By Will DeBerry

It is easy to think of rainforests in terms of flora and fauna. We can all think about valuable plants and keystone species we are protecting by defending the rainforests from development, but often times we lose sight of the indigenous peoples living in these places. It is, after all, their home. Not only their home though, but also their place of work, trade, and community. These communities play an integral role in rainforests, tactfully using the forests resources in a sustainable manner. Like the ecosystem they live in, these indigenous communities must also be preserved, not only for their sake, but for ours; these communities embody the sustainable practices we all must strive to meet.

According to the World Resources Institute, “More than 50 percent of the world’s land is community land, collectively held by indigenous peoples and other local communities and managed primarily under customary tenure arrangements”. Why does this matter? Indigenous-tenured lands often have significantly lower rates of deforestation, making the investment in these communities one of the most cost-effective solutions to conserve rainforests, protect endangered species, and mitigate climate change. Yet, most of this communal land isn’t formally recognized by national governments, leading to the threat of new roads or industry activity in their territories. Furthermore, corporations from the oil, mining, agriculture, and forestry industries often offer these communities sums of money that would be hard for anyone to turn down, likely at a substantial ecological cost. These communities have to think about what will be best for their children, and without economic alternatives it continues to become harder and harder for them to turn away these offers.

That is why Rainforest Partnership empowers these communities with alternative economic opportunities, so that they can turn away these outside interests knowing that they still have their children’s best interests in mind–preserving the land for both the future of their children and community as a whole. The formation of these partnerships is critical for both us and them. Rainforest Partnership invests in these communities, and the long term payoff is a sustainably managed area inhabited by the people who call it home. After all, who better to look after a space then those who originally have the rights to it and who know how to look after it the best?

A great example of sustainable forest management used by these communities is their agroforestry. Agroforestry essentially optimizes land space to grow multiple crops (or raise livestock) together in a manner that is more beneficial for the forest. For example, one of the many reasons coffee can often be sustainable crop is because of how well shrubs and other small plants can grow underneath the coffee trees. The technique utilizes the space in the most effective manner possible. According to the US Forestry Service, “Many indigenous practitioners and communities historically managed complex agroforestry ecosystems to meet their physical, economic, cultural, and spiritual needs. Despite profound disruptions to their traditional education and natural resource management systems, some are still practicing and passing on their traditional ecological knowledge today…”

As we can see from their agroforestry technique and others, the rest of the world can learn a lot from these communities about sustainable practices. We cannot all implement seamless solutions, but we can champion those that do. Team member Marshall aptly put it that, “They have the most to gain and lose from conserving the forest.” Rainforest Partnership fully believes that helping indigenous people protect their forests cuts carbon emissions from deforestation, helps communities, and offers long-term economic benefits. To date, our projects benefit over 14,000 people across multiple communities. We are seeking to expand our work on existing projects as well as reach new communities and people. What happens to the Amazon affects us whether or not we live in the forest. When we help indigenous communities protect their forest, we all benefit.

Works Cited

https://rainforestpartnership.org/our-mission/indigenous-people-and-rainforests/

Dufour, Darna L. “Use of Tropical Rainforests by Native Amazonians.” BioScience, vol. 40, no. 9, 1990, pp. 652–659. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1311432.

Reytar, Kate. “5 Maps Show How Important Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities Are to the Environment.” 5 Maps Show How Important Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities Are to the Environment | World Resources Institute, 20 Dec. 2017, www.wri.org/blog/2017/12/5-maps-show-how-important-indigenous-peoples-and-local-communities-are-environment.

“Agroforestry.” USDA, www.usda.gov/topics/forestry/agroforestry.

United States, Congress, Rosse, Colleen, and Frank Lake. “Agroforestry Notes.” Agroforestry Notes, vol. 44, 2014, pp. 1–8.