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Indigenous Brazilians Map the Amazon

by Héctor R. Cerpa — last modified Jan 10, 2013 11:44 AM USAID
USAID FrontLines - November 2009

BRASÍILIA—The people of the Paiter/Suruí indigenous tribe made contact with modern civilization 40 years ago. Now, with the help of USAID, they are teaming up with Google Earth to map the Amazon—and limit deforestation.

Google Earth and USAID partner Amazon Conservation Team are working with the Metareilá Indigenous Association of the Paiter/Suruí in the northwestern Brazilian state of Rondônia to develop new technologies for forest mapping and management

Chief Almir Suruí, leader of the Paiter/Suruí, inspired the project when he traveled to California in 2007 and met with Google Earth officials. During his visit, the chief learned how to conduct Internet searches, post YouTube videos, and use Google Earth tools—skills he brought home to his people.

The Paiter/Suruí are believed to have first encountered non-Indian people during the construction of the 2,000-mile Trans-Amazon Highway in the 1970s. Since then, they have struggled against cultural and environmental degradation.

Because loggers, miners, and ranchers surround their territory, Paiter/Suruí leaders hope that technology from Google Earth will help monitor disruptive activities of those infringing on their land, as well as raise awareness about rain forest destruction.

By end of this year, tribal members will begin to use solar chargers, android cell phones, and an Open Data Kit—Google’s suite of tools that, among other things, run survey forms from a cell phone to collect and manage data (including text, GPS location, photos, video, audio, and barcodes) to map the forest.


The Amazon Conservation Team: The Sete de Setembro Indigenous Reserve
Paiter Surui Official Site
Almir Suruí: "A ameaça ao povo da floresta"
The Communication Initiative Network: Amazon Conservation Team Project with Surui Indians and Google Earth
YouTube: Trading Bows and Arrows for Laptops

Using Google Earth and satellite data, the Paiter/Suruí hope to become better informed about forest resources, protect the forests, and participate in negotiations related to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preventing deforestation.

Ultimately, their aim is to reforest 7,000 acres of ancestral land and access the international carbon market. They are also inventorying the forest to develop baselines and hope to attain “gold” status by meeting rigorous standards for biodiversity, conservation, and community involvement as well as obtaining carbon offset credits.

This initiative will help to meet the objectives of the Declaration of Cuiabá, which calls for legal mechanisms to protect the rights of traditional forest dwellers and rewards them for their efforts to conserve and restore the forest and to use resources in a sustainable fashion. Seven Amazon regional governors signed the declaration in Cuiabá, Mato Grosso, Brazil, in early April.

As part of its support for the initiative, USAID helped build an office headquarters for the Paiter/ Suruí association and contributed to development of the Suruí Forest Management Plan.

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