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close this book The Fragile Tropics of Latin America: Sustainable Management of Changing Environments (1995)
close this folder Part 3 : The Peruvian Amazon
close this folder Subsistence- and market-oriented agroforestry in the Peruvian Amazon
View the document (introductory text)
View the document 1 Introduction
View the document 2 Traditional agroforestry in north-eastern Peru
View the document 3 Swidden-fallow agroforestry among the Bora indians
View the document 4 Market-oriented agroforestry in Tamshiyacu
View the document 5 Conclusions and recommendations
View the document References

4 Market-oriented agroforestry in Tamshiyacu

4 Market-oriented agroforestry in Tamshiyacu

The town of Tamshiyacu, located 30 km upstream from Iquitos, is known as one of the most important native fruit-producing areas in the region. The two principal products marketed by Tamshiyaquinos, pineapples and umarí (Poraqueiba sericea), are cultivated within a well-designed, marketoriented agroforestry system. The two products are harvested at different phases of this system. Although Tamshiyacu farmers do grow products destined for household consumption, a market emphasis pervades virtually every phase of this particular agroforestry system. (For more detailed information on Tamshiyacu agriculture see de Jong, 1987; Hiraoka, 1986; Padoch et al., 1985.)

In contrast to the Bora, the people of Tamshiyacu are not officially recognized as Indians, that is, natives of the region, although few if any Tamshiyaquinos are recent arrivals. They belong to a large group of Amazonians known locally as ribereños (Padoch, 1988), who are largely offspring of detribalized natives and immigrants who arrived during or soon after the great Rubber Boom of the turn of the century. This largest group of rural people in the lowland Peruvian Amazon has gone surprisingly unnoticed by scientists.

Tamshiyacu is one of the larger towns in the area, and the majority of its approximately 2,000 inhabitants are farmers who frequently visit Iquitos and its markets. Transportation is provided by colectivos (river buses), several of which leave the village for the city early in the morning, or pass by from upstream and stop at the village dock. Many producers, however, choose not to make the trip themselves but sell their products to middlemen in the village itself.

In Tamshiyacu, which is both more populous and longer-settled than Brillo Nuevo, mature forest is found at a greater distance from the community centre. Tamshiyacu farmers, like the Bora, begin the swidden-fallow agroforestry cycle by clearing patches of forest, both primary and secondary. As in Brillo Nuevo, valuable forest species including palms and fruit trees may be spared. However, in contrast to the practice of Bora farmers and other tribal shifting cultivators, part of the cut and slashed vegetation is not burned in the field but is turned into charcoal for sale in Iquitos. Sites where charcoal is made are then often reserved for the planting of nutrient-demanding crops.

Most of the crop species planted in Brillo Nuevo can also be found in Tamshiyacu fields. In the town, however, the selection of cultigens, and especially the quantity planted of any species, is determined more by recent and expected urban market price trends than by household needs. The first crops to be harvested are manioc and plantains, which are also planted first. Both these crops, meant for market and household consumption, are commonly replanted after the first harvest. The planting of a field is, however, a complex process that continues for a over a year or more. After manioc and plantains, other annuals and several perennials are planted. The timing of many plantings depends on the availability of seeds or seedlings.

However, a field may already show a large diversity of crops at an early stage. After about two years, manioc and plantain production is phased out and pineapples start producing in quantity. At this point, the fields change primarily into cash crop plantations. Pineapple is harvested until the fourth year. By then, tree crops have come into prominence.

Apart from umarí (Poraqueiba sericea), trees commonly planted in agroforestry fields are fast-growing but short-lived species such as cashew (Anacardium accidentale), uvilla (Pourouma cecropiaefolia), and caimito (Pouteria caimito). The production of these fruits starts early and does not last very long; their productive life is from two to six years. Together with pineapple these fruits provide cash income during the transition stage from swidden to mature fruit orchard. Once production of these species has declined, umarí, a much-favoured fruit in the Iquitos market, becomes the pre-eminent product. An umarí stand normally yields for at least thirty years, although examples of sixty-year-old umarí orchards can be found. Yields of up to 80,000 fruits per hectare of umarí orchard are not unusual. A second important cash crop species in older orchards is Brazil nuts (Bertholletia excelsa). This long-lived tree crop has traditionally been planted in small quantities, although farmers now are increasingly including this crop in their fields.

Although total labour input declines when fields become older, Tamshiyacu farmers clean their field thoroughly as long as they are being harvested. In the swidden stage, while manioc is in production, weeding and harvesting are done frequently. When pineapple becomes the principal crop, fields continue to be weeded once or twice a year. However, as perennials take over, weeding changes in intensity. The more careful weeding in early swiddens gives way to a more rapid slash weeding in older fields. The shade provided by the fruit trees allows for more open understorey in older fields and a much faster weeding. Some cleaning, however, remains essential even in old fields, since umarí fruits must be gathered when they fall to the ground. Although several naturally occurring fruits or other useful species may survive the periodic weeding of an umarí orchard, Tamshiyacu agroforesters commonly protect or encourage far fewer forest species than do the Bora.

After thirty years or so, production in many umarí fruit orchards declines. The stand is then cut, with many of the umarí trees made into charcoal. Brazil nut trees, however, are not felled since they con tinue to fruit for a much longer time. After cutting, the umarí field may be fallowed for five to ten years, but it is not unusual to see farmers plant new swiddens immediately, and begin the cycle again.

Although we have presented a generalized picture of agroforestry in Tamshiyacu, individual differences among farmers, their fields, and the management techniques they employ are notable. Some farmers never use forest slash to make charcoal, some never convert annual crop fields to perennial-dominated orchards, some market most of their produce, others market little. Furthermore, it must be pointed out that many residents of Tamshiyacu engage in other economic pursuits. Some have diverse agricultural holdings in the Amazon floodplain (Hiraoka, 1986). Most farmers are also hunters, fishermen, occasional waged labourers, or even market vendors. The majority of Tamshiyacu farmers, however, obtain the bulk of their income from selling cultivated fruits from agroforesty fields (Padoch, 1988). While incomes vary enormously, Tamshiyacu producers as a group are exceptional in the level of incomes they report from sales of agroforestry products. Owners of large umarí orchards have incomes several times the Amazonian average. Yearly household incomes of approximately US$5,000 were enjoyed by several Tamshiyacu umarí producers, a level few other rural residents of the region ever reach.