Nature and Biodiversity

To help the Amazon thrive, we need to listen to its 29 million people

To protect the Amazon Rainforest, it is imperative that we listen to those who actually live there.

To protect the Amazon Rainforest, it is imperative that we listen to those who actually live there. Image: REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker PW/KS

Odenilze Ramos
Socio-Environmental Activist, World Economic Forum Globals Shapers Hub Manaus
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Climate and Nature

  • The Amazon Rainforest is nearly unique in its biodiversity — but often overlooked are the millions of people that call the Forest home.
  • The Amazon's people have lived for centuries in a sustainable manner without harming the Forest.
  • Giving them a voice could unlock potential climate solutions and further sustainable local economic development.

Spanning nine Latin American countries and nine Brazilian states — 60% of the country’s territory— the Amazon rainforest is one of the regions with the highest biodiversity on the planet.

The Amazon River Basin is also essential for maintaining global climate balance. Still, the discourse in defence of the region too often overlooks the fact that it is also home to 29 million people.

In many circles of discussion, little is heard or questioned about this population's relationship with the Amazon, their experiences or their ancestral knowledge. But herein lies a potential answer to the climate crisis and the sustainable use of the forest.

The power of ancestral knowledge

Indigenous populations often possess vast and under-utilized knowledge; they have lived in harmony with the forest for hundreds of years. Among these populations are the "ribeirinhos" (riverine people), a people born out of the mix of black, indigenous and European populations with a "caboclo'' identity.

In the municipality of Iranduba, located approximately 60km from Manaus, the capital of the state of Amazonas, these communities have been developing through sustainable and community-based tourism. In doing so, they have proved the importance of ancestral wisdom and local culture and upheld their values.

  • The Rio Negro Quelônios Project is a species recovery project led by Viceli Costa, which applies in practice the three pillars of sustainability — social, environmental and economic — through environmental education, species recovery and income generation for the involved in the cause. The project consists of three stages: collecting the eggs of the chelonians like turtles, monitoring the first months of their lives and returning them to the wild.
  • Cheiro da Floresta, a natural cosmetics brand created by Suele Andrade, applies ancestral wisdom in its formulas and uses raw materials from the forest in its creations. Cheiro da Floresta creates unique products and uses natural raw materials taken from the forest, generating income and providing collectors of oils and other raw materials with the products in a sustainable way.
  • Gisele Silva preserves the culture of healing through medicinal herbs. She uses her knowledge of herbs passed down by her ancestors to connect tourists with the local culture and values ​​ancestral wisdom. Gisele provides environmental education through plants to travellers who visit her, connecting them with traditional knowledge through remedies and herbal baths.
  • Doce Amazônico, created by Alessandra Alves, uses regional fruits to make sweets not found anywhere else. Alessandra uses her knowledge of fruits to create different sweets with unique combinations, such as cupuaçú with Brazil nuts, cupuaçú with ginger and others.
  • Meliponário Flor do Táxi promotes climate education to tourists who visit the region by raising stingless bees. Meliponário Flor do Táxi not only sells products derived from bees, such as honey and pollen, but also opens the space and welcomes travellers so they can learn about the bees, climate issues and the main impacts on the lives and daily lives of the riverside population and bees.
  • Caboclos House, led by Nilde Silva, is an accommodation with riverside characteristics that values ​​regional architecture and uses riverside cuisine to promote caboclo culture. Caboclos House welcomes travellers from all over the world and supports community-based tourism, generating income for the entire community and region, directly and indirectly.

All these local entrepreneurs demonstrate the possibility of generating economic development in the region in harmony with the forest. They show us that the forest is worth more standing than being cut down.

We need to listen to the Amazon's people

We are approaching the possible point of no return from Amazon.

Development in the Forest needs to be sustainable, and traditional communities and indigenous peoples know how to do that. These populations hold ancestral wisdom and technologies that have been curing, feeding and generating income for thousands of years without destroying nature.

At this moment, the world needs to turn to these populations and listen to them in order to rescue, relearn and return to our nature. Doing so would allow us all to live in harmony with our environment, using only what is necessary and respecting the forest, rivers, oceans and land.

Have you read?

For those who live in the Amazon, the impacts of the climate crisis are already severe despite these populations contributing the least to the advancement of climate change. They are currently experiencing the worst drought in the last century, with severe consequences for the Indigenous populations who have limited access to the state’s amenities and aid.

To talk about the standing Amazon, it is necessary to talk about the people who live within the forest. We must listen to what they have to say. No one knows it better than them.

The Amazon is inhabited, and the main responsibility for keeping it standing are the Indigenous peoples and traditional populations it hosts: riverine, quilombola, extractivist, copaibeiro, rubber tapper and more. They are the ones who know how to manage the forest sustainably, they have the answer in their way of life — not in endless discussions with the political and business elites. The Amazonians have always had the answers; the world just needs to start listening to them.

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