Tropical rainforests sustain an abundance of life. Not only do millions of species of plants and animals live in tropical forest regions, but they have also long been home to local and indigenous peoples who have shaped their cultures based on the natural environment in which they live.
The tropical rainforest belt plays a critical role in maintaining the climatic stability of our planet. When they are destroyed, not only do we lose precious species, displace ancient indigenous cultures and disturb the climatic patterns of the planet, but we further exacerbate climate change through the release of enormous amounts of CO2 from forest destruction.
Right now, tropical forests cover less than 6% of Earth's land surface, yet they harbour more than half of all the world's plant and animal species, produce 40% of Earth's oxygen, and play an absolutely critical role in stabilising the world's climate.
For me, the forests are my life. If you cut them down, you wound my own heart.Chief Vhutanda, Venda, South Africa
Since the 80's, Gaia has been working hand in hand with partners and communities across the globe to revive and protect their forests. Our journey began in the Amazon rainforest where we were first introduced to Jose Lutzenberger, father of the Brazilian environmental movement. We were then initiated into the complex knowledge systems which forest peoples have accumulated over centuries of living in their rainforest home.
In the mid-1980s we began working with indigenous and rubber-tapper groups in Brazil - with Ailton Krenak, Chico Mendes (the rubber tapper leader who was asassinated in 1988), and the Forest Peoples Alliance. This led to the development of an Amazon Network and various programmes led by forest peoples as a way to protect their rainforest. Through this work we met our Colombian partner, Martin von Hildebrand, former Head of Indigenous Affairs in Colombia and subsequent founder of Gaia Amazonas. Together we developed the COAMA (Consolidation of the Amazon) as a coherent long-term process to work with indigenous people in the Colombian Amazon. COAMA won the Right Livelihood Award in 1999 for reviving indigenous traditions and governance systems. A vast area of Amazon rainforest - more than 26 million hectares, larger than the UK's land surface - is now being protected by its rightful guardians, the indigenous people, and governed according to their cultural priorities and values. They negotiate directly with the government and have developed their own intercultural schools and health programmes.
Today many of the gains that were made for indigenous territorial rights in the Amazon, are under increasing threat - from mining concessions, dams, logging and the expanding agricultural frontier. We are redoubling our efforts to protect a continuous stretch, 100 million hectares, of tropical forest in the Northwest Amazon, across Colombia, Venezuela and Brazil.
In Africa, Gaia works with the African Biodiversity Network and a number of grassroots partners for whom forests are sacred. They have custodians who are responsible for their protection and are understood to be vital for maintaining local climate change resilience.
Find out more about our partners work to protect to protect sacred forests by clicking on the stories on the left.