Rainforest People Essay

A 'Q and A' session from Rainforest Action Network, to help older children learn about indigenous populations living in the Amazon and other rainforests.

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Q: Who are indigenous people?

A: Rainforests are bursting with life. Not only do millions of species of plants and animals live in rainforests, but people also call the rainforest their home. In fact, indigenous, or native, peoples have lived in rainforests for many thousands of years. Early accounts of these people by European explorers indicate a far denser population lived in the forest than today. Many of these original peoples, such as the Caribs (after whom the Caribbean Sea is named) have disappeared completely. Others are only scattered remnants of what they once were. However thousands of distinct ethnic groups with their own distinctive language and culture remain today in tropical rainforests around the world. Q: In general, how do they live?

A: Although some indigenous people live much as we do, others still live much as did their ancestors thousands of years before them. These communities organize their daily lives differently than our culture. Their food, medicines and clothing come primarily from the forest.

Q: Do the children go to school?

A: Most tribal children don't go to schools like ours. Instead, they learn about the forest from their parents and other people in their community. They are taught how to survive in the forest. They learn how to hunt and fish, and which plants are useful as medicines or food. Some of these children know more about rainforests than scientists who have studied rainforests for many years!
Q: What do they find to eat?

A: Besides hunting, gathering wild fruits and nuts and fishing, Indigenous people also plant small gardens for other sources of food, using a sustainable farming method called shifting cultivation. First they first clear a small area of land and burn it. Then they plant many types of plants, to be used for food and medicines. After a few years, the soil has become too poor to allow for more crops to grow and weeds start to take over. They then move to a nearby uncleared area. This land is traditionally allowed to regrow for 10-50 years before it is farmed again. Shifting cultivation is still practiced by those indigenous groups who have access to a large amount of land. However, with the growing number of non-indigenous farmers and the shrinking rainforest, other groups, especially in Indonesia and Africa, are now forced to remain in one area. The land becomes a wasteland after a few years of overuse, and cannot be used for future agriculture.

Q: Why is the forest so important to indigenous people?

A: Indigenous people revere the forest that, until the present, has protected them from outsiders and given them everything they need. They live what is called a sustainable existence, meaning they use the land without doing harm to the plants and animals that also call the rainforest their home. As a wise indigenous man once said, "The earth is our historian, our educator, the provider of food, medicine, clothing and protection. She is the mother of our races."

Q: Why are indigenous peoples in danger?

A: Indigenous peoples have been losing their lives and the land they live on ever since Europeans began colonizing their territories 500 years ago. Unknowingly, the first European explorers to what is now called Latin America brought diseases such as small-pox, measles and even the common cold to which Europeans had developed varying degrees of immunity but to which indigenous peoples had no immunity at all since none of them had never been exposed to these diseases before.

As a result of those encounters, over ninety percent of the native peoples died from diseases that today we regard as minor and even then were fatal to only a small fraction of Europeans. This disaster was repeated again when Europeans explored Oceania. Since then many indigenous groups have also been killed and driven off by settlers wanting their land, or enslaved to work in sugar plantations or mines. However, until about forty years ago, the lack of roads prevented most outsiders from exploiting the rainforest and entering indigenous territories. These roads, constructed for timber and oil companies, cattle ranchers and miners, have opened up vast areas for outsiders to grab and exploit and have made possible the destruction of millions of acres of rainforest each year.

Although indigenous people have lived on their lands for thousands of years, they do not own it, because they have not filed "deeds" of land and do not possess "title." Therefore governments and other outsiders do not recognize their rights to the land. They have no other choice but to move to different areas, sometimes even to the crowded cities. They often live in poverty because they have no skills useful for a city lifestyle and little knowledge about the urban culture. For example, they know more about gathering food from the forest than buying food from a store. Imagine being forced to move to a different country, where you know nothing about the culture or language!

Q: What are indigenous people doing to save their territory?

A: Indigenous groups are beginning to fight for their land, most often through peaceful demonstrations. Such actions may cause them to be arrested or even to lose their lives, but they know that if they take no action, their land and culture could be lost forever.

Many people living outside of rainforests want to help protect the indigenous people's culture. They understand that indigenous people have much to teach us about rainforests. By working with these groups, we can learn important information about rainforests - its ecology, medicinal plants, food and other products. It is crucial to realize that they have a right to practice their own lifestyle, and live upon the land where their ancestors have lived before them.

Q: Why should we care about the fate of indigenous peoples?

A: The basic answer is moral: indigenous peoples have a right to live and because we should celebrate their difference from us since diversity enriches life and culture. We should be ashamed that the 20th century has witnessed more genocides of peoples and more extinctions of animals than any other in history.

In addition, indigenous peoples possess an enormous body of almost irreplaceable information and skills about living in the rainforest without destroying it.

In the 19th Century, miners used to carry canaries into the mines with them because the birds were highly sensitive to toxic gases. If the birds died, it warned the miners that they too would die unless they fled. Jason W. Clay has compared the rainforests and their inhabitants to the miner's canary and we can see that they are dying. However, we cannot flee the earth we can only change our ways.

"Within the next few decades, the fate of the world's remaining indigenous peoples, the fragile environments they occupy, and the valuable knowledge that they embody could well be decided once and for all. A number of individuals, corporations, and states are already pursuing their own "final solutions." The 20th century will be remembered either as the century when we destroyed much of the Earth's genetic and cultural diversity, or the century when peoples learned to live together and share their knowledge in order to maintain the diversity upon which we all depend. Working together, we can make a world of difference."


Information aquired from Rainforest Action Network

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KS4 Prize Winners

First Place: Isobel Fernandes

St Mary’s Ascot

How on Earth can we Save the Rainforests?

Rainforest: an ordinary word which describes something truly magnificent. Tropical rainforests are the most diverse ecosystems on earth. A four-square mile patch of rainforest contains as many as 3085 different species of animals, plants and insects. However, the rainforests are being cut down and destroyed at a rapid and horrifying rate, every year an area the size of England is being destroyed. This shocking fact is something that we cannot simply dismiss, we think of England, our home and how important it is to us.  The Cotswolds, picturesque with rich history, the hustle and bustle of our capital London, always lit up. We would never give this up, so why are we giving up the rainforest? London, the city that never sleeps is filled with life and houses 7,556,900 people. The rainforest which used to be home to around 1 million Indians now houses little more than 200 000 due to deforestation.   The rainforest covers just 7 per cent of the world’s surface and is inhabited by over 50 per cent of the world’s species.  We would never destroy London and let the lights go out; we definitely should not be forcing the rainforests and all of its life into eternal ruin. 

When we are losing almost 137 animal, insect and plant species per day, totalling the extinction of around 50 000 species per year, it is easy to feel powerless. As we learn more about the devastating reality of the state of our rainforests, the pressure is increased in our desires to help. There are many ways which can help to rescue, restore and revive the rainforest in its time of desperate need.   Every year more and more trees are being cut down for paper, therefore it is everyone’s responsibility to try and reduce the amount of paper that they use and waste. Petrol and plastic are two materials that are made from oil which is extracted from the rainforest. We must try to reduce the amount of petrol that we use; this can be achieved by walking, cycling or taking public transport whenever we possibly can. We must also make an effort to reduce the amount of plastic that we use; choose glass over plastic, and if you do have a plastic bottle ensure that you rinse and reuse it.  It is clear that in everything we do we must think ‘REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE!’ This simple phrase is the key saving our rainforest. Never feel powerless. If you do feel that a company is taking advantage of the rainforest you should be active and write to them, explaining the importance of preserving the rainforest. We can also donate to projects that work actively, with the help of our money; they can continue to fight the battle to save our much loved rainforests.

One of the very shocking reasons for deforestation is to clear room for cattle. This is becoming increasingly common as the demand for beef grows, particularly within the fast food companies. In the west a lot of meat is consumed within the diet due to the fairly strong economy and therefore deforestation is increasing to provide means to feed these cattle. The western people especially, have a responsibility to adapt their diets accordingly to prevent this deforestation. This does not mean cutting all meat completely out of our diets however it means that we should think and try to use more meats that have been bred locally and also eating less red meats, beef in particular. When ordering at restaurants it is a good idea to look for something that does not contain beef. Try to ensure that if you have a pet you feed it food which has alternative flavourings opposed to beef. This may seem a big ask to someone who has little interest in the rainforest, however, it is a simple and easy step that everyone can take to do their bit and save the rainforest.

In conclusion, there is no instant method by which the rainforests can be saved. But, how on earth can we begin to make a difference? We must remember not to give up on the beauty of the rainforests, we must believe that we can make a difference, through this enthusiasm to help we can bring to light the importance of the cause to others around us. By doing this we will encourage a population of people who care about the world in which they live. This seems to be the best way on earth that we can save the rainforest.

Second Place: Sophie Davidson

St Mary’s Ascot

How on earth can we save the rainforest?

The rainforests are becoming exceedingly important to our world. They are home to a vast variety of fascinating species as well as the rich culture of the indigenous people. They also provide us with goods and services which we rely on for our basic everyday life. Many of our most popular foods come from the rainforest: bananas, peppers, cashews, peanuts, coffee, tea, cola, coconut, cocoa, vanilla, and sugar. Not a day goes by in which we do not eat at least one if not more of these products. The fact that we need and love these products so much is causing us to destroy the place where they are grown. The rainforest gives us health, both by acting as the world’s “lungs” (photosynthesis) and by giving us medicines, for example, quinine, which helps prevent malaria. Nearly half of the world’s medicines come from plants in the rainforest, without which the human population would decrease rapidly from illness. The rainforest also provides us with timber as a fuel and building material.

The rainforest is being greatly damaged almost beyond repair- the primary reason being deforestation. Deforestation in the Amazon is being caused by large international companies cutting down wood used for timber and fuel and also clearing the forest to make room for cattle and soya bean farming as well as the ever growing population of Brazil. Every second an area of forest the size of two football fields is cleared. This extreme clearing of the rainforests must stop. New trees must be planted in the place of the ones that have been cut down. Although these trees will take a long time to grow to a full height, this will insure that there will be some form of rainforest for the future generations. The best way to reduce deforestation is to simply move deforestation out of the rainforest entirely. But of course this will take a lot of time. A substitution for tropical timber must quickly be found.

In an everyday manner, we are also able to help save this rainforest if we care enough. It is so much better to buy products not made in the rainforest. Palm oil that is at the moment mostly grown in rainforest can also be grown in countries like USA. Although they are more costly, this expense is not as great as what we will have to pay if we lose our rainforest. The extremely destructive soya bean farming (as mentioned in the previous paragraph) also happens in the USA and China, these countries are better equipped to deal with deforestation and have better ways of developing chemicals to help replanted trees grow faster.

I think one of the most promising ways to try and save the rainforest for the future is through education both of the people living in the rainforest and of people in the developed world. We must educate the people who have moved into the rainforest to teach them how important their rainforest is to the natural cycle of the earth. They must be taught the skills in how to manage the rainforest sustainably but first they must realize how much the rest of the people in the world really need it. The people in MEDCs also need to be taught how important the rainforest is to their lives. They can also be taught not to waste the resources and ruin the rainforest in the process. This is providing a way of saving the rainforest not just for right now but for the future. The people being educated at school will be the people taking care of and managing the world soon.

We must save this great biome for its natural beauty and the great variety of species living there, for its natural resources and for the people of the future. This type of biome is so important to the world’s natural processes as well as being needed in every person’s life. There are so many problems in the rainforest and one of the greatest is deforestation. We need to stop the world’s “lungs” being damaged, by introducing sustainable agriculture as a start, but this is not enough. The trees will not be able to grow back fast enough to keep providing the huge demand the rainforest faces. Buying products not from the rainforest will mean that the deforestation due to timber and farming will be decreased massively. For change in the future, young people must be educated to preserve the rainforest.

Third Place: Madeleine Parsons

St Mary’s Ascot

How on earth can we save the rainforests?

Often called the ‘Earth’s Lungs’ the rainforests are essential for the respiration of all living animals. Through the process of photosynthesis the tropical rainforest plants convert the toxic carbon dioxide mammals breathe out through respiration into clean oxygen we can then breathe.  2 per cent of the Earth’s surface is covered by rainforest but yet two thirds of the world’s living species inhabit them. The health of people everywhere, although probably not realised, is in the hands of the rainforests. This is because nearly half the medicines taken are derived from the prevalent plants grown only there. The most prominent and perturbing consideration is that in a four mile radius it is thought 1,500 species of flowering plants, 750 species of trees, 125 mammal species, 400 species of bird, 100 species of reptiles, 60 species of amphibians and 150 species of butterflies live.  The biodiversity in these areas is like none you can find elsewhere in the world. So why, when we take these factors into consideration, do we continue to tear the rainforests down?

The destruction of the rainforests is essential to many industries. Logging companies endeavour to obtain timber or use the poorer quality wood for wood chipping. The locations of the rainforests are also areas where the climate is perfect for harvesting crops such as sugarcane or coffee. Therefore many acres of rainforest are cut down every day to provide new plantations. Once the land has been used to grow produce it takes several months for the land to retain the same quality of soils, meaning that farmers cut down more trees to make more land available. Like the farmers, cattle herders have the same routine of using land for cattle ranching before moving and making new land once the old is ruined.  For each pound of beef, 200 square feet of rainforest has been cut down. The concluding reason to cut away the rainforests is that metal, such as aluminium and copper, and oil deposits lie beneath the ground of the rainforests.

Somehow the majority of the world’s population chooses to ignore the demolition of the rainforests as it primarily does not link to them.  A vast population is not even aware of the rapid rate at which rainforests are disappearing. One and one-half acres of rainforest are lost every second. Rainforests once covered 14 per cent of the earth’s land surface; now they cover a mere 6 per cent. It is predicted that in the next 40 years we could lose all the rainforests entirely. Therefore anything we do that could potentially save the rainforests is moving in the right way forward.

Land owners are the people who choose whether or not to abuse the rainforests. However something that very few people know is that anyone can own parts of the rainforest and therefore preserve it.  We can raise money to buy large quantities of land and declare it off limits to loggers, farmers and ranchers. Buying an acre of the Amazon surprisingly only costs $37.50. When we reflect on the World’s action towards problems such as poverty we can see all around us, on adverts and in the newspapers, that by raising people’s awareness you get the desired affect. If people are educated about the value of the rainforest there would be more of an inclination to make a difference.

After much research it seems that all sources seem to agree that in order to save the rainforests we must do five things; teach others of the importance of the environment, restore damaged ecosystems, encourage people to help, and establish protection and support organisations. Whilst I agree that all these factors are important I also believe that they are slightly idealistic as people have been aware of the destruction of rainforests for over a decade but yet not everyone has acted upon it. Therefore I think that although all these things should be put into practice there has to be a scare, such as the price of wood suddenly soaring, to make everyone realise that the rainforests need aid.

 A lot of companies now are reducing the number of trees they cut down and are even planting new ones for each one they cut down. Although these companies are doing their own part, without hundreds of more companies doing the same, the impact will not be influential. These trees that are planted in areas which have been damaged will build new ecosystems but, like many realities, these processes take time. The sooner we start to try and save the rainforests the better.

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