small time rubber tappers who protect their trees — and thus the rain forest — to ensure their livelihood, the Health Ministry said in a statement.

The reserves is named after renowned rubber tapper Chico Mendes who drew international attention to Amazon rain forest destruction. Mendes was shot dead in his home in Xapuri in December 1988 by cattle ranchers.

Rubber tappers in the northwestern state of Acre, where the factory is based, already produce about 6.2 million tons of latex a year, but demand from the factory will boost that amount by about 500,000 tons annually, the ministry said.

The factory will benefit at least 500 families of rubber tappers and will provide about 150 jobs for the town of 15,000, the ministry said.

Brazil currently imports almost all of the condoms despite having large amounts of latex in the Amazon.

Officials see factory as a way to provide rubber tappers and local residents with an economic stake in preserving the rain forest.