Satellites as a means of combating deforestation for indigenous peoples

Indigenous population patrols equipped with smartphones and satellite data have greatly reduced illegal deforestation in the Amazon rainforest in Peru, show the results of an experiment released Monday.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), shows that recognizing the rights of indigenous peoples in their territory can be a powerful force against the climate crisis, its authors say.

A randomized controlled pilot experiment evaluated the impact of indigenous forest patrols on deforestation reduction when these patrols were equipped with satellite warning equipment.

The results show a 52% drop in deforestation in 2018 and 21% in 2019 in villages attributed to material happiness and training compared to those not equipped.

The cuts have been particularly significant for villages directly facing threats of illegal gold mining, illegal logging and planting of banned crops such as the coca plant used in cocaine production.

The study was conducted by researchers from New York University and Johns Hopkins University, in collaboration with the U.S. Rainforest Foundation (RFUS) and the Organization of Indigenous Peoples of the Eastern Amazon (ORPIO).

The study was conducted in 36 indigenous villages of Shipibo Patria Nueva and Nueva Saposoa in the Peruvian Amazon, and is corroborated by photos provided by Peru and its satellite SAT-1, launched in 2016, which fly above the ground 14 times a day.

Thirty-seven other villages were assigned as controls in the study, with no change in their forest management practices.

Once a month, couriers sailed the Amazon and its tributaries to deliver USB sticks containing satellite photos and GPS data to isolated villages.

Those assigned to surveillance transferred this information to specialized smartphone applications that they used to direct patrols to potential deforestation sites.

In cases where they found such places, the evidence was presented to the assembly of community members.

It is then up to them to decide what action to take, whether to push the perpetrators out of the countryside at their own expense or to call the police in certain cases, for example when drug traffickers are involved.

“The primary goal is to provide information on deforestation into the hands of those most affected by its consequences and who can act against them,” said Tom Bewick, director of the Peruvian Zone at RFUS.

During the two years of the study, almost 456 hectares of tropical forest were saved, which enabled the avoidance of emissions of more than 234,000 tons of CO2 emissions.

“The results are a strong argument for increasing investment and replicating the model,” says Tom Bewick, adding, “It would be good for the future, not just for Peru, but for our planet as well.”

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