Exports of Ipê Wood, Illegal Logging and the Threat to the Ka’apor Indians

In this article environmental journalist Jordi Albacete reports on how the high market price of Ipê wood encourages  the illegal logging of this tropical tree and resulting battle between the Ka’apor Indians and the local lumber houses.

Jordi Albacete                                                                                                                      [printfriendly]


In April 2017, British daily newspaper, The Guardian, reported on the assassination of indigenous leader Sairá Ka’apor. He was the fourth murder victim from the Ka’apor indigenous group who, since 2013, have been patrolling their  reservation and boycotting loggers illegally cutting the Ipê (Brazilian walnut – Handroanthus serratifolius) tree. The loggers accessed the indigenous reservation through local ranchers’ farms, as reported by Brazilian anthropologist José Andrade in the Spanish newspaper El Mundo.

The Ka’apor are one of many Brazilian tribes displaced by deforestation. The reserve in which they currently reside in southern Maranhão, was officially recognized in 1989 and has 530,000 hectares. The Ka’apor, with a population of under two thousand (in 2018), have remained as hunter-gatherers. Baltimore is one of the indigenous leaders who remembers in the 2010 documentary Nossa Terra the fragility in which the ecosystem was overexploited: “when we arrived here, many fishermen and poachers had overfished and overhunted.” Currently the Ka’apor wait for some fish populations to return to abundance in order to fish.


Baltimore, Ka’apor indian: ““when we arrived here, many fishermen and poachers had overfished and overhunted.” Currently the Ka’apor wait for some fish populations to return to be abundant in order to fish.


ipe brasil photo
Tempo de Ipês ( Time Ipês ) .3 by Opimentas on 2010-07-30 11:52:22

The trunk of the Ipê is extremely resistant to water and fire, so it is a very valuable wood for the construction of exteriors (according to Greenpeace the cubic meter can be quoted at 2,500 US dollars). Countries like the United Kingdom, the United States, Spain, Argentina, Uruguay and China, import large quantities and sell it at a high price. However, the highest price is the already highly-damaged biodiversity of Maranhão, the poorest state in Brazil.


The ecosystem where Ipês are found is complex and contains different species of herons, tapirs or pecaríes, sacred animals for the Ka’apor and some are crucial in their hunting diet, according to the environmental analyst at the Brazilian Institute of Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA ), Paulo Guilherme Carmiel Wagner.


Ipês, native to many tropical forests in Latin America, grow in very low densities between two and four of these trees grow in one hectare. For that reason, the lumber companies construct roads and tracks in distant areas to access these trees. In addition, once cut, as its growth is very slow – it takes up to 100 years to reach maturity – deforested land is used for agricultural production. Deforestation is one of the greatest threats in Maranhão, the Bacuri, another of the emblematic jungle and closed trees, a biome of transition between the jungle and savannah, it is found with a population decimated due to mono-cultures of eucalyptus, soy and sugar cane.

Autor: Jordi Albacete

I am an environmental journalist. My passion for the protection of human and environmental rights has been inspired by research led journalism. My ambition is to communicate and inspire people to make positive changes in the environment. Twitter @albacetejordi or Linkedin.

Periodista medioambiental. Mi pasión por la protección de los derechos humanos y medioambientales se ha forjado a través de la investigación periodística. Mi objetivo es comunicar e inspirar a la gente para hacer cambios positivos y proteger el medioambiente. Twitter @albacetejordi o Linkedin.

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