RIO DE JANEIRO, Jan 11 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Facing
pressure from agricultural interests, Brazil has stopped
formally demarcating land for indigenous communities in a threat
to rainforest conservation efforts, according to a former senior
government agency official and campaigners.
Brazil's constitution recognizes the right of indigenous
people to live on their ancestral lands and the National Indian
Foundation (FUNAI), a government body, has been working to
demarcate land for tribes, who make up less than 1 percent of
But new lands have not been demarcated for indigenous groups
since August amid a push by lawmakers from Brazil's rural areas
to change the process, said former FUNAI president Marcio
Santilli in comments echoed by campaigners.
"There have been no positive actions to move forward with
pending demarcations," said Santilli, who led FUNAI in the
mid-1990s and now advises the Instituto Socioambiental, a
Brazilian environmental group.
"The bancada ruralista (a group of rural politicians)... is
proposing constitutional amendments to weaken the territorial
rights of the indigenous," he told the Thomson Reuters
FUNAI officials said they could not immediately comment.
Home to the world's largest tropical forest, Brazil has lost
about one fifth of the Amazon rainforest in the last 50 years,
according to the World Wildlife Fund.
Research by the U.S.-based World Resources Institute shows
that deforestation rates on land formally owned by indigenous
peoples are about 2.5 times lower than other areas since they
are more likely to conserve the forest than other users.
But politicians representing rural voters oppose demarcating
new territories for indigenous groups, saying the land should be
used for farming or cattle ranching to boost economic growth in
the recession-hit country.
Santilli said rural politicians were proposing new steps to
the demarcation process which would make it "virtually endless".
He also said they were also proposing that Congress, rather
than FUNAI or the Justice Ministry, make decisions on which
lands are demarcated to indigenous groups.
About 13 percent of Brazil's territory has been set aside
for 900,000 indigenous people based on lands they historically
occupied. This is spread across 700 parcels of territory
including more than 450 which have been formally demarcated.
Santilli said budget cuts to FUNAI had also affected its
(Reporting By Chris Arsenault Editing by Paola Totaro and Katie
Nguyen. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the
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