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  • The rate of deforestation has increased in recent years in Acre, which is now among the five states most at risk of forest loss, according to an artificial intelligence tool developed by Microsoft and the NGO Imazon. indigenous peoples to monitor their own territories against agriculture-driven invaders; strategy includes the use of drones and GPS.
  • In a study developed especially for Mongabay, the AI ​​tool shows that Acre has 878 square kilometers of land at high or very high risk of deforestation, including within 20 conservation units and 29 indigenous territories.
  • Efforts to combat deforestation include training indigenous peoples to monitor their own territories against agriculture-driven invaders; strategy includes the use of drones and GPS.

Siam Shanenawa’s weapons of choice to protect her territory are drones and GPS devices. There is a reason to use them: the Katukina/Kaxinawá Indigenous Land is the one most at risk of deforestation in Acre, according to a study by the Imazon institute developed exclusively for Mongabay.

Using the artificial intelligence tool PrevisIA , developed in partnership with Microsoft, Imazon detected 878 square kilometers of land at high risk of deforestation in Acre, spread across all 22 municipalities in the state. This includes areas within 20 conservation units and 29 indigenous territories, most close to the boundary with the state of Amazonas. The municipality of Feijó has the largest area at risk of deforestation – around 144 km2.

Agroforestry agents from the Katukina/Kaxinawá Indigenous Land in the municipality of Feijó, Acre, carry out monitoring to prevent fires and deforestation in their territory. Photo: Stoney Pinto/Commissão Pro-Índio do Acre.

The Katukina/Kaxinawá Indigenous Land is also located in Feijó, which is home to the Huni Kui and Shanenawa peoples. Siã Shanenawa, whose name in Portuguese is Ismael Menezes Brandão, is one of the 21 agroforestry agents in the 230 km2 reserve. Living in Shane Kaya’s village, he helps monitor the IT to prevent invasions by outsiders seeking to appropriate the land for agricultural purposes.

“It is very important to monitor the land because we, indigenous peoples, are safer when we are able to detect if someone is invading, if someone is taking wood from our land, if someone is hunting directly on our land, if someone has set fire to our land. ,” Siã Shanenawa told Mongabay.

Siã Shanenawa and other agroforestry agents like him are trained by the Pro-Indian Commission (CPI), a non-profit organization that fights for the rights of indigenous groups and other marginalized communities. The training includes not only monitoring and protecting the territory, but also land management and sustainable agricultural practices for the local population.

Monitoring usually starts with a moderate approach, when indigenous agents walk around their lands and talk to farmers who work close to their borders. “When we can explain to people that our land is protected, they understand. Many are upset, saying that our land is too big. But this is our land, and they have to leave it alone, they cannot invade with cattle,” says Siã Shanenawa.

Not all encounters with invaders are peaceful. Siã Shanenawa says it is not uncommon for him and others in his community to arrest trespassers and take them to the nearest police station, as the entire community is involved in the monitoring system, not just the trained agroforestry agents.

The threat of deforestation in the Katukina/Kaxinawá Land is not uncommon in Acre. The state today has one of the highest deforestation rates in Brazil: in September, Acre accounted for 10% of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, according to data from the Imazon monitoring system, SAD. This places it among the five states with the highest forest loss in the country – a position already predicted by the artificial intelligence tool.

Indigenous peoples are trained in the management of natural resources on their lands to make sustainable use of the forest without deforesting. Photo: Stoney Pinto/Commissão Pro-Índio do Acre.

Deforestation driven by agriculture

Agriculture-driven deforestation has affected much of the Brazilian Amazon, including the states of Mato Grosso and part of Pará, according to a report by Greenpeace. “But the Arc of Deforestation continues to advance, especially in southeastern and western Pará, where destruction reaches gigantic proportions, and in regions where the states of Rondônia, Amazonas and Acre are located,” the report says.

In Acre, one of the main factors promoting the advancement of agriculture is an official government project called Amacro, explains Rômulo Batista, a Greenpeace activist in the Amazon. Named after the initials of the states of Amazonas (AM), Acre (AC) and Rondônia (RO), Amacro aims to bring agricultural development to the heart of the Amazon.

In April 2020, Assuero Doca Veronez, president of the Agricultural Federation of Acre, said he was not bothered by the increase in deforestation in the state. “For us, deforestation is synonymous with progress, as much as it may shock people,” Veronez said. “Acre has no ores. It has no potential for tourism. What he has are some of the best land in Brazil. But this land has a problem: it is covered by forest.”

“The standing forest is life for everyone, not just for indigenous peoples,” says Siã Shanenawa, an indigenous agroforestry agent in the Katukina/Kaxinawá Indigenous Land, in the municipality of Feijó, Acre. Photo: Siã Shanenawa.

At that moment, however, the idea for Amacro was just emerging. Inspired by Matopiba – a similar initiative in the border region between the states of Maranhão (MA), Tocantins (TO), Piauí (PI) and Bahia (BA), which became the center of soy production in Brazil –, Amacro advanced during the covid-19 pandemic.

Today, Amacro covers 32 municipalities and a total area of ​​465,800 km2, with a population of 1.7 million people, according to government data. On paper, the project would establish a forest protection area, offering economic alternatives for the population, instead of deforesting the forest.

But this is not what is happening in practice, activists complain. “We are aware of the problems caused by regional development policies that do not take into account the local vocation, or the population that occupies this place, whether indigenous, riverside or extractive communities,” Batista told Mongabay. “This is a type of development program that has not worked anywhere in the Amazon. It is a new factor of interest that will greatly boost, if it is not already boosting, the dispute for land in these municipalities.”

Faced with the increase in deforestation, Batista says that technological innovations that can help in prevention are welcome, such as the artificial intelligence tool PrevisIA. “Prevention is more cost-effective because it avoids forest loss and prevents the displacement of communities”, he explains.

Map generated by the artificial intelligence tool PrevisIA shows areas at risk of deforestation, from the highest risk (top, in dark red) to the lowest risk (bottom, in pink). Image: Imazon.

PrevisIA not only provides information on areas at risk of deforestation, it also has a second phase, which Imazon is starting now, with the aim of engaging local authorities in prevention. This phase of the project is starting in Pará and will expand to Acre, according to Imazon researcher Carlos Souza Jr. The first step is to create a reference for actions to be replicated in other locations, he says, starting with the municipality of Altamira – 75% of the risk of deforestation in the municipality is concentrated in only 10% of its area.

“We need to change the local paradigm. This starts with understanding the deforestation that has already occurred and what is at risk”, explains Souza Jr.. “The next step is to develop an action plan, with improvements in government infrastructure to monitor and combat deforestation (which includes personnel and equipment). Once we have a case study to show the action plan’s success, other places will follow suit.”

The government of Acre claims to have its own policies and monitoring systems to prevent forest loss. “There are concrete actions in progress that reach rural, traditional, riverside and indigenous communities, as well as educational and publicity campaigns against deforestation and illegal forest fires”, he declared through the press office of the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Indigenous Policies, Semapi.

Training agroforestry agents

The Pro-Indian Commission has been training indigenous peoples in agroforestry and land management in Acre since 1996, starting with an initial group of 15 indigenous people from four different reserves. Today, there are more than 200 indigenous monitors trained in 29 reserves, says Julieta Matos Freschi, coordinator of the Territorial and Environmental Management Program at CPI-Acre.

She noted that Acre’s indigenous lands remain 98% forested, while the surrounding areas are largely destroyed. “Preventing deforestation is what indigenous peoples do most,” Freschi told Mongabay. “All the activities in which CPI-Acre works have some impact, direct or indirect, on deforestation. Indigenous education is an ongoing process that begins with the official demarcation of lands and includes teachers and health workers.”

She says that training to become an agroforestry agent includes an agroecology course to recover degraded lands – riverbanks, dams, streams, areas that have been used for pasture or that have been deforested – through agroforestry systems where native trees are planted and medicinal plants.

Agents also learn how to manage forests, hunt and fish, says Freschi. They develop community monitoring techniques for territorial protection, conducting surveillance tours to monitor threats of encroachment by poachers, grazing cattle or loggers. “These are some of the actions that have a direct and indirect effect on controlling deforestation within indigenous lands,” says Freschi.

The monitoring system also uses drones and GPS to gather information about invaders and fires. The information is sent to Funai (National Indian Foundation).

For Siã Shanenawa, monitoring the land is not just a duty of trained agroforestry agents, but involves the entire community: “It is the role of the chief, the residents, who are also aware of this. Monitoring belongs to the community, belongs to the people,” he says. “This will protect us, especially now with this government that is trying to wipe out the forest. The standing forest is life for everyone, not just for indigenous peoples, because the forest reduces the heat a little and controls the environment on our planet, right? We are always protecting the forest so that there is no deforestation.”

Banner image:Siã Shanenawa, agroforestry agent in the Katukina/Kaxinawá Indigenous Land, Acre. Photograph:Siã Shanenawa.