Today Conservation International (CI) and the Brazilian National Economic Development Bank (BNDES) announced the establishment of an $8 million fund — the Kayapó Fund — that aims to support conservation and development enterprises in Kayapó indigenous communities.
This agreement took almost two years to accomplish, but it was worth the struggle: the Kayapó Fund is a great victory that will empower Kayapó people and allow Brazil to set an example for the world in indigenous land conservation.
CI’s Global Conservation Fund will provide the initial $4 million to be matched by BNDES funds. The fund will also be opened to receive donations from other supporters.
The total amount will allow the long-term protection of the world’s largest single tract of tropical forest. This initiative will also help reduce the impacts of climate change and will have a key role in preserving centuries of culture and tradition of the Kayapó people.
The fund’s resources, managed by Funbio (the Brazilian Biodiversity Fund), will be channeled through three non-governmental organizations — Instituto Kabu, Instituto Raoni and Associação Floresta Protegida — which represent indigenous interests. Other organizations also will be eligible to apply for funding.
The guardians of the forest
The Kayapó indigenous people of Brazil have an impressive record of protecting their traditional lands from invasion and deforestation. Official Kayapó territories span 11 million hectares (27.2 million acres) in the southeastern Amazon and form, by far, the largest single protected tract of tropical forest in the world. Today, indigenous lands are virtually the only barrier to the wave of deforestation and fires sweeping across the region as forests are razed for agriculture. This barrier effect occurs because indigenous people, who depend on the forest for survival, assert their land rights and actively contest frontier expansion.
The Kayapó indigenous territories in Pará and Mato Grosso states provide a striking example of the barrier to deforestation and present an extraordinary opportunity for conservation at a multi-landscape scale.
Threats to indigenous territory
Having achieved demarcation of much of their lands, the Kayapó must continuously defend 2,000 kilometers (1,243 miles) of border against encroachment and invasion by ranching, logging, gold mining and land fraud.
Although the Kayapó were able to halt the expansion of the agricultural frontier along much of their eastern border for 20 years, increasing deforestation pressure from the north and west threatens to overpower their efforts. After agriculture, the second major threat to Kayapó lands is logging; the region’s last great timber stocks survive only in Kayapó territory.
In recent years, the construction of the Belo Monte dam has been posing a significant threat to the survival of the Kayapó and their forests. The project, which was given the green light for construction last month, will interrupt about 100 kilometers (62 miles) of the Xingu River. Between 13,000 and 16,000 indigenous people from 24 ethnic groups will be affected downstream.
There will also be impacts upstream; for example, the Araras people from Vila Velha Village will be relocated due to a dramatic reduction in water supply. This will affect their ability to access food and transportation to collect the goods they need for their daily lives. Additionally, this dam’s construction will result in an initial migration of over 100,000 people to the region, which could drastically affect Kayapó society and tradition.
The Kayapó Fund will enhance the ability of the Kayapó to monitor their land and protect against these and other substantial threats.
Paulo Prado is the environmental policy director of CI-Brazil.