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The Wichí of northern Argentina

The Wichí are traditionally hunter-gathering forest dwellers, indigenous to the area of the tropical lowlands of Northern Argentina and Bolivia; this forms the western part of the area known as the Chaco. The Wichí number about 50,000 and live mainly within the area circumscribed by the Pilcomayo and the Berejo rivers. The Wichí living here have done so for thousands of years, but now their lives and livelihood as well as their ancient culture are under threat. Within the Chaco region, the basin of the Itiyuro River forms a geographically distinct region. The communities of the Itiyuro Basin have come together as Zlaqatayhi (‘Our Forest’) to protect their habitat from logging and intensive agriculture. Because of loss of their forest, they are no longer able to support themselves in their traditional way. It is traditional to grow indigenous crops such as beans and squashes on a small scale. They now also keep chickens, pigs and goats, supplementing their diet with products of what the remnant of their forest provides, such as honey or the occasional forest deer. The ecology of the region is extremely fragile, with high temperatures in the hot season, so that clearance of the forest and the use of the land for cattle-ranching or for planting GM soya and cotton results in rapid degradation of the soil. The forest cover is being lost at an alarming rate, mainly through illegal logging raids or through agricultural companies buying the forest, in defiance of the legal protection given by the Argentine Constitution to the ancestral lands of its indigenous inhabitants.

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