The Last Line Of Defence: Indigenous Communities And The Threat Of Invasive Agribusiness In Brazil

The Brazilian Amazon and the local Indigenous people who depend on it for survival are facing a new threat of encroachment by transnational agribusiness. After the widespread reports of the raging 75,000 forest fires towards the end of the last year, the recent election of far-right Present Jair Bolsonaro on January 1st puts this area of rich biodiversity at further risk. This government has already received national and international criticism for its aggressive policies, such as cutting rainforest protection by 25% and reducing the number of environmental fines by 43%. Additionally, Brazil has a history of threatening Amazonian locals who are vulnerable to both legal and illegal logging activity. For example, on November 1st 2019, Paulo Paulino, a member of the Guajajara ethnic group, was shot and killed while out hunting by loggers. These cuts and aggressive policies by Bolsanaro will only increase the threat of violence towards Indigenous people in Brazil.

The World Wildlife Fund reports that despite a history of legislative protections which uphold the rights of Indigenous Brazilian people “to live in traditional territories according to their lifestyle,” they have been consistently threatened by rogue and state-linked agribusiness. Amnesty International has cited Bolsonaro’s office as enabling “illegal seizures of Indigenous land, resulting in illegal intruders threatening and intimidating Indigenous people.” Compounding this are plans for administrative cuts in funding and the re-organisation of Brazil’s National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) and the Brazilian Institute for Renewable National Resources (IBAMA). These key offices, which maintain the boundaries of the Amazon and protect the interests of the 305 recognised Indigenous communities in Brazil, are now framed as an obstacle to Brazil’s development by Bolsanaro. Such shifts are further exemplified in recent political movements where the president of FUNAI was fired and replaced with a military officer. This move appeased the farm industry lobby and Bolsanaro supporters, yet is seen as a clear threat to the environment and will provoke further violence against local Indigenous people.

The Organisation for World Peace acknowledges that the Amazon is crucial to the fight against climate change (as it absorbs 5% of global CO2 emissions), and despite the importance of this ecosystem locally and internationally its protected status is at risk. 60% of the Amazon’s total landmass resides in Brazil and it has been upheld as a partially protected area, home to ten percent of known world’s biodiversity and 16% of the world’s river discharge into the ocean. Protective measures include the aforementioned FUNAI and IBAMA organisations and legislation that is in place to ensure nationwide Indigenous consultation must occur before new invasive mining and deforestation practices are permitted.

The rainforest is now at the greatest level of danger by international agribusiness who want to log, dam and mine to extract profit. This is despite the immense damage this will cause to the local ecosystem and poses a direct threat to local people who have been threatened or even killed trying to protect their home. Indigenous communities such as the Karipuna tribe of Northwestern Brazilian state of Rondonia are scared that the new far-right government will only incentivise illegal practices and bring more violence towards their communities. We must continue to advocate for the protection of indigenous land to avoid bloodshed. It is crucial that the Brazilian nation reinforces Indigenous organisations and value the synergy of protecting Indigenous rights and the Amazon.