Brazil: REDD / Indigenous people are both cutting edge & a long way away from that edge

The story of the Waiãpí is not untypical of how indigenous peoples
have fared in the Brazilian Amazon. Around 700 Waiãpí live in a number
of small villages in a reserve covering 1.5 million acres of what is
conventionally described as pristine rainforest but is actually
nothing of the kind — it is intensively used by the Waiãpí, but in
ways that have low impacts.

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The Waiãpí are doing well — their population is growing, their reserve
boundaries are protected, they get some help from the Brazilian
government and non-governmental organizations run by anthropologists
who speak their language. They are certainly doing much better than
they were a generation ago, when waves of settlers and a series of
invasions threatened to wipe them out. But they live at the center of
a paradox. Despite their modest needs and demands, funding to satisfy
these needs and demands is a perennial problem. Meanwhile, new markets
being created to stimulate conservation look as if they will channel
resources not to them, but to their non-indigenous, deforesting

Further south, in Mato Grosso state, where there are far
larger indigenous reserves, a distinguished group of politicians,
foundation staffers, conservationists and others will meet in early
April to explore how to move forward with avoided deforestation
projects — a potentially transformative idea that, simply put, rewards
deforesters for foregoing deforestation. It is one of the more
exciting developments in conservation thinking in recent years – a way
to confer value on standing forest and create an incentive to conserve
rather than destroy. But there’s a hitch.

What if you never destroyed the forest, but conserved it instead, like the Waiãpí? To avoid deforestation, you have to be deforesting in the first place. To even identify the unfairness and lobby for something to be done about it,
you have to master the esoteric details of how carbon impacts climate
change, where funding for avoided deforestation projects comes from,
how it’s applied, what a viable alternative might be and who to talk
to change things. Difficult enough for specialists — and a tall order
for the Waiãpí, even with outside help. Not the least of the paradox
of the Waiãpí is that, in conservation terms, they are both cutting
edge and a long, long way from that edge.

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