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Challenges for Amazonian Forest Trusts

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It is easier to buy forest than to preserve it.  Why?

         Lack of roads in dense forest makes it difficult to patrol. 

         Environmental laws are not enforced by under staffed law enforcement

         If perpetrators are caught it can take years and cost money to convict them.

         Ecuador's strong environmental laws have loopholes which make it difficult to convict local residents. 

         Because perpetrators are often impoverished people trying to survive, convictions serves little purpose.



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 a 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.

What kinds of food will grow at each level of the canopy?

  • The two top levels of the canopy grow fruits and nuts.   Understory produces few leafy plants that can be consumed by cooking and none that can be eaten raw.   Starches such as grains and tubers (corn, rice, manioc) require farming in open fields with heavy fertilizer.  As commodities they are generally cheaper to buy than to grow yourself because they are produced by mechanized agribusiness using below minimum wage labor.

In what quantity will they grow?

  • Low quantity per hectare.   Most wild fruits have a very thin metacarpus around a large inedible seed.  Domesticated varieties with a larger edible metacarpus (bananas, papaya) require more light and fertilizer and are more prone to disease.   


What are the seasons of these foods?

  • December-May.    Raises the question, What will people eat May through December?


How much labor is required to harvest them. 

  • Labor intensive- If a minimum wage job were available a minimum wage worker could buy more food with a day's labor than they could gather in a day's foraging.

How will basic needs for healthcare, education, security, transportation and acceptable minimal connectivity be met without additional income?

If the system cannot be sustained without supplementary cash what forest products could bring in this cash without moving to moving to large scale monocultural agribusiness?  (The problem of commodities)

Who will voluntarily live in the rural sustainable communities, local indigenous people or international progressives?

"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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