Chief Almir Receiving Death Threats

In Brazil this past month, there has been a dramatic escalation of the threats against Chief Almir and other leaders who stand with him in opposing new changes to The Forest Code. Legislation currently being considered by the Brazilian government would reduce the protections in place against further destruction of the forest. These changes would greatly increase the amount of land that can be legally logged and may also provide retroactive amnesty for illegal logging.

logging-cacaol-brazil-1987

Earlier in July, Chief Almir traveled to the city of Brasilia with 11 other Surui leaders to meet with the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI), the branch of the Ministry of Justice responsible for Indigenous affairs. So far, the local FUNAI office in Cacoal has not responded to their requests for help and protection.  According to Almir, the most recent threats are from wildcat loggers (torieros) who view him and other Surui leaders as obstacles to their continued illegal logging of protected lands, including the Sete de Setembro extractive reserve.

There is a long history of danger to environmental activists in the Amazon region, far from the centers of Brazilian government.  This was brought to the world’s attention 23 years ago with the murder of Chico Mendes.  Mendes, a rubber tapper and environmental activist, had forged an alliance between the rubber tappers and indigenous peoples for sustainable development in the Amazon.  In 1988, after receiving death threats, he was assassinated at the order of a local rancher. Since then, many hundreds more have been killed.

This danger has intensified most recently with the conflict over the proposed changes to the Forest Code. In May, a prominent Brazilian conservationist and his wife were killed in the Amazon. Joao Claudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife Maria do Espirito Santo were found murdered inside the nature reserve in the state of Pará where they had worked for the past 24 years promoting the eco-friendly cultivation of nuts, fruit and rubber. In this case as well, the victim had warned of repeated death threats against him by loggers and cattle ranchers.  Other recent victims include Adelino Ramos, a farmer and leader of the Movimento Camponês de Corumbiara (Corumbiara Peasant Movement) in the state of Rondonia.

These killings may not linked or the work of the same forces.  But they are a reminder that anyone who poses a serious obstacle to the exploitation of timber and other natural resources in the Amazon will risk deadly reprisals. Please express your support for Chief Almir.  We have to pressure the authorities to take this matter seriously, and to protect those who protect the forest.

To protest the Forest Code and the gutting of Brazil’s  rain forest protection laws, visit www.avaaz.org
More information on Chief Almir’s current efforts on the Amazon Conservation Team’s Brasil site

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Chief Almir in Fast Company’s list of top leaders

In June, Fast Company magazine included Chief Almir in its list of the 100 most creative people in business for 2011. As leader of the Surui tribe, he has worked with Google Earth and with other organizations and indigenous leaders to resist the destruction of the forest, and to find creative and sustainable solutions for the future of the Amazon.

“The message I want to send is, Let’s Amazonize the world,” he told the magazine hrough a translator. “Let’s help save the forest. Do what is within your reach, to your capacity; that is the responsibility of each of us.”

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Children of the Amazon Collects High Honors in Nepal


Children of the Amazon recently picked up the Bronze Drum Award at the Nepal International Indigenous Film Festival. Denise Zmekhol  posted on ITVS Beyond the Box a report from her trip, reproduced below, along with some special footage from the film. Children of the Amazon will be rebroadcast on May 14 and 15 on the PBS WORLD Channel.

In April I was invited to participate in the Nepal International Indigenous Film Festival. I returned feeling very inspired by the 10 days I spent in Kathmandu. I met many indigenous filmmakers from Nepal and around the world. Although one nation politically, Nepal — the birthplace of Buddha — is truly a multiethnic, multilingual, and multifaith country.

It was an amazing experience to share Children of the Amazon with the Nepali audience, many of whom knew very little about the Amazon even though deforestation is a major issue in Nepal.

I was invited to do a personal presentation on the theme of the “Evolving Indigenous Woman” in conjunction with the film festival. I shared my perspective on what happens when development does not respect the environment, the individual or community rights. I also described the impact of this development both positive and negative on women and young girls.

I created a special clip with excerpts from Children of the Amazon to show the interaction among women as they discuss issues of rainforest logging and education; and how they relate to living in two worlds — the one before contact with outsiders (only 40 years ago) and the other, the result of that contact.

Most indigenous women I met during the making of my film viewed education as the means of coping with a non-indigenous world. The example I used in the clip was clear-cutting of the rain forest. Conflict is inevitable; how to survive without letting themselves being exploited by the economic power that continues to destroy their resources — including as Motira Surui says, even the fruit trees that the indigenous people use for food.

Denise Zmekhol receiving the Bronze Drum award

Denise Zmekhol receiving the Bronze Drum award

One scene that I used in the clip shows a symbolic clash between generations, one that seems universal in any culture. We see the elder Weiã telling her daughter how she would like to see her daughter wearing the same face tattoos that the Surui people have used for thousand of years. The daughter simply responds that she doesn’t want the tattoos.

After the screening people told me they were inspired by the way the film represented the span of time between the original photographs then and the young people shown now. The film festival honored Children of the Amazon with the Bronze Drum Award.

I also met with the Directors Guild of Nepal. Their struggle mirrors our own in terms of the need for funding. Their situation is even more difficult with no government support for filmmaking. What private support exists often seeks purely commercial projects. However the Nepali films I’ve seen capture the beauty of Nepal that I saw firsthand, and also reveal a country of economic struggle and armed Maoist revolution.

Nepal was a highlight in the presentation of my film around the world. I experienced once again the sensation that we are all connected through our shared fate of the planet and in that sense all of us are children of the Amazon.

The eyes of Buddha, who was born in Nepal, at Swayambhunath, also known as the Monkey Temple - Kathmandu, Nepal

The eyes of Buddha, who was born in Nepal, at Swayambhunath, also known as the Monkey Temple - Kathmandu, Nepal

Time off from the festival, a chance to explore Kathmandu's side streets

Time off from the festival, a chance to explore Kathmandu's side streets

A gazing holy man captured in passing during a break from the film festival in Kathmandu

A gazing holy man captured in passing during a break from the film festival in Kathmandu

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The Surui Carbon Project & Google Earth Engine

We are posting the latest chapter in the continuing story of the partnership of the Surui people and Google entitled The Surui Carbon Project: A Great Adventure. The new film clip runs 4 min and tells the story of how the Surui are using Google Earth Engine, a new technology, to measure and protect the trees of the rainforest.

Google Earth Engine is an online environment monitoring tool, a digital model of our planet that is updated daily and available to the world. It stores petabytes (millions of gigabytes) of satellite data and allows high-performance tools to analyze and interpret this information that can then be visualized on a map.  This platform can be used to measure rainforest changes in the Amazon, water resources in the Congo, or other important environmental resources.

I conducted several interviews with Google in Mountainview which we combined with footage taken in the Amazon by the Surui and their Carbon Project partners, including the Amazon Conservation Team (ACT Brazil), Metareilá, IDESAM, Kanindé, Forest Trends and FUNBIO. To learn more about the Google Earth Engine platform, visit their googlelabs page.  If you want to know more about the Surui, watch Children of the Amazon.

surui-carbon-google-earth-engine

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Connecting the UK with the reality of life in the rainforest

In this guest blog post, Sarah Hutchison from WWF-UK, tells us how the conservation organisation, a large media organisation and the government of Acre in Brazil (where Children of the Amazon was filmed) are working together to help reduce deforestation and improve the lives of forest people.

Sarah in Brazil © Sarah Hutchison / WWF-UK

Sarah in Brazil. Photo © Sarah Hutchison / WWF-UK

I’ve been at WWF-UK since 2001, and before that I spent eight years in Ecuador, working on conservation and sustainable development projects in the ‘cloudforests’ of the high Andes. My focus now is on the Amazon – and it’s an amazingly rewarding job!

In October 2009, WWF and Sky formed a partnership to help protect one billion trees in Acre state, Brazil, through Sky Rainforest Rescue.  The project aims to help tackle deforestation on a huge scale – covering about three million hectares of forest – bringing benefits for the people and species of Acre, as well representing an important step in tackling climate change.

Through Sky Rainforest Rescue we’re also showing people in the UK the wonders of Amazon but also the effects of deforestation, through news reports and programmes including special films like Children of the Amazon and high-profile celebrity expeditions with stars like Lily Allen.  We have also created an interactive virtual rainforest that has been touring the UK.

The BR364 highway (currently under construction) will run through the Sky Rainforest Rescue project area.  Photo © Sarah Hutchison / WWF-UK

The BR364 highway (currently under construction) will run through the Sky Rainforest Rescue project area. Photo © Sarah Hutchison / WWF-UK

Seeing the true value of the forests

The good news is that 88% of Acre is still forested – from the air you can see the breathtaking vastness of it all.

And these are not empty forests. They’re home to some uncontacted tribes (as Ivaneide Cardozo describes on this blog), 14 indigenous groups, rubber tappers, riberinhos (riverside dwellers) and subsistence farmers.

But trees, people and wildlife are all at risk from encroaching deforestation and development. The big challenge in the Amazon, as we know, is how to develop an economy where forests are considered just as financially attractive as cattle pastures or agricultural land.

However, unfortunately, forest land is often worth less than deforested land. The world economy doesn’t yet recognise the role that forests play in capturing and storing carbon from the atmosphere, helping generate rainfall, conserving soils and providing all sorts of benefits and services.

There’s been much discussion about an international approach to reducing deforestation – which has given rise to the concept of REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries).

The Acre government is designing a policy that will help value the environmental services the forest provides and reward local people for protecting it. The aim is to put into practice the concept of REDD+ and Sky Rainforest Rescue will help pilot this policy on the ground.

I believe the great legacy of Chico Mendes has transformed Acre. The state government is striving to create a forest-based economy to challenge the kind of development seen in other Amazonian states such as Pará or Rondônia (which are in the so-called ‘arc of deforestation’).

A farmer, Senhor Nonato, and his family who are benefiting from a scheme that Sky Rainforest Rescue is supporting (© Sarah Hutchison / WWF-UK)

A farmer, Senhor Nonato, and his family who are benefiting from a project that Sky Rainforest Rescue is supporting. Photo © Sarah Hutchison / WWF-UK

How Sky Rainforest Rescue works

Some large businesses have started to see they can play their part in making change happen to reduce tropical deforestation.

Sky has a customer base of nearly10 million people in the UK – one in three homes receives Sky TV. Sky Rainforest Rescue asks people to join forces with Sky and WWF by making donations to help protect one billion trees in Acre.  Sky will match what the public donates up to £2milllion in order to help achieve the overall joint target of £4 million.

On the ground in Acre, I can see for myself how this money will help make a difference. The project is focusing on a particularly vulnerable area: the BR364 highway is still being paved in one section. In that region (between the towns of Feijo and Manuel Urbano) the subsistence farmers live a very marginalised life, with no electricity and very limited opportunities to sell their goods.

The forest in this area is still in very good condition, but as history has shown in the Amazon, with a paved road comes illegal occupation, illegal logging and deforestation. The challenge is to change this dynamic – starting now, before the road is finished.

If you’d like to know more about the Sky Rainforest Rescue’s work on the ground, please visit the website [sky.com/rainforestrescue]

Bringing all this to the attention of the UK public is vital to the project’s success. And we are doing this by working in partnership with Sky.

My job has certainly been transformed in the last year. I’m glad to be able to work with my WWF colleagues in Brazil to make this project a success on the ground, and I’m thrilled to help bring the UK public along on the journey with me.

Oh, and by the way, anyone can help support the project, wherever you live – just visit our donations page.

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My Encounter with a Jaguar

Remember my first post about working with isolated tribes? Well, off we went into the jungle deep inside the Guajará Mirim State Park between the towns of Nova Mamoré and Guajará Mirim, in the state of Rondônia, Brazil.

Ivaneide with camera

Ivaneide giving an interview

There were three men and one woman (me). We drove a four-wheel-drive vehicle over a road that was mostly potholes resembling the craters we see on pictures of the moon. All they talked about along the way was the extra trouble, how women were such fragile creatures—it was clearly up to me to confirm that women couldn’t work among isolated indigenous tribes.

After traveling nearly 200 miles down a dirt road, we parked the car where some squatters were living in the park, heedless of the suspicious looks they gave us. We unpacked the food (2 pounds of salt, 10 pounds each of cassava flour, rice and sugar, a couple of pounds of coffee, a quart of vegetable oil, 5 pounds of dried beef and two cans of condensed milk), plus hammocks and tarps. We each had a 6′ x 9′ tarp, a hammock, a blanket, clothes for hiking and sleeping, a toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, a towel, and a pair of 6 foot ropes for stringing up the hammock. For utensils we had two saucepans, a coffee pot, five plates, five spoons, one knife, one 32-caliber rifle, four machetes, a camera, an unreliable compass, a file, a map of the area, a pen and a notebook

In divvying up the gear, it fell to me to carry the camera, maps, compass, pen and notebook — this in addition to my hammock, tarp, clothing and toiletry items. We stuffed everything in a backpack, and it was 3 PM by the time we got underway. We didn’t get far because nighttime comes early in the Amazon jungle, so we halted by a creek at 5 PM. Since I’m a lousy cook, I was put in charge of setting up hammocks and tarps while the menfolk cleared brush from beneath the hammocks, whittled forked sticks to hold the pots, gathered firewood and prepared the meal.

With the camp all set up I went to bathe in the creek. The water was clear and felt great, and I didn’t want to get back out — but it was getting late and dangerous. We ate the “mush” the guys made—rice cooked with macaroni (which was awful!). Then we told stories and jokes around the campfire and fell asleep amid the sounds of the jungle. At 6 AM we all got up, broke camp, had breakfast and resumed our trek. At times we chopped a trail through the jungle, otherwise we followed the creek, never venturing over 500 feet from the water.

We arrived at the banks of the Jaci Paraná, found a lovely waterfall and swarms of biting gnats and mosquitoes. There were so many mosquitoes that I dove into the water to try to lose them, but that didn’t work. They hung around draining our blood. To get across the river we put the backpacks in plastic bags and swam them all the way across to the opposite bank, all the while fearful of getting shocked by electric eels. Once across, we continued following the river bank until about 9 AM when we stopped for some cassava flour and condensed milk. That was delightful—it tasted like manna from the jungle goddesses. Once fed, we continued our hike alongside the river listening to the birds and watching bugs crawl and small game scamper… Ahead of us were strings of rapids, and pairs of macaws flying overhead.

After four days of hiking through gorgeous scenery, being bitten by bugs and feasting on fish, we followed a tributary shot through with rapids up away from the main river, and soon came to a cascade waterfall—magnificent to behold. We climbed the various levels with the water pouring over our sweaty bodies, and were soon cooled off and eager to see what lay over the top.

After shooting a lot of film with a camera no real photographer would be caught dead with, we arrived at the top of the waterfall and sat down with the compass to see where we were.

I forgot to mention that for days we had been hearing a strange sort of whistle. When asked for my take on it I said not to worry, that “The rubber-tappers say it’s a jaguar, but this one’s not about to attack us.” I was kidding, but had forgotten it was August — mating season for jaguars.

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Photo: ucumari under Creative Commons License

As we poured over the 1978 Radam Brazil image map to check our position, there was a rustling in the underbrush which quickly parted before us. There stood an enormous fantastic and quite dangerous spotted jaguar, sporting an excellent set of ivory-colored teeth strong enough to assure it an adequate diet.

We were too startled to know what to do. The men froze and I single-mindedly went for the camera shouting “Don’t shoot, don’t shoot. I want a picture of this.” They were too frightened to move, much less shoot.
Evandro recovered quickly. He grabbed his machete and charged the jaguar. He managed to give it a cut on the snoot, and the animal coiled back to spring. Rogerio swiftly grabbed his 32-caliber rifle and fired a shot over the splendid beast’s head, and off it sprinted into the forest.
Everyone turned toward me. Peeved that I hadn’t let them attack the jaguar, they wanted to skin me alive and stretch my hide for drumheads. I was so frightened by the three men that I trembled for a good half-hour.

After everyone settled down, we strung out differently on the trail. Rogerio and Fernando took the lead, with me in the middle and Evandro taking up the rear. And so we lumbered on in search of signs of isolated native groups living deep within the confines of Guajará Mirim State Park.

Later I’ll tell you about how our search for signs of isolated indigenous tribes led us to establish contact with Akun´su and Kanoé on September 5, 1995. See you then.

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Article about Chief Almir in Der Spiegel

speigel-online-chief-almir-surui

This week, the international edition of the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel ran an in-depth profile of Chief Almir and the story of the Surui tribe.  It includes a detailed description of the Surui Carbon Project and 50-year plan, and some recent events regarding the monitoring and protection of the forest.  Just last week, the Surui intercepted three trucks from the neighboring state of Mato Grosso as they were about to drive off with illegally harvested mahogany.

An interesting sidenote: the Surui have invented a word for Google in their language: “ragogmakan,” meaning “the messenger.”

And a touching view of a generation gap that spans two worlds: Almir’s interactions with his 87-year old father, Marimop.

Read the article
Download the PDF file

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Chico Mendes clip featured on Telegraph21

Telegraph21 is a curated video magazine that showcases international documentaries. Today and tomorrow, Telegraph21 will feature Children of the Amazon on their site. The clip they’ve chosen shows the story of Chico Mendes, a rubber tapper from the state of Acre in Brazil who became famous for his work in protecting the forest.

The clip begins with Chief Itabira Surui describing how Chico Mendes first forged the alliance between the rubber tappers and the indigenous peoples. The story of what they accomplished, and at what cost, is told by Raimundo Barros and Chico’s wife Ilzamar Mendes, interspersed with historical footage and the last interview that Chico himself gave one month before his death. Maria Elena Barbosa sings “In Xapuri (Chico Rei)” a haunting ballad that was written about Chico after he was killed. We see historic footage of the successful stand-off which Chico organized to save an area of the forest from being cut down, and we see Raimundo Barros at that time — nearly 20 years younger — patiently explaining to one of the rancher’s workers why the forest must belong to everyone.

This clip exemplifies the work of Chico Mendes and his companions. Often called “the Gandhi of the Amazon,” Chico worked very peacefully, focused on non-violent action and finding common ground. His legacy has been an inspiration to many, including Marina Silva, who grew up in a rubber tapper community, worked closely with Chico, and went on to serve as Brazil’s minister of the environment until 2008. Marina is now a candidate for the presidency of Brazil.

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Protecting isolated tribes

Ivaneide by the Madeira river which since has been flooded by the creation of a dam

Ivaneide by the Madeira river before it was flooded by a new dam

Some time ago Denise asked me to write about my work with indigenous peoples who live in voluntary isolation. I thought about it over and over. How would I tell about having to constantly battle the chauvinism of my friends who used to tell me this was a man’s work, that a woman was not capable of being part of it?

How would I tell about discussions that lasted for days until they realized that a woman is capable, and that I was not going to give up.

They reasoned that the survey of areas occupied by indigenous peoples living in isolation required many sacrifices; we had to stay from 60 days to 6 months right in the middle of the Amazon forest with no more than two changes of clothes – one for daytime, one for nighttime. We would have to sleep in hammocks with a 6 x 9 ft tarp over our bodies, and we would get very wet if it rained.

Moreover, they said, during hikes that started at 5 a.m. we would have to keep our eyes peeled to identify signs of natives; our trained eyes would notice bent and broken vegetation, and we would be able to tell when this was caused by a native person or by an “anta” (tapir). We would have to be skilled enough to walk through the jungle without touching the traps. When we would find arrows, ceramics, animal remains, harvested fruit, baskets… we would not be able to touch anything. We would record and map everything.

We would also have to report everything we saw–animals, plants, and whether it rained, whether the “white men” were threatening the lives of the natives. We would even have to report on what we ate, whether we were attacked by ants, caititu, alligators jaguars or any other animal living in the jungle. Or, even worse, we could be attacked by loggers, farmers, land-grabbers know as grileiros who destroyed indigenous lands.

The more they talked, the more I wanted to go, and I knew I could handle everything with no problem

I always defended the right of indigenous people who voluntarily want to live in isolation to do so without interference.

Our role is to protect their lands and their lives, but we shouldn’t make contact with them.

The forest fascinated me, and I was passionate about working with indigenous peoples.

The arguments of my male friends did not work on me, and since they could see I wasn’t going to stop saying I wanted to work with indigenous people, they gave up dissuading me.

This was how I became the first woman to work with indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation – and surveying the lands they occupy.

I used to weigh 84 pounds (I’m still skinny, though I try to gain weight), I had long hair, and the boundless energy that only those who believe in life have.

I’ll continue my story later, and I promise I will tell about the time when I was attacked by a jaguar, our onça pintada – one of the most beautiful animals in the world.

Ivaneide with her husband Chief Almir Surui

Ivaneide with her husband Chief Almir Surui


Ivaneide Cardozo is one of the founders of Kanindé, and has also been active in working on behalf of isolated indigenous tribes. These are tribes who are often aware of the civilization that exists beyond their forests, and also aware of the destruction and disease that comes with continued contact with that civilization. So they have chosen to remain apart, even if they have had some contact with outsiders at some point in the past.

For more information on efforts to protect isolated indigenous tribes, see these links:

www.survivalinternational.org/about/funai
pib.socioambiental.org/en/c/no-brasil-atual/quem-sao/Indios-isolados
pib.socioambiental.org/en/c/no-brasil-atual/quem-sao/contatados-e-protegidos
assets.survival-international.org/documents/14/One_Year_On_Survival_Report.pdf

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The Surui Carbon Project

Greetings! I’m Beto Borges, a Brazilian living in California since 1984.  I developed a profound appreciation for nature in my life inspired by my youth climbing and backpacking in the Atlantic Rainforest in Brazil and my grandfather’s tales about life in the early 1900s in the Cerrado of Minas Gerais. That appreciation brought me to the United States in the early 80s to climb and hike in the national parks, leading me to the summit of Mt. McKinley in Alaska, and study conservation of natural resources at UC Berkeley with a focus on community development. Over the years, I’ve had the fortune of working in several unique projects and organizations, focusing my work in the Brazilian Amazon for the most part.  Currently, I direct the Communities and Markets Program at Forest Trends.  Our goal is to link forest communities to emerging environmental markets in carbon, water, biodiversity and beyond, to leverage conservation and community benefits.

caption: Betto Borges visiting a Surui village

Beto visiting a Surui village

I’ve had the privilege to know and work with Almir Surui since 1992 or so, going back to his participation in the Centro de Pesquisa Indígena. Two years ago, Almir and I began talking about the Surui efforts to reforest parts of their lands in the 248,000 hectares territory in the Brazilian Amazon, state of Rondônia, that had been clear cut by loggers and cattle ranchers. I introduced the idea to support their reforestation efforts through carbon finance and in that way the Surui Carbon Project started.

Since then, through the vital leadership of Almir Surui, the Surui indigenous people, via their representative body, the Metareilá Association, together with partners ACT-Brasil, Kanindé, Forest Trends, IDESAM, and more recently FUNBIO, have been developing a pioneering REDD+ project to protect their forests. The project started as carbon sequestration through reforestation and evolved to its current REDD focus, that is, reduced emissions from forest degradation and deforestation. This process aims to be a model of good practice for indigenous engagement in REDD and has included an extensive process of community consultation, planning and training, technical assessment and baseline development for carbon accounting, as well as landmark legal analyses of indigenous rights and forest carbon.

The Surui are now at the point where they can initiate informed and equitable negotiations with potential investors to complete the remaining steps needed for successful finance and implementation. Consensus of the project technical team is that there is a very high probability of project delivering at least 300,000 tons of CO2 by end 2012 and approximately 2 million tons to 2020; thus providing a significant contribution towards climate change mitigation via reduced emissions from avoided forest degradation and deforestation (REDD). But perhaps even more important than the project’s direct contribution to control climate change, is the fact that the Surui Carbon project will provide bridge financing for the implementation of the Surui 50 years- development plan, a self-developed and  autonomous action plan for improved territorial governance and community well being.

For more detailed information, please leave a comment or question below, or contact me at bborges@forest-trends.org

Forest and river by the Surui village

Surui man using traditional bow and arrow

Forest and river by the Surui village

Forest by the Surui village

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