|Amazonia: Resiliency and Dynamism of the Land and Its People (UNU, 1995, 253 pages)|
|6. Agro-forestry and perennial cropping systems|
Tomé-Açu in central Pará, has proved a particularly innovative pole for agricultural development in eastern Amazonia. Many of the most productive cash crops and intercropping systems in Amazonia were first tried out by Japanese farmers in the Tomé-Açu area, some 130 km south of Belém A similar pattern of eager experimentation with perennial cash crops has been noted among Japanese farmers in the Bolivian Amazon (Hiraoka 1980b: 117).
Japanese immigrants founded Tomé-Açu in 1929, and began their malariastricken pioneer life by growing upland rice (Oryza saliva). Rain-fed rice yields were disappointing on the poor oxisols, so the Japanese settlers began planting black pepper on a commercial scale in 1947 and it soon became the main cash crop (CAMTA 1975; Staniford 1973: 46). Farmers at Tomé-Açu planted black pepper as a monocrop, and then abandoned their plantations to second growth after about a dozen years. Now farms are much more intensively managed, with few areas left to fallow.
Even though black pepper is not as dominant as formerly at Tomé-Açu and elsewhere in Amazonia, the high-value crop still provides a good return. No effective treatment for Fusarium, caused by Fusarium solani f. sp. piperis, has emerged. First reported in Pará, in 1957, the fungal disease destroys black pepper plantations after about eight years. Far from "dooming" black pepper cultivation (Fearnside 1980a), however, farmers can still make handsome profits from black pepper for the first few years in spite of the ravages of Fusarium. A well-managed black pepper plantation can produce 3 kg of peppers/ plant/year (Penteado 1968: 128).
Although black pepper is still grown extensively, other crops, such as cupuaçu and passionfruit, are increasingly important. cupuaçu is the second most commonly planted crop in the sample of 121 polycultural fields (appendix 5), and Japanese-Brazilian farmers in the Tomé-Açu area are already dispatching frozen cupuaçu pulp to markets in the United States. Recently, for example, the R. W. Knudsen Company of Chico, California, began selling a "cupuassu" fruit drink containing a blend of white grape juice, mango pulp, translucent cupuassu pulp, papaya pulp, passionfruit juice, and hibiscus flower extract. Knudsen buys most of its cupuaçu pulp from Tomé-Açu, and also uses it to flavour its guanabana and calamansi juices, as well as its rain-forest fruit spreads and Rainforest Mist Spritzer (Kevin Kimbell, pers. comm.).
Tomé-Açu accounted for 327,128 kg of cupuaçu pulp produced in Pará, between 1984 and 1990, approximately 60 per cent of the state total (Falesi and Osaqui 1992). Much of the cash-crop production in the Tomé-Açu area is marketed by CAMTA (Cooperative Agricola Mista de Tomé-Açu) a co-op run by Japanese-Brazilian farmers. In 1989, passionfruit and cupuaçu accounted for 7 and 3 per cent, respectively, of CAMTA's receipts; by 1990 their proportion had grown to 23 and 8 per cent, respectively. Many farmers at Tomé-Açu have thus diversified their operations with a suite of perennial crops. Black pepper often remains the financial foundation for farmers in the Tomé-Açu area until other perennial crops become established.
A major reason that Tomé-Açu has prospered over the years is that the farmers have focused on cash crops and set up a cooperative with marketing skills and a mandate to experiment with new crops. CAMTA was formed soon after Japanese settlers arrived at Tomé-Açu, and has provided credit and marketing facilities. Flexibility in the face of constantly changing environmental conditions is the key to the success of farmers at Tomé-Açu (Barros 1990: 39). The generally well-managed CAMTA cooperative has helped farmers to adapt to shifts in markets and challenges to crop productivity. In 1988, for example, CAMTA was marketing over 25 different crops, a much more diversified base for farmers than in 1968 when black pepper accounted for 99 per cent of the co-op's sales (Barros 1990: 59, 67).
Another factor in the continued success of many farmers in the Tomé-Açu area is that facilities have been built to process some of the agricultural products for market. With support from the Japanese Development Agency (JICA), CAMTA built a plant for processing pulp from such fruits as cacao, cupuaçu "Keitt" mango, bacuri (Platonia insignia), cashew, Barbados cherry, and açai (Euterpe oleracea) palm. Inaugurated in 1987, the plant separates the fruit pulp, using a mixture of machinery and manual labour, freezes the pulp in plastic bags, and then sends them to major urban markets, particularly Belém. About 3 tons of passionfruit are needed to make 1 ton of juice, and the CAMTA plant processed 30 tons of passionfruit juice in 1991.
Sporadic outbreaks of cholera in the Brazilian Amazon in 1991 and 1992 temporarily dampened demand for fruit juices and ice-cream, thereby adversely affecting some growers. Generally poor hygiene standards in the region have facilitated the spread of the pathogen down the Amazon from Peru. By 1994, however, the disease appeared to have run its course. Another reason Japanese-Brazilian farmers have often fared so well is that some of them have spent months or even years working in Japan to generate savings, some of which were invested on their farms around Tomé-Açu and in the Bragantina zone. This practice was particularly common during the height of the recession in Brazil during the late 1980s and early 1990s.