Gold mining brings prospectors, disease, and destruction to indigenous lands in Brazil. But indigenous communities are fighting back.
Started working in 1989
Worked with partners representing over 500 communities
Supported the demarcation of nearly 17 million hectares of indigenous territories
At 46.6% forest cover, Brazil is the most forested and most biodiverse country in the world. It also boasts the largest above-ground carbon store totalling 131Gt of carbon.
Two-thirds of the Amazon Rainforest lies within Brazilian territory, which has one of the highest rates of biodiversity on Earth, including 10-20% of all known species. It is known to house 13% of all animal species and 20.8% of all plant species, many of which are endemic to Brazil.
According to 2010 census data, Brazil’s indigenous population numbers nearly 900,000, comprising 0.47% of its total population. Speaking over 150 languages, Brazil is home to 256 distinct peoples, including the Yanomami, Ashaninka, Guarani, Tukano, Macuxi and Wapichana, to name a few. It is speculated that over 100 groups live uncontacted and in voluntary isolation deep in the forest.
Brazil’s 1988 Constitution recognizes the rights of indigenous peoples and guarantees their rights to their traditional territories. After great effort, indigenous peoples have been able to secure recognition (or “demarcation”) of 13.8% (over 117 million ha) of Brazil’s lands, including 23% (over 115 million ha) of the Brazilian Amazon.
However, some 487 indigenous lands throughout the country are still in the process of demarcation. The political and institutional delays to the demarcation process perpetuate violations of indigenous peoples’ rights to own and manage their traditional territories.
After achieving remarkable success in reducing deforestation while increasing economic productivity between 2005-2010, Brazil is losing its forests at an alarming rate. Brazil has already lost 90% of its Atlantic rainforests, along with about 17% of its historic Amazon rainforests. In 2019, Brazil lost 2.60 million ha of forest cover, with deforestation increasing by 85% in the Brazilian Amazon.
The shifting political climate and current rhetoric encourages exploitation and intensive land uses as well as violence and intimidation to suppress indigenous peoples’ efforts to protect their territories.
According to Global Witness, 24 environmental defenders were murdered in Brazil in 2019, the majority of them in the Amazon.
Credit: Chico Batata | Greenpeace
While the Rainforest Foundation US has worked in Brazil since our founding, our focus is currently concentrated in the state of Roraima in the northern Brazilian Amazon. In western Roraima, the Yanomami Territory is the largest swath of rainforest under indigenous control in the world. The biodiverse savannah and forest ecosystems of eastern Roraima are home to Raposa Serra do Sol, a key territory in the struggle for indigenous land rights in Brazil.
Our partnership with indigenous representative organizations in these areas seeks to address the destructive presence of illegal miners and large-scale agribusiness and build on their historic leadership in the movement for indigenous peoples’ rights in Brazil.
Our current initiatives in Brazil include:
RFUS supports CIR to implement a reforestation project in four communities in Eastern Roraima, with an eventual yearly goal to produce 20,000 seedlings per year of both food and wood species for community use. The program also engages youth who are studying at CIR’s agroforestry Indigenous Training Center and its Equator Prize-winning seed bank.
Policy & Advocacy
RFUS supports our partners in Brazil on campaigns to defend their land rights and protect against political, social and economic threats to their rights, particularly given the current political climate. Currently, RFUS is involved with the Yanomami’s campaign #MinersOutCovidOut to remove the 20,000 illegal miners on their territory.
Land Titling & Legal Intervention
Together with CIR and the Forest Peoples Programme, RFUS has an ongoing case at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights regarding the demarcation of Raposa Serra do Sol and violence committed against communities and leaders over their long struggle for land rights. RFUS has also worked with partners to ensure leaders’ personal safety, given repeated threats to their lives.
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