Rainforest Foundation US

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Rainforest Foundation US
Rainforest foundation logo.jpg
Founded 1989
Type Non-governmental organization
Focus Human Rights, Environmentalism
Area served
Central and South America
Method Lobbying, research, field work
Key people
Trudie Styler and Sting, founders
Suzanne Pelletier, Executive Director
S. Todd Crider, Chair of the Board of Directors
Website rainforestfoundation.org

The Rainforest Foundation US is a non-profit NGO working in Central and South America. It is one of the first international organizations to support the indigenous peoples of the world's rainforests in their efforts to protect their environment and fulfill their rights to land, life and livelihood.[1]

In over 20 years of work their strategy of protecting forests by partnering with indigenous communities has proven to be effective. Multiple studies support the link between indigenous people's having control over their lands and the protection of the forests in those areas.[2] For example, recent studies of the Brazilian Amazon show that deforestation rates were up to 20 times lower in traditional indigenous lands than other areas,[3] and in Ecuador over one million acres of indigenous reserve show 0% deforestation, while the rest of Ecuador has the highest deforestation rates on the continent.[4][5]

The idea that the indigenous peoples of the world are holders of a specific set of rights and are also the victims of historically unique forms of discrimination is most completely/thoroughly enunciated by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2007. The Rainforest Foundation US works to protect and defend indigenous rights, thereby protecting the rainforests.


Sting and the Chief Raoni in 1989 in Paris.

The Rainforest Foundation was first founded in 1989 by Sting and his wife Trudie Styler after the indigenous leader of the Kayapo people of Brazil, the Chief Raoni made a personal request to them to help his community protect their lands and culture. The Rainforest Foundation's initial project was successful in coordinating the first ever privately funded demarcation of indigenous land in the region - 17,000 square miles of traditional land, the Menkragnoti area, next to Xingu National Park, was demarcated and legally titled to the Kayapo people by the Brazilian government in 1993.

Since then the Rainforest Foundation US, along with its sister organizations the Rainforest Foundation UK, The Rainforest Foundation Norway, and the Rainforest Foundation Fund, have protected a total of 28 million acres of forest in 20 different rainforest countries around the globe.[6]

Current issues[edit]

With its goal of conserving the rainforest, the Rainforest Foundation advocates for the rights of the indigenous inhabitants of the rainforest, by providing project-related grants, capacity-building expertise and direct technical assistance to its local partners on the ground, including indigenous communities and grassroots organizations.

The Rainforest Foundation's current work is focused around three main issues:[7]

Protecting lands[edit]

The Rainforest Foundation believes that indigenous peoples can defend their communities, and their rainforests, against development pressures if they have secure rights to their lands and natural resources. They are not alone in this belief - it is widely accepted that indigenous communities are effective stewards of the environment.[8][9] Securing indigenous land rights is particularly crucial to conserving the rainforest as many of the world's remaining large tracts of intact rainforests are found in traditional indigenous lands.[10]
However, indigenous peoples are often not recognized as the owners of their land, even if they have lived there for hundreds or thousands of years. Without official titles, many indigenous communities have little recourse but to watch as government or corporate interventions profit from and sometimes even damage or destroy huge tracts of their forests without their consent.[11]
Moreover, indigenous groups face significant legal, technical and cultural hurdles to obtaining legal recognition of their land rights, including: inadequate national legislation, difficulties with accurate marking of boundaries, lack of good maps and documentation, historic discrimination, unfamiliarity with legal systems, and geographic isolation.[12] The Rainforest Foundation US works with indigenous communities to overcome these hurdles.

Building effective local organizations[edit]

Indigenous communities in the rainforest face frequent threats to their homes and livelihoods from land invasions, illegal resource extraction, and the undermining of their rights at the local and national levels. Indigenous peoples are often not respected, nor even recognized, as rights holders, and traditional indigenous governance practices and structures are not respected by local and national authorities or by outsiders interested in exploiting the resources of the rainforest.[13][14]
As indigenous peoples often lack the information, resources and technical skills necessary to exercise their rights and advocate on their own behalf, the Rainforest Foundation US funds and collaborates on various capacity-building initiatives of indigenous leadership and representative indigenous organizations. They provide technical support, legal guidance, and funding for community training workshops. These workshops train local leaders in building administratively and financially strong organizations that are capable of effectively managing social and economic development projects on their lands as well defending their rights. The Rainforest Foundation US also assists communities with formalizing their traditional governance practices to ensure that they are acknowledged and respected by local and national authorities.[15]

Influencing climate change policy[edit]

The Rainforest Foundation US works to provide indigenous peoples with independent and balanced information about climate change science, indigenous rights and international policy. They develop and adapt training materials, and fund local workshops and national level trainings for indigenous leaders. They also connect communities with the legal and technical expertise they need to analyze climate change policies and be informed and effective participants in local, regional and national policy discussions regarding climate change policy.
Tropical deforestation is responsible for nearly 15% of the world's annual greenhouse gas emissions.[16] The world's existing rainforests are also massive carbon sinks, absorbing approximately 20% of the world’s CO2 production each year.[17][18] Thus, in recent years, climate change debates have focused increasingly on the need to develop international and national policies to reduce deforestation and rainforest degradation, known as 'REDD' programs.
Indigenous peoples’ lands contain some of the last remaining expanses of intact rainforest on the planet, placing their communities in the center of major policy debates on combating climate change. Such climate change and REDD policies have the potential to provide significant social and economic benefits to the indigenous peoples of the rainforest. But, if poorly designed or implemented, these same policies risk establishing top-down models for forest protection, leading to an increase in conflicts over land ownership and the unfair distribution of benefits.[19]
In many countries government consultations have been rushed and have not allowed time for the communities to understand complex concepts and programs, seek independent consultations, or have adequate internal discussions to decide if and how they want to participate. Many agreements are being formed which violate the indigenous communities' right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent - a right enshrined by a number of globally ratified declarations and laws. (e.g. the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples). The rush to develop such climate change mitigation policies in several countries has also exacerbated existing problems with indigenous land rights.[20][21]

Current projects[edit]

The Rainforest Foundation US is currently funding and collaborating on work in 4 countries:[7]

  • The Rainforest Foundation US works with the Yanomami people of northern Brazil through their representative organization, Hutukara. The Yanomani have achieved legal recognition of their lands, which are blanketed in pristine Amazonian rainforest. However, they are troubled by gold-miners who illegally enter their lands, cattle ranchers who have illegally claimed parts of their area, and an inadequate healthcare system.[22] The Rainforest Foundation provides support to Hutukara to ensure it is a strong, efficient, and well-functioning grass-roots organization, able to defend its peoples and lands. The support includes leadership training and other forms of capacity building.[23]
  • The Rainforest Foundation US works with the Amerindian Peoples Association in Guyana. The APA is a national representative body of indigenous peoples in Guyana. The two organizations are working together to ensure that indigenous people are effective participants in the design and implementation of climate change programs, in particular REDD programs, that could affect their lands and resource use. RF-US funds have helped the APA: hold community level workshops that train indigenous peoples about climate change science, policy, and indigenous rights and also to hold media and advocacy trainings for indigenous leaders to become stronger advocates for their people. Nearly 80% of Guyana is covered in rainforests, and those forests are home to over 69,000 indigenous people who have been living in and managing them for centuries but who still lack secure tenure over their lands.[24][25][26]
  • The Kuna people live in the autonomous community of Kuna Yala, much of which is made up of low-lying islands off the coast of Panama. Climate change will affect all indigenous groups in Panama, but the Kuna are particularly concerned since many of their communities are already experiencing serious flooding and are threatened by sea level rise. Panama is participating in both the UN’s and the World Bank’s large-scale REDD financing programs aimed at combating climate change. Unfortunately, the government of Panama did not secure the free, prior and informed consent of their indigenous peoples before entering into these programs despite the fact that approximately 30% of Panama’s forests overlap with traditional indigenous territories.[27][28] The Rainforest Foundation has worked with the Kuna people’s representative NGO to educate Kuna communities on issues related to climate change and REDD, and to ensure that their organization was able to advocate for the indigenous rights agenda in Panama and to bring an informed indigenous voice to bear on REDD policy designs and other development and forestry management programs.
  • The Wounaan people live primarily in the heavily forested Darién Province of eastern Panama. Twelve Wounaan communities, spread across over 470,000 acres, and home to about 7,000 people, still lack formal legal title to their lands. These lands include significant swaths of untouched rainforest, as well as intact mangrove and lowland forest ecosystems, and ecologically important rivers and estuaries. However, the lands are threatened by the invasions of outsiders who clear forests for agriculture, cattle-raising, and other development projects. The Wounaan peoples argue that they need legal recognition of their land rights in order to protect their natural resources.[29] In late 2008, the Panamanian Congress passed a law which will facilitate the demarcation of indigenous collective land rights, followed in 2010 by a law setting out all the steps necessary for recognition of collective lands. RF-US is working with the Wounaan to formalize recognition for all 12 communities covering all 470,000 acres of land, by providing assistance with legal work, community meetings, gathering necessary documents, and subsequent negotiations with the government.
  • In 2009 and 2010 the Rainforest Foundation US partnered with a number of indigenous organizations representing the Kandozi and Shapra peoples who live in Datem del Marañón Province, in Peru's northern Amazon, as well as with other NGOs, to find ways for the communities to exercise their legal right to healthcare to the Peruvian state. These communities lack access to all basic social services, particularly health care (a public good and legal right to all Peruvian citizens). They are also threatened by an epidemic of Hepatitis B, as approximately 70% of the entire population was infected in 2000.[38] The Rainforest Foundation US set up community workshops teaching indigenous peoples about their rights and providing them with legal advocacy tools and pro bono expert legal work. The advocacy was successful, and in 2010 government officials traveled to the area to investigate the situation.

Examples of past projects[edit]

  • The Rainforest Foundation US worked in the state of Pará with indigenous peoples, led by the Xingu peoples, to inform local communities, through workshops and outreach events, about likely impacts from the hotly contentious Belo Monte Dam[30] proposed for the Xingu River in the region, as well as about the communities’ rights and the resources available to them in expressing those rights and protesting the dam.[31][32][33]
  • The territory of Raposa Serra do Sol, located in the northern Brazilian Amazon, is home to an about 18,000 Macuxi, Wapishana, Ingarikó, Taurepang and Patamona people. For over 30 years these communities have worked together to gain legal recognition of their traditional lands and protection of their rights in the region. They have been opposed by cattle ranchers, rice growers, and others with economic interests in their lands, who have used violence and intimidation against the indigenous peoples to continue their illegal activities. The length of the fight and the severity of the situation, led the Indigenous Council of Roraima (CIR), together with the Rainforest Foundation US, to file a petition for help with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2004. In April 2005, the Brazilian government formally recognized the indigenous people's rights to their land in Raposa Serra do Sol, with a decree which called for all illegal non-indigenous settlers to leave the territory. Some rice-growers refused to leave and retaliated violently against indigenous communities, leading to further court cases. In 2009, the Supreme Court of Brazil issued a decision reaffirming the rights of the indigenous peoples in Raposa Serra do Sol, and again mandating the exit of the rice-growers.[34][35][36]
  • From 2000 through 2010 the Rainforest Foundation US partnered with the Organization of Indigenous Women of Roraima (OMIR) to build their organizational capacity so they can better defend the rights and well-being of the indigenous women of Roraima as well as to set up local sources of income in the form of local crafts markets. The organization also held workshops and informational sessions on priority issues to women, such as domestic violence and alcoholism.[37]


The Rainforest Foundation US is a non-profit organization. The majority of its financing comes from grants from other non-profits organizations, the Rainforest Fund chief among them, as well as from individual and corporate donations.

Corporate alliances and promotions[edit]

The Rainforest Foundation US has worked together with various companies to promote their cause. Current alliances include:

  • The Volvic "Drink 1,Give 10" campaign in North American markets. From June 27 til December 25, 2011, Volvic is donating 5 cents to the Rainforest Foundation for each bottle of Volvic natural spring water sold. 2011 is the 4th year of this campaign.[38]
  • The 'philosophy' cosmetics company designed a "green ® multitasking shampoo, shower gel & bubble bath" and is donating 100% of net proceeds from the sale of this product to the Rainforest Foundation US [39]
  • Opel automotive company partnered with the Rainforest Foundation US for the Panamanian leg of their current "Project Earth" expedition, billed as an aspect of the company's environmental sustainability efforts.[40]


In 2002, 2003, and 2004 the organization was given zero stars out of four by Charity Navigator, primarily because only 43-60% of funds during those years were spent on programs on the ground.[41] However, since 2008, the Rainforest Foundation US has received four stars out of four, with an efficiency score of 38.93 out of 40.[42]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ VerticalNews. March 29, 2010. "J. Sabatelli Brazil Cosmetics Announces Partnership With the Rainforest Foundation US".
  2. ^ Nicholas Anderson . "REDDy or not? The Effects on Indigenous Peoples in Brazil of a Global Mechanism for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation" Journal of Sustainable Development. Vol 2, No 3 (2009)
  3. ^ Rhett Butler. January 25, 2006. "Parks, indian reserves slow Amazon deforestation" Mongabay.
  4. ^ "Ecuador: Environmental Profile" Mongabay.
  5. ^ Randy Borman. July 15, 2011. "Indigenous Conservation Strategy Stops Amazon Deforestation" PRWEB.
  6. ^ The Rainforest Foundation US "About Us"
  7. ^ a b The Rainforest Foundation US "Our Work"
  8. ^ United Nations Economic and Social Forum (ECOSOC) 2005 Ministerial Roundtable "Presentation by Martin Cheong"
  9. ^ Indigenous Land Tenure and Tropical Forest Management in Latin America. Shelton H. Davis and Alaka Wali. Ambio - Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Vol. 23, No. 8 (Dec., 1994), pp. 485–490
  10. ^ John Vidal "Pay indigenous people to protect rainforests, conservation groups urge" Guardian UK. 17 October 2008.
  11. ^ Models for Recognizing Indigenous Land Rights in Latin America. Roque Roldán Ortiga. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/THE WORLD BANK. October 2004.
  12. ^ TOO MUCH FOR TOO FEW: Problems of Indigenous Land Rights in Latin America. Anthony Stocks. Annual Review of Anthropology. Vol. 34: 85-104, October 2005.
  13. ^ UNICEF "Latin America must fight discrimination against indigenous people" 08 July 2005.
  14. ^ Nancy Grey Postero, Leon Zamosc. The Struggle for Indigenous Rights in Latin America. Journal of Latin American Anthropology. Volume 11, Issue 1, pages 208–210, April 2006.
  15. ^ Michelle Chino, PhD and Lemyra DeBruyn, PhD. Building True Capacity: Indigenous Models for Indigenous Communities. American Journal of Public Health. 2006 April; 96(4): 596–599.
  16. ^ pp. xi: Valentina Bosetti, Ruben Noah Lubowski "Deforestation and climate change: Reducing carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation" Edward Elgar Publishing, 2010. Science. 190 pages.
  17. ^ Yude Pan et al. "A Large and Persistent Carbon Sink in the World’s Forests" Published Online July 14, 2011 Science 19 August 2011: Vol. 333 no. 6045 pp. 988–993. doi:10.1126/science.1201609
  18. ^ Lousie Gray. "Trees absorb a fifth of carbon emissions pumped out by humans" The Telegraph UK. 18 Feb 2009.
  19. ^ Ingrid Barnsley. "Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing countries, A Guide for Indigenous Peoples" United Nations University 2008.
  20. ^ Griffiths, T. (2008). Seeing ‘REDD’ - Avoided deforestation and the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities. Indigenous Perspectives, 9(1–2), 93–118.
  21. ^ Heike Schroeder. "Agency in international climate negotiations: the case of indigenous peoples and avoided deforestation." International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics. Volume 10, Number 4, 317-332.
  22. ^ Rocha, Jan (1999). "CCPY Urihi report no 12 ‘Worldwide support for the Yanomami is crucial’ The Yanomami, the Gold Miners and the Amazon". London: Latin America Bureau.
  23. ^ "Socio Environmental Institute report on Hutukara meeting"
  24. ^ Journal of Forestry and Development "REDD in Guyana: Lessons for emerging economies" 04 March 2011
  25. ^ REDD Monitor.org "Drivers for REDD in Guyana"11 February 2009
  26. ^ Guyanese Ministry of Agriculture"Grant agreement signed to establish REDD Secretariat in forestry sector"January 20, 2009
  27. ^ Asociación Indígena Ambiental "REDD in Panama", Global Forest Coalition.
  28. ^ David Braun "Will a UN Climate-Change Solution Help Kuna Yala?" National Geographic, Dec 10, 2010.
  29. ^ Ahni "Echoes of the Future" Intercontinental Cry, Jan 2, 2010.
  30. ^ Sarah Anne Hughes. "Brazil approves Belo Monte dam, despite fierce opposition, James Cameron Speaks Out" The Washington Post. 01 June 2011.
  31. ^ "Amazon Watch's 'Stop the Belo Monte Dam' Campaign"
  32. ^ Karen Hoffmann. "Belo Monte dam marks a troubling new era in Brazil's attitude to its rainforest" The Ecologist. 16 August 2001.
  33. ^ Reuters. "Brazil approves Belo Monte hydroelectric dam" guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 1 June 2011
  34. ^ Isabella Kenfield "The Dark Side of Brazil's Agribusiness Boom: Violence, Mutiny and Environmental Pillage in the Amazon". Oct 13, 2008. Global Alternatives
  35. ^ World War 4 Report "Brazil: Supreme Court rules Raposa-Serra do Sol indigenous territory". March 21, 2009.
  36. ^ Survival International "Indians of Raposa Serra do Sol".
  37. ^ Rainforest Foundation US "Empower Indigenous Women in Brazil"
  38. ^ "Drink 1 Give 10 Campaign Website"
  39. ^ "philosophy green product website"
  40. ^ "Opel Project Earth Campaign Website"
  41. ^ Ed Pilkington. May 7, 2008. "Sting charity criticized as he marks 20 years in rainforest activism." The Guardian.
  42. ^ http://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=search.summary&orgid=7663

External links[edit]