Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Human Impacts on Amazonia

Human Impacts on Amazonia: The Role of Traditional Ecological Knowledge in Conservation and Development

Darrell Addison Posey
Michael J. Balick
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Human Impacts on Amazonia
    Book Description:

    From the pre-Columbian era to the present, native Amazonians have shaped the land around them, emphasizing utilization, conservation, and sustainability. These priorities stand in stark contrast to colonial and contemporary exploitation of Amazonia by outside interests. With essays from environmental scientists, botanists, and anthropologists, this volume explores the various effects of human development on Amazonia. The contributors argue that by protecting and drawing on local knowledge and values, further environmental ruin can be avoided.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51735-5
    Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Environmental Science, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    Darrell Addison Posey
  4. Coeditor’s Note
    (pp. xv-xvi)
    Michael J. Balick
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  6. Thoughts on the Future of Amazonia: The Region, Residents, Researchers, and Realities
    (pp. 1-4)
    Michael J. Balick

    Being a futurist is a tricky business; as someone once said, “The easiest way to make God laugh is to tell God of your future plans.” To ponder the future it is necessary to consider the past and the present. Perhaps as recently as forty or fifty years ago, Amazonia was considered a limitless treasure with extraordinary resources. The major questions asked at that time focused on identifying Amazonia’s biological diversity and determining which of its natural resources had the most value for extraction—usually the answer was timber. Today Amazonia is in a critical phase, one in which the...

  7. 1 Romance and Reality: The First European Vision of Brazilian Indians
    (pp. 5-16)
    John Hemming

    The first encounter between the Portuguese and the indigenous peoples of Brazil occurred on April 22, 1500, at Monte Pascoal in Porto Seguro, some 800 kilometers north of Rio de Janeiro. As we shall see, it was a meeting that was to have an extraordinary impact on European intellectuals of the time.

    A fleet bound for the Cape of Good Hope and India was blown westward; sailors following land birds brought the fleet to the coast of Brazil. Luckily for us, that fleet contained a brilliant observer, Pero Vaz de Caminha. He described the excitement of the new discovery and...

  8. 2 Constructing Tropical Nature
    (pp. 17-32)
    Nancy Leys Stepan

    The process of deconstructing the myths and errors that have plagued interpretations of, and policies toward, Amazonia—perhaps the most exemplary site of the tropical—is now proceeding apace.

    I think it was David Arnold, the specialist on India, who was the first to use the term “tropicality” in our contemporary sense, to indicate the constructed and discursive character of the tropics (Arnold 2000). By tropicality, Arnold means to indicate that the tropical in the Western tradition is more than a purely empirical or geographic term, but represents a fundamentally European, outsider, and imaginative view of large parts of the...

  9. 3 Demand for Two Classes of Traditional Agroecological Knowledge in Modern Amazonia
    (pp. 33-50)
    Charles R. Clement

    There were probably 5–7 million people living in Amazonia at the time of European contact; it has been estimated that population densities in some areas were in excess of 25 individuals/km², although because of apparently low carrying capacity on the terra firme (dry uplands) interfluves, it was probably lower than one individual/km² in the region as a whole (Denevan 1992a). In order to feed and clothe that population, native Amazonian peoples domesticated many of the region’s landscapes and at least 86 native plant species to varying degrees (Clement 1999). These two types of domestication (landscape and plant) are here...

  10. 4 Fire in Roraima, 1998—Politics and Human Impact: What Role for Indigenous People in Brazilian Amazonia?
    (pp. 51-84)
    Elizabeth Allen

    Some of the most dramatic and potentially most disastrous instances of human impact on Brazilian Amazonia in recent years were the fires that swept through the northernmost state of Roraima (figure 4.1) from January to April 1998. They presented a threat to the environment that seized the world’s headlines and created a major embarrassment for the president of Brazil and his government at a critical stage in the campaign for presidential and congressional elections. More important, the fires, and their causes and the response to them, brought into sharp focus and to the front of public debate crucial issues about...

  11. 5 The Cerrado of Brazilian Amazonia: A Much-Endangered Vegetation
    (pp. 85-97)
    James A. Ratter, J. Felipe Ribeiro and Samuel Bridgewater

    Attention in the Amazon Basin is almost always focused on the forested areas, the terra firme forest and the flooded várzeas and igapós, and it is often forgotten that cerrado and related Amazonian savannas are also important elements of the vegetation. However, the cerrado biome covers more than 700,000 square kilometers of Brazilian Amazônia Legal (Legal Amazonia), representing at least 15 percent of the total area of the region (figure 5.1). Most of it is made up of the parts of the core area of the biome lying in the states of Mato Grosso and Tocantins. In addition, areas of...

  12. 6 A Review of Amazonian Wetlands and Rivers: Valuable Environments Under Threat
    (pp. 98-121)
    Christopher Barrow

    During the twentieth century, Amazonian wetlands (tables 6.1 and 6.2) and rivers have been exploited at relatively low intensity (Hall 1989:262). Rubber production, even at its height in the early 1920s, occurred mainly through the exploitation of wild trees; fiber crops like jute (Corchorus capsularis) and the similar malva (Sida rhombifolia) never became established enough to do much damage to the environment. However, in recent decades there has been a marked trend toward intensive várzea (floodland) agriculture, livestock production, timber extraction, palm-heart gathering, commercial fishing, gold mining, industrial pollution, terra firme (nonfloodland) agriculture that has contaminated runoff with agrochemicals, and...

  13. 7 Fragility and Resilience of Amazonian Soils: Models from Indigenous Management
    (pp. 122-145)
    Peter A. Furley

    Despite the increased availability and dissemination of information, perceptions of Amazonian soils are still polarized. At one extreme there persists a utopian view of rich fertility (colored by the luxuriance of the tropical forest cover). At the other extreme there exists an excessively restrictive view of an extremely precarious resource, vulnerable to rapid degeneration at the slightest disturbance (a perception based on the extreme effects of deforestation). The reality lies somewhere in between and reflects the variety of soils associated with diverse plant communities and environments. Many Amazonian soils are indeed fragile (that is, easily broken or destroyed), while others...

  14. 8 Is Successful Development of Brazilian Amazonia Possible Without Knowledge of the Soil and Soil Response to Development?
    (pp. 146-157)
    Stephen Nortcliff

    The land resources of the Amazon are estimated as 484 million hectares, with approximately 35 percent comprising true moist tropical forest, 57 percent semievergreen forest, and 7 percent savanna (Cochrane and Sanchez 1982). The landscape under this vegetation is generally of low relief and flat to gently rolling, frequently with short, relatively steep slopes separating flat and poorly drained low-lying lands from flat to gently rolling crest areas. Cochrane and Sanchez (1982) estimated that approximately 23 percent of the land surface was flat and poorly drained, and that the remainder consisted of well-drained slopes and free to moderately well-drained flat...

  15. 9 Fragile Soils and Deforestation Impacts: The Rationale for Environmental Services of Standing Forest as a Development Paradigm in Amazonia
    (pp. 158-171)
    Philip M. Fearnside

    Development in Brazil’s 5 × 106 km2 Legal Amazon region has, until now, been based mainly on removing and selling natural resources, such as timber and minerals, or on agriculture or ranching operations that derive their products from the soil. Sale of commodities such as minerals and timber often fails to benefit the local population. Conversion of forest to cattle pasture, the most widespread land-use change in Brazilian Amazonia, brings benefits that are extremely meager (although not quite zero). High priority must be given to redirection of development to activities with local returns that are greater and longer lasting. Tapping...

  16. 10 Concurrent Activities and Invisible Technologies: An Example of Timber Management in Amazonia
    (pp. 172-180)
    Christine Padoch and Miguel Pinedo-Vásquez

    As ever more research is done on smallholder resource management in the humid tropics and elsewhere, appreciation of the diversity and complexity of locally developed management practices has grown. By now a multitude of studies have pointed out that small-scale farmers tend to manage many species and varieties of plants and animals within their intricately structured fields and agroforests. (For a recent review of diversity in smallholder agricultural systems, see Brookfield 2002.) In these plots they often succeed in producing a wealth of useful products while protecting considerable biodiversity and maintaining crucial ecological functions.

    Most researchers have recognized the diversity...

  17. 11 Institutional and Economic Issues in the Promotion of Commercial Forest Management in Amerindian Societies
    (pp. 181-192)
    Michael Richards

    Following decades of frustration with state-managed approaches such as protected areas and industrial forest concessions, conservationists and others have seen the promotion of “natural-forest management” (NFM) as one of the main hopes for conserving the tropical rain forest (e.g., Clay 1988). The term NFM, as used here, refers to a more commercial management approach than is present in more subsistence-oriented swidden agriculture and extensive natural-resource management systems. In the case of timber production, NFM commonly implies using “classical” forest management concepts like a cutting cycle, division of the forest into coupes (areas where trees are felled), use of machinery, and...

  18. 12 Collect or Cultivate—A Conundrum: Comparative Population Ecology of Ipecac (Carapichea ipecacuanha (Brot.) L. Andersson), a Neotropical Understory Herb
    (pp. 193-209)
    Jan Salick

    Domestication (e.g., Smith 1995) and the seed (e.g., Heiser 1973) have been considered cornerstones of “civilization.” With the ascendancy of molecular biology, it seems absurd that a single gene change (i.e., the definition of domestication, Simpson and Ogorzaly 2000) should represent a watershed for plant/people interactions. For one thing, we know that single gene changes come about from all manner of plant/animal interactions, and for another, genetic change or no, people interact with plants in a multitude of very sophisticated ways. Root and tuber crops, not the seed, have been the staples in the Amazon since the beginning of agriculture....

  19. 13 Extractivism, Domestication, and Privatization of a Native Plant Resource: The Case of Jaborandi (Pilocarpus microphyllus Stapf ex Holmes) in Maranhão, Brazil
    (pp. 210-221)
    Claudio Urbano B. Pinheiro

    One of the most important drugs in ophthalmology is derived from the leaves of a plant in the citrus family collected by Indians and peasants in the forests of Brazil: jaborandi (Pilocarpus species; Rutaceae–Pilocarpinae). This genus is a group of shrubs or treelets 3–7.5 meters tall, widely distributed in Brazil, and ranging from the northern state of Pará to the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul (Joseph 1967).

    Jaborandi has been, for the past three decades, one of the most important commercial species of the native Brazilian flora. It is the only source of the drug pilocarpine,...

  20. 14 Peasant Riverine Economies and Their Impact in the Lower Amazon
    (pp. 222-237)
    Mark Harris

    A senior woman from a floodplain village in the Lower Amazon once told me that when she was young her father used to ask her and her siblings what kind of fish they would like to eat for lunch. They would tell him, he would go out, and usually he was able to obtain the desired species. Recently, some forty years later, she complained that this is no longer possible, the diversity had gone. “We have often to make do with fatty catfish,” she added. She concluded that “it is not the times that change, but the people.” I asked...

  21. 15 Conservation, Economics, Traditional Knowledge, and the Yanomami: Implications and Benefits for Whom?
    (pp. 238-247)
    William Milliken

    There are three principal ways in which native peoples of the Amazon may be seen to contribute toward regional forest conservation: by broadening and strengthening national and international concern about Amazon destruction, by managing the forests in a sustainable manner, and by providing the knowledge necessary for sustainable forest management by others. The first of these (i.e., the capacity of indigenous peoples to focus international interest on rainforest destruction—either actively or passively) was effectively demonstrated during the 1998 droughts and fires in the northern Brazilian state of Roraima (Allen, chapter 4 this volume).

    By the time the Roraima fires...

  22. 16 The Commodification of the Indian
    (pp. 248-272)
    Alcida Rita Ramos

    The advance of the economic frontier has been a recurring theme in the Amazon since the first decades of the sixteenth century. In the nearly five-hundred-year history of Western rapacity, the region has witnessed a number of ways in which non-Indians appropriated its wealth, first, at the expense of indigenous peoples, and later, of regional populations as well. In their attempts to secure quick profits, colonizers promoted massive indigenous slave labor, spread devastating epidemics, looted forest products (drogas do sertão), and grabbed territories, water, and subsoil resources as if Amazonia were an immense no-man’s-land, literally up for grabs (Pinto 1980;...

  23. 17 Euphemism in the Forest: Ahistoricism and the Valorization of Indigenous Knowledge
    (pp. 273-285)
    Stephen Nugent

    Historically the Brazilian Amazon’s natural wealth has been measured in terms of its minerals (gold, iron ore, bauxite), plants (mahogany, palm fruits), and animals (shrimp, fish). Since the reevaluation of the region’s resource potential, beginning with its abrupt “integration” into the national development plan around 1970, there has been a significant addition to that repertoire: indigenous knowledge. The significance of indigenous knowledge (or native, or folk, science) has been revealed in a number of detailed studies, but overall characterization has proved evasive. In this discussion, rather than start from a particular Amazonian example and then amplify—say from a discussion...

  24. 18 What’s the Difference Between a Peace Corps Worker and an Anthropologist? A Millennium Rethink of Anthropological Fieldwork
    (pp. 286-306)
    Joanna Overing

    This essay highlights the transformation in anthropological fieldwork conditions in Amazonia which have been developing over the past few years, and draws principally upon the recent experience of researchers at the Centre for Indigenous American Studies and Exchange at the University of St. Andrews, Fife, Scotland. First, however, we need to understand that anthropology today is not what it was a decade ago, and as a result the ethnographic “eye” has shifted its focus. To some extent we anthropologists are in a period of confusion, indeed breast beating, for as each new postcolonialist treatise is published, we find that the...

  25. 19 Traditional Resource Use and Ethnoeconomics: Sustainable Characteristics of the Amerindian Lifestyles
    (pp. 307-327)
    Clóvis Cavalcanti

    Although growth should not be confused with development, the fact is that economic development has usually meant the persistent increase in per capita income of a country or economy. This, at least, is how it is defined in a place like Brazil (and more broadly in Amazonia, as well as in all of Latin America).¹ It is in such a context that ecological economics has come about as a discipline shaped by the need to reconcile material progress with the sound management of the environment. This requires that some sort of consistency be attained between two conflicting tendencies: one tendency...

  26. 20 Enhancing Social Capital: Productive Conservation and Traditional Knowledge in the Brazilian Rain Forest
    (pp. 328-344)
    Anthony Hall

    Traditional ecological knowledge (TEK), as a component of social capital for promoting economic progress and supplying environmental services, has until recently been almost totally neglected by official planners and policymakers. Indeed for decades the presence of human populations has been perceived as incompatible with natural-resource conservation, and nowhere more so than in the Amazon rain forest. Yet during the 1990s there was a move away from total reliance on the preservationist, centralized, command-and-control strategy that largely excludes local populations, and toward a decentralized approach that seeks to utilize governance potential to create more sustainable models (Hall 1997b, 2000). That change...

  27. Appendix: Findings and Recommendations
    (pp. 345-346)
  28. List of Contributors
    (pp. 347-348)
  29. Index
    (pp. 349-366)
  30. Back Matter
    (pp. 367-368)