Why forests in indigenous and TRIBAL territories have been better conserved

f. Availability of capital and labor

Another possible explanation for why indigenous and tribal territories have lower deforestation rates is that indigenous and tribal peoples lack the resources needed to clear large forest areas and establish crops and pasture. Deforesting large areas for farming and ranching requires a lot of capital and/or labor. Since indigenous and tribal peoples in forest regions generally have low incomes, they often lack the funds required to purchase cattle or machinery for extensive cattle ranching or mechanized agriculture – the two main activities behind deforestation. In addition, indigenous and tribal peoples have less access to agricultural credit and public subsidies and that limits their ability to deforest large areas. Theoretically, they could obtain capital from companies, large farmers, or non-indigenous organizations, but ethnic discrimination and other obstacles often impede it (Schwartzman and Zimmerman, 2005; Morsello, 2006).27

Low population densities in some indigenous territories might also explain the good condition of their forests, if they did not have enough labor to clear the forest and cultivate large areas, especially in the Amazon. It is probably no coincidence that Brazil’s indigenous territories and quilombos with the highest population densities have a smaller proportion of their land in forest. On the other hand, though, almost half of Brazil’s indigenous territories have population densities higher than the neighboring areas, but still conserve a much higher percentage of their vegetation than their neighbors (Begotti and Pérez, 2020).

  • 27 Although in some places criminal groups have been willing to fund indigenous and Afro-descendant villagers to engage in illegal mining or cultivating illicit crops, and that has greatly damaged the forests.