For the first time in 300 years, the largest remaining quilombo in Brazil mapped the occupation and natural resources of its territory through georeferencing.
Only half of the Kalunga territory has been officially titled; the rest live at the mercy of garimpeiros and land grabbers - digital mapping will help the community to recognize areas subject to invasion.
In February, the United Nations Environment Program recognized the Kalunga territory as the first in Brazil to join the network of Territories and Areas Conserved by Indigenous and Local Communities (TICCA).
For the first time in 300 years, the largest remaining quilombo in Brazil knows every inch of its territory. Thanks to an unprecedented georeferencing project, the Kalungas were able to map occupation, natural resources, the best land for cultivation and areas under threat of invasions of the 262 thousand hectares of the area where they live, in the north of Goiás.
Located close to the Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park, the Kalunga Historical Site and Cultural Heritage it occupies a stretch of Cerrado known for its great biodiversity and abundance of natural resources - the Kalunga territory has no less than 879 springs, most of which flow into the Paranã River, one of the tributaries of the Tocantins River.
“We now have an important tool for the management and protection of our territory. It will help us to plan our future ”, says Jorge Oliveira, president of the Quilombola Kalunga Association (AQK).
The Kalungas had their lands officially recognized as quilombola territory in 1996, but only 55.3% of the area has been titled so far. This opens space for the rest of the quilombo to be invaded by gold miners in search of gold and semi-precious stones and by land grabbers, who have been illegally clearing native vegetation to cultivate on Kalunga lands.
Community leaders say that grileiros often register 5 hectares of land outside the territory and then use this legal basis to create a 700 hectare farm, much of which invades the quilombo.
Map to know and protect
To find out which lands could be used for agriculture and which would need protection to defend against current and future invasions, the Kalungas carried out the proper registration and classification of their resources via georeferencing - or digital mapping. The practice consists of using aerial imagery to map a wide variety of soil characteristics with extreme precision using a geographic coordinate system.
Extremely expensive due to the size of the territory, the prospect of aid for mapping became even more discouraging with the election of President Jair Bolsonaro, who has been expressing hostility towards the quilombola people since before the presidential election, arguing that “Even for a breeder he’s no longer useful”.
Before Bolsonaro's election, the Kalungas received an important grant from the Partnership Fund for Critical Ecosystems (CEPF), which is supported by the French Development Agency, Conservation International, the European Union, the Global Environment Facility, the government of Japan and the World Bank. CEPF, created in 2000, aims to promote the conservation of high priority biological areas. In 2018, the quilombola Kalunga Association (AQK) georeferencing project was selected for the program, becoming one of the 60 proposals of its kind in the Cerrado.
CEPF Grants Director Peggy Poncelet explains why AQK was selected: “It is very difficult for traditional communities to obtain recognition of their territories, leaving them vulnerable to land grabbing. And because this community is committed to the conservation of the incredible biodiversity found on their land, it was important for CEPF to provide them with the means to continue doing just that ”.
Equipped with equipment and technical support, the Kalungas carried out a detailed georeferencing of your entire territory between 2019 and 2021. Thanks to digital mapping, they now know exactly where the 1,600 families in the area live, what they produce, if they have access to electricity, the degree of preservation of the community's water and soil resources, what type of agriculture is suitable for the land, and much more.
CEPF also finances the Kalungas in their educational efforts, building an environmental awareness in the region, particularly with regard to the 19 threatened species of fauna and flora that are in the territory. Among them are Griffinia nocturna, a plant that blooms at night, and two birds: the brown-bellied jacu (Penelope ochrogaster) and the gray eagle (Harpyhaliaetus coronatus).
Wave of invasions
The Kalungas hope that the georeferencing project will serve as a valuable tool to help them deter the newest wave of invaders.
Oliveira, from AQK, tells how he was the target of violence in 2015: “They knocked down my house and then burned it, along with my fields, destroying the 45 bags of rice that we had already harvested”. Oliveira, his wife and eight children spent two years working to recover lost crops. No one has been charged with the crime, and the attacks on the Kalungas continue. In February, a house in the community of Vão de Almas was demolished with a chainsaw.
Grileiros are also destroying the native flora of the Cerrado, from which the Kalungas extract fruits such as buriti, mangaba, cajuzinho do cerrado, pequi and nut of baru as a complement to their subsistence. “It is exactly these areas, rich in edible fruits and medicinal herbs, that [the invaders] are paving the way for monocultures”says Oliveira.
In June 2020, grileiros cleared 500 hectares of native vegetation to plant soybeans within the quilombo. They used the chain system, in which a chain is suspended between two tractors that advance, knocking down everything they find along the way. This model is widely condemned for its environmental damage, but the chains are easily found for purchase on the internet, with several videos showing how they are used.
The Kalungas filed a complaint of land theft to state authorities, who at the time were concerned about the possibility of an international boycott of Brazilian commodities due to the increase in fires and deforestation in the Cerrado and the Amazon. The authorities investigated the land grabbing and imposed a fine of 5 million reais on the criminals, in addition to acting against illegal mining in the quilombo and seizing equipment from the miners. Still, invaders continue to arrive in Kalunga territory.
Territories for Life
The Kalungas are resisting these invasions with increasing confidence and with increasing international support. In early February, the UN Conservation Monitoring Center for the UN Environment Program (UNEP-WCMC) recognized the Kalunga Historical Site and Cultural Heritage as the first TICCA (Territories and Areas Conserved by Indigenous and Local Communities) in Brazil.
This title is only granted to well-preserved traditional territories in which communities maintain a deep connection with the place where they live, practice effective internal land management and governance processes and have a good record in promoting the well-being of the people — creating the that UNEP-WCMC calls “Territories for Life”.
Rafaela Nicola, coordinator of the TICCA Consortium and director of Wetlands International in Brazil, describes the first step to winning the title: “What is different about our process is that the communities themselves, during meetings where they discuss the tools they use for empowerment and territorial planning, work on the question of how to become a TICCA would fit in with their visions. "
The application for recognition of a community is then reviewed not by bureaucrats, but by leaders of traditional territories already recognized as TICCAs, to assess whether the candidate fulfills the requirements.
Oliveira, president of AQK, believes that TICCA recognition will also help to convince young people to stay in the quilombo. "Today many leave to study and do not return because they want the security of the right to land and more opportunities to increase their incomes."
At the moment, the quilombo's small cash income comes almost entirely from a single sustainable tourism project, administered by only one of the communities. During the holiday season in the dry season, the Engenho II community, in the municipality of Cavalcante, receives tourists in search of the numerous waterfalls in the region.
The activity, suspended during the covid-19 pandemic, provided an income to 300 guides from different communities, all trained by AQK, while promoting the sale of community crafts and Cerrado products.
The completion of the Kalunga digital mapping project paved the way for tourism in the future by identifying 69 other natural attractions with the potential to be promoted after consultation with communities.
Other benefits brought by georeferencing are greater knowledge of the region's soils and its natural fertility, as well as a better understanding of the topography and availability of water, resulting in a more efficient use of the land. The adoption of appropriate technology will bring higher agricultural yields without the degradation of the territory's natural resources.
Access the article in the website from Mongabay Brazil.
About the Quilombo Kalunga Association and the Partnership Fund for Critical Ecosystems (CEPF Cerrado)
The Quilombo Kalunga Association is a civil organization, with no economic purpose, founded in October 1999. It represents the largest quilombo territory in Brazil, with 262 thousand hectares of land. AQK defends the interests of residents of the Kalunga Historical Site and Cultural Heritage (SHPCK), which covers the municipalities of Goiás, Cavalcante, Monte Alegre de Goiás and Teresina de Goiás.
The project, sponsored by CEPF and supported by the International Education Institute of Brazil (IEB), aims to get to know the reality of the Kalunga communities in depth, use geoprocessing technology to map the territory in detail, promote the occupation of the SHPCK in a more sustainable way and make the Kalunga internationally recognized as defenders of biodiversity conservation.
For more information about the Quilombo Kalunga Association access the official page on Facebook.
The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund is a joint initiative of the French Development Agency, Conservation International, the European Union, Global Environmental Management, the Government of Japan and the World Bank. A key goal is to ensure that civil society is involved in biodiversity conservation.