Who should value nature? Interview with Davi Kopenawa Yanomami

Is valuing nature as natural capital the way to reduce environmental degradation or a dangerous distraction that will commodify the environment? Alongside debates on if we should value natural capital is another question that is very rarely asked: who should value nature?

This exclusive interview with Davi Kopenawa Yanomami is from the report Who should value nature? by Dario Kenner (Why Green Economy?) published by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) in December 2014. The report explores how different stakeholders value the environment (ranging from consultancies firms, academics, conservation NGOs to indigenous peoples) and the challenge of identifying who should be involved in valuation in developing countries. Read the report © ICAEW 2014


Davi Kopenawa Yanomami, Presidente da Associação Hutukara Yanomami (credit Joelle Hernandez)

(credit: Joëlle Hernández)

Interview with Davi Kopenawa Yanomami, a leading shaman and spokesman for the Yanomami people who live in the rainforests of northern Brazil and southern Venezuela.

He has fought to protect Yanomami lands from illegal gold mining, among other threats, for more than 30 years and has been called the ‘Dalai Lama of the rainforest’.

Explain why you think nature should/should not be valued?
Today, the white man has taken a long time to think about and realise the importance of nature. Many trees have been chopped down in my country in the meantime. We, the Yanomami and other indigenous peoples in Brazil have always talked about our nature which is the basis of our culture. The forest gives us life. We value the forest, and for us, the forest is priceless. The forest and mountains have a lot of spirit, wisdom, knowledge, wealth, culture and health. The white man and governments think in a different way. They just see the trees as a market and something to be sold. They see it for the fruits it provides like cocoa, acai and chestnuts. What is left of the forest he thinks he can protect in a small area with which to survive.

The white man invented money as a type of material. Men focus on money and buying things like land, cars, planes, food, clothes, shoes and machines. Money comes and goes like the wind. For us indigenous peoples money has no value. It is only valuable to the white man because it’s their custom. They want more and more money. This is why they are destroying nature. They are always looking for more wealth like oil.

Who should/should not be involved in valuation?
Nature belongs to indigenous and non-indigenous peoples. The people who should value the forest are indigenous peoples because they have a long-held understanding and knowledge of the forest. We are the owners of the forest. It is crucial for indigenous peoples to be able to use nature’s wealth. We are the ones who should use the fruits of the forest along with parrots, toucans, monkeys and other animals. Today, the white man is crazy for money. The white man destroys nature for money because he does not value or respect the environment. It is important for everyone who uses nature to understand the spiritual importance of trees, rivers, lakes etc. Today, many people are talking about climate change. The earth is getting hotter. There needs to be a reduction in pollution. I call on non-indigenous peoples to listen to us and learn from us.

Find out more: Survival International background on the Yanomami


Do you agree with Davi Kopenawa Yanomami? See what others think by clicking on the interviews below and join the debate by adding your comments.

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