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Free Internet for Amazon Conservation
Sarah Rich, 17 Apr 07

The Amazon rainforest -- one of the oldest darlings of environmental activists -- has a new prescription for protection that couldn't have been possible in the early days of its plight. The Brazilian government recently announced that they will make free satellite internet available to native Indian tribes throughout the Amazon region as a way to enhance monitoring, management and conservation efforts.

The goal is to "encourage those peoples to join the public powers in the environmental management of the country," Francisco Costa of the Environment Ministry said in a statement. "The government intends to strengthen the Forest People's Network, a digital web for monitoring, protection and education."

Local governments will be charged with the task of installing telecenters in various places, including deep in wilderness areas on indigenous land, and the federal government will then supply satellite internet connections to those sites.

A piece on the new development suggested conflicting views over whether networking tribes through the Internet would strengthen tribal culture by interlinking previously isolated people and allowing widespread environmental education, or whether the presence of technology and the Internet would undermine and ultimately degrade the chances of cultural survival in the Amazon.

Because the need to simultaneously address and fuse indigenous people's issues, environmental protection and new technology is a relatively new challenge, the longer term cultural implications can't always be foretold. At the same time, because numerous factors contribute to the demise of cultural traditions, there are times when the introduction of a new technology can help support or restore networks of indigenous knowledge and prevent the progress of threatening diseases and environmental crises that might ultimately harm the population much more drastically. Provided that the introduction of new tools takes place with attention to local needs and sensitivity to cultural circumstances, there's the possibility to preserve what's ancient with the integration of something completely new.

It would be hard to argue that there's any place in the world where the introduction of the Web hasn't changed the culture around it, though of course there are many examples in which it's been change for the better. No doubt the ability to learn and share more information about the degradation of the Amazonian rainforest amongst the people most intimately tied to it will help make conservation efforts more effective. How it will effect the cultures there will only be determined over time.

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I like the idea. It is an innovative part of a solution to the apparent juxtaposition of living in the Amazon, yet being part of the greater world.

Brazil has done a good job with what they have- and this will go a long way in encouraging local tribes and settlers in the Amazon to participate as a Brazilian and as a global knowledge user. (may also encourage a sense of self identity...but this is a tricky issue)

One of the hardest parts in maintaining a functioning amazon ecosystem is understanding the agriculture, the work, the dangers, and the people of the region. Through 'linking up' the Amazon- the world will not only get greater access to the information of local entrepreneurs and environmental specialists- but the locals will gain access to the world market.

What would it be like if someone in the middle of the amazon could arrange for shipment of Brazil nuts, or local art work to someone in Montana. The local Brazilian could earn perhaps 100 fold what they could normally make selling to the vast array of middle men on the river.(estimate given price of fish from boat to market). Given a system of transportation or distribution people will be able to more efficiently get what they want and give what is needed.

Also, don't underestimate the power of education information available on-line. Having distributed course information could dramatically increase the literacy, which can be a huge stumbling block for many.

Brazil has proven itself an innovative country, forging the front of how to exist and grow while maintaining environmental resources. It is an exciting time for Brazil and the Amazon. This is not the whole solution, but I think a good step in creating a sustainable Amazon community.

Posted by: Tim McGee on 18 Apr 07

This seems a truly open source solution to me and an approach that is typical Brazilian. Not only Brazil was the first country to make open source software government policy, but I also think the biodiverse and organic nature of the Amazon is metaphoric for the Brazilian society itself.

Brazil already is monitoring the Amazon on a governmental level by means of project SIVAM which includes radars, satellites and Brazilian designed and built AWACS alike patrol planes. Let's hope this new initiative will make the conservation of the Amazon even more effective.

Posted by: Maurits Ruis on 24 Apr 07



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