Amazon Fires: Indigenous People Show Fire Can Be Used Sustainably

Amazon Fires: Indigenous People Show Fire Can Be Used Sustainably Laszlo Mates / Shutterstock

As thousands of fires rage across the Amazon, world headlines have highlighted the associated illegal deforestation and international outcry. But the implicit categorisation of all these fires as “wildfires” or even just “bad” fires hides the fact that fire is also used sustainably in the region. In fact, for numerous smallholders and Indigenous peoples, it is part of their livelihood and cultural practices.

The Amazon isn’t one continuous block of lush rainforest as in the Western imagination, but rather a landscape of multiple ecosystems including forest, wetlands and savannas. Indigenous and local communities use fire within these habitats in different ways.

For example, fire is used in small-scale rotational forest farming where typically half hectare plots are cut, burned and planted for a number of years, before being left to regenerate. And in the fire-prone savanna, Indigenous people use fire to drive and trap game such as deer or the pig-like peccary.

Key to traditional fire management is the burning of small areas at different times over the whole dry season, thus producing a mosaic of burnt and unburnt patches across the landscape. This reduces fuel loads, introduces natural firebreaks, and limits the potential for catastrophic fires.

For many Indigenous groups in the Amazon, their entire way of life is predicated on sustainable fire. For example, the Mebêngokrê (Kayapó) people, who live in a remote region of the Brazilian Amazon, use fire to hunt for tortoises. Fire is used to clear tall savanna grasses thus making tortoise burrows more visible and accessible. Hunts like this form part of extended traditional festivals with implications for social processes including courtship, community cohesion, youth initiation and inter-generational knowledge transfer.

Amazon Fires: Indigenous People Show Fire Can Be Used Sustainably August 2019 fire monitoring data for the Indigenous territory of Capoto Jarina (where the tortoise example comes from). Fires within the Indigenous territory (centre-right) occurred in savanna areas (top of image) that have not affected the forest, whereas fires outside the territory are a result of deforested lands (light coloured areas with sharp edges). INPE

The Wapishana and Makushi, in neighbouring Guyana, use fire for gathering resources such as burning along swamps before cutting palm leaves, smoking bees before collecting honey, and stimulating certain trees to fruit, as well as using fire to protect important areas such as sacred forests, farming plots and homes. For all these groups, fire intimately connects livelihoods, culture, history and beliefs.

Anti-fire discourse

Indigenous management has a wider impact: evidence from several satellite studies indicate that Indigenous lands have less deforestation and habitat conversion compared to surrounding areas. This means these areas are more biodiverse and store more carbon.

Yet, there is still a pervasive anti-fire discourse targeting Indigenous peoples and smallholders in the Amazon. In Venezuela, for example, the Indigenous Pemón have been labelled with the derogatory phrase “Pemones los quemones” (crudely translated as “Pemón the pyromaniacs”), and in Brazil there is a notion that Indigenous burning activities represent an inherently destructive mentality. This anti-fire rhetoric is widely used by interest groups in the Amazon, such as the powerful agribusiness lobby, to discredit Indigenous and local communities and as political narratives contesting rights to land.

Amazon Fires: Indigenous People Show Fire Can Be Used Sustainably Pemón people live in south-east Venezuela, and parts of Brazil and Guyana. They are not pyromaniacs. randomvariableintheuk / flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

It does not help that the satellite imagery currently used to monitor fires in the Amazon is typically 4km x 4km resolution – that is, it can only “see” in blocks of four kilometres. That means it cannot distinguish between small, controlled fires – perhaps only the size of a field, but large enough to trigger the satellite – and much larger wildfires.

Conflating distinct fire types – small, large, controlled, uncontrolled, intentional, accidental, sustainable, unsustainable – raises more problems. It impedes our understanding of the root causes of destructive wildfires, and aids the formulation of restrictive policies that further disempower already marginalised groups while giving more power and control to established hierarchies.

Climate change is a reality for marginalised groups in the Amazon, where drought produces more flammable forests. In a vast region with limited infrastructure, resources and on the ground enforcement, firefighting alone is not viable and not effective, today or in the future.

At the G7 summit, a group of wealthy nations pledged US$22 million for firefighting planes and military support to tackle the Amazon fires. But it’s a top-down, sticking plaster approach. That money may be much better spent on strengthening Indigenous and local community land rights, while supporting local communities to share their fire knowledge with decision-makers in order to revalorise and implement traditional fire management grounded in local realities and a changing climate.

About The Author

Jayalaxshmi Mistry, Professor of Environmental Geography, Royal Holloway

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Related Books

Climate Adaptation Finance and Investment in California

by Jesse M. Keenan
0367026074This book serves as a guide for local governments and private enterprises as they navigate the unchartered waters of investing in climate change adaptation and resilience. This book serves not only as a resource guide for identifying potential funding sources but also as a roadmap for asset management and public finance processes. It highlights practical synergies between funding mechanisms, as well as the conflicts that may arise between varying interests and strategies. While the main focus of this work is on the State of California, this book offers broader insights for how states, local governments and private enterprises can take those critical first steps in investing in society’s collective adaptation to climate change. Available On Amazon

Nature-Based Solutions to Climate Change Adaptation in Urban Areas: Linkages between Science, Policy and Practice

by Nadja Kabisch, Horst Korn, Jutta Stadler, Aletta Bonn
3030104176
This open access book brings together research findings and experiences from science, policy and practice to highlight and debate the importance of nature-based solutions to climate change adaptation in urban areas. Emphasis is given to the potential of nature-based approaches to create multiple-benefits for society.

The expert contributions present recommendations for creating synergies between ongoing policy processes, scientific programmes and practical implementation of climate change and nature conservation measures in global urban areas. Available On Amazon

A Critical Approach to Climate Change Adaptation: Discourses, Policies and Practices

by Silja Klepp, Libertad Chavez-Rodriguez
9781138056299This edited volume brings together critical research on climate change adaptation discourses, policies, and practices from a multi-disciplinary perspective. Drawing on examples from countries including Colombia, Mexico, Canada, Germany, Russia, Tanzania, Indonesia, and the Pacific Islands, the chapters describe how adaptation measures are interpreted, transformed, and implemented at grassroots level and how these measures are changing or interfering with power relations, legal pluralismm and local (ecological) knowledge. As a whole, the book challenges established perspectives of climate change adaptation by taking into account issues of cultural diversity, environmental justicem and human rights, as well as feminist or intersectional approaches. This innovative approach allows for analyses of the new configurations of knowledge and power that are evolving in the name of climate change adaptation. Available On Amazon

From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you InnerSelf.comelf.com, MightyNatural.com, and ClimateImpactNews.com at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.

 

enafarzh-CNzh-TWnltlfrdehiiditjakomsfaptruesswsvthtrurvi

LATEST VIDEOS

Can We Terraform the Sahara to Stop Climate Change?
by Real Engineering
Is terraforming the Sahara of the solutions to Stop Climate Change? We'll explore this idea in this video.
Allergens Are On The Rise In Canada's Urban Centres
by CBC News: The National
Canadians across the country say their allergies are getting worse.
Bill Nye And The Climate Crisis
by MSNBC
On a special show before a live studio audience, Bill Nye the science guy discusses the climate crisis with Chris Hayes.
How Greenland's Massive Ice Melt Will Totally Transform The World
by Channel 4 News
Remember that heatwave back in August? Well, the Arctic remembers it too. Record rates of ice melt have been recorded…
China Is Positioned To Lead On Climate Change As The US Rolls Back Its Policies
China Is Positioned To Lead On Climate Change As The US Rolls Back Its Policies
by Kelly Sims Gallagher and Fang Zhang
As the effects of climate change become more widespread and alarming, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has…
What Happens When The Permafrost Thaws?
by Official W5
Almost half of Canada sits on permanently frozen land called permafrost, but climate change is causing it to thaw and…
We Are Striking to Disrupt the System: An Hour with 16-Year-Old Climate Activist Greta Thunberg
by Democracy Now!
In her first extended broadcast interview in the United States, we spend the hour with Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old…
Annual Assessment of North Cascades Glaciers Finds Shocking Loss of Volume
Annual Assessment of North Cascades Glaciers Finds Shocking Loss of Volume
by Mauri Pelto
The summer of 2019 found the North Cascade Glacier Climate Project in the field for the 36th consecutive summer…

LATEST ARTICLES

How To Build A City Fit For 50℃ Heatwaves
How To Build A City Fit For 50℃ Heatwaves
by Adrian Pitts
The Persian Gulf is already one of the hottest parts of the world, but by the end of the century increasing heat…
Can We Terraform the Sahara to Stop Climate Change?
by Real Engineering
Is terraforming the Sahara of the solutions to Stop Climate Change? We'll explore this idea in this video.
Hope And Mourning In The Anthropocene: Understanding Ecological Grief
Hope And Mourning In The Anthropocene: Understanding Ecological Grief
by Neville Ellis and Ashlee Cunsolo
We are living in a time of extraordinary ecological loss. Not only are human actions destabilising the very conditions…
Healthy, Happy And Tropical – World's Fastest-growing Cities Demand Our Attention
Healthy, Happy And Tropical – World's Fastest-growing Cities Demand Our Attention
by Karine Dupré, et al
What does it take to be a happy and healthy city? In any city, myriad factors go into the mix – and of course we are…
The Government Is Right To Fund Energy Storage: A 100% Renewable Grid Is Within Reach
The Government Is Right To Fund Energy Storage: A 100% Renewable Grid Is Within Reach
by Andrew Blakers, et al
In a speech to the National Press Club yesterday, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull declared that the key requirements…
Allergens Are On The Rise In Canada's Urban Centres
by CBC News: The National
Canadians across the country say their allergies are getting worse.
High-tech Weather Forecasting Aims To Bring New Hope To Indian Farmers Facing The Devastation Of Climate Change
High-tech Weather Forecasting Aims To Bring New Hope To Indian Farmers Facing The Devastation Of Climate Change
by Sam Relph
The world’s largest network of automated weather stations, created to predict droughts and floods, is helping tackle…
Regenerative Agriculture Can Make Farmers Stewards Of The Land Again
Regenerative Agriculture Can Make Farmers Stewards Of The Land Again
by Stephanie Anderson
For years, “sustainable” has been the buzzword in conversations about agriculture.