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Letter from the editor | 285

Challenges in the Amazon

The debate on the Amazon’s future depends largely on how exactly we define development. Since the 1970s, several governmental initiatives—as well as many private, often illegal ones—have focused on occupying the territory for farming and mining activities, as well as using its rivers to generate electricity, even if uncontrolled logging is involved. Northern Brazil is the poorest region in the country, and continuous deforestation, which has already destroyed 20% of the original rainforest, negatively impacts the climate of the region, the rest of the continent, and the planet as a whole.

The Amazon rainforest plays a key role in the chemistry of our atmosphere: it is an enormous source of water vapor. It performs the essential task, for example, of carrying rain from the northern Amazon to the River Plate basin, which enables agricultural activity in the Midwest region. One study found that total or partial deforestation of the world’s three major tropical rainforests—the Amazon, Congo, and Southeast Asian rainforests—would cause global temperatures to rise by 0.7 °C, which practically matches all of the warming caused by human activity since the Industrial Revolution.

The Amazon’s rich and delicate ecosystem needs a specific development model that nurtures its unique elements, takes advantage of its immense biodiversity, and respects local populations—indigenous peoples, traditional riverside communities, and city residents. There are various issues to address, including sustainable management of resources such as fish, wood, and fruit, the provision of infrastructure for inhabitants (although the region is home to 20% of the world’s fresh water, 30% of the population has no access to safe drinking water and 87% have no sewage system), and the fight against illegal deforestation and land grabbing. Science must contribute by studying biodiversity, domesticating native species with commercial potential, and recovering abandoned pastures for higher-tech agriculture and more intensive livestock farming, or for reforestation.

Twenty-six pages of this issue of Pesquisa FAPESP are dedicated to the topic, describing the mechanisms that make the Amazon so central to the global climate and how deforestation is leading to changes such as a prolonged dry season. The article on page 32 addresses sustainable development in the region, complemented by interviews with IPAM ecologist Paulo Moutinho and Lauro Barata, a chemist and senior visiting professor at UFOPA.


In the late 1980s, indigenous Brazilians began enrolling in undergraduate programs for the first time. Thirty years later, some now have PhDs and work as scientists in a range of fields, from ethnography to agroecology and education. Their presence in academia has broadened the scope of scientific research by proposing new questions in the different fields in which they work.

Revealing how they view the world and themselves, the Tupi demonstrated a knowledge of anatomy that had never been translated into Portuguese. Written in the late sixteenth century by Jesuit priest Pero de Castilho, Names of human body parts in the language of Brazil was the first Brazilian dictionary of the human body, as described by Tupi people. Terms with no equivalent in Portuguese had to be described, such as bopitéraiçâba: “the lines on the palm of the hand” (now known as palmar creases).