Develop Amazonian land management systems of the past, experts say

Before the arrival of the Europeans, the Amazonian peoples would have numbered around 10 million, domesticating and cultivating native plants for food throughout the biome. Their long coexistence with the forest has given rise to a rich diversity of languages, artistic expressions, mythologies and cosmologies, said Márcio Augusto Freitas Meira, anthropologist of the Goeldi Museum, To a recent digital conference on the Amazon held last month by the World Landscape Forum.

“The Amazon is a center for the domestication of plants, yucca, cocoa, peanuts,” said Eduardo Goes Neves, professor of archeology at the University of Sao Paulo, in the same discussion. “These management practices, the modification of nature and the landscape, have consolidated over time. “

This session, “Agroecology, Archeology and Anthropology: Integrating the Past and the Present to Enable Sustainable Land Uses in the Amazon of the Future”, Examined the history of the Amazon biome through a lens from which it is rarely seen: however, as a landscape managed by humans rather than unspoiled wilderness. Coming from different academic and scientific backgrounds, the experts illustrated how indigenous and traditional Amazonian communities have long viewed their landscape as a deeply interconnected system, in which their human use of the biome and the health of the biome are balanced and intertwined.

“The relationship of ancient peoples with the Amazon shows a transformation, with agricultural production through agroecological strategies, very ancient strategies that led to the creation of the Amazon that we know now,” Neves said.

In today’s terms, the practices employed by the indigenous peoples of the Amazon – whom some tribes referred to as “managing the world” – are a prime example of how food production can and should be linked to conservation. the biodiversity. Globally, as more land is converted to agriculture, food production is often seen as the primary driver of biodiversity loss.

Speakers stressed, however, that it is the means of food production rather than the production itself that is the problem. As seen in the Amazon, by combining various crops, animals and trees with different spatial and seasonal arrangements, land users – ancient tribes and modern farmers – design their farms to mimic natural processes. In turn, this leads to more productive crops and animals and healthier ecosystems; indeed, Neves noted historical documentation of the rich black color of the Amazonian soil in its indigenous territories, signaling its fertility. This Terra Preta from Indio, the “Indian Dark Earth” still exists in parts of the biome that are still as healthy as they have been in the past.

The forest is regenerated through agroecological practices in the indigenous Nueva Ahuaypa community. Juan Carlos Huayllapuma, CIFOR

The objective of the session was twofold: to show how ancient agroecological practices should be extended and restored to conserve the Amazon, and, more broadly, to provide examples from the Amazon of why agricultural landscapes should be included in the post-2020 global biodiversity framework. , which will serve as a reference document for the conservation of global biodiversity over the next decade. Currently, the draft framework largely excludes managed landscapes, such as those used for food and livestock, from priority areas for biodiversity efforts.

“[Indigenous practices in the Amazon] should be considered relevant in the various international conventions associated with the UN, such as the Convention on Biodiversity, the Convention on Climate Change and the Convention on Food Security ”, said Tatiana de Sa, vice-president of the Brazilian Association of Agroecology (ABA) and researcher at Brazilian Agricultural Research Society (EMBRAPA).

Currently around one fifth of the Amazon is in indigenous territories, with more informal management under indigenous management, and numerous studies have shown that these areas are the best preserved and the richest in biodiversity. In many cases, these areas have historically been used for food production and, in the current context, are often linked to markets to also provide livelihoods for their indigenous managers.

“It’s an economic strategy, because they have food for their own consumption and to sell all year round, and an ecological strategy because, by diversifying, you combine planting, harvesting and land management within of a local agro-system, ”said ABA’s vice president. President Romier da Paixao Sousa. Importantly, he noted, this land is used to grow exportable products, like acai, coffee and cocoa, which can be part of this diversification process when properly integrated.

However, stakeholders also stressed that these sustainable land use practices are unlikely to continue if land managers do not have guaranteed rights. Francileia Paula de Castro, member of the ABA Working group on traditional peoples, ancestry and ethnicities, gave examples of the many ways in which Quilombola communities practice methods such as agroforestry and mixed farming. The Quilombolas, descendants of African slaves, are among the most marginalized and vulnerable people living in the Amazon, with their lands and lives often threatened by land grabbers and the expansion of the extractive industry.

“The wise use of land by these people integrates lifestyles for us,” said de Castro. “It represents this interrelation between humanity and nature, where we use many different management practices to ensure food production, preservation of local biodiversity and sustainable results over time. “

vice-president of ABA Romier da Paixao Sousa extrapolated on the issue of rights, noting that they “must also expand to include areas of common use, such as forests, lakes and rivers. And that requires another way of thinking about management, where current collective practices are valued and encouraged.

And it is precisely this broadening of thinking about the intersection of land management, rights and biodiversity conservation that should be channeled upward at all levels of policy. Scientific and ancestral knowledge should be bridged, Sousa said, “to create a true knowledge ecology,” which can be integrated into policy-making processes.

An example cited was that of Brazil in 2008 National Program for the Environmental Management of Indigenous Lands (PNGATI), which was built in collaboration with indigenous leaders to institutionalize strategies to ensure the protection and support the sustainability and well-being of indigenous peoples and their lands.

Part of these policies and systems changes should focus on rebuilding local and regional agrifood systems and value chains, not only to help boost nutrition and dietary diversity among rural populations, Sousa said, but also to help increase their benefits. There is a clear need for more investment in indigenous communities, to support their creation of small and medium enterprises, in turn promoting equality and inclusion in biome development, he said.

In international policy, in agreements and strategies such as the Post-2020 Framework, the consolidation of managed and agricultural landscapes as priority areas for biodiversity will further serve to tie all ends together – promoting sustainable agroecological practices that preserve the biodiversity and overall health of a landscape, giving an additional reason to guarantee communities the right to continue to care for their lands in this way.

“We need to think about policies that can advance this perspective,” Sousa said, “policies that have the capacity to support the social processes that already exist in the Amazon, in the sense of preserving the environment – policies with enough flexibility to allow diversity and sustainability of sustainable systems.

“Without a truly Amazonian agrarian reform”, he continued, “we will not move forward in maintaining the biome”.

“There is no future for the Amazon if we separate the natural history from the history of the people who have inhabited this very important region for over 12,000 years,” said Neves.