It’s a consensus among environmental activists: recognizing indigenous people’s rights to their territory has a positive effect in the fight against deforestation. And now there is enough data to back it up. A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science confirmed that indigenous people can help prevent environmental destruction.
The study assessed the effects in the Peruvian Amazon. Equipped with smartphones and relying on satellite data, a selected number of indigenous Peruvian communities were able to drastically reduce deforestation over a two-year period. Compared to traditional community patrols and governmental monitoring programs, the new method was significantly more efficient.
We can take some conclusions from this. First of all – and perhaps the most important: handing forest management to indigenous communities is a very efficient method of fighting deforestation. And providing them with the necessary tools to do so is just as crucial. Considering how the Amazon rainforest destruction has skyrocketed over the last 12 months, these new findings could lead to positive results to help revert this trend.
With new information in hand, the next logical step should lead to amplifying this successful model. While that might be a few years away from becoming a reality, these first signs should be considered quite encouraging.
Join us at Slothino, the eco-conscious casino brand, as we take a deeper look into this study. Learn how Indigenous Peruvians used these new methods to help save the rainforest.
Satellite Data and Community Patrols: A Success Story
Satellite data has been an important tool in the fight against deforestation. Emitting early alerts helps in preventing further damage. Over the last four decades, Brazil, Peru and Colombia have invested in remote monitoring systems to help with forest preservation efforts. However, the system still has its shortcomings. The most significant one: information rarely reaches the ones directly affected by illegal practises. It becomes nearly impossible to reach and contact indigenous communities living in remote parts of the rainforest. And governmental agents take some time to make their way to affected areas. This groundbreaking study provided some valuable insight on why equipping indigenous people with monitoring tools is the best alternative.
The monitoring program was randomly assigned to 39 of the 76 indigenous peruvian communities, who were then instructed on how to use it. And while the study does point out that the results aren’t quite precise, there is a significant reduction in deforestation: an estimate of 8.4 hectares per community in the first year, and 3.3 hectares in the second year. Communities facing larger threats produced the best results.
It makes a lot of sense that indigenous Peruvians were able to reduce deforestation rates in their territory. As previously mentioned, state authorities have a hard time reaching the affected areas, not to mention that this is also a resource-intensive effort. Setting up cooperative efforts alongside local communities is widely regarded by environmental groups as one of the most efficient ways to help with rainforest conservation.
The PNAS study combined the use of satellite data with incentives for community patrols. Each community named three monitors, who were then instructed as well as remunerated for their monthly patrols. After receiving the early deforestation alerts on their smartphones, monitors consulted with the community on the next steps. Some decided to directly intervene on the matter and fight off the threat by themselves, while other communities decided to alert the authorities. One way or the other, the new monitoring system had a positive impact.
Why Recognizing Indigenous Territory is Key for Environmental Protection
This 2017 study, also published in PNAS, points out that titling indigenous communities territories in the Peruvian Amazon “significantly reduces both clearing and disturbance at least in the short term”. The 2021 study, meanwhile, emphasizes that community monitors were perceived as authorities on forest management by their respective community members. In other words, involving indigenous communities in conservation efforts puts the matter directly in the hands of those directly affected by it. Empowering indigenous communities is undoubtedly a much more efficient method compared to the current centralized response by local authorities.
Recognizing indigenous rights to their land and resources also directly affects environmental matters. Considering that local authorities naturally have a hard time watching over the Amazon’s two million square miles.
Considering the recent surge in deforestation numbers, stopping this trend should take center stage over the next few years. All different methods are welcome additions, which is why all these findings must be taken seriously. Whether or not state authorities will take action and increase the involvement of indigenous communities remains to be seen, but the positive effect is undeniable.
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