Jungle ICTs – how Greenpeace teamed up with the Ka’apor to save the Amazon

 

One of the world’s greatest environmental tragedies is happening right before our eyes.  According to Greenpeace the destruction amounts to about six football pitches a minute. Mainly mining, agriculture and other economic activities causes the deforestation. However, Amazon native Indians teamed up with Greenpeace back in 2015 and with the help of a little bit of ICTs they are fighting back.

A Paradise Lost?

 The Amazon rainforest is the world’s largest rainforest. More than 180 different ethnic groups (more than 24 million people) call it their home. It covers more than 2.6 million square miles and expands throughout Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela, Surinam and French Guyana.

Over the last 40 years the Brazilian part of the Amazon has been reduced  by a fifth of its’ total size. The deforestation in the Amazon rainforest is not only a local environmental tragedy – it has some very wide stretching global effects.

The Amazon works as a sort of a global lung. As deforestation advances CO2 is released into the atmosphere and the rainforest’s ability to absorb CO2 in the atmosphere is already severely decreased.

Deforestation of the Amazon increases and accelerates global warming. There is no sign of the current deforestation rhythm decreasing. In neighbouring countries a similar development is being seen.

 

[youtube]https://youtu.be/3HusBCLws0Q[/youtube]

 

How can this development be deterred?

The ka’apor : Tribe On The Frontline

Those who are directly affected by the Amazon deforestation are the many tribes who live in the rainforest. Some of these never even had contact with “civilisation”. Others still live in the same way as they have been living for thousands of years with only sporadic interaction with majority society.

In September of 2015 one tribe in the Brazilian Amazon took matters into their own hands. The Ka’apor tribe started setting up surveillance cameras in their area. Alongside Greenpeace they are aggressively keeping illegal lodgers and others who attempt to destroy the forest out.

Armed with a strange combination of arrows, GPS, trackers and cameras they hope to use technology to do something about the illegal lodging going on in their area and hopefully make the rest of the world aware of what is happening to them.

No doubt this is dangerous business. In 2014 Eusebio, a chief of the Ka’apor, was murdered by illegal lodgers. The cameras, with the support of Greenpeace, are placed out in the forest and activated via motion detectors. Later on, they are collected by the Ka’apor in order to analyze the recordings.

 

“We are standing up for what is ours. My father is gone, but I’m here fighting next to my people. We are all relatives…We’re the Ka’apor. We will not forget. Our spirit is very close to the jungle, not to any city.”

Iraun, son of Eusebio, the a Ka’apor chief that was murdered last year.

ICTs in the Amazon: Potential But Still Some Way To Go

Getting a good reception in the Amazon for internet access is definitely easier said than done. Thus, to be able to actively communicate and share the information collected by communities like the Ka’apar to the rest of the world was not possible back in 2015 and still is a problem. However, it seems evident that Internet connection, smartphones and clever use of technology can be powerful tools for communities facing the dangerous struggle of preserving the rainforest in the Amazon going forward.

Because what is clear from the work done by Greenpeace and Ka’apor is that is extremely dangerous.

Armoured vehicles, murders, threats is part of the everyday reality for those brave enough to stand up to illegal lodgers and other powerful economic players (i.e. soy bean industry, ranching) that benefit from the deforestation in the Amazon.

Such threats become more costly in a world where those who are under threat can tell others about what is happening to them and why. This also, indirectly, puts pressure on the Brazilian government to act up against deforestation in the Amazon. A passivity that was, according to the Ka’apor, the very cause of them taking matters into their own hands.

What’s next? 

Technology most definitely has a key role to play in saving the Amazon.

First of all, it seems likely that the kind of actions taken by Ka’apor will be much more effective with tech-tools that can help those who protect the forest to see more in the vast Amazon basin.

Secondly, it allows for tribes and other groups to submit information about their situation to authorities and society at large. Such information could hopefully raise awareness and put these groups in touch with supportive mechanisms overseas.

Photos (unless noted differently in the photo) by Felipe Larrozza for Vice – Motherboard Brazil.

 

2 Comments

  1. JW

    Thank you very much for this interesting post. I am impressed by how your post manages to cover so many of the complex factors connected to the deforestation problem in the Amazon region.
    You make reference to ICTs being a helpful tool in awareness-raising and information-sharing about the ongoing deforestation and its consequences, and I would say that this is very necessary as a first step. In addition, I think that as a second step, it is also interesting to consider how ICTs can be a helpful tool, for instance, in geo-mapping activities of indigenous territories. This aspect could also be relevant to the territories of uncontacted indigenous populations as many times contacted indigenous populations have knowledge about the dimensions of neighbouring uncontacted indigenous populations and their territories, so that protective corridors surrounding territories of uncontacted indigenous communities could be improved/expanded. In addition, I think that ICTs can be a helpful tool for indigenous communities to promote their ancestral knowledge on the protection of the rainforest and for claiming their indigenous rights to keep on protecting their ancestral territories as for instance companies close by their territories are polluting their rivers making their traditional lifestyles impossible etc. Like you say, ICTs are a tool for documenting to the world what is happening. Ecuador’s Sarayacu tribe, for instance, has been able to both connect to supportive mechanisms as you mention in your post, but also to use ICTs to promote their viewpoints, claims and ancestral knowledge (see http://sarayaku.org/). I was wondering whether you have come across the report by the UNESCO on Indigenous Peoples and the Information Society: Emerging uses of ICTs (http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0026/002607/260781e.pdf), which summarizes many of the benefits of ICTs for Indigenous communities. According to your expertise, how could ICTs additionally benefit indigenous communities in their fight against deforestation and for protecting their ancestors’ lands (knowing that it’s more than land – rather their habitat/cosmos).
    I am looking forward to hearing from you and thank you for your thought-provoking insights. Great Work!

    1. Max Filip Sundqvist

      Dear Jana,

      Nice to hear from you!

      Your idea about geomapping is something I definitely share. A problem that one faces when contemplating this enviromental tragedy is the fact that there is a lot that is unknown about the development. And things change fast; i.e. you might fly over a specific part of Madre de Dios in Peru in January and perhaps already a 3-4 months later the panorama might be completely different due to deforestation.

      This is an absolute nightmare from an activism perspective! How can you make sense of what you are suppose to focus on when it is ever changing? Here making use of people across the rainforest makes a lot of sense, via an application, for instance, they could report via photos what the situation is actually like on the ground to complement satelite pictures. But here the lack of infrastructure becomes a challenge again – connectivity is an issue and a fast internet connection can be achieved but is far from guaranteed (especially in these isolated areas where deforestation may be occurring). One project that is quite interesting is coming from Fundacion Telefonica in Peru which seeks to introduce ICTs and tablets in poor schools across Peru (not only the Amazon though, check out below video for an ad of the project).

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f9vdBGwlxeI

      Another problem is political – we cannot ignore this – if for instance Bolsonaro wins the upcoming elections in Brazil there is a big problem emerging as he is intimate with the big agro sector in Brazil (His political program is sometimes referred to as shaped by “Steak, Bullets and Bibles” ( http://theconversation.com/boeuf-balles-et-bible-ces-puissants-reseaux-qui-portent-le-candidat-bolsonaro-au-bresil-105017 ) as he is intimate with evengangelists, pro-guns and big land owner segements. Obviously these are people who disregard any efforts to stop deforestation in Brazil as in fact they benefit from it. The political interest is key – because in theory it is very difficult to cut down trees in the amazon legally.

      However, there is a tremendous problem of impunity. In Peru and Brazil, where the problem is huge, authorities lack the resources or/and the will to dispatch and stop the lodging from happening. If politicians were to go
      ahead and actually actively support the economic activity behind deforestation and be frivilous about the rainforest loss then things could get worse in the future.

      The Brazilian election is important for many things, partly because of the rainforest but also because of many other social issues as Bolsonaro has been quite open about his support for some of the military dictarship period in Brazil during ca. 1950-1970. He has been racist, mysogynist and is right wing populist (sometimes referred to as the “Trump of the Tropics”.)

      So I believe that yes ICTs can help and should help but we also need to have a more proactive attitude from political and social groups outside the amazon, in Latin America and beyond.

      Perhaps ICTs can help to create the required bands to the Amazon and to promote such a shift in attitudes. However, I believe a more general understanding of the ecological disaster that modern capitalism is headed towards is required. Such realisation would most likely require a complete reassesment of modern capitalist economies. That is not something that is going to come easy.

      With kind regards,

      Max Sundqvist

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