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Title:     Brazil allows sustainable logging by Amazon tribe 
Source:    Reuters
Status:    Copyright by source, contact for reprint permissions
Date:      February 4, 1998
Byline:    By Joelle Diderich

BRASILIA, Feb 4 (Reuters) - Brazil on Wednesday approved the creation of the first sustainable logging project on indigenous land in the Amazon in an effort to stem the devastation of its fragile ecosystem by commercial logging.

The project, partially funded by the World Bank, will eventually permit the Xikrin tribe to selectively log an area equivalent to nine percent of their reservation in the northern state of Para over a period of 40 years.

"This project is of special importance to us because it represents the first time there will be sustainable management of a forest in an indigenous area," said World Bank regional director Gobind Nankani.

The Brazilian government hopes to promote sustainable logging as one of several measures to slow deforestation in the Amazon. Official data released last week showed an area twice the size of Belgium was deforested between 1995 and 1997. The government announced on Tuesday the creation of seven new national forests in the Amazon which it may now lease to logging companies under strict environmental rules.

"It's not viable nowadays to imagine that something will happen to stop commercial activity in the Amazon," said Paulo Beninca, director of renewable natural resources at the government's Environment Institute (IBAMA).

Previous government policies in the Amazon have failed to prevent businesses from plundering tribal reservations of their natural resources.

"In indigenous areas there is predatory exploitation which goes against the interests of the indigenous population," said Beninca. "We are going to interrupt this process. It will be reverted to the benefit of the community."

The World Bank and recently privatized Brazilian mining giant Companhia Vale do Rio Doce have invested $400,000 in a pilot program to log and sell a variety of valuable tropical hardwoods from 1,400 hectares (3,460 acres) of the reservation. If successful, the project will expanded to 40,000 hectares (98,800 acres) of the Xikrins' 439,150-hectare (1.08 million acre) reservation.

Logging firms damaged swathes of the Xikrin do Catete reservation under illegal agreements they had with the tribe in the 1980s, according to the Social-Environmental Institute, which is helping the tribe sue those companies.

One of the aims of the new program is to market less popular varieties of timber and take the pressure off the small number of species which are currently most logged.

"We are trying to sign exclusive contracts with wood sellers for a certain period of time so that they will be our partners," said the institute's anthropologist Isabelle Giannini, who has worked on the project from the start. "The task of these companies would be to open up the market,"she told Reuters.

But Giannini and other officials were only cautiously optimistic about the success of the venture, pointing out that it represents virgin territory for most of the parties involved and that Brazil has little experience of sustainable logging.

"There is a great will for this to succeed. The implementation is something else," Giannini said.

Tribal chief Karangre Xikrin said that while the project was a milestone for the community, he was frustrated at the pace of discussions since its creation in 1993.

"You know how the white man is, always lots of bureaucracy," he said. However, he predicted that "if this works, and it will work, we are going to spread it to other villages."

For IBAMA, the cultural challenge is twofold. One the one hand, to understand the age-old values and traditions of the Xikrin and on the other, to introduce a functional model of sustainable management in an area scarred by years of large-scale commercial exploration.

"The big question...is to prevent the indigenous population from taking a mercenary attitude," said IBAMA's Beninca. "Only time will tell."


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