BRAZIL- According to a new study, reservations in Brazil have acted as a barrier to deforestation over the past three decades, although the destruction of the Amazon rainforest has accelerated under far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.
According to a map from Map Biomas, a joint project from various environmental groups, universities, and startups, just 1.6 percent of the 69 million hectares (170 million acres) of native vegetation Brazil lost in the past 30 years were on Indigenous lands.
It found that 70 percent of the deforested area was on private property.
“It is clear from the satellite images that Indigenous peoples are slowing the destruction of the Amazon,” explained Tasso Azevedo, the project coordinator.
“Without Indigenous reservations, the forest would certainly be much closer to the ‘tipping point’ at which it stops providing the ecological services our agriculture, industries, and cities depend upon.”
The study’s findings are the latest among several studies showing that the protection of Indigenous lands is crucial to slowing the destruction of native forests, which are vital resources in the fight against climate change.
The indigenous reservations of Brazil account for 13.9 percent of the country’s total land area, occupying 109.7 million hectares (271.1 million acres) of native vegetation – almost one-fourth of the entire country.
Despite this, they face growing pressure from Bolsonaro, who was elected based on his promise not to permit the creation of “even a single centimeter more” Indigenous reservations.
Since Bolsonaro took office as president in 2019, the destruction of the world’s largest rainforest has surged. Bolsonaro has weakened environmental protections, arguing that they hinder economic development, which could reduce poverty in the region.
In Brasilia this month, 100 Indigenous tribes demanded more protection for their lands and denounced proposed laws that would allow the government to enlarge the rainforest.
Brazilian government data indicates Amazon deforestation in the first three months of 2022 set a new grim record.
Data from the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) showed earlier this month that deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon increased 64 percent over a year ago to 94,100 hectares (232,526 acres).
Land speculation and farming have been the major causes of destruction in Brazil, an agricultural powerhouse and the world’s largest exporter of beef and soy. Brazil is home to 60 percent of the Amazon rainforest.
When INPE data was made public, Raini Rajao, an environmental management professor at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, told Al Jazeera that the situation was “quite dire”.
“The fact that we are already at a record high and actually [seeing] numbers that are usually to be expected mid-year – when it’s drier and it’s actually easier to access the forest and do some damage – is indeed worrying,” Rajao said.