Traditional Slash and Burn Agriculture Sustainable Solution to Climate Change

Gwendolyn Smith, Amazon Conservation Team. Photo: Stephen Leahy

Climate change is the result of not behaving in the right way says remote Amazon tribe

 by Stephen Leahy

First published at National Geographic’s NewsWatch

Climate change is the result of not behaving in the right way, according to the isolated Trio, an indigenous people living in Suriname’s Amazon forest near its border with Brazil.

“They see climate change as big problem. They say their forests are changing, deteriorating,” said Gwendolyn Smith, a project director for the non-profit organization Amazon Conservation Team (ACT).

ACT was launched by U.S. ethnobotanist Mark Plotkin and Costa Rican conservationist Liliana Madrigain Madrigal in 1996 to work with indigenous peoples in the rainforests of Suriname and elsewhere in the Amazon to retain their traditional knowledge.

The Trio (also known as Tiriyó) number perhaps 2000 and live entirely off their forests as hunters and swidden farmers. Swidden is a form of slash and burn agriculture where small plots are cleared and crops planted for one or two seasons, after which plots in new areas are cleared. Old plots are left fallow for many years, allowing the forest and soils to replinish. On a small scale this is sustainable.

“They have strict rules for managing their forest,” said Smith, who has worked with the Trio for seven years and is also a PhD student at Nova Southeastern University in Florida.

Their knowledge of the forest is unparalleled but the Trio know little about the wider world. “Money was only introduced to them six years ago and they don’t really understand concepts like saving,” she said.

Similarly, the concept of carbon and using their forests to soak up carbon is simply not part of their worldview, she told delegates at The Climate Change Mitigation with Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples workshop in Cairns, Australia. Continue reading

Brazil’s Forest Code and Land Speculators To Amp Up Amazon Deforestation Rates

90% of Forest in Apuí Converted into Pasture But the Real Profit is in Land Sales

By Stephen Leahy*

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Jul 28, 2011 (Tierramérica)

Many migrants from southern Brazil who clear forests in Brazil’s state of Amazonas are making their living as small-scale land speculators and not as farmers or as cattle ranchers, new research has found.

This on-the-ground reality and the proposed changes to Brazil’s Forest Code are likely to ramp up deforestation rates again, despite the country’s commitment to reduce deforestation 80 percent by 2020, experts say.

The Forest Code (Law 4771) was adopted in 1965 and has undergone numerous reforms, the most recent in 2001. This past May 24, an overwhelming majority in the Chamber of Deputies voted in favor of a bill to relax its requirements with regard to forest conservation. The bill is currently under study in the Senate. [Update Dec 28 2011]

A detailed study conducted in the municipality of Apuí along the Transamazon Highway in Amazonas found that many families in the region earned little income from cattle.

Instead, they were clearing the land in order to claim land titles to sell the land to large corporate ranchers, according to the study “Forest Clearing Dynamics and the Expansion of Landholdings in Apuí, a Deforestation Hotspot on Brazil’s Transamazon Highway”, published in the journal Ecology and Society in June.

From the early 1990s the population of Apuí has tripled, and the municipality has had some of the highest rates of deforestation in all of the state of Amazonas. Approximately 90 per cent of the area has been converted into pasture, the study found.

“These families are always moving into new forest areas to deforest so they can claim land title. And after a few years they sell it for a much higher price,” said study co-author Gabriel Carrero of the Institute for Conservation and Sustainable Development of Amazonas (IDESAM). Continue reading