Rising Above the Flood: Modifications in agricultural practices and livelihoods systems in Central Amazonia, perspectives from ribeirinho and indigenous communities

Rising Above the Flood: Modifications in agricultural practices and livelihoods systems in Central Amazonia, perspectives from ribeirinho and indigenous communities

Angela May STEWARD (USA)

University of Brasília, Brazil

This paper will describe the ways in which farmers,residents of two Sustainable Development reserves, Amazonas state, Brazil, are modifying their agricultural practices, and thus the general structure of household economies, as a result of dramatic changes in flood patterns occurring over the past 10 years, and most prominently within the past five years. The Mamirauá and Amanã sustainable development reserves are located in the middle Solimões region (Central Amazonia) and are home to diverse groups of traditional and indigenous peoples. The Mamirauá reserve is located at the confluence of the Solimões and Japurá Rivers. The Amanã reserve neighbors Mamirauá, extending eastward, and together with the Jaú National Park, the three conservation areas form one of the largest blocks of protected tropical forest on the planet. The Mamirauá reserve is unique in protecting floodplain várzea forests. The Amanã Sustainable Development reserve encompasses forested areas in terra firme (upland), várzea (floodplain) and paleovárzea (lower-lying upland areas made up of older alluvial deposits) and areas of igápo (flooded black water forests). Natural resource management practices in the region are greatly impacted by seasonal flooding patterns. Floodplain areas are subjected to dramatic changes in water levels each year, where river waters can rise from 10 to 12 meters during the flood season, as a result of upriver precipitation patterns and annual off-melting in Andean regions. Under normal conditions, floodplain agriculture is organized around yearly floods, being confined to the periods of the draining of the basin and the dry season. Upland areas in the Amanã reserve escape annual flooding, while some intermediate zones—the paleovárzeas—are flooded during high flood years. Here, agricultural activities are developed through the entire year. In recent years, the region has experienced rapid change in flooding patterns linked to global climate change, where floods are both higher and characterized by more rapidly rising waters. In many cases, floods are also longer lasting. In areas of várzea this has reduced the growing season. Quickly rising waters has also caused many cassava (manioc) farmers in both várzea and paleovárzea environments to lose seed materials, occurring when waters rise before producers are able to harvest fields. Following an extreme flood event in 2012, producers in both várzea and paleovárzea areas quickly modified agricultural practices. During extension and research activities we observed the emergence of novel mechanisms to store seeds, as well as the establishment of annual fields for the purpose of conserving manioc varieties in peri-urban areas in upland environments. The proposed presentation will discuss the cited changes as part of the results of a survey conducted on the impacts of changing flood regimes on agricultural practices, undertaken in paleovárzea and várzea communities, home to indigenous (Miranha and Cocoma) and ribeirinho groups. We will specifically emphasize the spatial rearrangement of production systems and novel techniques for seed conservation in increasingly dynamic and unpredictable environments.



Angela Steward is a research scientist who has been studying livelihood transformation in traditional Amazonian communities (indigenous, ribeirinho and Quilombo communities) since 2004. Her area expertise is ethnobiology (PhD in 2008 from the City University of New York and New York Botanical Gardens) and environmental anthropology (postdoctoral studies in Anthropology from the Federal University of Minas Gerais). She has a particular interest in understanding traditional agricultural systems in terms of practice, knowledge and change and evolution over time. Her geographic focus is Brazil, particularly the Brazilian Amazon, but she has also worked in communities in savanna (Cerrado) environments. Since 2011, Angela has worked in the remote middle Solimões region in Central Amazonia as a researcher and program coordinator of the Family Farming program at the Mamirauá Institute for Sustainable Development. As part of her work in the region, she is investigating with farmers, community leaders and colleagues, how várzea producers (both indigenous and ribeirinho groups) are adapting their strategies and production systems in the face of changing flood patterns. Since May of 2015, she has also been an associate researcher at the Center for Sustainable Development, University of Brasília undertaking a project related to the “on the ground” impacts of REDD+ in Sustainable Development reserves in Central Amazonia.

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