The Language of the Environment: A Comparative Environmental Thesaurus

The “Environmental Applications Reference Thesaurus” (EARTh) project, carried out by the Institute for Atmospheric Pollution at the National Research Council in Italy, is developing an advanced tool to be used for environmental information management and environmental policy and research. The project’s aim is increasing awareness among policy makers of the complexity of the environmental domain and of the cultural dimension of environmental knowledge. Thesauri are controlled vocabularies designed to allow for effective indexing, classification, cataloguing and retrieval of information. They consist of a network of semantic relationships, by means of which a representation of the meaning of each thesaurus term as well as of the conceptual structure of a knowledge domain is provided. Thesauri can be regarded as “semantic road maps” for information indexers and searchers and for anybody else interested in a systematic grasp of a given field. Existing terminological or knowledge organization systems at the international level do not provide an adequate and updated account of the environmental domain. To meet the present needs of environmental information management, more refined semantic structures are required, in the form of thesauri. continue reading–>

Training Indigenous Agro-Forestry Agents in Acre, Brazil: Indigenous and Modern Technologies for Sustainability

Credit: CPI/Ac archives

The Amazon region has largely been perceived as a boundless territory with unlimited resources to exploit. Due to its low population density, it has been viewed as an “empty space” to be colonized and to be integrated into the national economic landscape, and thus as a key to Brazil’s progress as a “modern” nation. During the 1960s and the 70s, the military government promoted a media campaign to encourage private owners to invest in the Amazon region – the national slogan was “a land without men, for men without land”. This resulted in marginalized farmers from the poorest regions of Brazil moving into the Amazon rainforest in quest of a better life. Over the past 35 years, the forests of the state of Acre in the western Brazilian Amazon have also been adversely affected by large-scale Brazilian economic interests, backed by financial resources obtained from credit institutions and by Brazilian government incentives for the establishment of large cattle ranches, the exploitation of hardwood, and agricultural activity. These incentives have led to considerable concentrations of private property, and serious conflicts have resulted from land takeovers, which have provoked confrontations between the “new owners of Acre” and the local indigenous populations and rubber extractors. This has led to a progressive loss of biodiversity and a scarcity of traditional sources of protein, which is evident in the increasingly deficient diet of the indigenous peoples in these areas. continue reading–>

Protection of an Indigenous Reserve: the Ka’apor People of Amazonian Brazil

The Ka’apor emerged as a people with a distinctive identity about three hundred years ago, probably between the Tocantins and Xingu Rivers in the Amazon Basin. They later engaged in a long and slow migration that took them into Maranhão State, in eastern Amazonian Brazil, by the 1870s. One hundred years later, in 1978, the Alto Turiaçu Indigenous Reserve (called Terra Indigena Alto Turiaçu today) was demarcated by Brazil’s National Indian Foundation (FUNAI). The reserve covers about 5300 km sq of high Amazonian forest and is inhabited by all remaining Ka’apor as well as by some Guajá, Tembé, and Timbira people. The Ka’apor, like many other settled Amazonian groups, are a horticultural people whose staple is bitter manioc. They grow about fifty domesticated plants, which are used for food, seasoning, medicine, fibre, tools, and weapons. In addition, they hunt game and gather fruit in the dense forests and fish in the tiny creeks of the reserve. Since the late 1980s, as much as a third of the reserve has been illegally deforested and converted to towns, rice fields, and cattle pastures by landless peasants, cattle ranchers, loggers, and local politicians. The present situation is marked by tension and escalating violence. Raids on indigenous villages by squatters and loggers and counter-raids by native people on squatters’ and loggers’ camps inside the reservation have occurred since 1993 with at least two fatal casualties. continue reading–>

A “Life Plan” for the Park: Culturally Appropriate Management in Brazil’s Xingu Indigenous Park

Credit: Amazon Conservation Team

Since 1996, the Xingu peoples have been working together with the Amazon Conservation Team (ACT) toward the goals of abating illegal incursions into the Park and establishing a culturally appropriate management scheme, called a “life plan”, for the Park and its inhabitants. The project, “Territorial Management in Brazil’s Xingu Indigenous Park”, developed maps of traditional territories, sacred sites, fishing and hunting locales, and other salient features of the landscape to drive the conservation of biodiversity in the Park. Initial activities involved biocultural mapping for Kamayurá indigenous ancestral lands, upon the direct invitation of the tribe. ACT equipped the indigenous researchers with handheld GPS units and provided training in ethnographic map composition, while western-trained cartographers assisted with the technical map assembly. In 2002, ACT and its indigenous partners completed maps of the Kamayurá and Yawalapiti areas of the Xingu Indigenous Park, covering 1,250,000 acres. In the process, ACT worked in collaboration with FUNAI and with the Pilot Program to Preserve the Brazilian Rainforest. The maps were released in a three-day ceremony in the Xingu. Since then, ACT and its indigenous partners completed the collaborative mapping process for the entire Xingu Indigenous Park, an area of over seven million acres of savannah and lowland tropical rainforest. continue reading–>

Promoting Cultural and Biological Diversity: An Educational Program for Rural Communities in Peru

Credit: Jorge Ishizawa

The “Andean Project for Peasant Technologies” (Proyecto Andino para las Tecnologías Campesinas, PRATEC) is a Peruvian NGO founded in 1988 and devoted to the recovery and valorisation of traditional agricultural practices and associated knowledge. PRATEC participates in the efforts of Andean Amazonian peasant communities to counter the socially and ecologically destructive effects of industrial agriculture and governmental agrarian policies. By using local knowledge and the practice of traditional “ritual agriculture” and through adopting a non-dualistic, eco-centric worldview, PRATEC supports the resurgence of local approaches to agriculture, which it sees as radically opposed to Western industrial agriculture. The Andean peasant practice of ritual agriculture embraces kinship-oriented visions of the land and encourages empathetic actions that illustrate respect for all living entities of the biosphere. Agricultural activities include ritual actions, utterances, and offerings that express both a deep respect for Pachamama (Mother Earth) and communitarian aspects that characterize the worldview of the Andean people. continue reading–>