Indigenous and local communities are the world's best forest guardians—and we need their expertise now more than ever. As deforestation accelerates in the Amazon (thanks, in part, to COVID-related lockdown measures hampering environmental enforcement) and fires proliferate, we are losing a powerful ally in the fight against climate change: forests. Illegal incursions—driven by illegal mining, logging, and ranching—on protected and Indigenous land are common, especially in Brazil.
Brazil-based photographer Marcio Pimenta has been documenting rainforest destruction and Indigenous and local communities in the Amazon since 2018. Here he shares images from this long-term project, Man and Earth (parts of which were made possibly by the Rainforest Journalism Fund in association with the Pulitzer Center).
Representatives of 27 Wampís communities came together in 2015 to create an autonomous government in order to defend its territory and resources from the growing pressures of extractive industries. Extending along Peru’s northern border with Ecuador, the territory covers an area of rainforest one-third the size of the Netherlands and is home to 15,000 Wampís people. Leaders say their newfound autonomy has allowed them to directly expel illegal deforestation activities from their land.
In the Wampís community of Condorcanqui children play in the Santiago River at the end of a hot day. The word Wampís derives from the name of a fish known for its speed and ability to evade predators.
Outside Wampís territory in Bagua, Amazonas, Peru, a farmer harvests rice. Inside Wampís territory, rice monoculture is forbidden, as it damages the environment and generates C02 emissions. Each Wampís community member can cultivate up to five hectares; if all Wampis decided to do so, they would be growing on less than six percent of the territory.
A train loaded with iron extracted from the Brazilian Amazon cuts through the forest.
Illegal miners use heavy machinery to clear a mountaintop in the effort to extract manganese. Illegal mining not only destroys forests, it poisons waterways—and the Indigenous people who live near them—with mercury, which is used in the extraction process.
In Brazil’s Cerrado biome—the second largest in South America—criminals seeking land for soybean and cattle cultivation set fires. Deforestation in the Cerrado emitted 248 million tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2016—more than double what Brazil emits through industrial processes.
An unemployed worker salvages timber from a fire set by farmers to clear land. He plans to use the wood to make benches for a religious gathering in his community in Bajuri, Acre, Brazil.
Farmer Nelson Gaspareto Damo and his son Douglas Meazza Damo harvest yerba mate leaves on their property in Arvorezinha, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil. Yerba Mate is a staple in southern Brazil (Paraná and Rio Grande do Sul), Argentina, and Uruguay. Climate change threatens crop productivity, along with small family farms and traditions.