Agroforestry Systems

, Volume 80, Issue 1, pp 131–152 | Cite as

Plant use and management in homegardens and swiddens: evidence from the Bolivian Amazon

  • Evert ThomasEmail author
  • Patrick Van Damme


Amazonian plant management is perhaps nowhere as intense as in homegardens and swiddens. A quantitative ethnobotanical study was conducted in Indigenous Territory and National Park Isiboro-Sécure, Bolivia, to investigate plant use and management in homegardens and swiddens by local Yuracaré and Trinitario ethnic groups. Ethnobotanical data of plants were obtained from 11 Yuracaré and 11 Trinitario participants through semistructured interviews. A total of 151 different cultivated or tolerated species was recorded, accounting for 21% of all inventoried plants considered useful to local Yuracarés and Trinitarios. The local use value of managed plants is almost twice that of wild plants. Managed plants score particularly higher than wild plants for medicinal, food and material applications. Most managed plants are herbs, followed by trees and shrubs. Nevertheless, managed trees have significantly higher overall use values than all other life forms. Managed trees tend to be particularly more appreciated as sources of food and materials, whereas herbaceous plants generally have a higher therapeutic value. Our results support observations made in literature that moderately humanized landscapes, and homegardens and swiddens in particular, are an important source of food and healing for forest people. Although people generally start managing plants in homegardens and swiddens because of their perceived usefulness, they are also favourable locations to experiment with the usefulness of (managed or wild) plants prevailing there. This particularly accounts for medicinal plants and it is argued that the use of managed plants in traditional medicine relates to (1) the high intensity of contact with theses species, and (2) their chemical defence strategy. To conclude, a number of policy recommendations are presented.


Yuracaré Trinitario Mojeño Resource availability theory Use value 



The present research was financed by a doctoral research grant of the Bijzonder Onderzoeksfonds (BOF) of Ghent University to Evert Thomas (Grant Number: B/03801/01 FONDS IV 1). Logistic support in Bolivia was provided by the Centre of Biodiversity and Genetics and the Herbarium Martin Cardenas of the Universidad Mayor de San Simon in Cochabamba. We are grateful to Reynaldo Berdeja, Kim Torfs, Jamie De Munk, Anouk Floren, Jurgen Ceuppens, Bert Wallyn and Olivier Beck for collaboration during data collection. Special thanks are due to all inhabitants of the indigenous communities San Jose de la Angosta, San Antonio, El Carmen de la Nueva Esperanza, Tres de Mayo and Sanandita for their kind assistance in this project. We are indebted to the professional botanists who identified several collections. They are C. Berg, I. Jiménez, R. Liesner, J. Lombardi, P. Maas, M. Moraes, M. Nee, H. Rainer, R. Swennen, C. Taylor and J. Wood. Thanks also go to Ina Vandebroek, Paul Goetghebeur and two anonymous reviewers for commenting on earlier drafts of this article.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratory of Tropical and Subtropical Agriculture and EthnobotanyGhent UniversityGhentBelgium

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