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Problems with REDD and payments for environment services in Acre, Brazil

Problems with REDDThe state of Acre hit the world’s headlines in December 1988 with the murder of Chico Mendes, the president of the Union of Rural Workers of Xapuri. A year before his death, Environmental Defense Fund and National Wildlife Federation flew Mendes to Washington, D.C. aiming to convince the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, and U.S. Congress to support the creation of extractive reserves.

Since then, Acre has received finance from the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES) to protect its forests. Ecosystem Marketplace reports that in 2007, the German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ – now renamed as GIZ) funded a report on the potential for a state-level REDD programme in Acre. WWF, IUCN, the Federal Univesity of Acre, IPAM, the Woods Hole Research Center, Embrapa and GTZ started working on REDD in Acre.

Six months of workshops took place in 2009-2010 to discuss draft guidelines for a PES-Carbon Programme in Acre. After attending one of these workshops, Beto Borges, of Forest Trends’ Communities and Markets Programme, described Acre as,

“The most advanced of all Amazonian states in Brazil to develop and implement PES policy… a state with a proven track record of forest conservation and involvement of traditional communities.”

In 2010, the state launched a System of Incentives for Environmental Services (Sistema de Incentivo a Serviços Ambientais, or “SISA”).

But not everyone is happy with Acre’s promotion of market based solutions to its environmental problems. An article by Elder Andrade de Paula, a professor at the Federal University of Acre, published in the October 2012 issue of World Rainforest Movement’s Bulletin questions Acre’s adoption of the “Green Economy” and market mechanisms supposedly aimed at saving the forests. In a longer piece about Acre, Paula writes:

The trade in “carbon” and other environmental services, represents a frontal attack on forest peoples’ autonomy, freedom and control over their territories, in addition to erroneously “offsetting” continued pollution in the industrialized countries of the North, as in the case of California and its agreement with the states of Acre (Brazil) and Chiapas (Mexico). In spite of all this, just as they did in the past, the communities and peoples for whom the forests are their “place in the world” are reacting and fighting back against old and new forms of destruction and plunder.

Paula notes that Acre remains one of the poorest states in Brazil. Indigenous peoples continue to struggle for the demarcation of their territories. Meanwhile the number of cattle in Acre has increased over the past decade from 800,000 to 2.5 million. Logging continues and the area of forest cleared in increasing.

Paula quotes Dercy Teles, the president of the Union of Rural Workers of Xapuri:

“PES policies only serve to silence these people, who have no opportunities or a voice. They have no voice because they sign a contract which is for at least 30 years. And for 30 years they place the area in which they live at the disposal of the government and the multinationals to do research and use all of the knowledge of the area in exchange for a meagre, insignificant amount of money. And what is even worse is that they can’t do anything in this area, they can’t fish anymore, they can’t remove wood for their own use, they can’t hunt anymore, they can’t do anything anymore.”

UPDATE – 2 November 2012: Michael F. Schmidlehner translated this post to Portuguese: “Problemas com REDD e pagamentos por serviços ambientais no Acre”. And Elder Andrade de Paula’s article in the World Rainforest Movement Bulletin is also available in Portuguese.

The Union of Rural Workers of Xapuri also produced a leaflet outlining their concerns about REDD and PES in the state of Acre. The leaflet can be downloaded as a pdf file here (2.1 MB) and is posted in full here:


How REDD and Environmental Services Threaten the Lives of Forest People in Acre


April 2012: Indigenous people protest against the violation of their rights in Rio Branco, the capital of Acre.

What are the real problems of forest peoples in Acre?
Land and territory: Land ownership in Acre remains highly concentrated: 583 large landholdings have 15 million acres or more, while 23,500 small landholdings have less than 2.5 million acres. There are 21 indigenous territories that have yet be demarcated – but all processes of demarcation of indigenous lands are paralyzed because these territories are coveted by large landowners and timber companies, which wield strong influence on the state and federal governments.
Health: Indigenous peoples, peasant communities and poor people in general in the urban peripheries in Acre suffer from serious health problems. Many of the diseases, in the case of indigenous peoples, are caused by contact with white society and the degradation and contamination of the environment. Significant numbers of children and adults die from curable diseases because health care is precarious.

Indigenous people having class in their village during the rainy season.

Education: In order to build their own future and to cope with the rapid pace of change, indigenous peoples in Acre need education that respects their cultures, languages, and practices. However, government resources for education do not reach the communities, and schools in the villages are in a virtual state of abandonment. Out of 120 indigenous schools in the state, ten are in good condition – and these few are held up by the government to convince the public that the indigenous school situation has been resolved.
Why aren’t REDD and environmental services a solution to these problems?
Demarcation of indigenous lands, health care and education are constitutional rights of indigenous peoples and local communities in Brazil. The problem is not lack of money to meet these demands, but lack of political will and preferential treatment of large land-owners.
What concerns forest peoples about REDD and environmental services?
The decision-making process is topdown and authoritarian
Environmental services policies such as REDD are being implemented by the state government in a unilateral, accelerated, and forced manner. The headlong creation of state law No. 2.308/10 which implements the State System of Incentives for Environmental Services (SISA) is strongly criticized by sectors of the Acrean population, and is currently being investigated by federal prosecutors at the request of CIMI, the Indigenous Missionary Council.
Consultations are insufficient and questionable
In accordance with ILO Convention 169, the government must consult the peoples through appropriate procedures. However, the “consultations” promoted by the government in Acre, are restricted to NGOs, organizations, and government-financed institutions. The government “strengthens” these leaders and then accepts their consent as if it were representative of all communities. But the fact is, uncertainties and contradictions about REDD and environmental services are causing divisions among forest peoples in Acre. Most are excluded from the consultation process, and a growing number of people are articulating resistance against REDD.
Territorial sovereignty is under threat
In order for forest peoples to maintain their ways of life and protect natural resources, they must have sovereignty over their territory. This means not only physical land demarcation or ownership titles, but includes the right of these peoples to manage their resources without interference. Contracts for the provision of environmental services interfere with territorial and environmental management and may also facilitate acts of biopiracy, allowing unauthorized access to genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge.

Not having their territories demarcated, Madiha people in Acre are frequently found “camping out” in urban areas.

Food security and food sovereignty are at risk
Indigenous and local peasant communities live from planting and harvesting, gathering, hunting and fishing. Besides this being their way of life it is their sustenance and ensures their independence from the cash economy. Environmental services contracts restrict or prohibit these activities during periods of up to one hundred years. Once forced into the market by such programs, intact communities lose the knowledge and ability of obtaining their subsistence from the earth and become dependent on market economy.
Loss of traditional knowledge
Forest dwelling people have complex systems of knowledge that are profoundly embedded in practices of resource management, food production, and ecosystem stewardship. The generation and preservation of knowledge about the ecosystem is based on the community’s vital relations with plants and animals: planting, harvesting, gathering, hunting and fishing. Once these relations are cut off, traditional knowledge is doomed to disappear.
Ecosystem services promote a reductionist and mercantile view of the forest
The forest is much more than a “carbon sink” or “environmental service provider.” REDD projects and environmental services emphasize the economic aspects and ignore and subvert the holistic view that forest people traditionally hold. Among other meanings for indigenous peoples in Acre, the word “forest” signifies “the abode of a multitude of spirits.”
Official policies are built on a distortion of history
Aligned with its questionable “environmental sustainability” programs, the Acre state government has created a distorted version of the history of the Acrean people. In this version, the image of the founder and former president of the rubber tapper syndicate STTR Xapuri, Chico Mendes, who was murdered by landowners in 1988, is being hijacked to reinforce government policies, as if he were the “patron” of green economy in Acre.
REDD will cause an exodus from rural areas
Why continue living in a forest, if you are not allowed to live with it? Dercy Teles, the current president of the Rural Workers Union of Xapuri, says, “These policies are nothing more than the confinement of populations within their own territory, so they will eventually give up. Life in the forest makes no sense without the ability to enjoy the goods the forest offers.”
Concern about impacts beyond the own territory
The logic of “compensation” for emissions or environmental damage is strange to the thinking of the people of the forest. Promoting preservationist projects in one place while exposing communities and ecosystems to pollution or degradation somewhere else is contrary to the spirit of the forest. We must preserve the bonds of solidarity that unite forest people with each other and with other communities affected by pollution and environmental degradation.
REDD undermines local peoples’ ability to address climate change as they know best
Forest people feel climate change and ecosystem imbalance in their daily lives and are fully aware that they are caused by industrialized societies. They need the freedom to apply their experience, intelligence and wisdom to adapt to these changes and contribute to the mitigation of climate change in an active and self-determined way.

June 2012, Rio Branco, Acre: “The indigenous peoples say no to REDD!!”

Forest people know how to preserve the forest!
They demand recognition of their constitutional rights and claim autonomy in managing their territories, resources and knowledge.
For all of these reasons,
the Sindicato dos Trabalhadores Rurais de Xapuri says



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  2. @ILMARINEN G. VOGEL (#1) – I’ve asked you not to comment in capitals. It looks like you’re shouting. You’ve made the same point several times on other posts. The aim is to generate discussion, not to close it down by shouting. If you have something new to add, please do so (without using capitals). Otherwise your comments will be deleted.

  3. Hi Chris,
    Here is another point of view from the indigenous peoples in Acre. Hopefully you will pay attention to these voices as well.
    “Rio Branco, February 17, 2012
    Dear colleagues of the Missionary Indigenous Council (CIMI) Western Amazonia,
    The Indigenous Movement of Acre has won various victories in its history that were possible thanks to the courage and determination of our leaders in fighting for our rights. The movement played an important role in political organizing and representation of indigenous peoples of Acre and southern Amazonas. We have always believed in our potential and our self-determination in deciding the future of our peoples.
    We were greatly shocked and dismayed on becoming aware of the contents of the Affidavit presented by the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI) – Western Amazonia, to the Federal Prosecutor’s Office in Acre (MPF-Acre), which claims that indigenous leaders and their organizations are being manipulated by the state government of Acre, by the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) and by local and international NGOs and induced into accepting carbon projects and REDD. All the more since these statements were made by CIMI, an institution that was a partner of the indigenous peoples in the 1980s in the struggle to defend their lands. Apropos of which, at the time when indigenous leaders fought side by side with the Acre Pro-Indian Commission (CPI/AC) and CIMI for the demarcation of their territories, were these leaders induced into fighting for their ideals, as a matter of life and survival of our peoples?
    To say that the Indigenous Peoples of Acre are being manipulated and induced to accept a project imposed by third parties is, at a minimum, to doubt our capacity to interact with government agencies and civil society and to formulate plans that can consolidate our territorial rights, the management of our territories, and the economic self-sufficiency and the well-being of our communities. We do not need tutelage; we seek serious partnerships that recognize and respect our autonomy.
    Among the highlights of the workshop held in Rio Branco, in the CPI/AC Training Center for Forest Peoples, were emphasis on indigenous peoples’ rights, their exclusive usufruct of their territories, the right to free, prior and informed consent, the importance of social and environmental safeguards to avoid risks in payment for ecosystem services projects, and reflection on the State System of Payments for Ecosystem Services (SISA) developed by the Government of Acre. Present at the workshop discussions were leaders of 25 territories and 28 Acre indigenous groups, in addition to representatives from the Coordinator of Brazilian Amazon Indigenous Organizations (COIAB) and the Amazonian Working Group (GTA), who have taken leadership roles in dialogue on and elaboration of safeguards at the national and international levels.
    No one is forcing the indigenous organizations to do anything. We are mature leaders with extensive experience in the indigenous and environmental movements in Acre, Brazil and the world. We will not be treated as Indian wards who need NGO to defend their rights. We are sovereign peoples, and only we will decide if we wish to participate in a project involving our lands or territories.
    We have at no point decided if we are for or against REDD projects. First we must inform ourselves and our communities of the opportunities and challenges. Both those in favor of and those against REDD must be serious and ethical in conveying correct information and establishing continued dialogue. Those in favor of REDD cannot promote it as something that can resolve all the problems of our communities; those against it cannot terrorize our peoples using western capitalism as a backdrop and creating a climate of distrust and fear based in suppositions and untruths.
    What we will not accept or permit is for our peoples and organizations to be pawns in the heated debate between NGOs and governments.
    We believe that CIMI needs to renew itself and embrace the indigenous cause and fight side by side with indigenous peoples once more. Of late, its distance is creating a distorted view, unrelated to our reality. We invite CIMI to join our meetings to hear us out and talk straight with us. We at no point authorized CIMI to represent our interests before the Federal Prosecutor’s Office. If at any moment we find that our rights are being violated, we can call on the Federal Prosecutor of Acre to defend our rights under the Federal Constitution and international treaties signed by Brazil (ILO Convention No. 169 and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples).
    Hoping to have made our position clear, the following associations sign this letter.”

    Tashka Yawanawa
    Associação Sociocultural Yawanawa – ASCY

    Sian Kaxinawa
    Associação Kaxinawa do Rio Jordão – ASKARJ

    Haru Kuntanawa
    Assoiação Sociocultural e Ambiental Kuntamanã – ASCAK

    Osmildo Kuntanawa
    Organização dos Povos Indígena do Vale do Juruá – OPIRJ

    Nilson Sabóia Kaxinawa – APAIH
    Associação Kaxinawa do Humaitá

    Associação de Cultura Kaxinawá do Humaitá
    Francisco de Assis Mateus de lima

    Shaneihu Yawanawa
    Cooperativa Agro-extravista Yawanawa – COOPYAWA

    Francisca Arara
    Organização dos Pofessores Indígenas do Acre – OPIACRE

    Josias Mana Kaxinawa
    Associação do Agentes Ambientais do Acre – AIMAIAC

    Assis Gomes Kaxinawa
    Organização dos Agricultores Kaxinawá da Terra Indígena Colônia 27 – OAKATI 27

    Erison Muniz de Oliveira
    Associação Indígena Nukini – AIN

  4. Ludivine Eloy contacted REDD-Monitor by email yesterday with a note about a paper she co-authored about PES in Acre, published in the Journal of Environmental Planning and Management.

    Here’s the title and abstract:

    Payments for ecosystem services in Amazonia. The challenge of land use heterogeneity in agricultural frontiers near Cruzeiro do Sul (Acre, Brazil)

    Ludivine Eloy, Philippe Méral, Thomas Ludewigs, Gustavo Tosello Pinheiro & Benjamin Singer


    Amazonia became a target area for Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) initiatives in deforestation. We analysed the implementation of a PES scheme in Acre (Brazil) by taking into account land use heterogeneity in an agricultural frontier. Justified by the modernisation of deforestation control policies, the programme promotes agricultural intensification through fire-free practices. In this way, the PES tends to focus on long-established settlements, where farmers are wealthier and the landscape is dominated by pasture. Agricultural intensification may be adapted to foster reforestation. But in order to curb deforestation in the long term, a specific policy is needed for targeting remote areas where initial stages of deforestation usually take place. By promoting only land sparing, PES programmes in Amazonia may lose sight of their socio-economic and environmental objectives due to limited spatial targeting.

    Unfortunately, the paper costs US$36. I think George Monbiot got it right in his piece last year in which he described academic publishers as “the most ruthless capitalists in the Western world”.

  5. @Beto Borges – Yes I am aware of this letter, thanks. Steve Zwick referred to it and quoted from it in a comment on 20 October 2012.

    Five days later, I wrote a follow up post: “California, REDD, carbon trading and indigenous peoples”. The post links to the letter to CIMI and quotes from it.

    It would also be interesting to read the affidavit sent by CIMI to the Federal Prosecutor’s Office in Acre that prompted this response from indigenous peoples in Acre. If anyone has a copy of this, please provide a link or cut and paste it as a comment. Thanks!