Txai Suruí, an indigenous youth leader from the Amazonian state of Rondônia, said that protected areas of the rainforest populated by indigenous communities were far better conserved.

Her community strengthened its own monitoring efforts to protect its territories during Bolsonaro’s administration, as the community suffered attacks and was neglected by state agencies, she said.

Areas not under indigenous protection did not have such monitoring help, she said.

Luana Kumaruara, who lives in the Amazonian state of Pará in an area not officially recognized as indigenous but claimed by her Kumaruara people, said they had conserved the land through “self-demarcation of the territory”.

“Our indigenous areas are not impacted by agribusiness, deforestation and fires because protecting Mother Earth is part of our upbringing. We don’t use (land) as business or capital.”

However, Veit warned that if the collapse of the Amazon ecosystem is to be avoided, deforestation rates must be curbed on non-indigenous land as well in the next few years.

“Indigenous people themselves cannot be the saviours of the Amazon alone,” he said.

Scientists believe if 20% to 25% of the original Amazon forest canopy is lost, the region could transition away from being a rainforest, leading to the extinction of thousands of species, and releasing a enormous quantity of CO2 into the atmosphere.

A 2021 report into the state of the Amazon basin by more than 200 scientists estimated about 17% of the forest canopy has been lost so far.

Tarcísio Feitosa, a prominent environmental activist, said recognizing more land as indigenous is a key way to boost forest protection, not just because of communities’ efforts but because it puts more legal barriers in the path of those deforesting land.

Demarcating land as indigenous “brings great legal certainty”, he said.

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