Even as deforestation continues at an accelerating rate in Brazil’s Amazon rainforests, indigenous reserves have acted as barriers against further dispossession of these unique ecosystems and served as carbon sinks.
Over the past three decades, a total of 69 million hectares of forest have been cut down and burned throughout the Amazon. Yet of this vast area, only 1.6% is on indigenous land, according to an analysis by Biomas, a joint project of environmental groups, universities and startups.
“The satellite images leave no doubt that indigenous peoples are slowing the destruction of the Amazon,” says Tasso Azevedo, project coordinator.
“Without indigenous reserves, the forest would certainly be much closer to the ‘tipping point’ where it ceases to provide the ecological services on which our agriculture, our industries and our cities depend,” says Azevedo.
In contrast, more than two-thirds (70%) of deforestation took place on private land.
Indigenous reserves represent just under 14% of Brazil’s territory, covering some 110 million hectares of native vegetation, nearly a quarter of the country’s total area.
Indigenous Lands at Risk
However, other experts warn that indigenous lands are facing greater pressures with an accelerating rate of deforestation within them. Certain areas such as the indigenous territory of Apyterewa in the state of Pará are particularly threatened.
The threat to these protected areas could undermine Brazil’s ability to meet its forest conservation and climate mitigation goals, according to an open letter from two leading scientists.
“Brazil has good environmental laws which, on paper, should reduce and inhibit deforestation. However, the application of these laws is the big problem,” said Guilherme Augusto Verola Mataveli, a researcher at the Earth Observation and Geoinformatics Division of the National Institute for Space Research in Brazil.
“This is the first step, which must be combined with long-term measures, such as the promotion of environmental education, the valuation of the standing forest as a source of income for the communities living in the Amazon, and the resumption and strengthening of the actions requested by the PPCDAM”, explains the scientist, referring to the Action Plan to Prevent and Control Deforestation, launched in 2003 to guarantee a constant reduction in deforestation and introduce sustainable models in the affected areas. within a vast area called the Legal Amazon. “They have proven their effectiveness in the past,” he adds.
Mataveli and a fellow scientist say there has been a “dramatic increase” in deforestation rates since 2019 in the Legal Amazon, within which there has been marked forest fragmentation with significant loss of forest cover between 2001 and 2017, according to a recent study.
“The official rate for the 12 months between August 2020 and July 2021 was the highest for 15 years, reaching 13,235 km2, slightly less than the area of Northern Ireland (14,130 km2),” it was reported. underline. “This rate was also 69% higher than the annual average since 2012, according to data from INPE’s Amazon Rainforest Satellite Monitoring Service (PRODES).
Over the past three years, the loss due to deforestation on indigenous lands has averaged 419 km2 each year, which translates to a rate more than 80% higher than the annual average of the previous decade. “When we study the satellite data, we find that the conversion of forests is mainly to pasture and agricultural land, but we locate mining sites in Apyterewa,” says Mataveli.
With these new threats to protected areas in the Amazon, it is essential to intensify protection measures on all indigenous lands, underline the two scientists.
“The conservation of indigenous lands is essential to honoring Brazil’s legal commitments, maintaining the environmental stability of the Amazon, combating climate change and guaranteeing the well-being of traditional peoples,” they write.
Environmental laws are just words on paper and to be effective they must be rigorously enforced, they say.
“The existence of laws to preserve the remaining forests of the Amazon and the rights of traditional peoples is not enough. Effective police actions are necessary to protect the last intact borders of the Amazon,” they stress.
By Daniel T. Cross. Articles in English