When Megaron Txucarrame was born roughly half a century ago in the heart of Brazil’s Amazon
, he was among a rare number of indigenous Indians who had never seen anyone who came from beyond the rainforest.
Today, as one of the leaders of Brazil’s Kayapó, Megaron is defending his homeland from an onslaught of destruction driven by modern economic forces. The Amazon forest is increasingly threatened by deforestation caused by fires burning massive areas for agriculture production. Logging, gold mining, and dam construction are other serious threats.
Because deforestation is one of the leading causes of climate change, not only does this loss threaten the survival of many indigenous communities such as the Kayapó, it impacts people the world over. Often called the “lungs of the earth,” tropical forests help stabilize climate by absorbing the carbon dioxide. The destruction of forests is the second largest source of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.
QUESTION: How much carbon dioxide does your life put into the atmosphere?
“You see on the map of the territory of the Kayapó, all the area around is full of deforestation,” Megaron says. “The Kayapó must keep on living in this territory without abandoning our customs, our language. I think that the future of the Kayapó is to protect this land in order to survive.”
Megaron was referring to satellite images revealing massive deforestation surrounding the officially ratified Kayapó terrorities, which cover 11 million hectares in the southeastern Amazon, and which form the largest single protected tract of tropical forest in the world. Traditional warriors, the Kayapó have so far successfully guarded their territory from the rapid frontier expansion. But Megaron warns that the pressures are increasing, and forest conservation must be strengthened and sustained.
Protecting tropical forests is one of the most effective and immediate means to address global climate change. CI and the Kayapó have been partners in creating solutions to protect the forest since 1992, working alongside Brazilian organizations including the Kayapó Nongovernmental Organizations’ Protected Forest Association and Raoni Institute and the Federal Indian Agency, FUNAI.
Young Kayapó are learning to effectively monitor their territory’s 2,000 kilometer border. CI is providing technology and training, along with transportation, fuel, and communications equipment to facilitate border surveillance.
While protecting their homeland, the Kayapó also need economic independence in the face of pressure from a modern global economy. CI and partners work with the Kayapó to create small businesses that will allow them to utilize their forests to earn income while still conserving them.
IN PHOTOS: View a photo gallery of unique species conserved in the Kayapó nation.
Brazil nut harvesting has long been a Kayapó tradition, and today processing Brazil-nut oil for commercial distribution is underway in several Kayapó villages. Other small enterprises being developed or expanded are based on non-timber resources such as copaiba oil, cupuaçu cupuacu fruit, honey, cocoa, and mahogany seeds.
CI is also implementing international university-level field courses in tropical biology and conservation to sustain an ecological research station in one Kayapó community. To ensure the Kayapó have the financial support to continue to protect their homelands, CI’s Global Conservation Fund will provide matching funds toward establishment of a $10 million Kayapó Protected Forest Trust.
“The Kayapó are very proactive and determined to protect their homelands,” says Jose Maria Cardoso da Silva, vice president for CI’s South America programs. “As the international community confronts the enormous challenge of global climate change, their knowledge, skills, and determination make them powerful allies.”
Want to learn more?
The Kayapó Nation: Protectors of the Amazon
Amazonia: The Last Eden
Unique Species in the Kayapó Nation
The UN's Permament Forum on Indigenous Issues
Commentary: A Burning Issue