“Stewards Of The Forest”: New Film Shines Light On Indigenous Life Plans

Climate Forests Sep 29, 2017
Steve Zwick

29 September 2017 |  Indigenous people have long been among the most responsible stewards of the land, and they manage forests that filter water, shelter wild animals, and absorb massive amounts of carbon dioxide – thus slowing climate change.

In conserving forests rather than clearing them for agriculture, they sacrifice income for the common good – a sacrifice that has left many in poverty and without access to healthcare.

That was supposed to change a quarter-century ago, when Colombia’s new constitution first recognized the contribution that indigenous people make, spawning the creation of indigenous development strategies – called “Life Plans” (Planos de Vida) – that were designed to formalize indigenous traditions, including sustainable agriculture practices like agroforestry, which enabled them to live off the land without destroying the forest.

Because such plans lead to forest conservation, there have been efforts to support them with carbon finance, and the most advanced such effort is underway in the Brazilian state of Acre.

There, the state government is using funds from the German Development Bank to support indigenous people like the Yawanawa, whose life plan describes an economy built on sustainable agroforestry that will conserve the forest and mop up massive amounts of carbon dioxide while reviving long-dormant land-management practices that enabled man and forest to live in harmony for millennia.

If the plan works, it could serve as a template for similar projects around the world, which could unleash massive amounts of finance under Article 5 of the Paris Climate Agreement, which calls on developed countries to save forests in part through “payments for performance” that create verifiable results.

The experiment has just begun, and this short film – unveiled last at Climate Week in New York – offers an illuminating look into the people and their practices.