Distributor:  Global Environmental Justice
Length:  7 minutes
Date:  2015
Genre:  Expository
Language:  English; Spanish / English subtitles
Color/BW:  Color
Closed captioning available


Curator imageLaura Miller, Applied ethicist and instructor, Southwestern Illinois College, St. Louis Community College, Fontbonne University, and Webster University

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Sustainable Forests in Costa Rica

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* New title added January 2023 *

If Not Us Then Who?  Film 5 of 7

Costa Rica works with Indigenous communities to monitor, protect and restore forests.

Sustainable Forests in Costa Rica

If Not Us Then Who?  Film 5 of 7 (6:30) 2015
A Sustainable Solution: Environmental Tax to Maintain Forests in Costa Rica

This is one of seven short films about sustainable living in the forests of Indonesia, Costa Rica and Brazil. Taken together, they tell a story of oppression, resistance, accomplishments, and confidence for the future.

Laura Miller
Applied ethicist and instructor, Southwestern Illinois College, St. Louis Community College, Fontbonne University, and Webster University

Please download the teacher's guide for maps, background information, suggested subjects, questions and activities.

"We are a seed that was planted here and grew up here."

Through the efforts of the Indigenous people, Costa Rica is the only country that has been able to reduce illegal logging in the past 20 years. It has done so through a fuel tax program designed to protect the forest, provide incentives for maintaining standing forests, and require permits for tree removal.

The benefits of the tax include investment in schools, colleges, housing, food purchases, and health care expenses. Transnational industries remain a threat as they continue to search for minerals and farmland, build dams, and seek oil. Yet from 1997 to 2009, the Indigenous people reclaimed over 4,200 hectares of land actively returned to forest.


Other titles in the If Not Us Then Who? Collection:
5. Sustainable Solution: Costa Rica

Download the Teacher's Guide


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A Sustainable Solution

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Costa Rica is the only tropical country in the world to consistently reduce illegal logging over the last 20 years.

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Indigenous peoples have lead this remarkable transformation.

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For the attention of the Cabécar Association, this letter is to inform you I have donated two fallen trees to my neighbor

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the trees damaged his banana crop, I hope this donation helps cover the loss.

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The letters are from local people, which are handled through the association.

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They are requests for felling standing trees or the use of trees that have fallen naturally.

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When the permits are ready I go to the field to conduct the marking.

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We mark the tree with paint and record its diameter and height.

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This control is very important and we keep a record so we know what people have which permit.

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A tree that is cut with no markings is illegal.

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If people arrived and cut everything then this would not be conserving nature.

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Communities are supported in their work by a government program called Payment for Environmental Services (PSA)

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The PSA is a government program using a tax charged on all fuels.

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This gives an incentive for forest owners to maintain standing forest and we include certain areas of our forest to the program.

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This has contributed to the territories, for example in my community, it brings in roughly $235,000 a year.

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The board has invested resources in building schools and colleges.

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From the money we can purchase food, we can contribute to health care expenses and the costs of education.

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Today there are between 300-400 new houses built in the territory.

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So we see the State's money has been invested well, it's not in vain and it is benefiting the population.

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Despite this Costa Rican indigenous land continues to be threatened by large corporations.

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The land that belonged to the indigenous had become the prey to outsiders.

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This became the land of the company of the banana.

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The effect of the interests of transnational corporations, the effect from the search for mineral resources.

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The impact is always felt here in the communities and this pressure experienced by indigenous peoples is constant.

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We do not agree with extraction through mining, oil, dams or any others.

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Our vision is to recover some of that, which is held by non-indigenous.

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The association started in 1997 with an area of three hundred acres

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up to 2009 we have reclaimed approximately 4,200 hectares.

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Families who had little or no land to grow food to produce an income

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now have their own land and produce their own food, already they are restoring pasture back to forest.

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The most important change is that the land is now ours, it was divided before, now it belongs to our own people.

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We have a relationship with nature. And for us you do not harm nature, you live with it.

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Now there are many changes there is hope that more young people are taking up the culture, they are thinking about defending this.

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We are a seed that was born here and grew up here.

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It is like watching a plant that you see being born, it is original and it belongs only there.

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You can see the water, you can see the woods, you can see the land

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and it looks good, right?

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And little by little we will continue recovering more of our land.


If Not Us Then Who?
Reviews by Isadora Lambert for Video Librarian 21 April 2023

The seven short films collected in If Not Us Then Who? chronicle sustainable practices in the forests of Indonesia, Costa Rica, and Brazil. While many environmental documentaries focus on the devastation humankind inflicts upon the world, these seven films demonstrate resilience and hope for the future.

Part One: Indonesia

Sungai Utik: The fight for recognition (21 min)

The first film in “If Not Us Then Who?” is Sungai Utik: The fight for recognition. At 21 minutes, this is the longest film in the collection. Sungai Utik profiles a Dayak community that follows sustainable practices passed down by their ancestors to protect forest lands. While outsiders see the financial gain in exploiting the forest’s resources, the Sungai Utik take only the resources they need and repay the earth for what they take by planting new trees. The film follows their quest to receive legal protection and fair treatment from the government.

Building a Longhouse as a Cultural Center (12 min)

The second film in the collection follows the Sungai Utik people as they build a traditional longhouse for the first time in fifty years. This building acts a cultural center where the community can gather, attend school, make food, and live together. The indigenous filmmaker of Building a Longhouse as a Cultural Center emphasizes the community effort that makes this construction possible and pays particular attention to the elders in the community.

The Dyak Iban Way of Farming (13 min)

This documentary short discusses traditional Dayak Iban farming methods. Their process involves rotating farmlands and utilizing carefully controlled burning. Although this is a traditional technique, the government has deemed controlled burning illegal due to pollution and forest fires. However, the true environmental damage is caused by massive palm oil plantations. The Dyak Iban Way of Farming demonstrates the cultural and ecological value of maintaining traditional practices.

Homecoming: Indigenous youth return to the land (8 min)

Homecoming: Indigenous youth return to the land focuses on Indigenous youth and how crucial this generation is to environmental activism. While many youths choose to leave their communities to study and work in cities, this documentary examines those who choose to return in order to help their communities by integrating tradition with sustainable planning.

Part Two: Costa Rica/ Brazil

A Sustainable Solution: Environmental tax to maintain forests in Costa Rica (7 min)

This documentary short highlights the impact Indigenous people have made in reducing logging in Costa Rica. A government program called Payment for Environmental Services supports sustainable practices and motivates communities. A Sustainable Solution proves that government intervention can have a positive impact on the environment.

Brazil's Warrior Women: Women’s movement wins access to babassu oil (8 min)

In Brazil, 400,000 women harvest nuts from the babassu palm in order to maintain a living. However, some ranchers and farmers pose a threat to these women, threatening to physically ban the women from the fields. Brazil's Warrior Women follows the passing of a law that allows these women to remain in the fields and provide for their families.


A Tribute to Dona Dije, Babassu Woman Warrior: An interview with the leader of the babassu movement (4 min)

A Tribute to Dona Dijé, Babassu Woman Warrior pays special tribute to Dona Dijé, a central organizer of the Babassu movement. In this interview, she reflects on how the movement has impacted both the protection of women as well as the Amazon.

These seven documentary films are unique in their emphasis on how Indigenous communities influence environmental conservation. “If Not Us Then Who?” champions perspectives that are often not shown on screen. These inspiring stories would be welcome in both high school and college classrooms.

What academic subjects would this film be suitable for?

This film would be suitable for students and library patrons interested in environmental studies, public policy, political science, and global studies.

How does this film contribute to a discussion of environmental or climate justice, and/or to environmental literacy? 

If Not Us Then Who? contributes to discussions of climate justice by demonstrating solutions for environmental issues, and prioritizing indigenous voices.

What type of library programming could use this title?

These short films would be perfect for library programming events focused on sustainable solutions for the future.


Main credits

Redman, Paul (film director)
Redman, Paul (director of photography)
Redman, Paul (editor of moving image work)
Lewis, Tim (film producer)
Lewis, Tim (editor of moving image work)

Other credits

Music, Jayme.

Distributor credits

Tim Lewis

Paul Redman

Docuseek subjects

Costa Rica
Government Policy
Forests and Rainforests
Resource Planning and Management
Indigenous Studies

Distributor subjects

No distributor subjects provided.


Costa Rica,Talamanca; Cabécar Association, Payments; for Environmental Services, If Not Us then Who?,; "Sustainable Forests in Costa Rica "; Government Policy; Forests and Rainforests; Forestry; Resource Planning and Management; Sustainability; Indigenous Studies;

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