Indigenous tribes who live at the mercy of climate change have made extraordinary efforts to save the planet using their ancient traditions

Indigenous people in the Brazilian Amazon and the Cross River State in Nigeria are using ancient traditions to rewild huge swathes of lost rainforest. Taz Ali discusses how they are doing it in an article on the inews website.

 

Indigenous communities fighting to save rainforests say they have a plan to bring back lost nature

Indigenous tribes who live at the mercy of climate change have made extraordinary efforts to save the planet using their ancient traditions, something that experts argue is largely ignored by modern science.

Indigenous people in the Amazon forest in Brazil and in the Cross River State of Nigeria have used their inherited knowledge of nature to create reforestation programmes.

Amanda Kayabi,18, lives in Samauma village in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso. She belongs to the Kayabi indigenous tribe, one of several ethnic groups that live in the Xingu Indigenous Territory that was created in 1961 to protect the tribes from advancing settlers.

Deforestation and degradation of land now threaten their territory.

“This worries me a lot, losing our forest,” said Ms Kayabi. “And water, too, that sustains all of us. We eat fish that comes from the Xingu river, we wash clothes in the river. Those who deforest contribute to the drying up of the water.”

Despite assurances by the Brazilian government to curb illegal logging, deforestation in the Amazon soared by 22 per cent in 12 months to the highest level since 2006, according to an October 2021 report by the country’s Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais (National Institute for Space Research).

In order to restore large swathes of the lost forest, demand has grown for native tree seeds to recover ecosystems. Through this demand an initiative was born, where a group of indigenous groups located in the Xingu basin, which stretches across the Amazon forest and the neighbouring Cerrado savanna, collect and distribute tree seeds under what is called the Xingu Seed Network.

Ms Kayabi, who is a leader of seed collectors in her village, said: “After I joined the network, I realised that all this work we do, restoring the forests, restoring the sources of the Xingu Indigenous Territory, is for our future, the future of our children, and I want this feeling to be strengthened in everyone that is planting the seeds that we have collected.”

There are more than 560 seed collectors, mostly women, who have gathered 250 tonnes of seeds and restored more than 6,600 hectares (16,300 acres) of degraded land since 2008.

Eduardo Malta Campos-Filho, a forest expert with Brazil’s NGO Instituto Socioambiental (Socio-environmental Institute), which initiated the network, told i that indigenous groups held vast knowledge of the variety of food and plants that their ancestors once thrived on.

The indigenous groups know how to plant seeds directly in the ground to rebuild forests quickly and help young trees survive drought, bypassing the need to grow saplings in nurseries.

The community use the “muvuca” technique, in which seeds from more than 200 native forest species are mixed and spread over burnt, mismanaged or deforested land.

“I never believed that would be possible,” Mr Campos-Filho said. “Traditional knowledge can get us to change paradigms of how we see problems and solutions.”

In Nigeria, one of the last remaining rainforests in the Cross River State south of the country is being saved by the Ekuri indigenous community.

The Ekuri forest is about 33,600 hectares (83,000 acres) in size and is the largest communally-controlled forest in Nigeria. It is adjacent to the government-managed Cross River National Park which accounts for 40 per cent of Nigeria’s total rainforest, according to charity WWF.

For centuries the Ekuri people have yielded the benefits of the forest – it provided them with food, drinking water and medicine. The 6,000-strong community are largely farmers while others make a living through small-scale hunting and fishing.

Edwin Ogar, chief of the Ekuri community, told i that the communally controlled forest has played a fundamental role in changing attitudes to illegal logging. Mr Ogar was among several Ekuri leaders who were arrested and imprisoned for several days in the mid 1990s after they obstructed a road in protest against logging.

While battles with illegal logging continues, efforts are also focused on restoring areas affected by climate change using centuries-old indigenous knowledge.

“We know the fruits that can be adapted to climate change,” he said. “We organise meetings and look at areas impacted by climate change and we make sure it’s regenerated.

“Some areas that have lost a lot species have started recovering which makes us very happy.”

In the early 1980s, the villages of Old Ekuri and New Ekuri – located 7km apart – united in response to the proposed logging of their forest. Since then, harvesting timber for commercial purposes was banned while sustainable logging to build local housing and furniture was supported.

It’s a far cry from the realities seen elsewhere in the country, which has lost more than 47 per cent of forest cover between 1990 and 2010, according to the US-based conservation website Mongabay.

“Climate change has withered some of the biodiversity and has affected our water sources, some of these streams have dried up,” said Mr Ogar.

“We feel that continuous work on this issue will surely bring back lost forest and we will continue to benefit from it like before.”

Dr Tero Mustonen, co-founder of the Snowchange Cooperative, an NGO in Finland that works with indigenous communities across the Arctic, described climate change as the “legacy of colonialism”.

“Those now suffering the most are in a way receiving the legacy and misuse of natural resources for over hundreds of years through the colonial process,” Dr Mustonen told i.

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