Back in school, my first introduction to the Amazon rainforest was as the ‘lungs of the world,’ its existence essential for our own survival. Even though it was still something very abstract in elementary school, it convinced me to volunteer for a WWF campaign to ‘save the rainforest’. At that time, I believed that I had to make people aware of the Amazon’s importance for our existence and that should be enough to make them protect it. I mean, we would all die if we didn’t. Back then, that seemed to me as quite a convincing argument. I probably don’t have to tell you what has happened to the Amazon forest since then, right?
For those that have been living under a rock, 20% of the Amazon has been demolished during the past 40 years. The consequences will be devastating if deforestation continues; it will not only threaten half of the world’s animal and plant species, but will also change the world’s weather. It also has a detrimental impact on the indigenous peoples that live in the Amazon. Around 400 different tribes live in the Amazon region and their existence is strongly linked to their ancestral lands and resources.
After visiting the Amazon in Brazil and in Peru and conducting research with some of its indigenous peoples, I’m even more passionate about the most biodiverse section of tropical rainforest in the world, and its people. That’s one of the reasons that at Alternative Peru we definitely wanted to include some responsible and authentic experiences in the Peruvian Amazon region that raise awareness on the issues and benefit the local people and organizations that fight deforestation. Responsible tourism can make local people aware of the value of their environment and their culture and offer an income from activities that don’t hurt the rainforest.
How can you help protect the Amazon Rainforest? We gathered 5 of the best tips:
1. Avoid buying products with palm oil or insist on sustainable alternatives
Palm oil, found in half of all processed foods in the US, and many common household products, is a key contributor to rainforest deforestation. Read your food and product labels carefully and refuse to buy products with palm oil or insist on sustainable alternatives.
2. Buy responsibly sourced wood
Logging is a major driver of long-term rainforest destruction. Avoiding guitars, furniture and other products made from threatened rainforest woods ( such as Mahogany, Rosewood and Ebony) is a great start, but avoiding all tropical hardwoods is even better!
3. Support Indigenous communities
Buying ethically sourced indigenous crafts, fair trade products, or visiting communities responsibly gives you an opportunity to learn about new cultures, provide much needed income, and help the world learn about indigenous communities of the rainforest.
4. Speak up for Amazon peoples and their lands
Indigenous people are the original protectors of the Amazon and nobody knows it as well as they do. Unfortunately, extractive activities have threatened their lands, resources, livelihoods and ultimately lives because governments have failed to recognize and protect their ancestral lands and territories. You can raise awareness on these issues (read more here) or support indigenous advocacy organizations such as Cultural Survival, Survival International or any of the other local organizations. You can also support environmental organizations such as WWF, Amazon Watch, or the Rainforest Foundation in their fight to protect the Amazon rainforest.
5. Visit the Amazon rainforest yourself and learn more about the challenges the rainforest and its inhabitants face nowadays on a responsible trip
It will help you raise awareness in your own community and at the same time provide an alternative income for locals, and avoid that they resort to less sustainable livelihoods such as illegal logging.
Natalie Lefevre is the co-founder and manager of Alternative Peru, which provides responsible travel experiences off the beaten path in Lima and the rest of Peru. Alternative Peru currently have one Amazon experience in Iquitos, Responsible Ecotourism on a Budget, and one in Tarapoto, Ecotourism and Culture in the Amazon.