Friday, December 24, 2010

Little Brothers of the Amazon: another St. Andrews Prize prposal

The Little Brothers of the Amazon project aims to harness the knowledge and practices of indigenous people to protect the Amazon rainforest. Throughout the Amazon, ethnic reserves held and managed by indigenous people are among the best-preserved patches of forest, even more so than many natural parks and reserves. This is due in large part to the longstanding forest management practices of indigenous groups that have lived from the forest for generations. They make a living through a mix of hunting, gathering, fishing, lumber extraction, and swidden farming (clearing small patches of forest to plant annual and perennial crops).

In contrast to the responsible practices of many native peoples, two related ills afflict many Amazonian countries. On the one hand, large timber extraction companies and industrial farms clear forest and convert it to permanent cropping or pastures. At the same time, in all the countries with territory in the Amazon, drastic inequality leaves many people without land. Often the two problems come together, as desperate peasants migrate to the Amazon and degrade land permanently using inappropriate logging and farming practices, after which large enterprises buy up the land for farming, mining, or other destructive uses.

However, putting indigenous forest people in contact with landless peasants has the potential to improve life for both groups, as well as preserving the forest. The Little Brothers project would recruit landless families to live with indigenous families during a sort of training period. The peasants would learn about sustainable livelihoods from indigenous people. Many indigenous groups call the non-indigenous their little brothers, and this project takes that concept literally. Native people would teach non-natives how to live a more prosperous, sustainable life.

After this training period the peasant family would be granted a parcel of forest land bordering the indigenous reserve. The family would draft a management plan in collaboration with indigenous, local, and national government authorities. For a parcel of 50 hectares or so, the family would be allowed to clear perhaps one hectare a year for farming, using the rest of the land to extract non-timber forest goods sustainably.

The Little Brothers of the Amazon project would empower indigenous people, provide livelihoods to landless peasant families, protect and expand areas under indigenous land management, and prevent deforestation. A dense, stable population living from the forest is the best way to protect it, and such a land use would provide long-term, sustainable income for the population and tax revenue for the government.

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