How a proposed REDD project by Wildlife Works and Forest Trends in Maranhão, Brazil is fuelling Indigenous conflict
Some of the Ka'apor Indigenous People are opposed to the carbon project
Two US-based carbon companies, Wildlife Works and Forest Trends, are developing a carbon credit project in the Alto Turiaçu Indigenous Territory in the State of Maranhão, Brazil. Alto Turiaçu is home to the Ka’apor Indigenous People.
The project has sparked conflict within the Ka’apor community. Felipe Sabrina reported on the proposed project in The Intercept this week.
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Wildlife Works has signed a memorandum of understanding following negotiations with the Ka’apor Ta Hury Association of Rio Gurupi and chief Iracadju Ka’apor.
But this Association does not represent all the Ka’apor communities who live in the Alto Turiaçu Indigenous Land. Tuxa Ta Pame is a Ka’apor Management Council created in 2013 and is opposed to the partnership with Wildlife Works.
Tuxa Ta Pame members told The Intercept that the Ka’apor Ta Hury Association does not represent them. They are also concerned about the project’s impact on their way of life.
Tuxa Ta Pame members argue that a carbon project is not needed to preserved the Maranhão Amazon forest. They reject the use of money from carbon credits in their villages.
Alto Turiaçu Indigenous Territory
The Alto Turiaçu Indigenous Territory was demarcated and approved by the federal government in 1982. It covers an area of 530,000 hectares in the northwest of Maranhão.
The Alto Turiaçu Indigenous Territory and the neighbouring Gurupi Biological Reserve are threatened by the invasion of loggers, illegal mining, pressure from mining corporations, and cattle ranchers.
The Ka’apor have been defending their territory for many years. In 2013, the Ka’apor threw out Funai (Brazil’s National Foundation of Indigenous Peoples) from its territory. The Ka’apor saw Funai as being complicit in the sale of illegally logged timber from their territory.
They also did away with the one-chief system imposed by Funai and revived the traditional council of chiefs, Tuxa Ta Pame.
Both Wildlife Works and Forest Trends are incorporated in the tax haven of Delaware in the USA. As such, The Intercept notes, Wildlife Works should not even be operating in Brazil, because it does not have proper authorisation.
Diogo Cabral, a lawyer who works with the Tuxa Ta Pame, told The Intercept that,
“Let’s say we need to file a lawsuit against the company. They have no address, no CNPJ [National Registry of Legal Entities], no legal representation. It would be a pirate company serving carbon miners. This has even been the subject of a complaint [from Tuxa Ta Pame] to the Federal Public Ministry.”
Sabrina spoke to Hilton Araújo de Melo, a Public Prosecutor in Maranhão about the deepening of divisions within the community as a result of Wildlife Works’ operations. He replied that,
“The MPF’s [Federal Public Ministry’s] vision is very simple: any process that involves consultation does need to dialogue with both groups, and consensus must reach a successful outcome for both groups.”
Wildlife Works produced an information brochure about its carbon project. Sabrina has seen two versions of the brochure.
The first includes a photograph of ten Tuxa Ta Pame leaders, with no mention that they publicly oppose the carbon project. In the second, the photo was replaced with a photograph of Ka’apor people linked to the Ta Hury Association of Rio Gurupi.
The vice-president of Wildlife Works Latin America, Lider Sucre tole The Intercept he was unaware of the first version.
Sabrina asked Sucre what would happen if the two groups could not reach agreement on whether the project should go ahead. “There will never be absolute unanimity,” he replied. “In a community process, there are always different points of view. We, at the end of the process, will accept the collective’s decision, whether favourable or against.”
Sabrina asked the Ta Hury Association of Rio Gurupi and Lider Sucre for a copy of the memorandum of understanding. He did not receive a copy.
Sucre also declined to talk about how much profit Wildlife Works stands to make from the carbon project - even in percentage terms.
“If I give you a percentage of the project today, and sales of the project happen later, someone can speculate how much they received. Around the world and in Latin America we live in an environment where many indigenous and environmental leaders die over issues that have to do with money.”
Sabrina spoke to Beto Borges, Director of Forest Trends’ Communities and Territorial Governance Initiative.
Sabrina asked Borges what Forest Trends’ position would be if the Ta Hury Association of Rio Gurupi and Tuxa Ta Pame could not reach consensus on the carbon project.
“If they do not have a consensus, our technical recommendation is that the project should not be carried out. And if they decide to continue, Forest Trends will officially say ‘it was really cool working with you, but from now on we won’t get involved with something that we believe isn’t right’.”
In May 2023, Borges, Sucre, and the founder and CEO of Wildlife Works, Mike Korchinsky, met with the president of Funai, Joenia Wapichana, in Brasília. According to a Funai press statement about the meeting,
The objective of the meeting was to offer collaboration to Funai to ensure that climate and conservation financing flows benefit indigenous peoples, such as those involved in the commercialisation of carbon credits.
Borges told Sabrina that Forest Trends is starting a technical collaboration agreement with Funai to help “sift the projects that have arrived”.
Sabrina spoke to both groups of Ka’apor - those in favour of the project and those opposed.
Those in favour of the project talk about improvements to their livelihoods and improved forest protection with the money from sales of carbon credits. Those opposed are concerned about changes in relations in the territory and the dangers of violence and exclusion.
Ka’apor Ta Hury Association
Chief Iracadju told The Intercept that the contract with Wildlife Works would last at least 10 years. The company has promised an initial donation of about US$80,000 to “carry out monitoring and protection of the territory by Indigenous People”.
“We know that R$2 million [about US$406,500] can come in per month, but we don’t know for sure yet, it could be more or less,” Iracadju said. The estimated amount of money came from Wildlife Works, and is based on satellite images. But the exact amount will depend on more detailed studies.
The Ka’apor Ta Hury Association has circulated messages via Whatsapp groups:
“Pollution will always exist, companies will always exist, this carbon credit will neither increase nor decrease pollution in the world. It turns out that companies are now being forced to compensate those who protect nature to pay for what they pollute. What will the Ka’apor people need to do? Nothing. You will need to not cut down trees, and earn millions. It’s that simple.”
Iracadju said that the multinational mining corporation Vale SA will help the Ka’apor Ta Hury Association to develop a consultation process.
That should set off alarm bells. Vale SA has an atrocious record of environmental destruction, human rights abuses, failure to conduct consultation, and persecution of community leaders who oppose its operations.
Tuxa Ta Pame
Tuxa Ta Pame explained to The Intercept that the “money narrative commodifies the relationship with life in the forest and causes internal divisions”.
Itahi Ka’apor describes what happened with the timber industry between 2006 and 2013:
“We were deceived by the state itself, by Funai, by the federal government. Their speech was very good: let’s sell the dry wood. And we fell into this temptation. This experience brought a lot of suffering, murder, and even now we are dying. That’s why we don’t accept the carbon credit project, because it will increase our fight, division, and we don’t want that anymore.”
Misael Ka’apor is a member of Tuxa Ta Pame and a professor at the Center for Education and Preservation of Ka’apor Knowledge. The Center was founded in 2012 by the Tuxa Ta Pame and teaches young people in their own language, based on the Ka’apor’s culture and values.
Misael refutes the narrative that carbon money will help life Indigenous Peoples out of poverty:
“We are not suffering here. When we go into the woods, the owner doesn’t go after us. We catch a lot of fish. In the afternoon, the owner doesn’t come saying ‘you have to pay’. It’s not like that here, this is everything for us.”
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