The eyes of those who are not used to it water with the smoke from the petyngua, the pipe that the Guarani use to light their roll tobacco. Sitting next to the fire, Jurandir Jukupe, leader of the Guarani people, says that the region that is now occupied by the Jaraguá Indigenous Land, in the north of São Paulo, was once taken over by coffee plantations.
The Atlantic Forest area still has traces of that era, even decades after the reforestation that brought back the native plants of the biome.
“My grandfather participated in the reforestation and in some animal releases. He even has a story that a couple of jaguars were released here”, he recalls.
In daylight, there is no sign of felines around and the only wild animals that appear are capuchin monkeys.
Coffee trees are easily born in fertile soil and, if they reach the adult stage, with thick and long branches, they need to be pulled out one by one, which is not easy. But this is one of the tasks that the indigenous people carry out in joint efforts, in an attempt to restore the landscape and make room for the species that covered this entire region before the arrival of the colonizers. In its place, they plant typical trees, such as ipê and pau-brasil.
On paper, this is the smallest indigenous land in Brazil, at 1.7 hectares. In practice, this is the space occupied by only 1 of the 6 villages in the region, Tekoa Ytu.
The approximately 700 Guarani who live there are fighting for the expansion of the territory to 532 hectares, so that their way of life is ensured. The area has already been declared as belonging to the indigenous peoples, but, after a series of legal disputes, it is still awaiting ratification by the Presidency of the Republic.
Completing all stages of the demarcation process is an important factor for conservation activities to prosper, says an article published on the 26th in the scientific journal PNAS Nexus.
“We analyzed 129 Indigenous lands across the Atlantic Forest — basically all that exist in the biome. This was one of the lands analyzed and it contributed to the trend that we found,” says Rayna Banzeev, a researcher at the University of Colorado Boulder, who led the study.
The research analyzed the forest cover of these territories between 1985 and 2016. The results show that, after approval, deforestation in the analyzed areas fell progressively. An increase in reforestation rates was also observed.
Coverage in the Atlantic Forest increased by 0.77% per year in homologated indigenous lands compared to those that had not yet completed the demarcation process.
Banzeev explains that the reason for this to happen was not the focus of the study, but says he believes that this improvement has to do with the fact that the homologation includes the removal of non-indigenous people from the lands.
“We also analyzed the before and after the [fase de] statement and we did not find significant results, but we did for complete demarcation. So maybe the reason is that at the declaration stage non-indigenous people are still there.”
Researcher Marcelo Rauber, from the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro, is co-author of the article and studies indigenous land rights in Brazil. He claims that the presence of non-indigenous people in the territories involves predatory land use, aimed at economic exploitation.
“It is in the Atlantic Forest that the main conflicts are located in relation to the demarcation of indigenous lands”, he points out. “There are many peoples in the southern region, in Bahia, who are seeking to regain former original territories, which many times have already come to be recognized as indigenous land at certain times in the history of Brazil.”
According to him, this ends up leading to conflicts between the indigenous people and the squatters or occupants of these areas. In the case of Jaraguá, real estate speculation is advancing in the region. In 2020, the Guaranis even occupied the land adjacent to the indigenous land, where a condominium was being built – after the protest, the work was embargoed by the City of São Paulo.
The Atlantic Forest extends across 17 Brazilian states. However, centuries of deforestation to make way for plantations, mining, pastures and large cities have reduced it to 12.5% of the original coverage, according to data from INPE (National Institute for Space Research).
For Banzeev, the efforts of the Guarani are good examples of how preservation actions take place in other indigenous territories of the biome.
In addition to removing the invasive coffee, they are adopting agroforestry practices, sowing here and there native plants. Among them are jabuticaba, pitanga, yerba mate and juçara palm —a cousin of the Amazon palm tree that also bears fruits used to make açaí.
Another initiative began in 2016, when they started raising natural bees from the Atlantic Forest, which help pollinate the forest. Today, there are eight species spread over more than 300 swarms.
However, this type of work comes at a cost, and even to ensure food security, the community relies on the city hall to send basic food baskets. Thus, they need to seek partnerships with institutions that provide financial or logistical support for preservation activities.
Jukupe claims that many projects that could collaborate with reforestation actions are made unfeasible by the lack of demarcation, which guarantees legal security. “Because in the bureaucracy of the juruá, of the white man, that land is not worth it, because it does not belong to the indigenous people, it is not demarcated, it is illegal”, he says.
The Constitution recognizes the rights of indigenous peoples over the lands traditionally occupied by them, including those “essential for the preservation of the environmental resources necessary for their well-being and those necessary for their physical and cultural reproduction, according to their uses, customs and traditions”.
“When you demarcate the area, you make possible not only the physical survival of the people, but also the cultural one”, points out the Guarani leader. “It is necessary for this reason: by demarcating the land, you are guaranteeing the perpetuation of this culture.”
He is optimistic about the start of the new government of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (PT), especially due to the speed shown in relation to the humanitarian crisis among the Yanomami and the creation of the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples. “We hope to be better served in our main demands, both in relation to food security and land demarcation.”
The journalist visited the Jaraguá Indigenous Land at the invitation of the researchers.
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