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Preserving Language and Culture

Amazonian languages and cultures emerged as ways of living productively with the forest at a time when land and animals were plentiful and the population small. The primary reason these are endangered now is that with increased population as well as integration into a globalized world the way of living with the forest that gave them life has become unsustainable.


The jobs Amazonian young people can actually get (if they are lucky) are in oil, mining, or timber  extraction which are damaging to the environment, (or, worse yet, coca/cocaine production and delivery).  The jobs young people aspire to are carried out in Spanish or English, the languages of international commerce.  The reality is that Amazonian languages will never become international languages of commerce. 

     What then?  The solution is to develop an alternative economy where indigenous languages can at least flourish as a second home language for young people and where traditional indigenous knowledge of forest and chacra are used in new contexts.  Our mission is to  retool traditional cultural knowledge to generate competitive income in a globalized economy.  immersed in this global economy.



In all of this our work has a persistent practical focus.   How can traditional knowledge be adapted, combined with the sciences and deployed to preserve both culture and environment?  What are the factors causing loss of  language, culture, and environment?  How can those factors best be mitigated?   How can community members adapt their traditions to generate an economy that is an alternative to extraction?


Goal:  To create a sustainable indigenous permaculture forest by:'


Combining cutting edge science and traditional knowledge

Creating sustainable transportation routes and trade between pilot sites at varying altitudes. 

Creating green jobs in indigenous territories to supplement forest income.

Building human capacity by facilitating multi directional knowledge transfer.

Challenges of buying forest for preserves:


The shrinking forest land base has created a conflict between increasing or securing local indigenous ownership on the one hand and increasing the size of nature preserves on the other.  One apparent solution that has not worked well is the promoting of permaculture on small plots privately owned by indigenous subsistence farmers.   People often think that because indigenous families lived off chagras in the past that it is both possible and desirable for them to continue doing so.     Several reasons make this impossible now.

1) Families now need more cash than a small farm or permaculture forest can produce.  2) In the past chagras were rotated over a large area allowing forest to lie fallow for 20 years between plantings.  The shrinking land base has made rotation impossible for all but tiny percentage of the indigenous population. 3) Chagras were supplemented by activities such as hunting fishing and gathering which are no longer sustainable at the required volume.


This creates a situation where indigenous subsistence farmers quickly wear out their small farms leaving nowhere for their children to live or farm.   The children or others invade adjacent reserves to which they claim a right based on the previous territorial boundaries of their ancestors.   Local law enforcement often will not take action against incursions by indigenous families seeking to recover ancestral lands.  Because of the emergency need for cash the invaded lands are often resold to settlers after titles have been established. 

So what is the answer?   How can forest preserves combine indigenous ownership with the goals of preserving biodiversity?    We suggest a strategy where donor's purchase of forest is tied to the creation of long term indigenous employment in managing the forest. 


Indigenous young people are no more likely to want to live in poverty than young people anywhere.   Small farms in the Amazon are no better at competing with large scale agriculture than are small farms in other parts of the world.  A permaculture mixed crop small farm is more labor intensive and so more expensive to operate than a monoculture small farm because production cannot be mechanized.   Fair price organic marketing is of limited success.


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"Sustainability Assessment of Smallholder Agroforestry Indigenous Farming in the Amazon:A Case Study of Ecuadorian Kichwas,"

Marco Heredia-R, Bolier Torres, Jhenny Cayambe, Nadia RamosMarcelo Luna and Carlos G. H. Diaz-Ambrona,  Agronomy15 December 2020.


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