Surui Carbon Project

An indigenous tribe in Brazil seems like an unlikely group of ICT users, but the Surui tribe, previously unknown to the world, is now embracing technology in order to preserve their livelihood.

The Surui Carbon Project is an ongoing project in Brazil that allows the Surui tribe to sustain their culture through carbon financing. Rather than let indigenous lands with large amounts of forested area be clear cut by logging companies, the Surui have set up the ‘Surui Fund’, where the money that they earn from the carbon credits will be used to implement their 50 year Management Plan. Their management plan is aimed at preserving their culture by using the money to fund health care initiatives and schools so that their population will be able to sustain itself, in addition to being able to protect its forest and reduce emissions.

ICTs come into the picture because the Surui need to create maps that show the exact area of forest they own. They have been working with Google Earth’s outreach team in order to measure and monitor the forest cover. They can also request high-resolution satellite images if they think there is suspicious activity going on, such as illegal logging. The outreach team has been training people in the tribe so that they can understand and use the software themselves.

This novel use of ICTs is also interesting because it is not a single standalone project, but a multi-year, ongoing process in which they plan to expand the amount of forested area under their stewardship. They have received assistance from NGOs in navigating the initial process of con proposing the project, measuring the amount of carbon saved, getting their credits verified. While previously the tribe had been selling off their land a little at a time to loggers for money, under new leadership they are now shifting their focus from short-term economic benefits to long-term sustainability, both economically and culturally.

The Surui Carbon Project is probably one of the most innovative development projects that I’ve heard of. However, I think there is a significant economic risk in undergoing it. There are numerous costs associated with launching the project, not to mention the fact that REDD, the program they are basing their actions off of, is still in its infancy. It was only developed in 2007, so the outcome of projects like this is uncertain. The price of carbon credits vary, and may even be possible that no one will want to buy them. I hope this isn’t the case, because I’m hoping that it can serve as a model for other unlikely groups to begin using ICTs.


3 responses to “Surui Carbon Project

  • rwoolworth

    This is AWESOME!! I’ve never heard or thought of any sort of project like this, ensuring environmental and economic stability for indigenous groups through carbon credits. The idea that indigenous people can literally buy into an international environmental economy in order to preserve their traditional way of life is super fascinating. I think this represents a really interesting dichotomy in our globalizing world between local and global and the fact that the two are now almost completely intertwined.

  • cgalley

    Totally agree with rwoolworth. I’m also interested in what this initiative’s success could mean for the legal framework of indigenous property rights within development. I wonder what kind of attorneys are on their staff?

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