Indians Tembé-Ténêtéhar: The Guardians of the ‘Carbon Storage’ in the Amazon

The indigenous Tembé-Ténêtéhar people, who live in the north-west of the federal state of Pará ,will sign the first carbon credit contract to preserve their forests.
The Indians living in Terra Indígena Alto Rio Guamá will receive money from a foreign company to keep the forest within their reserve standing as it is.

The contract for the sale of carbon credit was due to be signed last Friday, World Environment Day. Only heavy rain postponed the ceremony, which was planned to take place in Belém. The agreement will bring together the American company C-Trade and the Indians of Terra Indígena Alto Rio Guamá.

C TRADE, is an international developer of Carbon Trade Credits (aka CERS – Certified Emission Reductions) for renewable energy projects that offset the use of fossil fuels, such as solar, wind turbines, energy efficiency, forest carbon sequestration and waste-to-energy power plants.

Ronald Shiflett, C-Trade’s Director, International Utility Efficiency Partnership, is in Belém and will meet his new partners in a traditional business suit, as the Indians will show up in their traditional outfit, with cocares (feather headdress) and body paintings, done based on the jenipapo (black) and annatto (rood) fruit pulps representing their ethnic traditions.

”The C-Trade proposal is beneficial for us,” says Valdeci Tembe, community leader of Susuarana, one of 14 villages in the south of the Terra Indígena Alto Rio Guamá on the banks of the Rio Gurupi, and with Muxi Tembe, leader of the Tekowau village, one of the promoters of the proposal.

Considered one of the poorest Indian people in Pará, according to the National Indian Foundation (Funai), the Tembé-Ténêtéhar live permanently under threat from illegal loggers. Without hardly any source of income, the sale of logs from illegal cutting is one of the only income sources for some of the 216 families. Furthermore (illegal) loggers invade the reserve, and part of the reserve is already taken by marijuana plantings run by drug traffickers.

Conservative calculations of the C-Trade project show that the Indians could have a financial return of BRL 1 million (€ 350.000) annually. The offer stipulates that the Indians will receive 85% of the value of the sales of carbon credit in the international market, while the remaining 15%, will stay with the company. Only one quarter of the reservation will be subject to the contract. For each hectare of preserved forest, it is estimated that four tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) will be avoided in the atmosphere.

In Terra Indígena Alto Rio Guamá some 145.39 tonnes of carbon are stored per hectare. The volume is so large that it turns the Tembé-Ténêtéhar people in real guardians of a huge “carbon storage” of the Amazon rain forest: 40.8 million tonnes of carbon stored in an area of 279 hectares, on the border with Maranhão.

The Tembé-Ténêtéhar with their 281 indigenous lands scattered throughout the Amazon and their more than 61 extractive reserves in the region stock a total of 15 billion tons of carbon. This signifies 30% of the 47 billion tons of carbon stored in trunks, branches, leaves and soil of the Amazon forests, according to calculations of the Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental da Amazônia (Ipam = Environmental Research Institute of the Amazon). Experts warn that if this volume is released to the atmosphere, the effect would be a further worsening of the climate crisis.

Defining the key target of the negotiations, Juscelino Bessa, the regional administrator of Funai (Fundação Nacional do Índio is the Brazilian National Indian Foundation, or protection agency for Indian interests and their culture) said in Belém: “We are selling the idea of preservation. In addition to profit, the contract may add a social and ethnic content to the products of the forest.”

Felício Pontes, federal prosecutor with the Public Ministry in Pará, who was crucial to the negotiations, concluded: “If Brazil is a signatory of the Kyoto Treaty, nothing more is just then that the Indians receive payment for environmental services rendered to the country.”

The Federal University of Pará, also an important partner in the negotiations, established a management model for the use of the sold resources of carbon credits. The project envisages the creation of a Bolsa Floresta, similar to the Bolsa Familia, which will supply the Indians monthly with money to develop sustainable projects in the reserve.