Indian lands in Brazil contribute as much to the prevention of deforestation as do conservation units for indirect use, such as the national parks, which prohibit the presence of permanent residents.
This is the main conclusion of a study that compared deforestation inside and outside the limits of 121 Brazilian Indian territories, 15 national parks, ten extractive reserves, and 18 national forests, between 1997 and 2000.
"There is a notion that the presence of people can be harmful to the environment. But this is not always true," said the coordinator of the study, Daniel Nepstad, a researcher from the United States.
He has been working in Brazil for 21 years and is currently teaching as a visiting professor at the Nucleus of Advanced Amazon Studies at the Federal University of Pará (NAEA/UFPA), as well as being a member of the Amazon Research Institute (IPAM).
From 2002 to 2004, researchers from seven Brazilian and US institutions analyzed satellite images and measured deforestation in a ten-kilometer strip on either side of the demarcation lines bounding the reserves.
"We were thus able to compare parks in isolated areas, under practically no pressure, with Indian lands in areas disputed by loggers and agribusiness," Nepstad explained.
Although the research was completed some time ago, it only gained visibility this year, after being published in the scientific magazine, Conservation Biology.
"Deforestation on Indian lands was ten times less than in the surrounding areas. In the national parks, the ratio was twenty times less," the researcher informed.
"We are the real environmentalists and preservers of nature. We are still here, 500 years since the invasion of Brazil. And we remain the way we always were, without degrading or deforesting," affirmed one of the directors of the Coordination of Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon (COIAB), Jenival dos Santos, who belongs to the Mayoruna ethnic group.
The COIAB, which is made up of 75 indigenous organizations representing 165 ethnic groups, has been in existence since 1989. Two years ago the organization created an Ethno-Environmental department, which is responsible for collecting data on endangered Indian lands.