|Amazonia: Resiliency and Dynamism of the Land and Its People (UNU, 1995, 253 pages)|
Development pressures are triggering rapid ecological, cultural, and economic changes in Amazonia, one of the world's largest remaining forest frontiers. Some of the environmental effects of development schemes and spontaneous settlement have local and potentially regional and global repercussions. The ecological issues surrounding deforestation include soil erosion, adverse changes in soil structure and fertility, shifts in rainfall patterns, and loss of biodiversity, particularly genetic resources. The driving forces behind land-use changes in Amazonia will be identified, the emerging awareness of economic, cultural, and ecological issues surrounding development will be discussed, and societal responses and management of natural resources will be analysed. A major focus of the study will be identifying resource management strategies for agriculture, particularly in agroforestry systems, silviculture, and pastures. Such an approach should provide information useful for devising development plans for tropical forest ecosystems that are economically viable and environmentally sound.
In the first chapter, "Amazonia under siege," we explore some of the main themes threading through the book, particularly sustainability and one of its major components: resilience. Here we make the point that the ability of human-manipulated systems to rebound after major surprises is critical to the ultimate "success" of any land use. Criticality is defined and sorted into three main categories: environmental criticality, environmental endangerment, and environmental impoverishment. These broad categories represent varying degrees of "seriousness" of human impacts on the environment. These categories provide a convenient template when assessing the overall environmental condition of Amazonia, as well as when we spotlight micro-regions experiencing particularly rapid transformation.
Various real and imagined challenges to the health of the regional and global ecosystems are reviewed in chapter 2, "Environmental threats." Here we attempt to sort out what we consider to be the more ominous challenges to the integrity of Amazonian ecosystems, such as loss of biodiversity, from potential red herrings, such as the role of deforestation in purported global warming. The driving forces behind land transformation and overall societal responses to environmental change are explored in chapter 3, "Forces of change and societal responses."
Five chapters are dedicated to a more detailed examination of underlying causes of environmental change and human responses: "Forest conservation and management" (chap. 4), "Silviculture and plantation crops" (chap. 5), "Agro-forestry and perennial cropping systems" (chap. 6), "Ranching problems and potential on the uplands" (chap. 7), and "Land-use dynamics on the Amazon flood plain" (chap. 8). For each land use, whether forest extraction or ranching, cultural and socio-economic forces for change are highlighted and attempts at more rational use of resources are investigated. Emphasis is placed on what is actually transpiring on the landscape at the individual farm, ranch, and plantation level, rather than hypothetical models or results of experiment station trials.
In the final chapter, "Trends and opportunities," we return to an analysis of overall indicators of criticality, such as wealth and wellbeing and vulnerability. As more of the Amazon is transformed from wilderness to cultural landscapes, the risk of "surprises" is greater, and the need for resilience in human-managed systems increases.
Sizeable portions of Amazonia have already been cleared. If transformed areas were better managed, pressure on the remaining wilderness would be alleviated. A major challenge ahead is to boost the productivity of cleared areas so that population growth and more goods can be coaxed from altered areas without damaging the environment and its people.
A balance is needed between conservation for a variety of environmental services and economic development: success hinges on raising the productivity of all land uses. As productivity levels rise, so will the need to increase and sustain support for research on appropriate resource management strategies. Sustainable development in Amazonia will be possible only by applying modern science as well as tapping indigenous knowledge systems. Although efforts have been made to upgrade the research capacity of local institutions in Amazonia, much remains to be done. Adjustments to policy and fiscal incentives can certainly help improve the outcome of development and conservation projects in the region, but they will be ephemeral unless societies are equipped with the knowledge and skills to respond to challenges.