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Indigenous People, Guardians of Threatened Forests in Brazil

by Mario Osava–Brazilian Indigenous people during one of their regular protests in Rio de Janeiro demanding the demarcation of their lands and to be taken into account in environmental and climate measures. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS”

RIO DE JANEIRO , (IPS) – Indigenous peoples, recognised as the best guardians of the world’s forests, are losing some battles in Brazil in the face of intensified pressure from the expansion of agriculture, mining and electricity generation.

The Brazilian indigenous lands (TI), called “reserves” or “reservations” in other countries, are the most protected in the Amazon rainforest. They cover 22.3 percent of the territory and the deforested portion represented just 1.6 percent of the total deforestation in the region up to 2016, according to the non-governmental Socio-Environmental Institute (ISA).

“They are destroying our culture, our consciousness and our economy by destroying our forests, which we defend because they are our life and our wisdom.” — Almir Narayamoga Suruí

The conservation units, under state protection for research, limited sustainable use or as biological reserves, suffered much higher losses, although deforestation has declined drastically in recent years.

The expansion of these two preservation instruments would be decisive for Brazil to fulfill its nationally intended determined contribution to the mitigation of climate change: to reduce greenhouse gases by 43 percent as of 2030, based on 2005 emissions, which totalled just over 2 billion tons.

But deforestation in indigenous reserves demarcated in the Amazon increased 32 percent in August 2016 to July 2017, compared to the previous period, while throughout the Amazon region, made up of nine states, there was a 16 percent reduction.

It is little in absolute terms, but it has other dramatic effects.

“They are destroying our culture, our consciousness and our economy by destroying our forests, which we defend because they are our life and our wisdom,” protested Almir Narayamoga Suruí, a leader of the Suruí people in the September Seven TI, where nearly 1,400 indigenous people live, in northwestern Brazil.

The destruction is caused by loggers and “garimpeiros” or informal miners of gold and diamonds that have invaded the Suruí land since the beginning of 2016.

The complaints and information offered by the indigenous people have not obtained any answers from the government, said Almir Suruí, who became internationally known, as of 2007, for using Google Earth technology to monitor indigenous lands with the aim of preventing invasions and deforestation.

“It’s a good alliance, we have access to a tool that facilitates and allows us to have key information. But the government is not cooperating,” he said in a conversation with IPS.

Deforestation due to the expansion of livestock farming dominates the landscape near Alta Floresta, a southeastern gateway to the Brazilian Amazon. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

His suspicion is that government corruption, widely revealed in the last three years through investigations by the Public Prosecutor’s Office, weakens the government agencies that should fight the invasion of indigenous lands: the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources and the National Indian Foundation (Funai).

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