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[RIO DE JANEIRO] Brazil's Paiter Suruí community has become the first indigenous group in the country to receive international certification to sell carbon credits in return for protecting and restoring forests in their Amazonian territory.

The Suruí community, which numbers around 1300 people, was first contacted by outsiders in 1968. Over the past decade, with assistance from environmental advocates, they have conducted a sophisticated campaign to prove to the world that they are helping to preserve their 248,000 hectare forest territory.

Four years ago, they established the Suruí Forest Carbon Project, with a view to selling carbon credits under the so-called REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) mechanism.

In late 2008, their right to trade carbon credits on the global market was legally recognised — and this week (9 April) the project was formally certified under the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) and the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Standard (CCB).

"The VCS guarantees that the indigenous group follows a strict methodology for evaluating emission reductions," Mariano Cenamo, deputy executive secretary of the Institute for Conservation and Sustainable Development of Amazonas (IDESAM) — the non-governmental organisation (NGO) that helped the Suruí design the project — told SciDev.Net.

He added that the CCB certification will ensure that the project is carried out in a way that minimises climate change, supports sustainable development and conserves biodiversity.

According to Cenamo, the project could generate up to US$61 million for the community over the next 25 years.

"We are already negotiating with some investors," he says, adding that the funds raised could be used to boost sustainable economic activities such as tourism.

Forest Trends, an environmental NGO that introduced the Suruí to the concept of carbon credits, said this week that documents from the Carbon Project validated by VCS had revealed that the Suruí's actions have already prevented the emission of more than 200,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide from the Amazon.

Observers say the project's success is being keenly watched by other indigenous communities in Brazil.

"All the documents of the process are available for anyone interested in the issue and can help other indigenous groups to explore similar strategies," Cenamo told SciDev.Net.  

"Lessons can [also] be learned from this project by the Brazilian government when designing policies for the [forest] sector."

Marcos Amend, executive director of Brazil's Conservation Strategy Fund, one of the project's partners, said: "This is a very interesting project since it is headed by indigenous people and is part of a 50-year well-organised and structured plan for managing the indigenous territory."

Watch a film about the Paiter Suruí community: