Protecting the Amazon: Local communities & NGOs, a joint effort
Deforestation and forest fires are some of the worst threats the Amazon faces —and the indigenous communities who inhabit the forest are the best protectors against them. But they also have the support of NGOs like the Amazon Conservation Association, which has developed a fire monitoring app to ‘catch’ forest fires before they spread out of control.
We spoke with Ana Folhadella, Communications Manager at Amazon Conservation, about their efforts and achievements in stopping deforestation and forest fires in the Amazonian rainforest.
Qara Editor: Tell us about the association’s monitoring app and how it pinpoints major fires in the Amazon.
Ana Folhadella: The real importante of the app is that it’s able to alert people in real time. It’s checked daily so we can tell governments and locals: “Hey! This area is burning”, or: “This is a protected area, it should not be burning.”
The app works by merging two types of technology: satellite images and aerosol data, which is gathered by satellite as well. By unifying that data you are able to see if there is smoke in the air, if a certain area is not just deforested but actually burning.
The prevention element here is key: this way, localized fires don't become forest fires that will burn thousands and thousands of acres. By alerting authorities in real time we make sure it doesn't get to a point of no return. Of course, forest fires still happen, and only local governments and communities have the power to stop them.
QE: Are there ways to prevent the fires, even small ones, before they start?
AF: We are promoting the fire free development of the region. So instead of deforesting an area for cattle ranching, for example, we promote going a more sustainable route, like harvesting Brazil nuts and acai berries, which is safer because there is no need for slash and burn agriculture.
There is also the element of training local communities to respond in the case of a forest fire. We do that specially in Bolivia, where forest fires are unfortunately very common. We don’t work on the ground in Brazil, but we share the information from our app with government officials, local organizations and the media. This way, the public at large can see what is happening and they can create pressure so the government takes action.
QE: Tell us more about your work with indigenous communities to stop fires and deforestation.
AF: Our work with indigenous people happens in three different ways. The first way, like I mentioned, is to help these communities develop a sustainable production of forest products. We help them by making sure their forests aren’t degraded, because products like Brazil nuts and acai berries can only grow in healthy forests. And we also want to make sure that they are making a good living, so we help improve their wellbeing by increasing the value of the goods they produce.
The second way is with direct protection of their ancestral lands. That can include aiding with the legal titling of their lands, to make sure they have the rights, in the government’s eyes, to claim the forest as their own; because most of these communities have lived there for millennia and have never needed paperwork.
We also monitor their forest via satellite to make sure that if there are any incursions in their territory we alert them, and the authorities, so they can take action on the ground. The last way is to help them become extremely self-sufficient in protecting their territories. Instead of us providing the data, we are giving them access to the technology itself, as well as training, capacity building and the legal tools for them to do this monitoring themselves, which is what they have been telling us they would like to do.
QE: Scientists have warned about the Amazon reaching its “tipping point”, what does that mean and how does it relate to deforestation?
AF: The rainforest produces its own rainfall, so it's a cyclical process: Once we deforest a certain area, that means that area cannot produce its own rainfall and it becomes a savannah. That is what scientists call the ‘tipping point’ of the Amazon. It’s the point when deforestation is going to be so high, at around 20% to 25%, that the forest will not be able to produce enough rainwater for its own survival. So it won’t be a rainforest anymore; at best, it would become a dry savannah.