Indigenous People Recover Medicinal Plants and Trees in the Amazon

Project supports restoration of native forests on Indigenous lands

September, 2022 — “We believe that each tree species has a spirit and we respect them. Our strength comes from the spirits. Mother Nature feeds us, and gives us life. We need to repay what she offers us by taking care of the forest. Recovery means bringing species back to life, thus strengthening our spiritual life,” says Indigenous leader Alcimara Karipuna, deputy coordinator general of the Indigenous Association of the Karipuna People — AIKA.

The association was one of eight entities selected under USAID-USFS-FUNAI call nº 001/2021 to implement projects for the recovery of degraded areas and restoration of native vegetation on Indigenous Lands. It is part of the Forest Management and Fire Prevention Program in Brazil, carried out by the United States Forest Service (USFS) with support from USAID/Brazil, under the Partnership for the Conservation of Amazon Biodiversity (PCAB), in collaboration with the National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI).

For the Karipuna Indigenous People, recovering areas in the Amazon rainforest has a special meaning — it represents life, as it involves planting various tree species that provide for their communities needs, such as wood for boats, fruits used for body painting, in addition to leaves, and medicinal plants. “These species are part of our life. We cannot fish if we don't have wood to make canoes. We cannot use canoes if there are no oars. We cannot paint our bodies if we don't have genipap (a tropical tree whose fruit has a gelatinous pulp that is used for flavoring drinks and to make a black dye),” summarizes Alcimara.

AIKA represents the Karipuna Indigenous People in the municipality of Oiapoque, in the state of Amapá. Through the project, Indigenous firefighters and socioenvironmental agents (known as “AGAMINs”) will map species of trees and plants that are disappearing around the Uaçá Indigenous Land, an area of 470,000 hectares of forest, where about 4,400 Indigenous People live.

“We are missing some plant species used for our traditional medicine, as well as the genipap we use in body painting. We want to bring them back," says Alcimara.

Due to the population growth in Oiapoque, pressures on the Uaçá Indigenous Land have increased, mainly with the extraction of natural resources, such as wood and fruits, as well as hunting and fishing, thus reducing the presence of some species that are key for the survival of Indigenous populations. In addition, climate change impacts have been felt in the whole region, especially in food production.

“Between late 2021 and the beginning of this year, we lost many fields of cassava, which we need to make our flour, because of a plant disease that is new to us. It is as if someone had poured hot water on the fields. This has changed the way we eat. Therefore, combining ancient Indigenous and scientific knowledge could help us understand what is happening,” explains Alcimara. 

She explains that one of the project activities aims to map the species that each community intends to recover and set up a nursery to produce seedlings. “Seeds and seedlings are like children. We need to look after them carefully. This work will be done by Indigenous firefighters and environmental agents.”

The project — In addition to AIKA, seven other initiatives were selected, developed by Indigenous agents, with the support of Indigenous associations and partner organizations, to promote the recovery of degraded areas in Indigenous lands in the Legal Amazon and the Pantanal. These Indigenous lands are: Araribóia, Caru, Governador, Kadiwéu, Krikati, Porquinhos, and Xerente/Funil.

The project supports associations with equipment, means of transportation, inputs and supplies for nurseries, among other items, so Indigenous agents may engage in the production and planting of seedlings for the recovery of areas around springs, riparian forests and agroforestry systems. They will manage controlled burns, a fire prevention technique applied to reduce the risks of forest fires, especially during the forest fire season.

The activities aim to promote seedling nursery concepts, develop environmental education for integrated and traditional fire management. In addition to Indigenous fire brigades, young people, women, elders and local leaders will participate in the initiative.