|Amazonia: Resiliency and Dynamism of the Land and Its People (UNU, 1995, 253 pages)|
|6. Agro-forestry and perennial cropping systems|
Our review of perennial cropping has identified some promising trends in upland agriculture in Amazonia, particularly towards systems that better protect water and soil resources, while at the same time generating income. Although agro-forestry and monocropping with perennials offer great promise to address sustainability issues in Amazonia, they can be carried too far. Cash crops can shoulder aside food production, thereby driving up local costs of basic staples. And many annual food crops, such as maize and rice, do better in more open conditions. Nevertheless, perennial cropping systems, particularly in agro-forestry configurations, are clearly helping both small-and large-scale farmers to prosper. To accelerate agro-forestry development in the region, several constraints will need to be overcome, including the paucity of agro-industries, of credit on reasonable terms, of higher-quality nurseries, and of inexpensive irrigation systems to keep seedlings alive.
Moisture stress during the often intense dry season in eastern and central Amazonia is one of the principal reasons farmers cite for not planting more perennial crops. One farmer from the community of Lastancia east of Itupiranga, Pará, reported that he lost 1,000 coffee seedlings during the especially severe dry season in 1992. A planting of 1,000 coffee seedlings is a major investment for a resource-poor farmer with no access to credit. When farmers were asked why they did not simply extend their species-rich home gardens to their surrounding fields, a frequent response was that seedlings often do not survive the dry season. Irrigation or more drought-tolerant germ plasm would help further agro-forestry.
Greater accessibility to credit would help spur more intensive land use on both the uplands and the Amazon flood plain. A further benefit of allocating property rights, particularly during the early phase of settlement, is that it promotes equity (Schneider 1993). In Brazil, only one-fourth of agricultural credit goes to small operators, who account for 70 per cent of farm produce (Santos and Cardoso 1992). Credit policies can be misplaced and excessively subsidized agriculture can lead to abuse of resources, both natural and financial, but carefully crafted incentives could steer Amazonia into more productive agriculture. A major stumbling block for small farmers attempting to obtain credit is that they often lack title to their lands. Without such documents, banks will not lend to farmers. Redoubled efforts to provide titles to legitimate landowners would thus be an essential precursor to more widespread adoption of more intensive land-use practices.
The abundance of relatively inexpensive land in Amazonia is a major impediment to the intensification of land use (Homma, Teixeira Filho, and Magalhães 1991). The pace of opening pioneer roads has slowed considerably since the 1970s, but the temptation to forge new highways to alleviate social tensions in other regions might return as global recession eases. Incentives should be targeted towards restoring degraded land. Also, the construction of new highways should be put on hold until existing ones better serve the people living near them.