How can land ownership protect the Amazon rainforest?

Dianne Castillo

Dianne Castillo

brazil-kayapo-indigenous - Camapgin for land rights

When land ownership titles are rightfully given to indigenous communities, the territory can then be protected by exploitation.  The leading way to do this is by partnering with non-profits to buy the land and protect it in partnership with indigenous peoples. The benefits of conserving the Amazon rainforest through land ownership is limitless.

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“This land is my land, this land is your land…”

Woody Guthrie wrote lyrics that are pretty appropriate to the situation in Latin America’s 2 million hectares of Amazon rainforest indigenous land.  Land ownership is a hotly contested asset in the Amazon rainforest.   Thousands of indigenous communities and over 500 species of land mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians are vulnerable to exploitation by the agriculture, logging, mining, gas and oil industries.  

The land ownership process is an arduous one but one that has lasting effects that will positively impact not only the world in its current climate but the future generations that will need to share the consequences of our action or inaction today. Ensuring lasting protection is our top priority.

Empowering Indigenous Communities

There are about 2 million hectares of indigenous land in the Amazon rainforest that has not been officially designated to any one entity.  Land ownership empowers local indigenous communities in Latin America to keep their traditions, people, animals and plants from prematurely becoming extinct.  Without legally recognized land titles, industries such as agriculture, logging, mining, gas and oil threaten to take the land for their own gluttonous purposes.  A study conducted by UC San Diego found that when a local tribe owned an Amazon territory, there was a significant 66% reduction in the number of deforestation rates. 

Brazilian native - Latin American indigenous

This is outstanding, and our motivation for urging the world to recognize that ownership of land does, indeed, matter if we want to mitigate climate change.  The strategy we need to focus on is partnering with non-profits to buy land rights and protect the indigenous people who have worked so hard to maintain the earth’s precious lungs.

Who Owns Indigenous Land?

Let’s take a look at land ownership.  What are land rights, and why does it matter?  You would think that since the native communities have inhabited the Amazon rainforest for quite some time, they naturally would be the owners.  Sadly, they are not, many communities not viewing land as personal property rather a public space available to all. 

When indigenous people obtain full property rights to their own land, it officially recognizes their original right and protects their regions from illegal deforestation.  In Brazil, full property rights are granted to indigenous communities through a legal procedure that is called demarcation.  Demarcation is a legal and physical process that usually takes years to complete.  

How Demarcation Works

There are four steps to the amazon rainforest demarcation process: 

  1. First, the physical boundaries of the territory are identified through an anthropological study
  2. Next, the National Foundation for the Indigenous Peoples (FUNAI) need to approve
  3. Then, the Minister of Justice must approve
  4. Finally, the land must be approved by presidential decree and registered in the national land registry 
The Amazon is on fire - Indigenous rights can help put it out

Before all of these approvals come forth, any third party has the right to dispute the demarcation of the territory in question.  This could result in non-indigenous parties living in those territories being resettled and financially compensated.  The above-mentioned approvals are crucial because, without them, their resources aren’t considered to be their own which means the government is not responsible for protecting them.  Trespassing, invasion and external use of their precious resources such as the 3,000-4,000 plant species, 600 bird species, 140 amphibian species or 60 mammal species.

Benefits of Indigenous Land Ownership

Homologation legally ceases all economic activity from the designated land territory, unless there is consent from both the tribe as well as the federal government. There is a strong link between indigenous tribes, biodiversity management, and reductions in Latin American deforestation.  This is thanks to the unique perspective that these native communities have.  By literally living in the few tropical rainforest habitats that the world has left, they understand that their demise would mean the earth’s ecosystem would be quite upset.

Once the land is rightfully owned by indigenous communities, it means that there are serious consequences for those who are illegally deforesting the Amazon rainforest which will undoubtedly discourage them from continuing.  After demarcation, if a law enforcement agency discovers deforesters they will charge them massive fines, ban them from the property, and are legally allowed to seize their equipment and material.  Land ownership would smash all of these problems. 

Brazil's indigenous peoples fight against Amazon dam threat

This reduction in deforestation could have many other positive impacts such as supporting steady rainfall, decreased droughts, reduced carbon dioxide emissions, less flooding, safeguarding the beautifully unique biodiversity, less fire and fewer people in poverty.  Ownership of land for indigenous communities will provide long-term habitat protection and will also ensure the relocation is not something they are forced to do because of the pressures of colonization.  Ultimately, all of these benefits will support the climate action goals that One Tribe has envisioned. 

Non-profit Partnership to Ensure Indigenous Protection

Ethical organizations who purchase the land rights and unprotected territories in Latin America’s Amazon rainforest are doing so in order to give indigenous communities the protection they need against self-indulgent industries that do not care about the ecosystem.  When the goal is to make a profit, considering endangered species or the people who live there is put onto the backburner.

Rainforest Trust, a U.S. non-profit organization, collaborated with CEDIA (Center for the Development of an Indigenous Amazon), a Peruvian non-profit organization, to create a new national park.  These two partners made the new park possible by working with local indigenous communities and Peru’s government.  The amount of years it takes to push for protection and land ownership is incredible. For example, this newly established park was made possible after nine years!  The Amazon will now be supported with the long-term costs that establishing and protecting the park will entail.  

Beautiful shooting of how Brazilian Natives lives in Brazil

One Tribe has partnered with the Rainforest Trust and CEDIA 

One Tribe has partnered with the Rainforest Trust and CEDIA to continue to close the unprotected gaps of land that still need a method to defend the integrity of their ecosystems.  The goal is to title ownership of land to 220 communities situated within six million acres of unprotected indigenous lands.  Once the indigenous communities become legal guardians of their natural resources, threats of exploitation become a thing of the past.  

The Amazon rainforest is a crucial part of the equation of global climate victory. The first step in tackling any problem is to understand it and accept that it is, in fact, a problem. Now that you’re aware of the utter importance of land ownership, sign-up to our newsletter and protect up to 5 acres of Amazon rainforest and simultaneously retain 3,675 metric tons of carbon dioxide storage without spending a single penny. 

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