18 August, 2009

They know: but who cares to ask them about it?

Sergio Abranches

The people of the forest know about our global predicament. But we seldom remember to ask them what they are experiencing.

We were preparing for a series of small presentations to the “people of the forest” – rubber-tappers, Indians, small tenants, fishers – on climate change, the Amazon rainforest and REDD (Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation). The setting was the meeting “People of the Forest and REDD” organized by the Forum for a Sustainable Amazon in Rio Branco, capital city of Acre, the Amazon westernmost state. The core idea was that we should be simple, and make a strong case for the connection between an ambitious climate change policy, the protection of the tropical forest and the payment for environmental service and avoided deforestation.

They were about 100 odd, from several parts of the forest, mainly, but not only, within the State of Acre, the Westernmost Amazon state. All very interested on how greenhouse gases warm the Planet, and how warming causes climate change. They were also very concerned about the relationship between their forest and all that. They knew deforestation is bad for all, and fires are a plague that brings many casualties to wild animals, and, in many cases, is hazardous to their communities.

Photo: Sergio Abranches

Photo: Sergio Abranches

When I mentioned the flying rivers, the immense amount of water vapor that hangs over the canopy of the trees, the scientists are studying, and how they had as much water, sometimes more, than the rivers themselves, their eyes were shinning and their heads balanced up and down in agreement. Rivers do fly out there. They knew it all.

When the floor was opened to questions and statements almost all of them had something to say.

An old fisher, Antonio, told us about drying rivers and igarapés (water channels formed by the main rivers). He talked about deforestation, degradation and erosion, and how they were reducing quality of life for the river.

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Photo: Sergio Abranches

A rubber-tapper, Luiz, told us about lawlessness and the lack of citizenship rights, where there is no permanent governmental presence.

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Photo: Sergio Abranches

Benki Piyãko, leader of the ashaninka people, said they, indigenous forest people, “know the emissions of greenhouse gases are not of their making, they are the result of other people’s action.” They are aware, he told me, it is a problem that affects them “in many ways.” On an interview to Brazilian journalist Altino Machado, during the meeting, he talked about afforestation and wild game breeding, as a means to feed their people, reduce emissions and displace cattle ranching.

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Photo: Sergio Abranches

He said that “the great afforestation, with native species, for logging, and fruit.” He envisions “associating forest economic management, and breeding of wild game” as a countervailing power to cattle ranching. “We will survive and sustainably manage our natural resources, protecting and using ou lakes, rivers, breeding species now threatened of extinction. We can live out of what Nature has.”

We, on our turn, have a lot to learn from them. They have the cases, they know the ways of the forest, they know how climate changing is happening, what forest degradation does to their people and to the rest of the forest. A respectful connection of our two societies, can be good for both. They also have many things to learn, but brought to them respecting their culture. Some of them are no longer guardians of the forest. They should be convinced to go back to their original role.

I was particularly happy to see Indian chiefs proudly using their headdresses, and coming to discuss REDD, as a mechanism they understand and could use to protect the forest, their cultural ways, and fight global climate change. We will need leadeship from these citizens of two cultures to protect the Amazon.

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Photo: Sergio Abranches

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