Indigenous People are Vital for Forest Conservation and Healthy Ecosystem 

Indigenous People are Vital for Forest Conservation and Healthy Ecosystem 

Around 12 miles northwest of downtown São Paulo lies Yvy Porã, one of six villages that make up the Jaraguá Indigenous Territory. It’s surrounded buildings of working-class neighborhoods, but this small area of forest is part of a much larger whole: Brazil’s Atlantic Forest. 

This forest is an area which covers almost 35,000 square miles, running along more than 1,800 miles of the Atlantic Coast 

In 2016, an indigenous community noticed that the bees were gone. According to Jurandir Jekupe, a leader in the Guarani Mbya community, “Bees are very sensitive. They’re like a thermometer for the forest. If they disappear, you know there’s something wrong.”  

When Jekupe was growing up, he could see the bees’ nests in the village. But then, uruçu, a species known for its honey, had vanished, and sightings of the jataí, a species sacred to the community and the village, were rare. 

The loss of bees might be contributed by logging of this forest, which is still considered the second largest rainforest in Brazil. Since the 16th century, deforestation has been rampant due to the need for timber, mines, coffee plantations, firewood, sugar, beef, charcoal, and of course, housing.  

When the populations of native bees diminish, the health of the forest continues to decline. And without pollination from the bees, the forest that remains like the one in Yvy Porã has struggled to survive. 

Bringing back bees to their habitat 

Trying to find solutions that would bring the bees back, the indigenous community brought back the idea of villagers in the state of Espírito Santo who had also lost its native bees. The villagers there started buying bees and raised them in wooden hives, ultimately reintroducing them to their land. 

Fortunately, it worked. Restoration and conservation of tropical forests in Brazil depends on plant species that rely on bees’ pollination, according to a study which was published in the journal Ecological Applications.  

Looking specifically at the Atlantic Forest, the researchers suggested that conserving bee populations should be a priority for forest restoration. 

And to make sure that such efforts succeed, the trees and the bees now needed help from the people who have lived among them for the longest time and had a deep connection to their land. 


Northern Tanami Indigenous Protected Area. Photo by David Nash Wikimedia Commons


The importance of indigenous-community-managed lands 

Indigenous communities in Brazil are known to be land protectors, and a new study of those living in the Atlantic Forest confirms it.  

They push back against further attempts at deforestation, and they do initiatives to restore biomes like the Atlantic Forest, like reintroducing native bees and planting trees or vegetation which had been gone before. 

But the effects are not limited to Brazil alone. Across the world, studies and research have found that in most cases, lands or areas managed by indigenous communities lead to a more satisfactory result in terms of conservation and positive impacts to climate change. 

For example, according to the World Resources Institute, lands under indigenous management in the Amazon suffer less deforestation than those outside indigenous control. As a result, the lands tend to be net carbon sinks rather than net carbon sources. 

Another study published in the journal PNAS Nexus examined 129 Indigenous lands in the Atlantic Forest. The researchers found that each year after giving control to the communities, forest cover increased 0.77% compared to the uncontrolled territories. That’s why the study highlights the importance of granting formal land title to indigenous communities in the forest. 

And now, more environmentalists agree that forest communities often make better custodians of their forests than do formally protected national parks. 

Moreover, a 2022 study published in the journal Current Biology examined tropical forests across Asia, Africa, and the Americas.  

Here, the researchers discovered that the forests located on protected indigenous lands were the healthiest, highest functioning, most diverse, and most ecologically resilient. 

Lead author Jocelyne Sze stated that in all the regions they analyzed, forests in areas where protected lands and Indigenous lands overlapped had higher forest integrity than in any other category. To be specific, The Americas had the most land that fell into this category, while Africa had the lowest. 

Challenges facing the forests and indigenous communities 

Giving control of land to the forest communities isn’t done evenly. Some if not most indigenous groups are working at a disadvantage. Mainly, they are not backed financially by people outside their community and by the federal government. 

Additionally, some areas in the planet are still rife with issues, particularly regarding indigenous people.  

According to Sze’s theories, “In a lot of Asia, Indigenous lands and Indigenous rights are not recognized. So, while an area may be categorized as traditionally Indigenous, Indigenous people may not have control over the land.” 

Sze added that in some of those areas, there are a lot of minerals, oil, and gas deposits. “It’s not surprising that those lands are often really exploited,” Sze said. 


An area inhabited by the Guarani Mbya. Photo by CPERS Sindicato Wikimedia Commons


Continuous efforts to restore balance in the forests 

Despite the challenges, some communities still try their best to bring back what had been lost in the forests. Some communities now focus on removing invasive species from the forest. 

In the Atlantic Forest, the Guarani Mbya have tried to remove coffee plants which slowly displace native species, as well as old plantations of eucalyptus which suck up too much water and leading to overly dry soil and erosion. The Guarani Mbya have been replacing these plants with native species like brazilwood, mate, and palmito juçara. 

Unfortunately, since they receive less than favorable support, they’ve had to purchase seedlings and saplings. Jekupe then showed a small tree recently planted next to a grouping of beehives which still has a price tag hanging from its trunk. 

“Forty-five reais. Who would have thought we would have to pay for trees for our own land?” Jekupe said. 

The fight to keep forests healthy 

Restoring native plants is crucial to help with the changing environment, as they promote healthy ecosystems.  

A study from the Simon Fraser University historical ecologists suggests that ancient forests contain more biologically and functionally diverse species and create important habitats for animals and pollinators.  

In this study, they looked at ancient forests which were once tended by Ts’msyen and Coast Salish peoples living along the north and south Pacific coast. 

These forest gardens continue to grow at remote archaeological villages on Canada’s northwest coast. Native fruit and nut trees and shrubs grow there, including important medicinal plants and root foods like wild ginger and wild rice root. 

The research highlights how indigenous communities have improved inhabited landscape. And, they were keystone builders, facilitating the creation of habitat in some cases.  

Basically, indigenous management practices are linked to ecosystem health and resilience, so they’re vital to maintain the health of the forests and should be incentivized, supported, and encouraged to restore lost portion of the forests. 

The study’s co-author Jesse Miller said, “Human activities can also have substantial benefits for biodiversity and ecosystem function.” 

Some studies argue that scientists and indigenous communities should work together to prepare ourselves for the rapidly changing world. This partnership could help humanity understand how natural and cultural systems affect each other. 

The indigenous communities, however, are more inclined to partner with the government, as decisions is normally made from it. “If we want to save the forest, we need the government to officially recognize that this is our land. 

“We’re the ones who see the consequences of deforestation, who feel the consequences of climate change, every single day. And if they step out of the way, we’re the ones who can do something about it,” Jekupe said. 



Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.