By Rhett Butler   |  Last updated July 31, 2012
Tropical forests have been inhabited by humans for tens of thousands of years, and human activities on a traditional scale may actually help promote forest diversity. Traditionally forest-dependent indigenous peoples have rarely over-exploited the resource that provides them with their livelihood, and they carefully practice rotational farming and sustainably harvest forest products and game. Yet these indigenous peoples often take the brunt of the blame for the destruction of the rainforests. Creating reserves has sometimes evicted these traditional peoples from their lands and in some places national park rangers unfairly restrict their activities. Less so today, but frequently in the past, tribal peoples were disregarded when national government granted concessions to foreign oil, mining, and logging firms on their traditional lands. Indigenous people have missed out on most of the benefits garnered by forest developers.

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Indigenous people have intimate knowledge and perspectives of the forest ecosystem around them. Instead of looking as them with condescension, scientists, environmentalists, and conservationists must come to view indigenous people as an asset to forest use and conservation.

Suggested reading
  • Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins
  • Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things by William McDonough and Michael Braungart
  • Consilience : The Unity of Knowledge by Edward O. Wilson
  • Biomimicry : Innovation Inspired by Nature by Janine M. Benyus
  • The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits by C. K. Prahalad
  • Medicine Quest by Mark J. Plotkin
  • The Ecology of Commerce by Paul Hawken

  • Oscar Mishaja, rainforest guide in the Tambopata region
    Oscar Mishaja, rainforest guide in the Tambopata region. (Photo by R. Butler)

    Review questions:

    • What can we learn from indigenous people about rainforest conservation?

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    Continued / Next: Conclusion

    Solutions Introduction
    Sustainable Forest Products
    Large-scale Forest Products
    Medicinal Drugs
    Logging (con't)
    Conservation Priorities
    Reserve Size & Valuation
    Intergovernmental Institutions
    Communication, Education
    Indigenous people
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    References (1)
    References (2)
    References (3)
    References (4)
    References (5)
    Foods & Genetic Diversity
    Medicinal Drugs & Pesticides
    Logging (con't)
    Increasing Productivity
    Types of Reserves
    Developing nations
    International Organizations

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    Kids version of this section
    - How can we save rainforests?
    - Education
    - Rehabilitation
    - Sustainable development
    - Parks
    - Eco-friendly companies
    - Ecotourism
    - What you can do

    Selection of information sources