Published: Thursday 31 August 1995

The Brazilian government has come down heavily on the Kayapo Indians, an Amazonian tribe. The Kayapoes are "mining" mahogany from the reserve forests in northern Brazil and wreaking havoc on the pristine forest cover, allege the authorities; therefore, they must be stopped immediately.

Now, a court in Brasilia has banned the selling of mahogany altogether. It has confiscated the wood from the kayapoes and plans to auction it. The proceeds, estimated at more than E900,000, will go to the government's environment agency, Ibama.

The 8,000-odd Kayapoes inhabit a 3 million ha reserve in the south of Para state. They have been trading in mahogany for more than a decade and prospering from their enterprises. The money generated by selling timber has allowed them to indulge in some of the pleasures of the modern day consumer-oriented life- style. They even own 2 small planes and a fleet of 4-wheel-drive vehicles. And worst of all, they chopped the trees in a "predatory" manner and did nothing to harvest forest products in a sustainable way, says Marcio Santilli, director of the Socio-Economic Institute in Brasilia.

But Santilli still feels the ban is too harsh a measure; rather, the Indians should be allowed to switch to a sustainable economy based on forest products, with backing from the government.

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