Management of trees and palms in swidden fallows by the Kichwa people in the Ecuadorian Amazon

Bredero zur Lage, Robin; Peña-Claros, Marielos; Rios, Montserrat


Introduction: The chakra is a cropping system used by the indigenous Kichwa people of the Ecuadorian Amazon that is advocated as a sustainable form of agriculture that ensures food production without impeding ecosystem functioning. Trees and palms are central to the benefits obtained from chakras, however, little is known about the management of these trees and palms. In this research we aimed to understand how the Kichwa people manage these species in chakras and what drives them to do so. Material and methods: We conducted participatory observation research in three Kichwa communities during which we researched 18 chakras belonging to different households. In each chakra we identified the tree and palm species, counted their number, and measured their diameter at 1.3 m aboveground. Additionally, each household was interviewed on the use and management of these species. Results and discussion: A total of 740 individual trees and palms were inventoried. Nearly all species in chakras were being actively managed, with the reduction of competition and the protection of seedlings being the most applied practices. This appears to be driven mainly by utilitarian values, as most species were used, most commonly for food and construction. Previous studies indicated that agroecological and mythical values also incite the management of trees and palms, which was not the case in this study. This difference is probably because of cultural erosion or cultural gender roles that affected data acquisition. Conclusions: Three important implications arise from this research: 1) future research should acknowledge and adequately address the large variation that exists among chakras, especially regarding their differences in number and size of trees and palms; 2) trees and palms in chakras should not be assumed to be managed inherently sustainably; 3) the understanding that economic and utilitarian considerations induce active management of palms and trees in chakras can lead to effective conservation policies.