Over the past 30 years, the Kayapó have deterred, even killed, trespassers. Leaders have ventured to the city to negotiate with the government and organize demonstrations. Their campaign succeeded in halting a major, World Bank-financed hydroelectric project and blocking a government plan to dump radioactive waste in the Amazon. They regained lands taken by mining companies and the Brazilian government — and they convinced the government to officially ratify and demarcate their reserves.
Today the 5,000 Kayapó
people control, legally and physically, a continuous block of the Amazonian
forest totaling 28.4 million acres (11.5 million hectares) — by far the planet's largest block of tropical forest
protected by a single indigenous group. The related Panar group controls an adjacent 1.2-million-acre (500,000-hectare) area.
The Kayapó nation, in this sanctuary the size of Ohio, lives much as its ancestors did, practicing sophisticated agroforestry and sustainable use of wildlife, with an egalitarian social structure and decision making by consensus.
It is not a utopia, however. CI began working with the Kayapó in 1992, when some leaders were illegally selling mahogany trees. Some were profiting personally, but, ironically, they were also buying boats and radios for border defense.
The community of A'Ukre, in the territory's interior, was the first to enlist CI's support. CI's task was to help the community find better sources of income than cutting the fast-disappearing mahogany — this in a context where each tree is worth a fortune. CI helped residents compare costs and benefits
of logging with those of a sustainable activity-in this case, creating the Pinkaiti research station.
After much discussion, the community decided to abandon logging throughout nearly 20,000 acres (8,100 hectares) in favor of helping CI set up and run the research station. Today, community members work as guides, plant collectors and research assistants. An entrance fee provides benefits directly to the community as a whole. Research projects include the impacts of selective logging on mammals, birds and bats; how mahogany regenerates; and how indigenous hunting practices affect populations of game animals.
Based on the success of this project, each of the other 14 Kayapó communities
has asked CI to collaborate on a conservation-based development project. CI plans to expand its work as resources allow and draw in other partners to help the Kayapó manage their huge territory for both sustainable development and biodiversity.
The conservation alliance between CI and A'Ukre has been successful because of three main components, says Barbara Zimmerman, director of the Kayapó Project, CI-Brazil; all are necessary for expanding such work.
"First, not only do the Kayapó have legal authority over their own land, but they have a traditional decision-making process that allows them to successfully manage a common resource — the forest. An individual from A'Ukre can't just say 'I want to sell those trees.' The community can say 'no' and make it stick."
Second, benefits are tied directly to conservation. As long as the trees are protected, the community gets benefits from the research station.
The third criterion for success here, Zimmerman believes, is the long-term commitment of an outside agency. "CI performs functions for the Kayapó, such as management, administration, accounting and so forth. The Kayap provide the land and guiding skills. It's a collaboration. We're both in it for the long term."
All Kayapó communities are also entering an official agreement for CI to help with border surveillance. Pressure along the border is increasing, especially since the completion of a paved road along the western border. To counter this, CI is providing boats, radios, overflights and training for border patrols. And to determine where invasion threats may be most likely, CI scientists are also gathering satellite and aerial survey data.
In 2002, CI concluded an agreement with FUNAI, Brazil's Indian affairs agency. The first agreement FUNAI has ever signed with an environmental organization, it formally recognizes CI's work with the Kayapó and Panar nations.
Site: Kayapó Indigenous Territories
28.4 million acres (11.5 million hectares)
Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, CI's Global Conservation Fund, The Smart Family Foundation, Inc., Alfred Jurzykowski Foundation, the Armand G. Erpf Fund, the Mulago Foundation
Other major partners:
FUNAI (Brazil's Indian affairs agency), Associao Floresta Protegida
SEE ALSO: Priority Areas: Hotspots