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Transformation of traditional shifting cultivation into permanent cropping systems: a case study in Sarayaku, Ecuador

Hannes Schritt, Institute of Ecology, Department of Soil Science, Technische Universität Berlin, Germany
Christine Beusch, Institute of Ecology, Department of Soil Science, Technische Universität Berlin, Germany
Pedro Ríos Guayasamín, Laboratorio de Ecología Tropical Natural y Aplicada, Facultad de Ciencias de la Vida, Universidad Estatal Amazónica, Puyo, Pastaza, Ecuador; CIPCA, Napo, Ecuador; Faculty of Forestry, University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Martin Kaupenjohann, Institute of Ecology, Department of Soil Science, Technische Universität Berlin, Germany


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Slash-and-burn shifting cultivation is common in indigenous societies in the Amazon basin. The large land use of this farming practice is of increasing concern because most indigenous communities are faced with population growth and territory losses. Our study aims to evaluate the feasibility of transforming shifting cultivation into a permanent cropping system by application of Terra Preta practice. For this purpose, an overview of the nutrient cycles of the agroecosystem of an indigenous family in Sarayaku, located in the eastern lowlands of the Ecuadorian Amazon, is provided. Household nutrient input and output data were collected and complemented with information from literature. The balances of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium were calculated in five different scenarios: (I) recycling of household waste; (II) recycling of household waste and urine; (III) recycling of household waste, urine, and feces. Whereas the first three scenarios include an external wood source, IV and V additionally integrate a tree plantation. In scenario IV the tree plantation is fertilized only with feces, while in V also with household waste. Even after consideration of nutrient losses, scenarios II to V show potential to accumulate nutrients at the farmland. These results indicate the feasibility of closing nutrient cycles with the purpose to generate permanent farmland by combining knowledge of Terra Preta practice and the way of life of indigenous communities. In a described step by step manner this new agricultural system could be implemented and improve greatly resilience and sustainability of land use in the Amazon.

Key words

ecological sanitation; Ecuadorian Amazonia; resilience; sustainable agriculture; Terra Preta practice

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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087