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Celebrating indigenous peoples effort to protect forests, and the planet

From If Not Us Then Who: Indigenous peoples live and work in the lands they protect–and have been found to be the most effective guardians of the world’s forests. This International Day of Forests, we are taking the opportunity to celebrate their work they’re doing globally to protect our forests, and, in turn, our planet.

If Not Us Then Who

When we think of ‘saving the rainforest’, we might think of tree-planting, buying less and recycling more. But these important actions are just part of the picture. Indigenous peoples live and work in the lands they protect – and have been found to be the most effective guardians of the world’s forests. This International Day of Forests, we’re taking the opportunity to celebrate the work they’re doing globally to protect our forests, and, in turn, our planet.

Pressures on the world’s forests continue to build. From palm oil and soy plantations, to timber logging, cattle grazing and mineral mining, our growing population is demanding more and more from these resource rich areas. And while legislation is keeping some of the threats at bay, the majority of the world’s forests are continuing to face challenges to their existence.

Amidst these pressures, some areas of land are being razed to the ground while others are still standing. Why? Deforestation has been found to be five times higher outside of indigenous territories and conservation units, according to a recent study by RAISG (The Amazon Network of Georeferenced Socioenvironmental Information). In other words – the indigenous communities living and working within the forest are proving to be the best line of defence against deforestation.

Using their extensive knowledge of the forest ecosystem, these communities are using sustainable practices to live in a way that protects – and even regenerates – the land. Although they account for just 4% of the global population, they protect more than 80% of the world’s biodiversity (source: World Bank). By cultivating clean waterways, tackling forest fires, and restoring the habitats needed for rare species, they bring the land back into balance – and keep it that way.

This work doesn’t just protect the forest – it supports the planet. Forests act as a carbon sink – absorbing and holding on to carbon, preventing it entering the atmosphere and contributing to climate change. This stored carbon is released into the atmosphere when trees are logged and burned, making it all the more critical that forests are left standing.

As much as 24% of the carbon stored above ground in the world’s tropical forests – an amount that is more than 250 times the global air travel emissions of 2015 – is found in indigenous territories. Thanks to indigenous communities, this carbon is being kept in the ground, and complex ecosystems and rare species are being given a chance to thrive.

Indigenous peoples continue to defend and protect this land, but it’s coming under increasing threat from land thieves, agribusiness and mining companies. As pressures mount, and we race to prevent a catastrophic 2 degree temperature rise by 2100, there’s a growing sense of urgency to safeguard the earth’s forests.

Indigenous peoples continue to work tirelessly as the most effective guardians of the forest. These communities may be small in number, but their positive impact on the earth’s forests – and its future – is huge.


The Bishnois, India’s original environmentalists, who inspired the Chipko movement
Ishrath Humairah, TreeSouls
The Bishnois may be considered as India’s first environmentalists. The famous ‘Chipko Movement’ was inspired by the true story of Amrita Devi Bishnoi, who refused to let the king’s men cut trees in her village. Her head was severed. More than 300 people who did the same were killed for trying to protect the trees.

Video: Aluna – A Warning from the Kogi of Sierra Madre
Charles Eisenstein, Tikkun.org
In this film, the colonial gaze is turned back on the colonizers—sternly, imploringly, and with very great love. The Kogi tell us, “You mutilate the world because you don’t remember the Great Mother. If you don’t stop, the world will die.” Please believe us, they say. You must stop doing this. “Do you think we say these words for the sake of talking? We are speaking the truth.”

At the heart of India’s raging tribal insurgency is a simple thing: respect
Madhu Ramnath
Time and again we have heard that the Naxal insurgency is due to “under development” in areas like Bastar. Education is also supposed to deter Naxalism, according to some, but one may ask whose education? Fundamentally it’s about respect, dignity and trust in our behaviour towards others, in this case the Adivasi.

Indigenous people are fighting to save the earth for all of us
Pamela Leiva Jacquelín, Intercontinental Cry
Representing 5 percent of the world’s population, today many Indigenous Peoples are still excluded from society and deprived of their rights as equal citizens of a state. Living in 70 countries and speaking more than 4,000 native languages, they have gained increasing visibility for raising their voices on aggressive development policies that threaten the world’s remaining ecosystems and the biodiversity that depends on them. As the world moves fast to explore and exploit these ecosystems to meet increasing consumption, Indigenous Peoples are at the top list of those murdered for defending their land.


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