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Swidden agriculture in a protected area: The Matsigenka native communities of Manu National Park, Peru

Ohl J, Wezel A, Shepard G, Yu D ...see all

Environment, Development and Sustainability, vol. 10, issue 6 (2008) pp. 827-843

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In this study, we investigate whether traditional swidden agriculture on nutrient-poor tropical soils can sustainably support a growing indigenous population within Manu National Park, Peru. Based on interviews with 50 Matsigenka farmers, as well as GPS mapping and field visits, we established the location and size of all 124 swidden gardens cultivated in 2000 and 2001. Using a GIS-based soil map of Manu Park, we identify the total extent of potential arable land (1) throughout the park zones currently available for Matsigenka habitation, and (2) within the vicinity of the two study communities. Taking into account current per capita garden size, cultivation and fallow practices, we calculate the maximum human carrying capacity of swidden agriculture for (1) all available park zones and (2) the immediate vicinity of the two current communities. Even given the second, highly limited scenario, the sustainable human carrying capacity is estimated to be 2,138 individuals, which is far higher than the current population of about 420 people. Thus, arable land does not appear to be a limiting factor for the growth of the indigenous population in Manu Park at the current time. Other possible limiting factors for population growth are identified and discussed. We conclude that a conservation policy of population stabilization around the current settlements is viable in that it will not result in reduced resource availability over the next few decades, and that the challenge is to identify and mitigate the forces causing population fissioning and spread. © 2007 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Amazon rainforest
  • Human-occupied protected areas
  • Indigenous people
  • National park management
  • Shifting cultivation
  • Sustainable land use
  • Swidden agriculture

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  • Julia Ohl

  • Alexander Wezel

  • Glenn H. Shepard

  • Douglas W. Yu

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