Ancient Farm Technique Could Slow Rainforest Destruction

Photo By: Phil P Harris
Photo By: Phil P Harris

A recent report by the National Academy of Sciences suggests that pre-Columbian agricultural techniques in South America could significantly reduce deforestation and protect rapidly shrinking rainforests.

As populations in South American countries increase, so does the demand for agricultural production. Farming, logging, and cattle ranching are major parts of many South American economies. These land intensive activities have taken their toll on the surrounding ecosystem. Largely due to agricultural pressures, the Amazon region of South America, the world’s largest rainforest and river basin, is disappearing at a rate of 800,000 hectares (nearly 2 million acres) a year.

Recent geographical and paleoethnobotonical research into the Amazon region’s coastal savannahs (near present day French Guyana), suggests that centuries old agricultural practices could limit the ecological damage.

In the course of their studies, researchers discovered that, contrary to global cooling trends in the 1500s, the Amazon region saw a massive uptick in forest fires. Rather than rely on slash and burn agricultural practices, which were introduced by European colonists in the 1500s (accounting for the increase in fires), pre-Columbian natives created raised fields out of the muck of the savannah. These raised fields were more fertile and preserved soil nutrients more efficiently than the burned fields pioneered by Europeans.

The report suggests that a return to these older and considerably more labor-intensive agricultural practices could halt ecological damage in the Amazon and could help pioneer a more sustainable agriculture future.

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer