Costs and benefits of floodplain forest management by rural inhabitants in the Amazon estuary: A case study of Acai palm production

TitleCosts and benefits of floodplain forest management by rural inhabitants in the Amazon estuary: A case study of Acai palm production
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication1989
AuthorsAnderson, AB, Jardim, MAG
EditorBrowder, JO
Book TitleFragile lands of Latin America: Strategies for sustainable development
Date Published1989
PublisherWestview Press
CityBoulder, CO
ISBN0-8133-7705-6; 978-0-8133-7705-6
Call NumberHD320.5.Z63F68 1989
KeywordsAmazon; ecology; palm production

This chapter is a case study of an economically productive and ecologically sustainable land use that has evolved among traditional inhabitants in the floodplain of the Amazon estuary. These river dwellers ("ribeirinhos"), typically mestizo in ethnicity, constitute a living bridge between indigenous Amerindian knowledge of the natural diversity and inherent productivity of the Amazon's floodplain resources and the modern world with its more limited view of the economic potential of natural ecosystems. The river dwellers of the Amazon estuary participate in the market economy, and are often mistakenly included in the economically marginal, rural population of lesser-developed countries that recent multi-lateral development programs have sought to advance. What prevailing development programs have failed to consider is how the river dwellers' knowledge of their environment can contribute to a better use of fragile lands in the floodplain.

The present case study does not aspire to propose a comprehensive sustainable land-use strategy for the Amazon's floodplain ("varzea"). Rather, it focuses on the economic potential of one important natural resource element in the regional economy, the "acai" palm (Euterpe oleracea Mart.). We report the findings of a field experiment designed to measure the effects of different management practices utilized by river dwellers on fruit yields in natural stands of acai. Although measurements of the effects of these practices on other floodplain forest species were not included in this experiment, our findings are important since acai is the foremost commercial floodplain forest resource for rural inhabitants over extensive areas of the estuary. The case study described in this chapter is particularly interesting because rural inhabitants of the Amazon estuary implement an extensive form of land use in a biotope generally considered to have the greatest potential for intensive agriculture in Amazonia: the varzea floodplain of sediment-rich rivers. Forest resources are the most fragile component of the floodplain, which has served as the principal location for agriculture in Amazonia since aboriginal times. The acai palm is an especially fragile resource, as it has been subjected to intensive exploitation in the form of palm heart extraction since the 1960's. In contrast to other floodplain areas however, river dwellers in the estuary we studied have largely maintained the native forest cover and have developed management practices that assure the sustained utilization of forest resources such as acai.

The general adoption of a less intensive form of land use in a biotope of high agricultural potential is frequently viewed as a sign of the inhabitants' lack of industry, "collecting mentality," Indian blood, and "primitive" land-use practices. However, this option is in fact a rational one from ecological, cultural, and economic perspectives. Elsewhere, the ecological and cultural bases for this option have been examined in detail. Here we shall examine this option from an economic perspective by conducting a cost-benefit analysis of various management practices carried out by local inhabitants in naturally occurring stands of the acai palm. (author)

Short TitleCosts and benefits of floodplain forest management by rural inhabitants in the Amazon estuary