Arquivo da tag: Conservação

Indigenous peoples by far the best guardians of forests – UN report (The Guardian)

Preserving Latin America’s forests is vital to fight the climate crisis and deforestation is lower in indigenous territories

Damian Carrington Environment editor @dpcarrington

Thu 25 Mar 2021 14.00 GMT Last modified on Thu 25 Mar 2021 16.44 GMT

A Waiapi boy climbs up a Geninapo tree to pick fruits to make body paint at the Waiapi indigenous reserve in Amapa state, Brazil.
A Waiapi boy climbs up a Geninapo tree to pick fruits to make body paint at the Waiapi indigenous reserve in Amapa state, Brazil. Photograph: AFP Contributor/AFP/Getty Images

The embattled indigenous peoples of Latin America are by far the best guardians of the regions’ forests, according to a UN report, with deforestation rates up to 50% lower in their territories than elsewhere.

Protecting the vast forests is vital to tackling the climate crisis and plummeting populations of wildlife, and the report found that recognising the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples to their land is one of the most cost-effective actions. The report also calls for the peoples to be paid for the environmental benefits their stewardship provides, and for funding for the revitalisation of their ancestral knowledge of living in harmony with nature.

However, the demand for beef, soy, timber, oil and minerals means the threats to indigenous peoples and their forest homes are rising. Hundreds of community leaders have been killed because of disputes over land in recent years and the Covid-19 pandemic has added to the dangers forest peoples face.

Sateré-Mawé men collect medicinal herbs to treat people showing Covid symptoms, in a rural area west of Manaus, Brazil.
Sateré-Mawé men collect medicinal herbs to treat people showing Covid symptoms, in a rural area west of Manaus, Brazil. Photograph: Ricardo Oliveira/AFP/Getty Images

Demands by indigenous peoples for their rights have become increasingly visible in recent years, the report said, but this has come with increasing persecution, racism, and assassinations. Supporting these peoples to protect the forests is particularly crucial now with scientists warning that the Amazon is nearing a tipping point where it switches from rainforest to savannah, risking the release of billions of tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere.

The report was produced by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the Fund for the Development of Indigenous Peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean (Filac), based on a review of more than 300 studies.

“Almost half of the intact forests in the Amazon basin are in indigenous territories and the evidence of their vital role in forest protection is crystal clear,” said the president of Filac, Myrna Cunningham, an indigenous woman from Nicaragua. “While the area of intact forest declined by only 5% between 2000 and 2016 in the region’s indigenous areas, in the non-indigenous areas it fell by 11%. This is why [indigenous peoples’] voice and vision should be taken into account in all global initiatives relating to climate change, biodiversity and forestry.”

“Indigenous peoples have a different concept of forests,” she said. “They are not seen as a place where you take out resources to increase your money – they are seen as a space where we live and that is given to us to protect for the next generations.”

Indigenous and tribal territories contain about a third of all the carbon stored in the forests of Latin America, said Julio Berdegué, the FAO’s Regional Representative: “These peoples are rich when it comes to culture, knowledge, and natural resources, but some of the poorest when it comes to incomes and access to services.” Supporting them would also help avoid new pandemics, he said, as these are most often the result of the destruction of nature.

Cattle graze on land recently burned and deforested by farmers near Novo Progresso, Pará state, Brazil.
Cattle graze on land recently burned and deforested by farmers near Novo Progresso, Pará state, Brazil. Photograph: André Penner/AP

“Even under siege from Covid-19 and a frightening rise in invasions from outsiders, we remain the ones who can stop the destruction of our forests and their biodiverse treasures,” said José Gregorio Diaz Mirabal, indigenous leader of an umbrella group, the Coordinator of the Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin. He said the report’s evidence supports his call for climate funds to go directly to indigenous peoples and not governments vulnerable to corruption. Advertisement

The report found the best forest protection was provided by peoples with collective legal titles to their lands. A 12-year study in the Bolivian, Brazilian, and Colombian Amazon found deforestation rates in such territories were only one half to one-third of those in other similar forests. Even though indigenous territories cover 28% of the Amazon Basin, they only generated 2.6% of the region’s carbon emissions, the report said.

Indigenous peoples occupy 400m hectares of land in the region, but there is no legal recognition of their property rights in a third of this area. “While the impact of guaranteeing tenure security is great, the cost is very low,” the report said, needing less than $45 per hectare for the mapping, negotiation and legal work required.

The report said it would cost many times more to prevent carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning using carbon capture and storage technology on power plants. The granting of land rights to indigenous people has increased over the last 20 years, Cunningham said, but has slowed down in recent years.

Paying indigenous and tribal communities for the environmental services of their territories has reduced deforestation in countries including Ecuador, Mexico, and Peru. Berdegué said such programmes could attract hundreds of millions of dollars per year from international sources.

The need for protection is urgent, the report said, with annual deforestation rates in Brazil’s indigenous territories rising from 10,000 hectares in 2017 to 43,000 hectares in 2019. In January, indigenous leaders urged the international criminal court to investigate Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, over his dismantling of environmental policies and violations of indigenous rights.

Elsewhere, the area of large intact forests in indigenous territories has fallen between 2000 and 2016, with 59% lost in Paraguay, 42% in Nicaragua, 30% in Honduras and 20% in Bolivia. Mining and oil concessions now overlay almost a quarter of the land in Amazon basin indigenous and tribal territories, the report said.

Protecting half of the planet is the best way to fight climate change and biodiversity loss – we’ve mapped the key places to do it (The Conversation)

Greg Asner – September 8, 2020

Humans are dismantling and disrupting natural ecosystems around the globe and changing Earth’s climate. Over the past 50 years, actions like farming, logging, hunting, development and global commerce have caused record losses of species on land and at sea. Animals, birds and reptiles are disappearing tens to hundreds of times faster than the natural rate of extinction over the past 10 million years.

Now the world is also contending with a global pandemic. In geographically remote regions such as the Brazilian Amazon, COVID-19 is devastating Indigenous populations, with tragic consequences for both Indigenous peoples and the lands they steward.

My research focuses on ecosystems and climate change from regional to global scales. In 2019, I worked with conservation biologist and strategist Eric Dinerstein and 17 colleagues to develop a road map for simultaneously averting a sixth mass extinction and reducing climate change by protecting half of Earth’s terrestrial, freshwater and marine realms by 2030. We called this plan “A Global Deal for Nature.”

Now we’ve released a follow-on called the “Global Safety Net” that identifies the exact regions on land that must be protected to achieve its goals. Our aim is for nations to pair it with the Paris Climate Agreement and use it as a dynamic tool to assess progress towards our comprehensive conservation targets.

Population size of terrestrial vertebrate species on the brink (i.e., with under 1,000 individuals). Most of these species are especially close to extinction because they consist of fewer than 250 individuals. In most cases, those few individuals are scattered through several small populations. Ceballos et al, 2020., CC BY

What to protect next

The Global Deal for Nature provided a framework for the milestones, targets and policies across terrestrial, freshwater and marine realms required to conserve the vast majority of life on Earth. Yet it didn’t specify where exactly these safeguards were needed. That’s where the new Global Safety Net comes in.

We analyzed unprotected terrestrial areas that, if protected, could sequester carbon and conserve biodiversity as effectively as the 15% of terrestrial areas that are currently protected. Through this analysis, we identified an additional 35% of unprotected lands for conservation, bringing the total percentage of protected nature to 50%.

By setting aside half of Earth’s lands for nature, nations can save our planet’s rich biodiversity, prevent future pandemics and meet the Paris climate target of keeping warming in this century below less than 2.7 degrees F (1.5 degrees C). To meet these goals, 20 countries must contribute disproportionately. Much of the responsibility falls to Russia, the U.S., Brazil, Indonesia, Canada, Australia and China. Why? Because these countries contain massive tracts of land needed to reach the dual goals of reducing climate change and saving biodiversity.

Supporting Indigenous communities

Indigenous peoples make up less than 5% of the total human population, yet they manage or have tenure rights over a quarter of the world’s land surface, representing close to 80% of our planet’s biodiversity. One of our key findings is that 37% of the proposed lands for increased protection overlap with Indigenous lands.

As the world edges closer towards a sixth mass extinction, Indigenous communities stand to lose the most. Forest loss, ecotourism and devastation wrought by climate change have already displaced Indigenous peoples from their traditional territories at unprecedented rates. Now one of the deadliest pandemics in recent history poses an even graver additional threat to Indigenous lives and livelihoods.

To address and alleviate human rights questions, social justice issues and conservation challenges, the Global Safety Net calls for better protection for Indigenous communities. We believe our goals are achievable by upholding existing land tenure rights, addressing Indigenous land claims, and carrying out supportive ecological management programs with indigenous peoples.

Preventing future pandemics

Tropical deforestation increases forest edges – areas where forests meet human habitats. These areas greatly increase the potential for contact between humans and animal vectors that serve as viral hosts.

For instance, the latest research shows that the SARS-CoV-2 virus originated and evolved naturally in horseshoe bats, most likely incubated in pangolins, and then spread to humans via the wildlife trade.

The Global Safety Net’s policy milestones and targets would reduce the illegal wildlife trade and associated wildlife markets – two known sources of zoonotic diseases. Reducing contact zones between animals and humans can decrease the chances of future zoonotic spillovers from occurring.

Our framework also envisions the creation of a Pandemic Prevention Program, which would increase protections for natural habitats at high risk for human-animal interactions. Protecting wildlife in these areas could also reduce the potential for more catastrophic outbreaks.

Nature-based solutions

Achieving the Global Safety Net’s goals will require nature-based solutions – strategies that protect, manage and restore natural or modified ecosystems while providing co-benefits to both people and nature. They are low-cost and readily available today.

The nature-based solutions that we spotlight include: – Identifying biodiverse non-agricultural lands, particularly prevalent in tropical and sub-tropical regions, for increased conservation attention. – Prioritizing ecoregions that optimize carbon storage and drawdown, such as the Amazon and Congo basins. – Aiding species movement and adaptation across ecosystems by creating a comprehensive system of wildlife and climate corridors.

We estimate that an increase of just 2.3% more land in the right places could save our planet’s rarest plant and animal species within five years. Wildlife corridors connect fragmented wild spaces, providing wild animals the space they need to survive.

Leveraging technology for conservation

In the Global Safety Net study, we identified 50 ecoregions where additional conservation attention is most needed to meet the Global Deal for Nature’s targets, and 20 countries that must assume greater responsibility for protecting critical places. We mapped an additional 35% of terrestrial lands that play a critical role in reversing biodiversity loss, enhancing natural carbon removal and preventing further greenhouse gas emissions from land conversion.

But as climate change accelerates, it may scramble those priorities. Staying ahead of the game will require a satellite-driven monitoring system with the capability of tracking real-time land use changes on a global scale. These continuously updated maps would enable dynamic analyses to help sharpen conservation planning and help decision-making.

As director of the Arizona State University Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science, I lead the development of new technologies that assess and monitor imminent ecological threats, such as coral reef bleaching events and illegal deforestation, as well as progress made toward responding to ecological emergencies. Along with colleagues from other research institutions who are advancing this kind of research, I’m confident that it is possible to develop a global nature monitoring program.

The Global Safety Net pinpoints locations around the globe that must be protected to slow climate change and species loss. And the science shows that there is no time to lose.

Indigenous best Amazon stewards, but only when property rights assured: Study (Mongabay)

by Sue Branford on 17 August 2020

  • New research provides statistical evidence confirming the claim by Indigenous peoples that that they are the more effective Amazon forest guardians in Brazil — but only if and when full property rights over their territories are recognized, and fully protected, by civil authorities in a process called homologation.
  • Researchers looked at 245 Indigenous territories, homologated between 1982 and 2016. They concluded that Indigenous people were only able to curb deforestation effectively within their ancestral territories after homologation had been completed, endowing full property rights.
  • However, since the study was completed, the Temer and Bolsonaro governments have backpedaled on Indigenous land rights, failing to protect homologated reserves. Also, the homologation process has come to a standstill, failing its legal responsibility to recognize collective ownership pledged by Brazil’s Constitution.
  • In another study, researchers suggest that a key to saving the Amazon involves reframing our view of it, giving up the old view of it as an untrammeled Eden assaulted by modern exploitation, and instead seeing it as a forest long influenced by humanity; now we need only restore balance to achieve sustainability.
An Indigenous woman weaving anklets on her son. A clash of cultures in the Amazon threatens Indigenous lands and the rainforest. Image by Antônio Carlos Moura, s/d.

“The xapiri [shamanic spirits] have defended the forest since it first came into being. Our ancestors have never devastated it because they kept the spirits by their side,” declares Davi Kopenawa Yanomami, who belongs to the 27,000-strong Yanomami people living in the very north of Brazil.

He is expressing a commonly held Indigenous belief that they — the original peoples on the land, unlike the “white” Amazon invaders — are the ones most profoundly committed to forest protection. The Yanomami shaman reveals the reason: “We know well that without trees nothing will grow on the hardened and blazing ground.”

Now Brazil’s Indigenous people have gained scientific backing for their strongly held belief from two American academics.

In a study published this month in the PNAS journal, entitled Collective property rights reduce deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, two political scientists, Kathryn Baragwanath, from the University of California San Diego, and Ella Bayi, at the Department of Political Science, Columbia University, provide statistical proof of the Indigenous claim that they are the more effective forest guardians.

In their study, the researchers use comprehensive statistical data to show that Indigenous populations can effectively curb deforestation — but only if and when their full property rights over their territories are recognized by civil authorities in a process called homologação in Portuguese, or homologation in English.

A Tapirapé man and child. Image courtesy of ISA.

Full property rights key to curbing deforestation

The scientists reached their conclusions by examining data on 245 Indigenous reserves homologated between 1982 and 2016. By examining the step-by-step legal establishment of Indigenous reserves, they were able to precisely date the moment of homologation for each territory, and to assess the effectiveness of Indigenous action against deforestation before and after full property rights were recognized.

Brazilian law requires the completion of a complex four-stage process before full recognition. After examining the data, Baragwanath and Bayi concluded that Indigenous people were only able to curb deforestation within their ancestral territories effectively after the last phase ­— homologation — had been completed.

Most deforestation of Indigenous territories occurs at the borders, as land-grabbers, loggers and farmers invade. But the new study shows that, once full property rights are recognized, Indigenous people were historically able to reduce deforestation at those borders from around 3% to 1% — a reduction of 66% which the authors find to be “a very strong finding.”

However, they emphasize that this plunge in deforestation rate only comes after homologation is complete. Baragwanath told Mongabay: The positive “effect on deforestation is very small before homologation and zero for non-homologated territories.” The authors concluded: “We believe the final stage [is] the one that makes the difference, since it is when actual property rights are granted, no more contestation can happen, and enforcement is undertaken by the government agencies.”

Homologation is crucially important, say the researchers, because with it the Indigenous group gains the backing of law and of the Brazilian state. They note: “Without homologation, Indigenous territories do not have the legal rights needed to protect their territories, their territorial resources are not considered their own, and the government is not constitutionally responsible for protecting them from encroachment, invasion, and external use of their resources.”

They continue: “Once homologated, a territory becomes the permanent possession of its Indigenous peoples, no third party can contest its existence, and extractive activities carried out by external actors can only occur after consulting the [Indigenous] communities and the National Congress.”

The scientists offer proof of effective state action and protections after homologation: “For example, FUNAI partnered with IBAMA and the military police of Mato Grosso in May 2019 to combat illegal deforestation on the homologated territory of Urubu Branco. In this operation, 12 people were charged with federal theft of wood and fined R $90,000 [US $23,000], and multiple trucks and tractors were seized; the wood seized was then donated to the municipality.”

A Tapirapé woman at work. Image courtesy of ISA.

Temer and Bolsonaro tip the tables

However, under the Jair Bolsonaro government, which came to power in Brazil after the authors collected their data, the situation is changing.

Before Bolsonaro, the number of homologations varied greatly from year to year, apparently in random fashion. A highpoint was reached in 1991, when over 70 territories were homologated, well over twice the number in any other year. This may have been because Brazil was about to host the 1992 Earth Summit and the Collor de Mello government was keen to boost Brazil’s environmental credentials. The surge may have also occurred as a result of momentum gained from Brazil’s adoption of its progressive 1988 constitution, with its enshrined Indigenous rights.

Despite wild oscillations in the annual number of homologations, until recently progress happened under each administration. “Every President signed over [Indigenous] property rights during their tenure, regardless of party or ideology,” the study states.

But since Michel Temer became president at the end of August 2016, the process has come to a standstill, with no new homologations. Baragwanath and Bayi suggest that, by refusing to recognize the full property rights of more Indigenous peoples, the Temer and Bolsonaro administrations “could be responsible for an extra 1.5 million hectares [5,790 square miles] of deforestation per year.” That would help explain soaring deforestation rates detected by INPE, Brazil’s National Institute of Space Research in recent years.

Clearly, for homologation to be effective, the state must assume its legal responsibilities, says Survival International’s Fiona Watson, who notes that this is certainly not happening under Bolsonaro: “Recognizing Indigenous peoples’ collective landownership rights is a fundamental legal requirement and ethical imperative, but it is not enough on its own. Land rights need to be vigorously enforced, which requires political will and action, proper funding, and stamping out corruption. Far from applying the law, President Bolsonaro and his government have taken a sledgehammer to Indigenous peoples’ hard-won constitutional rights, watered down environmental safeguards, and are brutally dismantling the agencies charged with protecting tribal peoples and the environment.”

Watson continues: “Brazil’s tribes — some only numbering a few hundred living in remote areas — are pitted against armed criminal gangs, whipped up by Bolsonaro’s hate speech. As if this wasn’t enough, COVID-19 is killing the best guardians of the forest, especially the older generations with expertise in forest management. Lethal diseases like malaria are on the rise in Indigenous communities and Amazon fires are spreading.”

In fact, Bolsonaro uses the low number of Indigenous people inhabiting reserves today — low populations often the outcome of past horrific violence and even genocide — as an excuse for depriving them of their lands. In 2015 he declared: “The Indians do not speak our language, they do not have money, they do not have culture. They are native peoples. How did they manage to get 13% of the national territory?” And in 2017 he said: “Not a centimeter will be demarcated… as an Indigenous reserve.”

The Indigenous territory of Urubu Branco, cited by Baragwanath and Bayi as a stellar example of effective state action, is a case in point. Under the Bolsonaro government it has been invaded time and again. Although the authorities have belatedly taken action, the Apyãwa (Tapirapé) Indigenous group living there says that invaders are now using the chaos caused by the pandemic to carry out more incursions.

Land rights: a path to conserving Amazonia

Even so, say the experts, it still seems likely that, if homologation was implemented properly now or in the future, with effective state support, it would lead to reduced deforestation. Indeed, Baragwanath and Bayi suggest that this may be one of the few ways of saving the Amazon forest.

“Providing full property rights and the institutional environment for enforcing these rights is an important and cost-effective way for countries to protect their forests and attain their climate goals,” says the study. “Public policy, international mobilization, and nongovernmental organizations should now focus their efforts on pressuring the Brazilian government to register Indigenous territories still awaiting their full property rights.”

But, in the current state of accelerating deforestation, unhampered by state regulation or enforcement, other approaches may be required. One way forward is suggested in a document optimistically entitled: “Reframing the Wilderness Concept can Bolster Collaborative Conservation.”

In the paper, Álvaro Fernández-Llamazares from the Helsinki Institute of Sustainable Science, and others suggest that it is time for a new concept of “wilderness.”

For decades, many conservationists argued that the Amazon’s wealth of biodiversity stems from it being a “pristine” biome, “devoid of the destructive impacts of human activity.” But increasingly studies have shown that Indigenous people greatly contributed to the exuberance of the forest by domesticating plants as much as 10,000 years ago. Thus, the forest and humanity likely evolved together.

In keeping with this productive partnership, conservationists and Indigenous peoples need to work in harmony with forest ecology, say the authors. This organic partnership is more urgently needed than ever, they say, because the entire Amazon basin is facing an onslaught, “a new wave of frontier expansion” by logging, industrial mining, and agribusiness.

Fernández-Llamazares told Mongabay: “Extractivist interests and infrastructure development across much of the Amazon are not only driving substantial degradation of wilderness areas and their unique biodiversity, but also forcing the region’s Indigenous peoples on the frontlines of ever more pervasive social-ecological conflict.…  From 2014 to 2019, at least 475 environmental and land defenders have been killed in Amazonian countries, including numerous members of Indigenous communities.”

Fernández-Llamazares believes that new patterns of collaboration are emerging.

“A good example of the alliance between Indigenous Peoples and wilderness defenders can be found in the Isiboro-Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory (TIPNIS, being its Spanish acronym), in the Bolivian Amazon,” he says. “TIPNIS is the ancestral homeland of four lowland Indigenous groups and one of Bolivia’s most iconic protected areas, largely considered as one of the last wildlands in the country. In 2011, conservationists and Indigenous communities joined forces to oppose the construction of a road that would cut across the heart of the area.” A victory they won at the time, though TIPNIS today remains under contention today.

Eduardo S. Brondizio, another study contributor, points out alternatives to the industrial agribusiness and mining model: numerous management systems established by small-scale farmers, for example, that are helping conserve entire ecosystems.

“The açaí fruit economy, for instance, is arguably the region’s largest [Amazon] economy today, even compared to soy and cattle, and yet it occupies a fraction of the [land] area occupied by soy and cattle, with far higher economic return and employment than deforestation-based crops, while maintaining forest cover and multiple ecological benefits.” he said.

And, he adds, it is a completely self-driven initiative. “The entire açaí fruit economy emerged from the hands and knowledge of local riverine producers who [have] responded to market demand since the 1980s by intensifying their production using local agroforestry knowledge.” It is important, he stresses, that conservationists recognize the value of these sustainable economic activities in protecting the forest.

The new alliance taking shape between conservationists and Indigenous peoples is comparable with the new forms of collaboration that have arisen among traditional people in the Brazilian Amazon. Although Indigenous populations and riverine communities of subsistence farmers and Brazil nut collectors have long regarded each other as enemies — fighting to control the same territory — they are increasingly working together to confront land-grabbers, loggers and agribusiness.

Still, there is no doubt time is running out. Brazil’s huge swaths of agricultural land are already contributing to, and suffering from, deepening drought, because the “flying rivers” that bring down rainfall from the Amazon are beginning to collapse. Scientists are warning that the forest is moving toward a precipitation tipping point, when drought, deforestation and fire will change large areas of rainforest into arid degraded savanna.

This may already be happening. The Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM), a non-profit, research organisation, warned recently that the burning season, now just beginning in the Amazon, could devastate an even larger area than last year, when video footage of uncontrolled fires ablaze in the Amazon was viewed around the world. IPAM estimates that a huge area, covering 4,509 square kilometers (1,741 square miles), has been felled and is waiting to go up in flames this year — data some experts dispute. But as of last week, more than 260 major fires were already alight in the Amazon.

Years ago Davi Kopenawa Yanomami warned: “They [the white people] continue to maltreat the earth everywhere they go.… It never occurs to them that if they mistreat it too much it will finally turn to chaos.… The xapiri [the shamanic spirits] try hard to defend the white people the same way as they defend us.… But if Omoari, the dry season being, settles on their land for good, they will only have trickles of dirty water to drink and they will die of thirst. This could truly happen to them.”


Kathryn Baragwanath and Ella Bayi, (10 August 2020), Collective property rights reduce deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Álvaro Fernández-Llamazares, Julien Terraube, Michael C. Gavin, Aili Pyhälä, Sacha M.O. Siani, Mar Cabeza, and Eduardo S. Brondizio, (29 July 2020) Reframing the Wilderness Concept can Bolster Collaborative Conservation, Trends in Ecology and Evolution.

Banner image: Young Tapirajé women. Image by Agência Brasil.

Scientists launch ambitious conservation project to save the Amazon (Mongabay)

Series: Amazon Conservation

by Shanna Hanbury on 27 July 2020

  • The Science Panel for the Amazon (SPA), an ambitious cooperative project to bring together the existing scientific research on the Amazon biome, has been launched with the support of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network.
  • Modeled on the authoritative UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, the first Amazon report is planned for release in April 2021; that report will include an extensive section on Amazon conservation solutions and policy suggestions backed up by research findings.
  • The Science Panel for the Amazon consists of 150 experts — including climate, ecological, and social scientists; economists; indigenous leaders and political strategists — primarily from the Amazon countries
  • According to Carlos Nobre, one of the leading scientists on the project, the SPA’s reports will aim not only to curb deforestation, but to propose an ongoing economically feasible program to conserve the forest while advancing human development goals for the region, working in tandem with, and in support of, ecological systems.
Butterflies burst into the sky above an Amazonian river. Image © Fernando Lessa / The Nature Conservancy.

With the Amazon rainforest predicted to be at, or very close to, its disastrous rainforest-to-savanna tipping point, deforestation escalating at a frightening pace, and governments often worsening the problem, the need for action to secure the future of the rainforest has never been more urgent.

Now, a group of 150 leading scientific and economic experts on the Amazon basin have taken it upon themselves to launch an ambitious conservation project. The newly founded Science Panel for the Amazon (SPA) aims to consolidate scientific research on the Amazon and propose solutions that will secure the region’s future — including the social and economic well-being of its thirty-five-million inhabitants.

“Never before has there been such a rigorous scientific evaluation on the Amazon,” said Carlos Nobre, the leading Amazon climatologist and one of the chairs of the Scientific Panel. The newly organized SPA, he adds, will model its work on the style of the authoritative reports produced by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in terms of academic diligence and the depth and breadth of analysis and recommendations.

The Amazon Panel, is funded by the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network and supported by prominent political leaders, such as former Colombian President, Juan Manuel Santos and the elected leader of the Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin, José Gregorio Díaz Mirabal. The SPA plans to publish its first report by April 2021.

Timber illegally logged within an indigenous reserve seized by IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental agency, before the election of Jair Bolsonaro. Under the Bolsonaro administration, IBAMA has been largely defunded. Image courtesy of IBAMA.

Reversing the Amazon Tipping Point

Over the last five decades, the Amazon rainforest lost almost a fifth of its forest cover, putting the biome on the edge of a dangerous cliff. Studies show that if 3 to 8% more forest cover is lost, then deforestation combined with escalating climate change is likely to cause the Amazon ecosystem to collapse.

After this point is reached, the lush, biodiverse rainforest will receive too little precipitation to maintain itself and quickly shift from forest into a degraded savanna, causing enormous economic damage across the South American continent, and releasing vast amounts of forest-stored carbon to the atmosphere, further destabilizing the global climate.

Amazon researchers are now taking a proactive stance to prevent the Amazon Tipping Point: “Our message to political leaders is that there is no time to waste,” Nobre wrote in the SPA’s press release.

Amid escalating forest loss in the Amazon, propelled by the anti-environmentalist agenda of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, experts fear that this year’s burning season, already underway, may exceed the August 2019 wildfires that shocked the world. Most Amazon basin fires are not natural in cause, but intentionally set, often by land grabbers invading indigenous territories and other conserved lands, and causing massive deforestation.

“We are burning our own money, resources and biodiversity — it makes no sense,” Sandra Hacon told Mongabay; she is a prominent biologist at the Brazilian biomedical Oswaldo Cruz Foundation and has studied the effects of Amazon forest fires on health. It is expected that air pollution caused by this year’s wildfire’s, when combined with COVID-19 symptoms, will cause severe respiratory impacts across the region.

Bolivian ecologist Marielos Penã-Claros, notes the far-reaching economic importance of the rainforest: “The deforestation of the Amazon also has a negative effect on the agricultural production of Uruguay or Paraguay, thousands of kilometers away.”

The climate tipping point, should it be passed, would negatively effect every major stakeholder in the Amazon, likely wrecking the agribusiness and energy production sectors — ironically, the sectors responsible for much of the devastation today.

“I hope to show evidence to the world of what is happening with land use in the Amazon and alert other governments, as well as state and municipal-level leadership. We have a big challenge ahead, but it’s completely necessary,” said Hacon.

Cattle ranching is the leading cause of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, but researchers say there is enough already degraded land there to support significant cattle expansion without causing further deforestation. The SPA may in its report suggest viable policies for curbing cattle-caused deforestation. Image ©Henrique Manreza / The Nature Conservancy.

Scientists offer evidence, and also solutions

Creating a workable blueprint for the sustainable future of the Amazon rainforest is no simple task. The solutions mapped out, according to the Amazon Panel’s scientists, will seek to not only prevent deforestation and curb global climate change, but to generate a new vision and action plan for the Amazon region and its residents — especially, fulfilling development goals via a sustainable standing-forest economy.

The SPA, Nobre says, will make a critical break with the purely technical approach of the United Nation’s IPCC, which banned policy prescriptions entirely from its reports. In practice, this has meant that while contributing scientists can show the impacts of fossil fuels on the atmosphere, they cannot recommend ending oil subsidies, for example. “We inverted this logic, and the third part of the [SPA] report will be entirely dedicated to searching for policy suggestions,” Nobre says. “We need the forest on its feet, the empowerment of the traditional peoples and solutions on how to reach development goals.”

Researchers across many academic fields (ranging from climate science and economics to history and meteorology) are collaborating on the SPA Panel, raising hopes that scientific consensus on the Amazon rainforest can be reached, and that conditions for research cooperation will greatly improve.

Indigenous Munduruku dancers in the Brazilian Amazon. The SPA intends to gather Amazon science and formulate socio-economic solutions in order to make sound recommendations to policymakers. Image by Mauricio Torres / Mongabay.

SPA participants hope that a thorough scientific analysis of the rainforest’s past, present and future will aid in the formulation of viable public policies designed to preserve the Amazon biome — hopefully leading to scientifically and economically informed political decisions by the governments of Amazonian nations.

“We are analyzing not only climate but biodiversity, human aspects and preservation beyond the climate issues,” Paulo Artaxo, an atmospheric physicist at the University of São Paulo, told Mongabay.

Due to the urgency of the COVID-19 pandemic, the initiative’s initial dates for a final report were pushed forward by several months, and a conference in China cancelled entirely. But the 150-strong team is vigorously pushing forward, and the first phase of the project — not publicly available — is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

The hope on the horizon is that a unified voice from the scientific community will trigger long-lasting positive changes in the Amazon rainforest. “More than ever, we need to hear the voices of the scientists to enable us to understand how to save the Amazon from wanton and unthinking destruction,” said Jeffrey Sachs, the director of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, on the official launch website called The Amazon We Want.

Banner image: Aerial photo of an Amazon tributary surrounded by rainforest. Image by Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay.

For Indigenous people, seeds are more than food — they’re ‘members of an extended family’ (CBC)

CBC News · Posted: Jun 19, 2020 4:00 AM ET | Last Updated: June 19

(Potato Park/Asociacion ANDES/Cusco, Peru)

About 1,000 kilometres south of the North Pole lies Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago. Home to roughly 2,600 people, it also has another, larger, more famous population: that of 1,057,151 seeds.

This is the Svalbard Global Seed Vault (SGSV), an effort to preserve seeds from around the globe that could eventually be lost as a result of natural or human factors. The vault’s inventory includes everything from African varieties of wheat and rice to European and South American varieties of lettuce and barley.  

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), more than 75 per cent of genetic diversity has been lost because of farmers transitioning to varieties of high-yield, genetically uniform crops. 

In 2015, groups belonging to Parque de la Papa, a Peruvian organization that aims to preserve agricultural diversity and Indigenous culture, deposited 750 seeds of differing varieties of potatoes in the Svalbard seed vault, the first Indigenous group to do so. Last February, the Cherokee Nation became the first U.S. Indigenous group to make a deposit. 

In fact, Indigenous people have long preserved seeds because they have important cultural ties within the community.

“There’s this very strong relationship that people have with seeds,” said Alejandro Argumedo, director of programs at the U.S.-based Swift Foundation, which aims to preserve biocultural diversity. “In the place where I come from, for instance, seeds are considered to have feelings and heart. And so you’ve got to treat them with lots of love.” 

It’s a deeply reciprocal relationship, he said.

“There’s this big difference between just looking at seeds like biological materials that are important for farming,” said Argumedo, who is Quechua from Ayacucho, Peru. “Indigenous people see them more as members of an extended family and to which you have to [tend] with care. Because there will be a reciprocity — they will be providing you … food, will be caring about you.”

Argumedo cites the “qachun waqachi” potato variety used in a marriage ritual, where the bride (“qachun” in the Quechua language) gently peels the potato to show her love and caring for her husband-to-be as well as for Pacha Mama, or Mother Earth. 

“The ritual articulates the Andean belief that love and respect between humans depends on and is nurtured by the land and epitomizes the commitment of couples to protect their seeds and food systems,” he said. 

Terrylynn Brant, a Mohawk seed keeper from Ohsweken, Ont., has dedicated her life to this effort.

“I do a lot of work that supports other faith keepers in the work that they do. I support healers, seers, people like that … because sometimes people need to use a certain food for a certain ceremony,” she said. “I treat [seeds] with honour and respect.”

Argumedo said that the preservation of specific seeds is important in Indigenous communities where rituals require the best, purest form of seed.

“People are more interested in different features or characteristics of the seed. So people do selection for cultural reasons. And many of those traits are associated with taste, are associated with the colour and shape, because they will be used in rituals or social gatherings to create community cohesion,” he said. 

“And if you want to have a better relationship with your neighbours, you better have the right seeds, because you will be offering it as a way of respect.”

Hannes Dempewolf, senior scientist and head of global initiatives at Crop Trust, a German-based organization that’s involved with the Svalbard seed vault, said there’s another important reason for preserving genetic diversity of seeds.

“Every seed, every variety is unique in itself,” he said. “They have a unique set of genes that we have no idea what they could be useful for in the future.”

Nicole Mortillaro

Brazil plans to stop the killing of pink dolphins (Washington Post)

FILE – In this Nov. 2005 FILE photo released by Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazonia (INPA), an Amazon river dolphin swims in the Airao River in Amazonas state, Brazil. Brazil will temporarily ban the catch of a type of catfish in an effort to halt the killing of the Amazon pink dolphin, whose flesh is used as bait, the Fishing and Aquaculture Ministry said Tuesday, June, 3, 2014. (Sefora Antela Violante, INPA, File/Associated Press)

 June 3

SAO PAULO — Brazil will temporarily ban the catch of a type of catfish in an effort to halt the killing of the Amazon pink dolphin, whose flesh is used as bait, the Fishing and Aquaculture Ministry said Tuesday.

Ministry spokesman Ultimo Valadares said the government is working out the details of a five-year moratorium on fishing of the species called piracatinga that is expected to go into effect early next year.

“That should give us enough time to find an alternative bait for the piracatinga,” Valadares said by phone.

Nivia do Campo, president of an environmental activist group in the northern jungle state of Amazonas, welcomed the news because more than 1,500 freshwater dolphins are killed annually in the Mamiraua Reserve where she studies the mammals.

She said that since 2000, when fishermen started slaughtering them for bait, the number of dolphins living on the reserve has been dropping by about 10 percent a year. The reserve currently has a population of about 13,000 dolphins.

Poor fishermen are encouraged to use dolphin flesh as bait by merchants from neighboring Colombia, a big market for that species, de Campo said.

Known as the “water vulture” because it thrives on decomposing matter in rivers, the piracatinga is not consumed by people living along the rivers of the Amazon region.

The pink dolphin is under threat, “and if nothing is done to stop the killing it will become extinct,” de Campo added. “That is why the moratorium is excellent news. It will allow us to discover other baits fishermen can and continue earning money selling piracatinga she said.

The moratorium will also help stop the killing of the Amazon caiman, whose flesh is also used as bait to catch piracatinga.

For centuries, the pink dolphins have been revered by locals and protected by myth. According to one tale, the dolphins transform into handsome men and leave the water at night, seducing local women before returning to the river. Many consider it bad luck to kill them.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

De olho no gato (Fapesp)

Pesquisadores se mobilizam para aumentar em 20% a população de onças-pintadas na mata atlântica em cinco anos

CARLOS FIORAVANTI e RICARDO ZORZETTO | Edição 215 – Janeiro de 2014

O maior felino 
das Américas: 
com baixa diversidade genética e ameaçado pela caça intensiva

O maior felino 
das Américas: 
com baixa diversidade genética e ameaçado pela caça intensiva. © ADRIANO GAMBARINI

O veterinário Ronaldo Morato pretende sair logo atrás de onças-pintadas, se possível já em maio, quando passarem as chuvas do início de ano. Seu plano é colocar um colar especial em cinco onças dessa espécie que vivem nas florestas do sul do estado de São Paulo para acompanhar seus movimentos a distância e conhecer seus espaços favoritos. A definição de áreas prioritárias para a conservação desses animais faz parte de um plano estabelecido em setembro em Campinas para ampliar em 20% a população de onças-pintadas – os maiores felinos das Américas – na mata atlântica, o ambiente florestal em que são mais raras.

O plano propõe a redução da caça, o monitoramento das populações remanescentes, o uso de técnicas como inseminação artificial e a formação de um banco de sêmen de onças-pintadas da mata atlântica. Participantes da reunião – pesquisadores acadêmicos e representantes de empresas e de órgãos do governo – reconheceram que o esforço concentrado em um único ecossistema com metas de curto prazo deve facilitar o trabalho e aumentar a chance de sucesso do plano de ação. Já existe um plano nacional de preservação das onças-pintadas, publicado em dezembro de 2010 no Diário Oficial, com ações previstas até 2020. Em uma avaliação recente, os especialistas verificaram que parte dos objetivos tinha sido atingida e concluíram que trabalhar separadamente nos diferentes ambientes brasileiros poderia ser mais produtivo.

“Se conseguirmos reduzir as pressões atuais, como a caça e a fragmentação da floresta, pode já ser o bastante para aumentarmos a população de onça-pintada na mata atlântica”, diz Morato, coordenador do Centro Nacional de Pesquisas e Conservação de Mamíferos Carnívoros (Cenap) do Instituto Chico Mendes de Conservação da Biodiversidade. Em sua sala de trabalho, em um prédio de dois pisos com amplas janelas de vidro e vigas de madeira próximo à rodovia Dom Pedro I, em Atibaia, ele acompanha pelo computador o movimento de oito onças-pintadas nas matas do norte do pantanal. Várias vezes ele sentiu medo e fascínio ao se ver em campo diante desses felinos, que podem chegar a 2,70 metros de comprimento e podem atacar quando se sentem acuados. A primeira vez foi em 1992, recém-formado em veterinária, para anestesiar uma onça-preta e acompanhar outros pesquisadores colocando um colar de monitoramento no animal, ainda como estagiário do biólogo Peter Crawshaw, um dos pioneiros na preservação de felinos silvestres no Brasil. “E nunca mais me desprendi das onças”, diz Morato, aos 47 anos.

“Temos de trabalhar juntos e acreditar que o plano vai dar certo”, ele ressalta. Reduzir a caça e a fragmentação, como ele propõe, exigirá uma atenção permanente dos órgãos de fiscalização ambiental nos estados de São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais, Espírito Santo e Bahia, por onde a mata atlântica se espalha. Em todo o país, a caça – para a retirada e venda de pele ou como retaliação, quando as onças atacam os rebanhos – ainda é intensa, embora proibida e classificada como crime inafiançável. Em 2013, ele e Elildo Carvalho Jr., outro pesquisador do Cenap, em colaboração com o Instituto Pró-Carnívoros, verificaram que pelo menos 60 onças-pintadas (Panthera onca) e pardas (Puma concolor) foram mortas por caçadores nos últimos dois anos, com base em informações de 100 gestores das unidades de conservação ambiental administradas pelo governo federal. Estima-se que 5.500 representantes dessa espécie se escondam nas florestas brasileiras, principalmente na Amazônia e no pantanal. Mesmo assim, a onça-pintada é considerada vulnerável ao risco de desaparecimento, por causa do declínio populacional.

Na reunião de setembro em Campinas e em uma carta publicada na revista Science em novembro, pesquisadores de várias instituições do país alertaram que a mata atlântica, se nada for feito, pode ser o primeiro ambiente florestal brasileiro a perder essa espécie de felino – ali, a onça-pintada já é classificada como criticamente ameaçada de extinção. Estima-se que a floresta atlântica abrigue apenas 250 onças-pintadas, total considerado baixo para a manutenção das populações. Além do pequeno número de animais, outro problema é a baixa diversidade genética. Os estudos do grupo de Eduardo Eizirik da Pontifícia Universidade Católica (PUC) do Rio Grande do Sul indicaram que os 250 animais, em consequência de cruzamentos entre eles, correspondem a apenas 50 indivíduos efetivos, geneticamente distintos.

As onças-pintadas ocupam apenas 7% da área total da mata atlântica. Se houvesse mais animais dessa espécie – e também mais oferta de sua dieta favorita, as queixadas, uma espécie de porco selvagem bastante caçada por causa da carne, mas indesejada porque anda em bandos e destrói plantações –, a área ocupada poderia ser três vezes maior, de acordo com as pesquisas do grupo de Mauro Galetti, da Universidade Estadual Paulista (Unesp). Seus estudos indicaram que a falta de onças-pintadas, os predadores de topo de cadeia alimentar, pode causar vários tipos de desequilíbrios ecológicos, deixando animais herbívoros como a anta – ou mesmo roedores – se multiplicarem livremente ou favorecendo o crescimento de gramíneas e outras plantas baixas no lugar das árvores.

Região de Boqueirão da Onça

Região de Boqueirão da Onça. © CLAUDIA B. CAMPOS

Valéria Conforti, professora da Universidade de Franca (Unifran), disse que saiu otimista da reunião de setembro em Campinas. “Todos estavam chocados com a situação das onças-pintadas na mata atlântica e se mostraram dispostos a correr riscos e testar o que achamos que pode dar certo”, ela observou. Um de seus planos para este ano é testar, em onças-pintadas mantidas em zoológicos paulistas, uma técnica de inseminação artificial que ela aplicou experimentalmente em gatas domésticas e outros felinos no zoológico de Cincinnati, nos Estados Unidos. Essa abordagem consiste em medir a variação hormonal das onças fêmeas por meio da análise de fezes, identificar o momento mais adequado, induzir a ovulação e fazer a inseminação artificial, depositando sêmen por meio de uma laparoscopia na tuba uterina, em vez do útero, como já se faz, para facilitar o acesso do espermatozoide ao óvulo e aumentar a chance de fertilização. A inseminação artificial já foi aplicada a outros felinos, mas ainda não a onças-pintadas. Se os testes derem certo, Valéria pretende aplicar essa técnica em animais de vida livre em 2015, como forma de aumentar a probabilidade de geração de filhotes sadios e evitar o risco de cruzamento entre animais aparentados.

A transferência de animais de uma mata para outra é uma possibilidade cogitada para repovoar as matas com onças-pintadas. Trata-se, porém, de uma alternativa de custo alto e muitas dificuldades, que exige o apoio de comunidades rurais e fazendeiros que aceitem ter uma onça perto de suas casas ou pastagens. Vários estudos, como os do biólogo Sílvio Marchini, pesquisador da Escola da Amazônia e da Universidade de São Paulo (USP), mostraram que o apoio dos moradores de áreas rurais próximas a matas ocupadas por onças é fundamental para os planos de ação funcionarem. No pantanal, com resultado de um experimento-piloto do Cenap com uma pousada, ganha adesões o argumento de que o lucro com o turismo de observação de onças pode ser maior que a perda de um ou outro boi.

Há relatos de êxito de transferência de felinos nos Estados Unidos e na Espanha, mas no Brasil as poucas tentativas feitas até agora, em florestas a serem cobertas por reservatórios de hidrelétricas, não deram certo. Os animais transferidos não se adaptaram, começaram a comer bois e foram mortos por caçadores ou voltaram a seus locais de origem, a dezenas de quilômetros de distância. Em um dos debates no encontro de setembro em Campinas, os pesquisadores observaram que, nos próximos cinco anos, talvez a criação de conexões – ou corredores – entre os fragmentos de floresta seja uma alternativa mais viável que a inseminação artificial ou a transferência de animais para ampliar as populações de onças-pintadas na mata atlântica. Todos concordaram que se trata de um problema urgente. “Não podemos esperar muito”, disse Valéria Conforti. A onça-pintada já é considerada extinta no Uruguai e nos pampas do Sul do Brasil.

Manuel Silva, morador da região de Boqueirão da Onça (acima), Alessandra e a filha Sara, Cailane Ferreira (ao fundo) e Claudia Campos: diálogo constante

Manuel Silva, morador da região de Boqueirão da Onça, Alessandra e a filha Sara, Cailane Ferreira e Claudia Campos: diálogo constante. © ALEXANDRE ANÉZIO

Um poço para salvar as onças

Mais apreensiva do que quando olhou para os examinadores 
de sua banca de doutorado, 
a bióloga Claudia Campos observou os 50 sertanejos à sua frente na igreja do povoado de Queixo Dantas, norte da Bahia, na tarde de um domingo de julho de 2012. Nervosa, mas com 
voz firme, ao lado dos amigos Claudia Martins, Carolina Esteves e Alexandre Anézio, 
ela sugeriu aos homens que fizessem cercados para manter suas cabras e ovelhas, em vez 
de deixar os animais soltos na caatinga na época de seca, sob 
o risco de serem atacados por onças. Os criadores reagiram: como poderiam deixar os animais presos sem água nem comida, se não chovia há três anos? Se eles aceitassem, ela disse, poderiam construir um poço para tirar água e cultivar plantas para alimentar os animais. Oito deles aderiram ao plano.

A perfuração do poço artesiano estava prevista para o final do mês passado, as plantas que serviriam de alimento para os caprinos seriam semeadas logo depois e os novos cercados, construídos a partir de fevereiro. Se tudo der certo, os animais terão alimento ao longo de todo o ano, como
já se faz em outras partes do sertão do nordeste, e não precisarão mais pastar nas áreas de mata nativa durante 
a seca, reduzindo as chances 
de encontro com as onças; 
os moradores as matam para evitar que ataquem seus animais de criação.

Claudia chegou a Petrolina, Pernambuco, em outubro de 2006, como pesquisadora do Centro Nacional de Pesquisas 
e Conservação de Mamíferos Carnívoros (Cenap) do Instituto Chico Mendes de Conservação da Biodiversidade, um dos braços antigos do Ibama, 
para detalhar a distribuição geográfica e os hábitos da 
onça-pintada em uma região
 de 900 mil hectares conhecida como Boqueirão da Onça. 
Ao verem a forasteira chegando em um carro com o logotipo 
do Ibama, os moradores logo diziam que não caçavam bicho nenhum. Conversando muito, ela venceu a desconfiança. “Todos estão cansados de ouvir do governo coisas que poderiam ajudar a vida deles e nunca aconteceram”, ela observou. 
“Já visitei 140 dos quase 
150 povoados da região.”

Aos poucos ela concluiu 
que teria de cuidar dos conflitos entre os moradores e os 
animais silvestres. Em 2009, aos 76 anos, o zoólogo George Schaller, pioneiro mundial na conservação de grandes carnívoros e vice-presidente 
da Panthera, organização que apoia o trabalho na Bahia, percorreu a região e reforçou sua hipótese ao dizer que seria impossível preservar animais silvestres sem a participação dos moradores locais. Claudia estima que por ali vivam 
50 onças-pintadas – ainda não 
viu nenhuma, apenas vê as pegadas durante o dia e 
sente que os animais passam 
por perto quando ela tem 
de dormir no meio da caatinga.

1. Uso e ocupação do espaço, movimentação e seleção de hábitat por onça-pintada (Panthera onca) na mata atlântica e caatinga: uma análise comparativa (2013/10029-6); Modalidade Auxílio Regular a Projeto de Pesquisa; Coord. Ronaldo Gonçalves Morato – Cenap; Investimento R$ 110.627,80 (FAPESP). 2. O uso de método não invasivo para monitoramento da função ovariana em onças-pintadas (Panthera onca) via ensaio imunoenzimático e caracterização dos metabólitos de esteroides fecais por meio de cromatografia líquida de alta eficiência (13/12757-9); Modalidade Auxílio Regular a Projeto de Pesquisa; Coord. Valeria Amorim Conforti – Unifran; Investimento R$ 35.780,00 (FAPESP).

Artigos científicos
CARVALHO Jr., E.A.R. de e MORATO, R.G. Factors affecting big cat hunting in Brazilian protected areasTropical Conservation Science. v. 6, n. 2, p. 303-10. 2013.
CONFORTI, V. A. et al. Laparoscopic oviductal artificial insemination improves pregnancy success in exogenous gonadotropin-treated domestic cats as a model for endangered felidsBiology of Reproduction. v. 88, p. 112.105353. 2013.

Animais, plantas, natureza: os direitos do meio ambiente. Entrevista com Philippe Descola (Unisinos)

Por Marino Niola

Philippe Descola herdou a cátedra de Lévi-Strauss em Paris. E conta como a disciplina está evoluindo: “Há muitas formas de vida. Temos que levar isso em conta”. Em alguns países, a proteção e o respeito pelos recursos vitais foram incluídos na Constituição. É preciso aprender a coabitar.

A antropologia de Lévi-Strauss era uma grande teoria sobre o ser humano. A antropologia de hoje, ao contrário, deve ir além do humano. O ser humano sozinho não lhe basta mais. Porque natureza e cultura são uma só coisa. Sociedade e meio ambiente, uma só casa. As neurociências, a etologia, a genética, a ecologia falam claramente. Nós, bípedes, com o dom da palavra, não somos o umbigo do mundo, mas sim parte da vida, quer gostemos ou não.

Philippe Descola sorri maliciosamente. Ele assumiu o lugar de Lévi-Strauss na cátedra de antropologia mais prestigiada do planeta. A do Collège de France. Tudo aqui ainda fala do mestre que revolucionou as ciências do ser humano. Livros, estantes, objetos exóticos descritos precisamente em Tristes Trópicos. “Obviamente, eu não sou o herdeiro de Claude Lévi-Strauss, mas só o seu sucessor”, explica, com bom humor.

Eis a entrevista.

Um homem que tinha uma imensa e preciosa erudição, de savant de outros tempos.

E que não é mais de hoje. A sua análise dos mitos é um virtuosismo acrobático. Obras como O Pensamento Selvagem e O cru e o cozido são o produto de um talento pessoal muito próximo ao de um artista. Ele era capaz de se lembrar de um fragmento de um conto japonês lido 20 anos antes e de conectá-lo aos mitos dos nativos da América ou da Grécia que ele estudava naquele momento. Ou a um acorde da tetralogia de Wagner.

Lévi-Strauss fez da antropologia um dos grandes saberes do século XX. Ele demonstrou que, por trás das diferenças entre as culturas, há analogias escondidas que permitem remeter a miríade de diversidades a poucas leis gerais, comuns a todos os seres humanos.

Ele tratava as diferenças entre as culturas como variações de um mesmo tema musical. E a sua grande lição é que a tarefa da antropologia é ir além das diferenças superficiais, além da etnografia, para alcançar aquilo que nos torna todos igualmente humanos.

Ou até todos seres vivos. Humanos e não humanos. Nisso, Lévi-Strauss antecipou aquele sentimento de unidade entre sociedade e natureza, que envolve milhões de cidadãos globais. Não é por acaso que o senhor preferiu rebatizar a sua cátedra como “Antropologia e natureza”, tornando-se assim continuador do Lévi-Strauss mais atual e profético.

O fato é que os homens não estão sozinhos no palco da humanidade. E o resto, aquilo que normalmente se chama de natureza ou meio ambiente, não é propriedade nossa, nem uma projeção nossa, muito menos um simples recurso à disposição do nosso desenvolvimento. As outras criaturas, animais, plantas, minerais, também são coinquilinos do mundo. Não são coisas ou formas de vida, mas sim verdadeiros agentes sociais, que têm os mesmos direitos que os seres humanos. E muitas vezes características em comum, que não são meramente biológicas, mas até culturais. É por isso que hoje a antropologia não pode mais se limitar ao ser humano, mas deve estender o seu olhar a todos os seres com os quais interagimos e convivemos.

E, além disso, a nossa ideia de natureza é relativamente recente.

Ela começa a se desenvolver só no século XVII, no início da modernidade, quando o mundo foi dividido em duas partes. De um lado, o universo das convenções e das regras, ou seja, a cultura. De outro, o mundo dos fenômenos e das leis da natureza.

De um lado, a pessoa humana, de outro, as não pessoas, isto é, todo o resto. Mas, desse modo, o ser vivo é cortado em dois e separados de uma parte de si mesmo. Essa foi a concepção que legitimou a dominação e a exploração do ser humano, assim como da natureza?

Certamente. Além de tudo isso, essa oposição entre cultura e natureza, entre ser humano e as outras criaturas, não é nem universal. Muitos povos não a compartilham. Basta pensar no primeiro capítulo da nova Constituição do Equador, que protege precisamente os direitos da natureza, em que a natureza, diferentemente de nós, aparece como uma espécie de pessoa viva. Justamente como a Pachamama, a mãe terra das religiões mesoamericanas.

Não por acaso, o presidente boliviano, Evo Morales, e uma cúpula latino-americana reconheceram que os ecossistemas enquanto tais têm direitos. Um modo diferente de sistematizar os problemas, que, também à luz de dramas como o do Chifre da África, deveria começar a influenciar a agenda política planetária, especialmente em matéria de bens comuns.

Em muitos países do mundo, é inconcebível que os recursos vitais sejam privatizados. A própria ideia de que existe um mercado dos bens de subsistência é um caso excepcional na história da humanidade. Aristóteles, na Crematística, a ciência da riqueza, já punha em questão a legitimidade da compra e venda dos bens indispensáveis para a sobrevivência. O que é interessante é que hoje cada vez mais pessoas tomam consciência do fato de que alguns recursos são intocáveis, porque não pertencem só aos seres humanos, mas a todos os seres vivos. E até ao conjunto dos ecossistemas inteiros.

Isto é, ao planeta na sua totalidade indivisível, na sua integridade vital que também nos compreende, enquanto nascidos da terra.

Nesse sentido, a antropologia tem uma tarefa importante, que é a de apresentar outros modelos de humanidade. Mostrar de que modo as outras civilizações enfrentaram e resolveram problemas análogos aos nossos.

Quais são as três grandes urgências do nosso tempo?

Ecologia, tecnologia e coexistência com as outras civilizações. Três questões que podem ser resumidas em uma, isto é, como fazer com que todos os ocupantes do planeta coabitem, sem muitos danos, renúncias e conflitos. E se não se chegar a isso, haverá uma catástrofe. Ambiental, demográfica e informática.

Por que informática?

Porque deveremos ser inundados por uma avalanche de informações cada vez mais incontroláveis, incongruentes, perigosas.

Também seremos inundados por montanhas de lixo digital, enfim. Mas a política lhe parece estar à altura da tarefa?

Infelizmente não. Hoje, eu vejo uma grande pusilanimidade nos políticos e nos vários G7 ou G20. Não possuem coragem e imaginação. Estão sempre atrasados com relação à realidade. Também porque subestimam o papel da cultura nas elaboração das políticas sociais e ambientais. E, frequentemente, não se vai muito além de alguns pequenos pensamentos politicamente corretos sobre a necessidade do diálogo entre as culturas. Mas não acredito nisso, verdadeiramente.

As pessoas comuns parecem acreditar nisso cada vez mais. Os movimentos que agitam o mundo neste período, que parecem fatos separados, não são talvez os sintomas de um novo sentido comum?

Sim, cada vez mais pessoas estão conscientes de que o modelo de desenvolvimento que tem governado o mundo nestes últimos dois séculos está se desfazendo. Eu diria que esses movimentos são exercícios no futuro, os primeiros passos para uma nova democracia global.

Aboriginal Hunting Practice Increases Animal Populations (Science Daily)

Oct. 24, 2013 — In Australia’s Western Desert, Aboriginal hunters use a unique method that actually increases populations of the animals they hunt, according to a study co-authored by Stanford Woods Institute-affiliated researchers Rebecca and Doug Bird. Rebecca Bird is an associate professor of anthropology, and Doug Bird is a senior research scientist.

Aboriginal hunters looking for monitor lizards as fires burn nearby. (Credit: Rebecca Bird)

The study, published today inProceedings of the Royal Society B, offers new insights into maintaining animal communities through ecosystem engineering and co-evolution of animals and humans. It finds that populations of monitor lizards nearly double in areas where they are heavily hunted. The hunting method — using fire to clear patches of land to improve the search for game — also creates a mosaic of regrowth that enhances habitat. Where there are no hunters, lightning fires spread over vast distances, landscapes are more homogenous and monitor lizards are more rare.

“Our results show that humans can have positive impacts on other species without the need for policies of conservation and resource management,” Rebecca Bird said. “In the case of indigenous communities, the everyday practice of subsistence might be just as effective at maintaining biodiversity as the activities of other organisms.”

Martu, the aboriginal community the Birds and their colleagues have worked with for many years, refer to their relationship with the ecosystem around them as part of “jukurr” or dreaming. This ritual, practical philosophy and body of knowledge instructs the way Martu interact with the desert environment, from hunting practices to cosmological and social organization. At its core is the concept that land must be used if life is to continue. Therefore, Martu believe the absence of hunting, not its presence, causes species to decline.

While jukurr has often been interpreted as belonging to the realm of the sacred and irrational, it appears to actually be consistent with scientific understanding, according to the study. The findings suggest that the decline in aboriginal hunting and burning in the mid-20th century, due to the persecution of aboriginal people and the loss of traditional economies, may have contributed to the extinction of many desert species that had come to depend on such practices.

The findings add to a growing appreciation of the complex role that humans play in the function of ecosystems worldwide. In environments where people have been embedded in ecosystems for millennia, including areas of the U.S., tribal burning was extensive in many types of habitat. Many Native Americans in California, for instance, believe that policies of fire suppression and the exclusion of their traditional burning practices have contributed to the current crisis in biodiversity and native species decline, particularly in the health of oak woodland communities. Incorporating indigenous knowledge and practices into contemporary land management could become important in efforts to conserve and restore healthy ecosystems and landscapes.

The study was funded by the National Science Foundation.

Journal Reference:

  1. R. B. Bird, N. Tayor, B. F. Codding, D. W. Bird. Niche construction and Dreaming logic: aboriginal patch mosaic burning and varanid lizards (Varanus gouldii) in AustraliaProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2013; 280 (1772): 20132297 DOI:10.1098/rspb.2013.2297