Ancient knowledge and science are key to the environmental crisis – 03/23/2024 – Reinaldo José Lopes

Ancient knowledge and science are key to the environmental crisis – 03/23/2024 – Reinaldo José Lopes


Here’s some good news you probably haven’t heard about. The pirarucu (Arapaima gigas), an Amazonian fish that often reaches 2 m in length and weighs a few hundred kilos, was completely banned from fishing in the country due to excessive catches. In recent years, however, the giant’s population has managed to recover exceptionally, growing 425% in 11 years in the lakes where it became protected in Brazil.

How did this miracle happen? Through a combination of cutting-edge scientific knowledge and direct involvement of traditional communities that include the bichão in their diet.

The long-term interaction of indigenous and riverside fishermen with the species helped in the development of techniques for counting individuals. More than a thousand communities in the region have organized to protect areas important for the reproduction of fish from large-scale commercial fishing. And, finally, sustainable catch quotas were established, which could reach 30% of adult individuals (which, let’s face it, still gives a huge amount of fish fillet). Result: at least for now, there is no longer any reason to fear the disappearance of the tasty giant.

The successful experience is one of the socio-ecological “hope spots” highlighted in a study that has just been published in the specialized journal Nature Ecology & Evolution. The work is signed by a team of biologists, archaeologists, anthropologists and indigenous leaders (from the Kuikuro and Waujá ethnicities, both from Alto Xingu). Synthesizing a gigantic mass of information, the research shows two very important things: 1) there is a very close link between biodiversity and cultural diversity in Brazil; 2) we need to use this link to look to the future and face the environmental crisis we are going through in a way that benefits, at the same time, people and biodiversity.

Coordinated by Carolina Levis, linked to UFSC and Princeton University (USA), and also signed by Maíra Padgurschi, from Unicamp and the National Biorenewable Laboratory, among other colleagues, the work begins by highlighting a crucial fact: the biological richness of ecosystems Brazilians have a “cultural” and human root.

In fact, the idea that there were vast expanses of “untouched nature” here before the arrival of Europeans cannot be sustained. Careful analysis of the distribution of plant and animal species in the Amazon region, the Atlantic forest and other biomes shows the long-term impact of human activity.

This is true in the case of the domestication and cultivation of dozens of species of plants, but also for the ground itself (with the creation of the artificially more fertile soil known as terra preta) and for “wild” species, but important for humans, which have become much more common than expected. In short, Brazilian forests have been more like backyards or gardens for several millennia.

Traditional populations, through what scientists call intermediate levels of disturbance (clearing, mixed fields, controlled use of fire, etc.), managed to “humanize” these environments while maintaining relatively high rates of biodiversity. This is the case of controlled fires in portions of the cerrado carried out in the territories of the Xavante indigenous people, for example – in these places, paradoxically, the diversity of native vegetation is better preserved, since indigenous management takes into account the natural adaptation of the cerrado to the presence Of fire.

The study authors argue that a marriage between these traditional interactions between people and biodiversity, on the one hand, and cutting-edge scientific knowledge, on the other, is essential if we want a development model that overcomes the old Brazilian mania of cutting down trees indiscriminately. and throw ox into the rubble. (That last sentence, of course, is mine: nothing so unpolished would end up in a scientific article.) The pirarucu example, and several others, show that this is not a simple utopia.

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