Indigenous Agroforestry Systems in Amazonia: From Prehistory to Today

Abstract

Understanding the historical development of indigenous systems will provide valuable information for the design of ecologically desirable agroforestry production systems. Such studies have been relatively few, especially in Amazonia. The agroforestry systems in Amazonia follow a trail that begins with the arrival of the first hunter-gatherers in prehistoric times, followed by the domestication of plants for agriculture, the development of complex societies rich in material culture, the decimation of these societies by European diseases, warfare, and slavery, the introduction of exotic species, and finally, the present-day scenario of widespread deforestation, in which agroforestry is ascribed a potential role as an alternative land use. Despite the upheavals which occurred in colonial times, greatly reducing the population of native tribes, a review of anthropological and ethnobiological literature from recent decades indicates that a great variety of indigenous agroforestry practices still exist, ranging from deliberate planting of trees in homegardens and fields to the management of volunteer seedlings of both cultivated and wild species. These practices result in various configurations of agroforestry systems, such as homegardens, tree/crop combinations in fields, orchards of mixed fruit trees, and enriched fallows. Together they constitute a stock of knowledge developed over millenia, and represent technologies that evolved along with the domestication of native forest species and their incorporation into food production systems. This knowledge is the basis for the principal agroforestry practice employed by farmers in Amazonia today, the homegarden, and has potential to contribute to the development of other agroforestry systems.

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Correspondence to Robert Pritchard Miller.

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Miller, R.P., Nair, P.K.R. Indigenous Agroforestry Systems in Amazonia: From Prehistory to Today. Agroforest Syst 66, 151–164 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10457-005-6074-1

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Keywords

  • Amazonian Indians
  • Fruit tree domestication
  • Homegardens
  • Indigenous knowledge