Spatial and temporal dynamics of shifting cultivation in the middle-Amazonas river: Expansion and intensification

Gepubliceerd op
14 augustus 2017

An article of Catarina Conte Jakovac , Loïc Paul Dutrieux, Latifah Siti, Marielos Peña-Claros, Frans Bongers: Spatial and temporal dynamics of shifting cultivation in the middle-Amazonas river: Expansion and intensification, has been published in PLoS ONE 12(7): e0181092.

Shifting cultivation is the main land-use system transforming landscapes in riverine Amazonia. Increased concentration of the human population around villages and increasing market integration during the last decades may be causing agricultural intensification. Studies have shown that agricultural intensification, i.e. higher number of swidden-fallow cycles and shorter fallow periods, reduces crop productivity of swiddens and the regrowth capacity of fallows, undermining the resilience of the shifting cultivation system as a whole. We investigated the temporal and spatial dynamics of shifting cultivation in Brazilian Amazonia to test the hypotheses that (i) agriculture has become more intensive over time, and (ii) patterns of land-use intensity are related to land accessibility and human population density. We applied a breakpoint-detection algorithm to Landsat time-series spanning three decades (1984–2015) and retrieved the temporal dynamics of shifting cultivation fields, which go through alternating phases of crop production (swidden) and secondary forest regrowth (fallow). We found that fallow-period length has decreased from 6.4 to 5.1 years on average, and that expansion over old-growth forest has slowed down over time. Shorter fallow periods and higher frequency of slash and burn cycles are practiced closer to residences and around larger villages. Our results indicate that shifting cultivation in riverine Amazonia has gone through a process of agricultural intensification in the past three decades. The resulting landscape is predominantly covered by young secondary forests (≤ 12 yrs old), and 20% of it have gone through intensive use. Reversing this trend and avoiding the negative consequences of agricultural intensification requires land use planning that accounts for the constraints of land use in riverine areas.