Executive Director, Survival International (USA), Washington, D.C.

Deforestation of tropical forests affects not only the plants and animals of these regions but also their human inhabitants. The Indian populations of Amazonia are successful managers of the forest. Long ago, they discovered the secrets of sustainable use of its resources. In this chapter I discuss the knowledge and management of the forest environment exhibited by the Yanomami and Kayapo Indians of Brazilian Amazonia and the importance that their knowledge and their presence as part of the forest ecosystem has for us all. Not only is this forest ecosystem now being destroyed at a rapid rate, but we (the non-Indians) do not yet know how to care for and make use of whatever areas of forest will be left when this process of destruction is brought to a halt.


The use and management of natural resources by the Yanomami include hunting, fishing, and collecting faunal resources, gathering and collecting floral resources, and shifting cultivation of bananas, plantains, manioc, several varieties of potatolike tubers, and a number of lesser crops. Their population is small and widely dispersed, resulting in an extremely low population density of 777 hectares per person. For the standard of living to which they are adapted, the forest provides them with an abundance of everything they need for a well-fed, healthy, and gratifying life. To date, there is no satisfactory evidence that they ever overused their resources or in any way degraded their environment. In fact, there are a number of indications that they vitalize and rejuvenate the forest, adding to its diversity and the size of its faunal and floral populations.

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