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Indigenous peoples and conservation of the Amazon

Today 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 speaking notes with the main points and some literature.
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Roads, as the Brazilian BR-210 cutting through the Yanomami indigenous territory in the Amazon rainforest, are one of the main threats to indigenous lands and resources. Photo: Torkjell Leira.
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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!
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Why ”management” in indigenous territories?
Don´t the indigenous peoples live in harmony with their environment, with traditional management practices and minimum impact on the resources and their territories?
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There are five reasons why indigenous peoples need to handle the environment and their resources in new ways today:
·       much smaller areas (from vast territories to group, village or no territory)
·       increasing population (since the 1970´s)
·       sedentarism (living for longer periods of time at the same site, partly due to health posts and schools)
·       external threats (roads, mining, industrial agriculture, oil/gas, hydropower projects, etc.)
·       cultural change (towards a ”western” lifestyle, including nutrition, transport, mobile phones, TV, etc.)
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A new reality demands new approaches
Due to this new situation, many indigenous groups overexploit the natural resources. This leads to the development of new projects to manage the resources on their territories. These projects share some characteristics:
·       close cooperation with NGOs or universities (some say too close)
·       mostly international funding (the state focus on health and education, private sector on culture)
·       multi dimensional projects (integrating education, income generation, health issues, etc.)
·       increasing indigenous control and execution (local ownership key to project sustainability and impact)
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Different 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, indigenous groups 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 (Paiter-Surui)
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Protected areas (green) and deforestation (red) in the Amazon. 18% of the total Amazon rainforest is gone. Protected areas are an efficient instrument to stop deforestation. Map: RAISG.
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Conservation effectiveness
How do different types of protected areas perform when it comes to conservation of the rainforest? Indigenous territories prove to be most effective. Here I cite one of the three articles I used in the lecture (Nepstad et al. 2006, download below).
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«No strong difference in inhibition of deforestaion or fire was found between parks and indigenous lands»
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«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.»
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«The inhibitory effect of indigenous lands was strong after centuries of contact with the national society, and was not correlated with indigenous population density.»
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Deforestation figures
•       Total Amazon: 18%
•       Private properties: 25%
•       Protected areas: 1,5%. Of which:
•       Natural parks, reserves: 1,63%
•       Indigenous territories: 1,46%
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Literature:
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 Tresierra´s 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: 15. oktober 2012

Filled Under: Amazonas, avskoging, foredrag, infrastruktur, urfolk, Yanomami

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