Why grassroots communication is key to stopping Amazon deforestation

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Why grassroots communication is key to stopping Amazon deforestation

The Amazon is being decimated — by the expansion of the agricultural frontier, by illegal economies linked to drug trafficking, and by an economic model that privileges mining and ranching and negatively impacts vulnerable communities.

These activities are pushing deforestation levels towards 20%, a point of no return beyond which the rainforest will be unable to regenerate.

An estimated 123 billion tons of carbon are stored in the Amazon. Halting deforestation across the Amazon basin is critical in the fight against climate change.

Real political action needed

In early August, heads of state from the nine countries of the Amazon rainforest gathered in Belem, Brazil, to discuss ways to stop deforestation in the region. Despite several speeches filled with good intentions, participating countries were unable to agree to a clear target to limit deforestation.

The main reason for this failure? Some countries are calling for strict and urgent measures to address the issue — halting all oil exploration in the region and creating a joint military force to take on deforestation head-on. But other countries are still open to continued extraction and infrastructure development.

In response, civil society representatives called for government leaders to take real action in the form of financing, measurable targets, and sanctions, and to address the root causes of deforestation.

However, the summit declaration does highlight several important issues:

  • the importance of working shoulder to shoulder with Indigenous people
  • a call for developed countries to meet their development and climate financing commitments
  • plans for cooperation with nations that are home to other critical forest ecosystems, like the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Indonesia

This shows that despite challenges, there is political will to address the issue and that progress is possible. This summit would have been unthinkable under the leadership of far-right Brazilian ex-president Jair Bolsonaro.

Creating space for local voices

As countries develop policies to address reforestation, WACC calls on governments and civil society working to protect the Amazon rainforest to create real opportunities for the voices and concerns of local people living across the Amazon — including Indigenous, Afro-descendant, and peasant communities — to be heard and taken seriously.

As we have expressed before, local knowledge and participation are essential in guaranteeing the legitimacy and sustainability of efforts seeking to protect this vital ecosystem. But meaningful local participation in policy conversations is impossible unless structural communication and deficits are addressed.

Supporting grassroots communication efforts

Access to communication in the Amazon is marked by a number of factors — great distances, weather conditions that affect the operation of electronic devices, a dearth of public interest media, the centrality of rivers as communication routes and of radio as the main medium of communication, insufficient infrastructure and internet connectivity.

As a result, local communities in the region face a myriad of barriers in using media and communication to advance their environmental agendas. These include limited access to communication platforms, under- and misrepresentation in mainstream media, low levels of media literacy, and restricted access to information.

Therefore, supporting existing grassroots communication and information efforts in the region is key.

Many communities have already taken media — especially community media and social media — into their own hands. They are:

  • developing their own narratives
  • organizing advocacy campaigns
  • proposing development paradigms based on Indigenous knowledge
  • addressing local information gaps

These initiatives need broad support to enable broad and transformative local communication.

Project: Voices of the Amazon

WACC continues to back efforts by local and regional partners to protect the Amazon region. Earlier this year, we launched the multi-year initiative “Voices of the Amazon” to strengthen the community radio movement in the region.

We call on other organizations to join us in the effort to provide new platforms for local communities to be heard in public debates around climate policy.

Devastation in northern Brazil, where the Amazon forest has been cut down and burned in order to raise cattle.
Photo: Life On Earth/Paul Jeffrey