The Amazon is the greatest, the most magnificent and probably the most well known remaining ancient forest on Earth. The Amazon River valley is the largest basin area in the world. Its rainforest stretches from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the tree line of the Andes in the west. The forest widens from a 200-mile (320 km) front along the Atlantic to a belt 1,200 miles (1,900 km) wide where the lowlands meet the Andean foothills.




This basin contains most of the biodiversity on earth, with 50% of the entire planet’s land-based animal and plant species depending on the Amazon rainforest for their survival. There are more plant species in one hectare in the Amazon than the whole of Europe. Over 200 species of trees can be found on one hectare of the Amazon. Twenty million people, including countless indigenous nations, call the Amazon their home.

Tropical rainforests play an important role in the exchange of gases such as carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, methane, and oxygen between the biosphere and the atmosphere. Although the ecological importance of the Amazon is undeniable, this unique ecosystem faces an ever increasing threat.

The diversity and contrast of life in the Amazon is startling. The Amazon Water Lily is the biggest flower in the world with a diameter of two meters. The caranguejeira spider is bigger than a base ball and one species of monkey weighing 130 grams is about the size of a toothbrush.

The images of fires raging out of control in the Eastern Amazon state of Para are a powerful symbol of the way mankind continues to plunder and destroy nature. Of the Earth’s original forests, only about one fifth remain untouched. One third of what is left is in the Amazonian countries of Guyana, Suliname, French Guyana, Venezuela, Columbia, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Brazil.

The Amazon Basin is the largest reservoir of fresh water on the planet and about on fifth of all running water on the planet flows through the Amazon. The Amazon River is 4,000 miles long, the same distance that separates New York from Berlin. It is almost two times the length of the Mississippi, which is 2,340 miles and five times longer than the river Rhine, which is 820 miles long.

During the rainy season from November to June, the main rivers in the Amazon rise and flood vast areas of the forest. The flooded area can spread out up to 124 miles from the river banks. In some rivers the difference in the water level between the wet and the dry season is equal to a building eight floors high.

During the floods river dolphins and fish are able to swim through the flooded forest. Indeed fish are one of the most important pollinators of the forest eating fruits from the trees of the forest and dispersing their seeds.

The current state of logging in the Amazon is out of control. According to the government of Brazil, 80% of all logging in the Brazilian Amazon is illegal. With the decrease of viable forest stocks around the world, transnational corporations are now targeting the Amazon as a key source of forest products. Huge majestic trees like the Samauma, also known as "Queen of the Forest," are being cut down to make cheap plywood for construction companies in Brazil, the United States, Japan and Europe. Illegal logging is fast becoming the major threat to the survival of the Amazon rainforest. This deforestation has consequences not only for the native peoples of Brazil but for the entire planet.

The Amazon Rainforest is vital for rainfall in the region as water is continually recycled through the Amazon forest by evaporation and rain. Destruction of the forest has already led to changes in the micro climate with the possibility that further destruction will accelerate micro and regional climatic change. Furthermore, the continuing logging and burning of the forest is contributing to climate change and global warming.

Amazon Mahogany Criminals Busted

Para State, Brazil: The growing battle against the mahogany criminals in the Brazilian Amazon reached flash point on October 30, 2001 as an unprecedented joint operation, between the federal police, government officials and Green peace, raided a sawmill, bringing to an end a five-day mission which uncovered a total of 77,115 cubic feet of illegal mahogany worth almost U.S. seven million on the international market. The sawmill, empty but surrounded by logs carefully hidden in the bush, would have been the clearing point for the illegal mahogany found in the previous days.

Three helicopters, two planes, five trucks, 16 officials from the Brazilian environmental agency IBAMA and police, accompanied by 11 Greenpeace activists, converged on the sawmill outside the township of Uruara, the frontline of illegal logging in the Amazon.

The sawmill is owned, according to IBAMA, by a frontman for Osmar Ferreira, one of the mahogany kings identified in a recent Greenpeace investigation as laundering illegal mahogany for export to the US and Europe.

The investigation team visited four locations in the middle Land in the Brazilian Amazon. Behind a dam built by loggers on the Carajari River, 18,019 cubic feet of illegal mahogany were found. These logs were located inside public lands where logging is strictly prohibited. Yesterday, IBAMA seized the largest haul of logs in the whole operation, which was located at the Juvilandia farm, by the Iriri River. Two gunmen were also arrested by the police in the area during the operation.

The seizures follow several recent Greenpeace exposes of the mahogany corruption trail, which preceded a death threat to Greenpeace Amazon campaign coordinator, Paulo Adario, and an announcement a week ago by the Brazilian government suspending all logging, transport and trade of Brazilian mahogany until it completes an investigation into the industry. High quality mahogany is only found in pristine areas of rainforest, and so the illegal mahogany trade is directly responsible for the destruction of these areas as it leaves behind a network of roads and trails that other loggers can use to access the remaining forest.

"The illegal mahogany industry has for years been driving the destruction of the Amazon. After witnessing the rampant destruction of this rainforest firsthand, it is clear to us that the only course of action left to the Brazilian government is to throw these loggers in jail and stop this industry until it can be brought under control," said Adario.

Greenpeace released photographs and video images from a recent aerial reconnaissance clearly showing sophisticated logging operations in lands belonging to the Amazon’s Kayapo Indians, an area where logging is strictly prohibited. A month later, another flight over the area revealed that a large raft of illegal mahogany logs was ready to be transported downstream. IBAMA cannot investigate inside Indian lands without the support of FUNAI, the Brazilian Indian Agency, but unfortunately FUNAI did not take part in the operation.

A recent Greenpeace report, Partners in Mahogany Crime, found that the mahogany trade is driving the destruction of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest and is run by a corrupt industry which is undermining traditional cultures, and leading the illegal destruction of the world’s most biologically diverse ancient forest.

The report details these illegal acts and the two mahogany kings, Moisés Carvalho Pereira and Osmar Alves Ferreira, who control most of the trade. According to information obtained from workers, the wood seized at the Juvilandia farm belongs to Osmar Ferreira.

Much of the mahogany paperwork is falsified and the wood is then exported by these companies to international markets, predominantly to the US, the UK, the Netherlands and Germany.

Just four importers, DLH Nordisk, Aljoma Lumber, J Gibson Mcllvain Co Ltd and Intercontinental Hardwoods Inc. accounted for more than two-thirds of the mahogany export trade in one year from Moisés and Ferreira. Top U.S. companies such as Ethan Allen, Stickley, Henredon, Drexel Heritage and Georgia Pacific are buying illegal mahogany from the Amazon Rainforest. This mahogany is used largely in luxury goods such as yachts, high-class furniture, musical instruments and coffins.

Greenpeace sent a letter informing the companies of its findings on October 18, 2001. So far only one company, Craftique, a furniture manufacturer, has responded denying it has purchased illegal mahogany form the Amazon rainforest. According to official Brazilian government statistics, the United States is the principal market for Brazilian mahogany.

The exposure of this scandal is part of Greenpeace’s global campaign for the protection of the world’s last ancient forests. Approximately 80 percent of the original global forests have already been destroyed. Greenpeace is calling on world governments to take immediate steps to halt forest destruction by: placing a global moratorium on logging and other industrial activities in all large areas of ancient forests; adopting measures to ensure that timber is produced and traded in an ecologically, socially, and legally responsible way; establishing a network of protected areas and; creating a global ancient forest fund of US $15 billion annually to fund these measures.

There is no one solution to save the Amazon Rainforest. A wide range of sustainable and effective initiatives are needed to prevent the continuing destruction of the Amazon while simultaneously improving the quality of life for more than 20 million people living in the region. This can only be achieved if economic alternatives and solutions to destructive logging are found.

The Amazon Solutions

There is no one solution to save the Amazon Rainforest. A wide range of sustainable and effective initiatives are needed to prevent the continuing destruction of the Amazon while simultaneously improving the quality of life for more than 20 million people living in the region. This can only be achieved if economic alternatives and solutions to destructive logging are found. Potential solutions include:

Rubber tapping

Rubber tapping has been a traditional way of life for many people living in the Amazon forest since the start of the century. It is not damaging to the forest as it does not require the tree to be cut down in order for the latex to be extracted.

As many as 63,000 families now earn their living from rubber tapping in extractive reserves in the Amazon forest. These reserves cover up to one percent of the Amazon forest and were established by the Brazilian Government to allow the rubber tappers to maintain their traditional way of life. To date only 5,000 tons of rubber is extracted from the Amazon to supply 1.4 percent of the national market for rubber in Brazil. The National Council of Rubber Tappers is trying to address this imbalance.

Palm Fruits and Palm Hearts

The fruits of the Acai Palm found in the Amazon, are traditionally used to make a juice which is rich in minerals. A single palm tree produces up to 20 kg of fruit per year. The fruits produce a tasty, dark violet colored juice which is the most financially viable nonwood forest product from the Amazon’s delta. In 1995 almost 106,000 tons of wine was produced at a value of $40 million U.S. dollars.

Although the palm tree has to be felled in order to extract the palm hearts, the relative ease of replanting the trees in the middle of the forest and their rapid regeneration make this a far preferable and sustainable alternative to large-scale logging. The biggest importers of palm hearts from the Amazon are France, Canada, the United States, Spain, Japan, Holland and Belgium.

Fruits and Nuts

The growing attraction towards new products from the Amazon, including vitamins, minerals, exotic fruits, nuts and spices are providing growing opportunities to market these products both nationally and internationally. Over 48 native fruits in the Amazon have been identified with the potential for sale on the international market.

The camu-camu fruit for example contains a higher concentration of vitamin C than any other fruit known in the world and is imported to the United States for the production of vitamin tablets. Cupuacu is another fruit with a unique tropical taste that is expected to enter the world market in the coming years. In addition, many indigenous tribes in the Amazon collect Brazil nuts as their main source of income.

Medicinal plants

Over two-thirds of all mass-produced pharmaceutical drugs are derived from medicinal plants. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) eighty percent of the world’s population use plants to treat a wide ranging spectrum of illnesses from hypertension to syphilis. Natural extracts from the Pacific Yew in the rainforests of North America, for example, have proven effective against cancer and is just one example of a natural occurring remedy in the world’s rainforests.

The potential of the Amazon has only just begun to be realized. At present, close to 650 species of plant with pharmaceutical properties and economic value have been discovered in the Amazon. There are countless more.


Ecotourism in the Amazon, and indeed in other areas of the world’s ancient forests, has huge potential but is at present managed in an unsatisfactory way. Ecotourism has the potential to guarantee minimal environmental impact on the Amazon rainforest through the application of environmentally friendly technologies and environmentally sympathetic accommodation for visitors. It could also guarantee that the income received from such activities would directly benefit the local communities.

Due to its outstanding natural beauty the Amazon forest offers many wide ranging options for ecotourism and adventure tourism such as trekking, rafting, diving, cruising, bird watching and wildlife observation. In the Amazon, there are currently 16 jungle lodges (1997) registered with the official Tourist Office of Amazons state, offering over 1,007 beds collectively.

It is essential that any further development of ecotourism has to be carefully monitored to ensure the sustainable expansion of the industry.

Community based fisheries

There is huge potential to utilize the existing fish stocks in the Amazon in a more sustainable way. One economic alternative would be to set up community based fisheries operated in a sustainable and ecological way.

FSC Certification

Greenpeace believes that customers have the right to know whether or not the products they buy have resulted in forest destruction.

Where logging is appropriate in the Amazon basin, or in any forest worldwide, every effort must be made to ensure that social and environmental concerns are addressed. Certification of forestry operations can be an important step towards the elimination of destructive and illegal timber harvesting and also safeguard workers, local populations and the environment.

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) offers the only certification with international market credibility. The FSC certification is assessed on independent environmental, social and economic performance standards, audited in the forest. The criteria for certification cover basic principles including:

• Conservation of ancient forests of major environmental, social and cultural significance

• Environmental impact of logging methods

•Tenure and land-use rights and responsibilities

• Community relations and workers rights • Monitoring and assessment of management plans.

Currently there are three forestry companies working in the Brazilian Amazon that have received FSC certification: Precious Woods Amazonas, Gethal Amazonas and Jurua Florestal Ltda.


Greenpeace commends the Deni for protecting their land from illegal logging

Manaus, Brazil—After a two year struggle supported by Brazilian organizations including Greenpeace, the Deni Indians of the Brazilian Amazon won the right to legally protect their lands from illegal logging and industrial practices.

The formal decree signed by Brazil’s Minister of Justice last week, was officially announced on October 16, 2001, in Brasilia, granting formal recognition of the Deni’s rights to their traditional land, some 1,530,000 hectares in the remote south west of the Amazon inhabited by 670 people. According to the Brazilian Constitution, all Indian lands should have been demarcated by 1993 and the Deni themselves were first promised this in 1984. Of the 580 Indian territories identified in Brazil, only 360 have been formally demarcated.

In 1999 Greenpeace first learned that the Malaysian logging giant WTK had purchased 151,000 hectares of land that overlapped with the Deni’s traditional territories. Greenpeace went to the area and met with the Deni, who until that time were unaware of the threat.

During subsequent visits by Green- peace, the Missionary Indigenous Council (CIMI) and Operacao Amazonia Nativa (OPAN), the Deni asked for help to mark the borders of their land and to have this recognized by the Brazilian federal government.

"After many years of broken promises from the federal government, the Deni took matters into their own hands and started cutting the demarcation line around their traditional lands themselves," said Greenpeace campaigner Nilo D’Avila. "And they have succeeded in gaining government acknowledgment of their land. We are proud to have played a small part in their great victory."

In September, 2001, volunteers from Greenpeace, CIMI and OPAN supplied technical and logistical support to the Deni as they marked their most vulnerable borders, cutting 33 miles of trails through thick jungle, and 135 miles along the banks of rivers and creeks. Along the routes, the Deni posted signs reading "Entry Prohibited. Deni Land."

A letter dated 30th September, 2001, from 10 Deni leaders to FUNAI, Brazil’s Indian Agency, stated "Deni waited a long time for the demarcation, but the demarcation did not happen. Deni decided to do the work. Deni will only halt the work if FUNAI gives a precise date of the beginning of demarcation and accepts the work that Deni has already complete."

The reply came in the form of the official publication of the Government Decree, which holds the Deni’s lands in perpetuity for their sole use. All industrial activities, such as logging and mining, are now prohibited.

"The Brazilian Government must make a priority of keeping their promises to the Deni. They must legally recognize the work done by the Deni, and complete the demarcation of all Deni lands, under the supervision of the Deni themselves," said D’Avila. Greenpeace is also calling on the Government of Brazil to urgently meet their constitutional, social and moral obligations to demarcate all Indian lands in Brazil. Twenty percent of the Brazilian Amazon is Indian land.

Greenpeace’s support for the Deni demarcation is part of a campaign to protect the world’s remaining ancient forests. Some 80 percent of the world’s ancient forests have already been degraded or destroyed. Time is running out for the remaining 20 percent of intact ancient forests unless governments around the world take swift action to ensure their future. 


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