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18 February, 2010
Photo: Christian Aid
'Deforestation releases more carbon into the atmosphere than all the world’s planes, cars and boats combined.'
An occasional series looking at the work of Christian Aid's partners.
In its work with traditional Amazon peoples in their struggle to protect their territory, Christian Aid partner the Pro-Indian Commission (CPI) is merging the defence of forest people’s rights with the fight against deforestation and global warming.
Deforestation releases more carbon into the atmosphere than all the world’s planes, cars and boats combined.
However, the Quilombola people in the northern Amazon exemplify how saving the rainforest is about protecting people's rights as well as preventing climate change.
As one Quilombola community leader Hugo de Souza puts it: ‘If you cut down the forest, we’ll all die.’
The Quilombola are the descendants of slaves who escaped Brazil's plantations and fled deep into the Amazon for security and protection.
For decades their isolation helped to keep them safe. But now loggers, miners and cattle ranchers are encroaching on their territory.
The Quilombola are, once again, under threat. Most of these industrial trespassers are operating illegally. However, the Amazon is so vast and remote that it is very hard for the authorities to monitor activity and uphold forest protection laws.
That’s why it’s so important for the people who live in these remote areas to know how to protect themselves.
Under Brazilian law, the Quilombola have the right to apply for legal ownership of the forest lands where they have lived for generations.
When Quilombola communities lawfully own the lands they occupy, they are protected, as if by an invisible shield. They can use the courts to challenge and evict trespassers.
But Quilombola people, many of whom did not go to school, do not have the expert legal knowledge needed to make this happen.
CPI helps Quilombola communities to understand and negotiate the complex legal and bureaucratic processes necessary to make land claims and challenge trespassers.
There are 34 Quilombo communities in Oriximiná, numbering about 8,000 people. CPI has already helped 24 villages – some 7,000 people – to obtain the title deeds to their territory. Claims by the remaining ten communities are in progress.
When all these claims are processed, an area of forest three-times the size of the Lake District will be under Quilombola ownership and protection.
And, as Hugo de Souza says: ‘When you own land you have security. No one can kick you out.’
Christian Aid only began working with CPI in 2008. In Oriximiná many of CPI’s activities are carried out through the local Quilombola association, ARQMO. Christian Aid currently provides CPI and ARQMO with £30,000 a year. Its funding represents about a quarter of CPI’s total budget.
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