Course:FRST370/Community forestry management of the Kayapo Indigenous People of Brazil: an analysis of the restoration actions by different stakeholders after disturbances

From UBC Wiki
Jump to: navigation, search
Brazilian Indian chiefs, from the indigenous group of the Kayapos tribe, sit during a collective interview. They are, from left, Raony (state of Mato Grosso), Kaye, Kadjor and Panara (Pará).
Kayapo village

This case study focuses on how the Kayapo people who lived in the Brazilian Amazon for thousands of years were impacted by deforestation that happened in the past due to fires, commercial logging, expansion of farmlands, and construction. Furthermore, the study will investigate how this Indigenous group responded to the disturbances and their management approach towards resource management. The purpose of this study is to understand how the interested and affected stakeholders have responded in taking action towards ecological restoration and forest resource management. The tenure and community administrative structures will be analyzed to observe how different social actors cooperated or impeded the restoration process. The discussion will elaborate on the management strategy for enhancing ecological restoration and improving relationships with the parties involved, as well as touching upon the critical issues and conflicts within the community. Lastly, recommendations for the community forestry management will be given based on previous strategies that were successful and that can be considered by the the Kayapo indigenous group in Mato Grosso, Brazil.


Apêtê: tropical forest patch

Instituto Centro de Vida: Life Centre Institute


The map showing locations of the Kayapó lands in the Brazilian States of Pará and Mato Grosso.

Kayapo Indians are an indigenous group who live in the Brazilian Amazon; they occupy the middle and lower regions of the Xingu River valley in Mato Grosso and Para state[1]. The landscape they occupy is a mix of forests and savannas, in which there are a ton of trees surrounding the villages [1]. The total land area of all Kayapo communities is about the size of Scotland[2]. The Kayapo population size cannot be accurately calculated because they are all scattered around the region to the extent that other members of this indigenous community cannot contact each other. The Kayapo people practice traditional management strategies of subsistence adaptation such as slash-and-burn horticulture, small scale agriculture, hunting, fishing and foraging for their livelihood[3].

Values toward nature and forests

The forests provide food, water, and essential resources necessary for survival. Furthermore, they play an important role in the life of the Kayapo people because it provides them protection from disasters, a place of refuge and serves as a barrier, as a defensive mechanism for the villages and warriors, considering that the communities are still at war with other groups of Indians[4]. From the social and economic perspectives, Kayapo people do not oppose "nature" to human society as mutually exclusive, externally related domains; nor can they be said to possess a single, uniform concept of "nature" in our sense[4]. They recognize that the forest and savanna beyond their village clearings are products that are independent of humans and are not under social control; furthermore they realize that the natural forces and products generated are essential for their own survival and social existence[2].

The Kayapo people believe in shamanism, a practice that protects the forest and enhances the respect of the ecosystem from the indigenous group[4]. They believe that ghosts hide in the forest patches where balls of light of powerful shamans appear in the forests at night and which enhance and perpetuate the forests[4].

Tenure arrangements

The federal government protects 50% of the forests [which?] and the remaining 50% are privately or publicly owned land. There were complicated overlapping claims because of resettlement programs and squatter’s rights in the late 1970's[5]. The government implemented a new strategy for monitoring land reform by helping peasants settle into the land and by planning colonization projects in the Amazon to develop their large-scale agricultural products[5]. These major changes resulted in uncertainty towards land tenure to the settlers and squatters who live in the Amazon[6].

In the 1970's, 70% of the forests in Northwest Mato Grosso were colonized by private land agencies who had access to public concessions to compensate for infrastructure and technical support to allow them to monitor land sales to farmers from Southern Brazil[7]. In 1992, international donors G‐7 and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) supported the pilot projects to cooperate with Brazil’s federal and provincial governments[7]. More programs jumped in later as of 2009, which were supported by the Brazilian petroleum company Petrobras and the Fundo Amazônia (Amazon Fund) administered by the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES) with initial funding from Norway[7]. The municipality of Cotriguaçu also saw the emergence of a pilot Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+)[7].

By 2009, more than 80% of Mato Grosso’s primary forest cover was retained although deforestation was still happening[7]. The results show that private forests make up most of the tenure, followed by community forestry and state-owned forests[7]. Primary forests covered 11 indigenous territories and nine conservation units, which make up a total of 42.5% of total forest cover[7]. The remaining 57.5% of forest cover was on private properties ranging from small farms, to Agrarian reform settlements, and onto large ranches, making Mato Grosso a hotspot for livestock in Brazil[7].

Administrative arrangements

In April 1989, an Indigenous NGO, the Coiab involving nine states including Mato Grosso was formed to be the driving force to represent indigenous peoples in the Amazon to fight for collective and personal rights[8]. These personal rights included health, education, economy and interculturality; this corporation is the largest indigenous NGO in Brazil[8].

Brazil’s federal government, Ministry of Environment and the Institute of Natural Resources (IBAMA) passed the Public Forest Management Law in 2006 for enhancing governance on public land because there was lack of control in the area. In 2010, Brazil leased a very small amount of private concession forest, and instead announced plans to sell large forest areas[5].

The PPG-7 and GEF projects contributed to maintain sustainability in Northwest Mato Grosso via decentralization of environmental administration[7]. These projects involved the model ICDP (Integrated Conservation and Sustainable Development), which had a bottom-up approach of engaging communities together to come up with management strategies[7]. This model incorporated technical assistance for soil and water conservation, restoration of degraded land, silviculture and agroforestry systems (AFS), non-timber forest products (NTFP), and low impact forest management[7]. The model applied certain policies from 2005 to 2012 setting regulations and legal authorization for harvesting Brazil nut, which required legalization and certification of sustainable forest management and managing non-timber forest products[7]. The rights and responsibilities regarding collecting in forest reserves was documented by Mato Grosso state. Social recognition of the forest was essential because all settlers perceived that the institution of the collective management of reserves was legitimate[7].

Affected Stakeholders: Kayapo Indian's Restoration After Disturbances


Historically, Kayapo people are renowned for their firm political stand that has successfully defended their lands, forests and lifeways[9]. Tensions between the Kayapo Indians and the outsiders were centred on the dispute in regards to the illegal exploitation of the land and resources[4]. The Kayapo leaders addressed a few threats that they have encountered: mining and its associated mercury pollution, soil erosion, large scale burning of the forests, logging roads that penetrate deeply into the forests, mega-projects that are sponsored by powerful stakeholders[4]. Native Indians including the Kayapo feel threatened because some of the land mass they owned were being destroyed or were going to be affected soon by these activities[2]. More importantly, those disturbances may lead to disastrous effects on the loss of Kayapo culture since their traditions about natural diversity of local ecosystems are passed down orally through generations[4].


Both states that Kayapo people settled in have high deforestation rates. Instituto Centro de Vida (Life Center Institute) reported that Mato Grosso has the second highest deforestation rate behind the state of Para which maintained a rate of over 1,000 square kilometers of deforestation per year since 2012[10]. Between August 2016 and July 2017, the deforestation rate of the Amazonian forest was 6,624 square kilometers[10]. Mato Grosso accounted for 20% of all deforestation detected in the Amazon, which is equal to about 1,341 square kilometers of clear-cut deforestation[10].

Hydroelectric dam construction
Kayapo with home-made signs against dams

In 1989, the Kayapo people led by their chiefs Paiakan and Kube-i, protested against the construction of the Kararao Dam project on the Xingu River, which would increase flooding susceptibility on Kayapo lands[4]. The original plan calling for six dams in the basin was dropped after large demonstrations in which conservation groups joined the Kayapo for what is known today as the Altamira Gathering[11].

Road construction

The construction of Trans-Amazonica highway system through Kayapo country in 1971 altered the route to bisect the Kayapo area of the Xingu National park[2]. This almost resulted in land being sold to private landowners who were mostly speculators including ranchers, farmers and timber companies[2]. Timber companies interested in the large stands of virgin mahogany within the boundaries of the remaining officially delimited Kayapo reserve, the Kayapo Indigenous area, sought and obtained logging concessions for large tracts from Kayapo leaders in exchange for sizable money payments[2]. Most of the money went into the communal accounts which is managed by chiefs or the few literate Kayapo[2]. Some of these individuals began to draw heavily on these "communal" funds for personal use, giving rise to tension and resentment by the rest of their communities[2]. Rivalries between competing companies and their respective Kayapo sponsors almost led to war between two villages in 1986[2].

Post-disturbance livelihood: sustainable economic activities and forest restoration
Sustainable forest management

What Kayapo people called apêtê (tropical forest patch) play an important role for Kayapo Indians in regards to the generous provision of resources as well as the sense of place attachment and refuge[4]. For the existing forest patches, Kayapo people retain high fertility of the soil by preparing compost heap onto the forest floor and giving them time to decompose. Similarly, for restoration purposes, forests are allowed to rest during peaceful time, activities in forests will be restricted during resting periods[4]

The Kayapo people use fires in their livelihood practices. Fires are set to control the population of snakes and scorpions, clear the weeds and thorny bushes blocking the trails for walking and hunting. Fires also promote a more uniformed growth and hence facilitate pollination of blooming fruiting plants. Some plants are found to “favour” low-disturbance fire as it stimulates the fruiting and leaf growth of these species[12]. However, the burning events are strictly regulated by the respected Kayapo elderly and announced by the chiefs. The regulations include the timing, which should be before the “birth” of the August moon and the buds of the piqui tree are fully developed, the scale of burning, which requires the landowners of the forest patch to go around the edges of the patch to cut off the dried grasses and shrubs in order to insulate fuels and therefore produce a fire barrier. The landowners are then allowed to set the fires and await with branches of palms and banana braba to beat out any flames that come too close to the boundaries[4].

Low-intensity nut harvesting

The low-intensity harvesting of Bertholletia excelsa (Brazil nut) in the past two decades was found mutually beneficial for both the Kayapo harvesters and forest restoration largely due to the sustainable community management strategies[13]. Harvesting Brazil nut became a major source of income for the Kayapo nut collectors although only a small amount is removed by agricultural practices despite the large quantities, cumulatively 7% to 43% of the total seed produced[13]. The benefits of this agricultural practice helped understorey vegetation because of the sunfleck that is favoured for regeneration, and the recruitment of Brazil nut seeds increased in spite of being harvested by the Kayapo farmers. Harvesters are seen to drop the Brazil nut seeds along the trails on some of the days in order to stabilize the nut tree population. Results show that 20.4% out of 98 villagers interviewed declared that they had intentionally planted at least one Brazil nut seedlings in the village or agricultural fields[13]. Furthermore, 41.7% said their ancestors or older relatives used to plant nut trees[13]. In addition, Kayapo harvesters also collect non-timber forest products such as fruits, fibres, and honey[13]

Interested Stakeholders: Partnership with NGOs

International Conservation Fund of Canada in Kayapo village

The alliance between Kayapo communities and environmental NGOs took place after the ratification of the Brazilian Constitution in 1988. Ideas of natural reserve, indigenous rights, agro-industial development and co-management emerged[9]. The Kayapo people took advantage of having partnerships with NGOs, companies and social influencers. This helped them adopt a series of strategies such as savvy diplomacy, coordinated protests, use of ceremonial regalia and body paint in their struggles to defend their traditional lands and lives[9].

The Kayapo-Conservation International Program launched in 1992 was a multiple stakeholders-involved program that incorporated conservation activities and research on Kayapo lands[9]. Kayapo villagers and local residents were offered opportunities to get hired and to be introduced to conservation potentials of the Kayapo lands in the Pinkaiti program[9]. This program gave villagers an opportunity to generate income without conducting highly extractive economic activities[9]. The researchers from this program pay a monthly entrance fee to the village and they educate the villagers[9]. Villagers become involved in this program by being selected as field research assistants by the chiefs[9]. In the process of aligning with researchers and staff from NGOs, Kayapo people are able to negotiate with non-Kayapo worldviews on the current conservation issues in a rich, varied and thoughtful content, in which different perspectives, practices, government strategies and nature-culture interface encountered toward the shared goal of how to best manage, utilize and protect land and resources[9].

In 2009, the twenty year long partnership was restructured and is now supported by Wild Foundation, International Conservation Fund of Canada, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Conservation International.  



This community forestry project aims to enhance ecological restoration after the recent fire disturbance in the Amazon forest and to restore relationships between the indigenous groups and government. For the community forestry project to be successful, the relationship between the government and indigenous groups is essential. Bottom up management is ideal because it encourages the community to partake in resource management and to make decisions that could impact their future.

Relationships between interested stakeholders and Kayapo people

A critical issue within the community was that the partnerships (interested stakeholders) and Kayapo people had conflicts between each other. This is because the outsiders have different perspectives and management strategies are based on rational, scientific approaches and bureaucratic procedures whereas the Kayapo people manage their land mostly based on their traditions and experiences[9]. Therefore, having multiple stakeholders at different standpoints contradicted with what the Kayapo people expected – respecting human rights and the environment[9]. The conflict can be resolved by clear communication between the two parties by holding conferences weekly and to settle on an agreement for management strategies for the long term.

Climate change

Climate change is a serious issue because temperatures are rising due the increase of carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere in the past forty to fifty years, leading to more severe and frequent fires[14]. Carbon dioxide is a major greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, and likely explains why the Amazon forest fires took place. Forest fires in the Amazon are also driven by human activity such as logging, harvesting and other agricultural practices. Deforestation rates also have a direct impact on forest fires severity and frequency; this can be regulated by practicing intensive harvesting[14]. Climate change is an issue around the world; the best people can do is minimize greenhouse gas emissions, educate others on sustainability, and have ecologically friendly management practices.

Wildlife conservation

Wildlife conservation is another factor that can be problematic for because species such as capuchin monkeys, tortoises, primates, tapirs, peccaries, xenarthrans and large caviomorph rodents are important to the Kayapo Indigenous People[15]. Regional scale of hunting is a crucial factor for wildlife conservation in the Amazon forests because Indian reserves represent more than 20% of the Brazilian Amazon, equivalent to 52% of the total area which is not privately protected and not disturbed[15]. Natural resource management can only link biodiversity conservation to the needs of local people if crucial resources are not over-exploited to the point of collapse, because the value of forest could become less important to indigenous people[15]. Conservationists and other advocacy groups need to work together and collaborate in order to manage large native Indian owned lands in the Amazon forest against encroachment by more insidious agricultural interests[15].

Housing, status and communities

Housing has a direct effect on management restoration because decisions at the household level could have an impact in the long term, resulting in the development of inequality[16]. The variation in house structure and quality has an influence on personal wealth and status for each member belonging to the Kayapo Indigenous group. Architectural arrangements within communities is a sign of courtesy of negotiating ideas, privileges and subordination[16]. It is evident that larger Kayapo households have higher productivity in resources, therefore enhancing ecological restoration within the community[16]. This concept can be enhanced by expanding Araucaria forests because residential groups took control of storable resources and ensured corporate rights over the most productive locations, which could have diverted through ideological means[16]. Another possible solution include increasing immigration rates so that population landscape results in expansion of Brazil, where the new cultures came together to compete and interact and to form new ethnic groups to increase leaders' power through increased competition and resistance to outsiders[16].


After witnessing the failures and successes for the Amazon First Nations people, it is evident that the lack of power and access to restricted areas is a serious issue leading to many disputes between parties. Native Amazon Indians are at an disadvantage in this situation because their population size is small. The “mainstream” population tends to marginalize the Indian populations because of having distinct cultural, social and political points of view[4], and researchers call it “relatively incapable”[4]. To resolve conflicts, it is essential that different Brazilian Indian groups fight together for their rights despite the fact that they do not have as much power and unstable relationships from previous events. Recently, the Kayapo and Panara indigenous group decided to join forces to put pressure on the Brazilian government to fight for their personal rights and to defend their land from outsiders[17]. More Indian organizations are stepping up to support the rights of the Kayapo group and other indigenous people. Many organizations that are supporting indigenous rights by unifying different Amazon Indian groups and claim their demands to the politicians, which include the Brazil’s Indigenous People Articulation (APIB), Coordination of the Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon (COIAB) and more. Similar NGOs-indigenous people alliances also received historical success at Clayoquot Sound blockades in Canada during the massive civil disobedience "War in the Woods", which pushed the provincial government to restrict clearcutting and promoted the emergence of community forestry in British Columbia.


Based on the fact that Kayapo Indians have more power and higher chance of successfully defending their traditional lands when aligning with conservation organizations, we suggest that Kayapo Indians to form partnerships with NGO's. In order to ensure a long-lasting and mutually benefited partnership, there are three factors we recommend both NGO's and Kayapo community to obey that are proven to be critical in the conservation of mahogany on Kayapo lands, namely: (1) direct benefits accruing to all members of the community, (2) fulfilment of criteria for development of common pool resource institutions, and (3) long-term commitment of an external agency[18].


  1. 1.0 1.1 Turner, T. (1993). The role of indigenous peoples in environmental crisis: the example of Kayapo of the Brazilian Amazon. The role of indigenous peoples in environmental crisis: the example of Kayapo of the Brazilian Amazon.|url= in Biology and Medicine|volume=36|pages=526-545|via=Project muse}}
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 Turner, T. (1993). The role of indigenous peoples in environmental crisis: the example of Kayapo of the Brazilian Amazon. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 36(3), 526-545. doi:10.1353/pbm.1993.0027
  3. Verswijver, G. (2018). Mebêngôkre (Kayapo). Retrieved fromêngôkre_(Kayapó)
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 Posey, D. A., Plenderleith, K., Taylor (2004). Indigenous management of tropical forest ecosystems: the case of the Kayapó Indians of the Brazilian Amazon. Kayapó ethnoecology and culture. (pp. 200-217). New York: Routledge. doi:10.4324/9780203220191
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. (n.d.). Forest Governance – Brazil. Retrieved from
  6. Alston, L. J., Libecap, G. D., Mueller, B. (1999). Settlement, Government Policy, and Property Rights in the Brazilian Amazon: Introduction and Implications for Frontiers Elsewhere in the World. Titles, conflict, and land use: The development of property rights and land reform on the Brazilian Amazon frontier. (pp. 1-30). University of Michigan Press. Retrieved from
  7. 7.00 7.01 7.02 7.03 7.04 7.05 7.06 7.07 7.08 7.09 7.10 7.11 7.12 Davenport, R. B., Vivan, J. L., May, P. H., Nunes, P. C., Vargas, L. N., Costa, W. L. S., . . . Rajão, R. L. (2017). Adaptive forest governance in northwestern Mato Grosso, Brazil: Pilot project outcomes across agrarian reform landscapes. Environmental Policy and Governance, 27(5), 453-471. doi:10.1002/eet.1772
  8. 8.0 8.1 Governo de Mato Grosso. (n.d.). Geografia. Retrieved from
  9. 9.00 9.01 9.02 9.03 9.04 9.05 9.06 9.07 9.08 9.09 9.10 Zanotti, L. (2014). Hybrid natures? Community conservation partnerships in the Kayapo lands/naturezas hibridas: Colaboracoes comunitarias e conservacao ambiental entre os Kayapos. Anthropological Quarterly, 87(3), 665.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Valdiones, A., Silgueiro, V., Thuault, P. B. E. A. (2017). Deforestation Analysis in Mato Grosso (Prodes/2017). Instituto Centro de Vida. Retrieved from
  11. Clip, B. (2014). Kayapo Courage. National geography. Retrieved from
  12. Posey, D. A., Plenderleith, K., Taylor (2004). Indigenous management of tropical forest ecosystems: the case of the Kayapó Indians of the Brazilian Amazon. Kayapó ethnoecology and culture. (pp. 200-217). New York: Routledge. doi:10.4324/9780203220191
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 Ribeiro, M. B. N., Jerozolimski, A., de Robert, P., Salles, N. V., Kayapó, B., Pimentel, T. P., & Magnusson, W. E. (2014). Anthropogenic landscape in southeastern amazonia: Contemporary impacts of low-intensity harvesting and dispersal of Brazil nuts by the Kayapó indigenous people. PlOS One, 9(7), e102187. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0102187
  14. 14.0 14.1 Fonseca, M. G., Alves, L. M., Dutra Aguiar, A. P., Arai, E., Oighenstein Anderson, L., Rosan, T. M., Shimabukuro, Y. E., & Oliveira, L. E. (2019). Effects of climate and land-use change scenarios on fire probability during the 21st century in the Brazilian Amazon. Global Change Biology, 25(9), 2931-2946. doi:10.1111/gcb.14709.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 Peres, C. A., & Nascimento, H. S. (2006). Impact of game hunting by the Kayapo of south-eastern Amazonia: Implications for wildlife conservation in tropical forest indigenous reserves. Biodiversity and Conservation, 15(8), 2627-2653. doi:10.1007/s10531-005-5406-9
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 16.4 De Souza, J. G. (2018). "Rethinking households, communities and status in the southern Brazilian highlands". ournal of Anthropological Archaeology. 52: 44–58 – via ScienceDirect. 
  17. BBC News. (2019). Crossing Divides: Brazil Amazon - Old enemies unite to save their land. Retrieved from
  18. Zimmerman, B., Peres, C. A., Malcolm, J. R., & Turner, T. (2001). Conservation and development alliances with the kayapó of south-eastern amazonia, a tropical forest indigenous people. Environmental Conservation, 28(1), 10-22. doi:10.1017/S0376892901000029