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River in the Amazon Rainforest. Wikimedia Commons

Spread over 1.8 million hectares, the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau Indigenous Reserve in Brazil’s Rondônia state is home to rainforests, six villages, and at least three Indigenous populations. It is also heavily deforested.

So when Brazilian journalist Gustavo Faleiros heard of an attempted illegal land grab in 2018, he used his reporting skills — and a grant from the Rainforest Journalism Fund (RJF) — to bring attention to what was happening in the delicate ecosystem.

“When I did the stories about the invasion of indigenous land, I felt it was really contributing to bringing attention to that specific place, and that story becomes much more current,” Faleiros, who is based in São Paulo, told VOA.

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The RJF grant allowed Faleiros to travel to Rondônia to report. His work was included in a project that examined threats to Indigenous communities and environmental defenders in Latin America. Since then, he has worked with the Pulitzer Center’s environmental reporting initiative to investigate other issues impacting the region, including work on a piece in 2020 on illegal trafficking of mercury in South America.

Brazilian journalist Gustavo Faleiros. Twitter

As environment investigations editor, Faleiros now coordinates the Pulitzer’s Rainforest Investigations Network, which uses cross-border collaboration and data journalism to report on climate change and corruption.

Three regions

The Pulitzer Center launched its rainforest fund in 2018 to encourage reporting on the Amazon Basin, the Congo Basin, and Southeast Asia. The initiative allows environmental journalists “to pursue ambitious projects that may have been difficult to undertake without additional financial resources,” Nora Moraga-Lewy, manager of the RJF, told VOA in an email.

She said the initiative has helped amplify existing work and expand audiences.

Along with financial support, grantees are given access to workshops on reporting and ethics and a network of journalists.

“At the Pulitzer Center we view journalism as a tool for empowering the public to engage in global issues and understand where their community fits in,” Moraga-Lewy said.

Journalism that empowers and informs the public is crucial in bringing awareness to the threats facing rainforests, their social and political influences, and their long-term local and global impacts.

Map location of the Amazon Basin. Wikimedia Commons

“Some of the reporting we support helps to bridge information gaps to better inform action where transparency may be lacking, highlights perspectives or solutions that deserve more attention or support, and informs diverse audiences how their own lives may be linked to issues such as deforestation, biodiversity, human rights, Indigenous issues and beyond,” Moraga-Lewy said.

Supporting and strengthening local journalism is central to the mission, Moraga-Lewy said, adding that they specifically seek to work with regional reporters.

“Local journalism can help spread important information, share knowledge and build connections within communities that can spur behavior change,” she added.

Supporting grantees

For Faleiros, the rainforest fund has helped with some of the challenges of environmental reporting, including interviewing community members who may be reluctant to talk.

Those directly impacted by illegal forestry or mining are most at risk of being targeted for speaking out, Faleiros said.

“These are the guys who know a lot about the local context and can point out who is behind the schemes,” Faleiros said. If they are identified as a source, “they suffer the immediate reprisal.”

Aerial view of the Amazon Rainforest, near Manaus, the capital of the Brazilian state of Amazonas. Wikimedia Commons

Interviewing those at risk means being transparent and understanding why someone may not want to speak.

“It’s very delicate,” Faleiros said, adding that the RJF ensures that its journalists receive a clear assessment of possible risks before going into the field.

While Faleiros has not faced direct threats himself, the reporter recognizes the potential dangers. “Many of these rainforest countries are the ones with the biggest levels of violence, both for activists and journalists,” he told VOA.

Associated problems

Reporting on rainforests often means looking into economic schemes, organized crime, violence, and human rights violations, he said.

When potential threats do arise, the Pulitzer Center steps in with support and security.

When Faleiros was working with the center on a story about illegal gold trafficking in Venezuela, a colleague was arrested. Though the issue was resolved in a matter of days, Faleiros was in immediate communication with the Pulitzer Center, getting advice and strategizing in case his colleague was not released.

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Faleiros believes his on-the-ground reporting has had a positive impact, raising awareness among international policymakers and companies.

This level of impact is an important part of RJF’s mission.

“In cases in all three regions where we work, stories that hadn’t been covered have generated responses from government officials where there had previously been inaction or silence,” Moraga-Lewy said.

While not every project leads to tangible policy change, Faleiros believes his reporting adds to a larger conversation while bringing attention to communities that are hurting. (VOA/KB)


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