A great honor. But she told me last week that despite her legal victory, soaring oil prices emanating from the Ukraine war have put renewed pressure on her Indigenous community’s forests. As she put it, “The oil is in the forest, and they think our home is the solution.”
As John Reid, the senior economist for Nia Tero, explained, “Supply shocks from Ukraine and Russia become demand shocks across the world, including in the intact forests, because the intact forests are all big potential suppliers of agricultural commodities, gold, oil, gas and wood.” (Reid and Thomas E. Lovejoy wrote “Ever Green: Saving Big Forests to Save the Planet,” an outstanding primer on the vital role intact forests play in sustaining the biosphere.)
Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim is a leader of the Mbororo pastoralist people in Chad. It is bad enough, she told me, that Lake Chad has lost about 90 percent of its water and many of its species, but now people in her community are asking her: “Why has the price of flour and fuel gone up so high? Russia and Ukraine are very far away, so why are we hurt?” They don’t understand how the shocks of a war in Ukraine can radiate far enough to hit even landlocked, sub-Saharan Chad.
“When the war started,” added Ibrahim, “the African countries were asked to choose a side. And all we were thinking is that we need food. This war has become a big problem for all of us.” Everywhere she turns now, she added, Chinese companies are looking for land for industrial agriculture, which is a huge problem for her pastoralist people.
“For Indigenous peoples, the land is everything,” Ibrahim wrote in an essay last week in The Mail & Guardian, which is based in South Africa. “It is the source of our food, shelter and medicine, as well as the wellspring of our culture and history. Over countless generations, we have learned to live well on our land. We know how to protect it, how to restore it and how to serve as its engineers and nurturers rather than its destroyers.”
Unfortunately, some greedy leaders, like President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, resent the fact that Indigenous peoples control precious resources — in the case of Brazil, over 13 percent of its territory, much of it intact forest. Brazil bought $3.5 billion worth of fertilizer from Russia last year, a flow now constricted by Western sanctions. So as soon as the war started creating fertilizer shortages, Bolsonaro blurted out: “This crisis is a good opportunity for us,” The Washington Post reported. “Where there’s Indigenous land, there are riches beneath it.”
He then moved to pass legislation that would enable companies to mine potassium from Indigenous people’s forests so Brazil can make more of its own fertilizer.