Meet Ivanilde: guardian of the rainforest

22 September 2021

All around the world, ordinary women and men are putting their lives on the line to protect our planet. In the Amazon, local experts are working with people giving their all to defend the rainforest and the vital role it plays in our world’s ecosystem.

“The first sign was the smoke. We saw smoke in the sky getting nearer, and fire very high in the treetops.”

Ivanilde casts her eyes around her land. Some of her taller trees are burnt black, the scorch marks reaching many feet up their trunks. Most of her trees are young and tender – planted only recently on ground that was laid bare by the flames.

“The fire destroyed practically everything we had.”

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"The Amazon is a mirror of life"

I understood the fires in the Amazon as a global issue. A few months before I met Ivanilde, aerial photographs showing acres of burning rainforest dominated the front pages of the UK tabloids. The headlines warned of long-term implications – of the knock-on impact this environmental devastation may one day have on my comfortable way of life. But for Ivanilde, the threat is far more immediate. For her, the fight to save the Amazon is personal.

“The Amazon is a mirror of life,” she says. “Silent, tranquil, safe. We live inside her and we are safe. She feeds us, she gives us healthy air, and it gives us a lot of happiness to be able to see this beautiful, perfect nature. Through nature we survive as well.”

Ivanilde

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Her home sits within a few acres of preserved rainforest in one of the most heavily deforested regions of the Brazilian Amazon. In satellite photos her home is an island of green floating in a sea of brown. This little patch of forest survives thanks to the hard work and courage of the people that live there – and they survive and make a living from the fruits and vegetables they are able to grow.

“The rainforest is a big part of our lives,” says Ivanilde. “It’s important for us to keep on planting. It’s good for nature, because we plant trees to help reforest, and everything we plant here can be sold. Everything benefits our family.”

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Surviving on the frontline of the climate crisis

The community has a rule that no artificial chemicals can be used on their land. Instead, they make use of systems that fit naturally into the rainforest’s lifecycle. They plant a variety of trees to encourage healthy growth and biodiversity, and they use fallen leaves as natural fertiliser.

This isn’t just good for the trees. One of Ivanilde’s neighbours explains to me that farming this way means he has fresh food to harvest and sell all year round, much more than he could grow with conventional methods. The smell of ripe fruit is thick in the air throughout the settlement.

But even in the midst of all this abundance, there is fear that everything the people here have worked for could go up in smoke. Ivanilde’s land has been ravaged by fire more than once. The worst was in 2016.

“It was very hot and there was a lot of smoke,” she remembers. “It burnt our noses and our eyes. The heat was very strong. You could feel the heat even from here. The neighbours came to help. They tried, but the fire was very high and dangerous, so we didn’t manage to put it out. It burned for 15 days.

“Thank God, it’s been three years since then. But we are really scared because there could be another fire which gets out of control again.”

A woman rests her arm on a tall tree in the rainforest

Ivanilde lives in one of the most heavily deforested regions of the Brazilian Amazon.

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I ask her if she’d ever consider leaving. I can’t imagine watching everything I’d worked for go up in flames – being forced, more than once, to begin again. It could discourage even the bravest. Ivanilde laughs at me, and shakes her head.

"Maybe one day I might change my mind. But I intend to work and live here always. I like it here. I like the silence. The silence and the birds singing, we have a lot of birds here. It’s the happiness of feeling the perfumes of nature.

“I am happy that my work here helps protect the Amazon. I hope that everywhere in the world we can have more love and more care for nature, so the Amazon can continue.”

We know that the poorest communities are the most affected by the climate crisis. That’s why this Family Fast Day on Friday 1 October, we’re asking you to stand alongside the communities fighting to protect our common home.

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