Indigenous peoples and conservation in the Amazon

This week I gave a lecture at the University of Life Sciences (UMB, Ås) entitled ”Management of natural resources in indigenous territories in the Amazon”. Here are the main points and some literature.
The lecture was built on experience from working six years in Rainforest Foundation Norway (RFN), and examples were taken from real projects on the ground in the Brazilian Amazon. Thanks to students and course responsible Torbjørn Haugaasen for excellent comments and questions!
Why ”management” in indigenous territories?
Don´t the indigenous peoples continue to live in harmony with their environment, with traditional management practices and minimum impact on their territories?
There are five reasons why indigenous peoples need to handle the environment and their resources in new ways today:
  1. much smaller areas (from vast territories to group, village or no territory)
  2. increasing population (since the 1970´s)
  3. sedentarism (living for longer periods of time at the same site, partly due to health posts and schools)
  4. external threats (roads, mining, industrial agriculture, oil/gas, hydropower projects, etc.)
  5. cultural change (towards a ”western” lifestyle, including nutrition, transport, mobile phones, TV, etc.)
Projects for management of natural resources in indigenous territories
·      close cooperation indigenous group – NGOs (some say too close)
·      mostly international funding (State focus on health and education)
·      multi dimensional projects (integrating education, income generation, health issues, etc.)
·      increasing indigenous control and execution (local ownership key to project sustainability and impact)
Key aspects of indigenous projects for management of natural resources
This was the main part of the lecture. Not possible to elaborate on this here, but these were the points and examples I talked about:
·      the cross cutting ”cultural dimension”
·      border control (Yanomami)
·      new family agriculture practices (Xingu)
·      new hunting and fishing practices (Ashaninka)
·      new activities for income generation (Baniwa)
·      related: increasing waste problem (Wajãpi)
·      the new REDD agenda (who owns the carbon?)
Conservation effectiveness
How do different types of protected areas perform when it comes to conservation of the rainforest and its natural resources? Here I cite one of the three articles I used in the lecture (Nepstad et al. 2006), I´ll come back to this in a post later.
«No strong difference in inhibition of deforestaion or fire was found between parks and indigenous lands»
«However, uninhabitated reserves tended to be located away from areas of high deforestation and burning rates. In contrast, indigenous lands were often created in response to frontier expansion, and many prevented deforestation completely despite high rates of deforestation  along their boundaries.»
«The inhibitory effect of indigenous lands was strong after centuries of contact with the national society, and was not correlated with indigenous population density.»
Some conclusions
There is a need for many indigenous groups in the Amazon to manage their territories and resources in new ways, mainly due smaller areas, higher population, sedentarism, external threats and what could be called cultural change.
There are a high number of pilot projects, in general run in cooperation between indigenous groups and NGOs. The projects are, as a rule, multi dimensional. The quality and scope varies a lot.
There are many very successful projects, but even in the best cases the long-term outcome is unknown. The internal and external pressures are high. The new REDD agenda is promising, but controversial. In the Brazilian Amazon indigenous territories are very effective for reducing deforestation.
A good, but a little outdated, overwiew of rights and challenges from the Interamerican Development Bank (IDB): Tresierra, J.C. (1999) Rights of Indigenous Groups over Natural Resources in Tropical Forests

Download Tresierras paper here

A very good analysis of conservation effectiveness in the Brazilian Amazon:
Nepstad et al (2006) Inhibition of Amazon Deforestation and Fire by Parks and Indigenous Lands

Download Nepstad et al´s paper here


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Published on: 2. mai 2012

Filled Under: Amazonas, avskoging, foredrag, regnskog, Regnskogfondet, urfolk

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