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Indigenous Land Use in the Ecuadorian Amazon: A Cross-cultural and Multilevel Analysis

Abstract

Among the remaining tropical forests of lowland Latin America, many are inhabited by indigenous peoples, and the sustainability of their land uses is a point of heated debate in the conservation community. Numerous small-scale studies have documented changes in indigenous land use in individual communities in the context of expanding frontier settlements and markets, but few studies have included larger populations or multiple ethnic groups. In this paper we use data from a regional-scale survey of five indigenous populations in the Northern Ecuadorian Amazon to describe their agricultural land use practices and investigate the factors that affect those practices. We find the areas cultivated by indigenous households to be small compared to those of nearby mestizo colonists, but a large proportion of indigenous cultivated area is in commercial land uses. We also construct multilevel statistical models to investigate the household and community-level factors that affect indigenous land use. The results reveal significant influences on cultivated area from contextual factors such as access to markets, oil company activities, and the land tenure regime, as well as from household characteristics such as demographic composition, participation in alternative livelihood activities, and human, social and physical capitals. Overall the results are most consistent with market integration as an underlying driver of land use change in indigenous territories of the study area.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    Future analyses will combine these two datasets to attempt to explain differences between colonist and indigenous land use. This paper focuses on variation among indigenous land uses.

  2. 2.

    Thirteen households with no active agricultural plots and 14 households with missing data on the regression predictors have been excluded from the analysis. Households with missing data for variables included only in the descriptive analysis were not excluded; thus sample sizes are noted in Table 1.

  3. 3.

    Previous studies of indigenous land use in the Amazon found such reports of current land use to be accurate (Vadez et al. 2003).

  4. 4.

    An alternative approach is to model using ordinary least squares regression (OLS) and to correct for clustering using Huber–White standard errors as available in Stata and other software packages. This approach typically produces results similar to the multilevel approach, but the estimation is somewhat less efficient and the intra-class correlation interpretation is not available (Angeles et al. 2005). For the model described here, OLS with the cluster correction produces similar results but with slightly larger standard errors for the household-level predictors, consistent with the less efficient estimation.

  5. 5.

    Modeling this outcome also simplifies issues of censoring (e.g. many zero values) and cross-equation error correlations which would arise from modeling multiple areas separated by land use, issues which we plan to address in future research.

  6. 6.

    These factors are largely exogenous to current household land use as they change only over long time scales and/or are driven by regional-scale processes.

  7. 7.

    To capture nonlinear effects, age and residence time have each been included in the model as a trichotomous categorical variable. This specification provides a better fit than a linear and squared term, and maintains consistency with the other categorical and count predictors.

  8. 8.

    The measure was the number of animals caught per hour on the most recent hunting trip, calculated at the community-level as a mean across all households that hunted in the past year.

  9. 9.

    Increases in education might also lead to increases in out-migration (and thus fewer agricultural laborers) and remittances, thus the overall impact on land use is difficult to predict.

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Acknowledgements

Funding for this research was provided by the National Institutes of Health (R01-HD38777-01) to Principal Investigator Richard Bilsborrow. Clark Gray and Jason Bremner were supported as predoctoral trainees at the CPC by an Integrated Graduate Education, Research and Training (IGERT) grant from the National Science Foundation as well as other sources. We are indebted to our Ecuadorian partners Ana Oña, Alicia Ruíz, CEPAR (Centro de Estudios de Poblacion y Desarrollo Social), Ecociencia, the team of field researchers, and foremost the participating indigenous communities and federations. We also thank Brian Frizzelle for spatial analysis, and Lori Hunter, Thomas Whitmore, members of the CPC IGERT working group, and the anonymous reviewers for their comments. This research is part the Ecuador Projects at the Carolina Population Center (CPC) (http://www.cpc.unc.edu/projects/ecuador).

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Gray, C.L., Bilsborrow, R.E., Bremner, J.L. et al. Indigenous Land Use in the Ecuadorian Amazon: A Cross-cultural and Multilevel Analysis. Hum Ecol 36, 97–109 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10745-007-9141-6

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Keywords

  • Indigenous land use
  • Swidden-fallow agriculture
  • Multilevel analysis
  • Amazon