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The start of sustainability in Amazonia? A new paradigm based on fertility for sustainable land management

Barbosa T., Tourrand J.F., De Souza Nahum B., Bastos da Veiga J., Quanz D., Sist P., Scopel E.. 2008. In : Dedieu Benoît (ed.). Empowerment of the rural actors. A renewal of farming systems perspectives : 8th European IFSA Symposium, 6-10 July 2008, Clermond-Ferrand. Paris : INRA, p. 591-600. European IFSA Symposium. 8, 2008-07-06/2008-07-10, Clermont-Ferrand (France).

In the Amazon, slash and burn is the most common technique used by American-Indians, small farmers and even big ranches to transform forests into rural landscapes. The basis of food subsistence for diverse populations (rice, corn and bean), slash and burn is also a must for the plantation of cocoa, coffee, palms and pastures. The Amazonian rural landscape is currently dominated by pastures, occupying around 80 % of the deforested surface. Even if the nature of the plantation varies according to location, height, soil type and local traditions, slash and burn remains relatively the same in all regions. Agro-ecological intensification and the integration of livestock and agriculture is 2-3 decades old. Different alternatives have been tested, particularly the introduction of leguminous (covering the land or forming trees) to improve the soil and to build a bank of proteins for cattle. New techniques for the recuperation of pasture lands have become widely popular among ranches. The introduction of one or two annual plantations between two pasture areas allows reestablishing fertility through the injection of nitrates and, as a result, increases the pasture's productivity. However, being relatively high-cost because of its demand in terms of mechanization and inputs, this technique is almost unaffordable for small Amazonian farmers. This low level of mechanization, along with the increasing need of changing the production paradigm due to the closing of the pioneer space, has led to the elaboration of new farming techniques, as permanent foodproducing plot, focused on land fertility more than on the exploration of natural resources. The first results are interesting from a technical, economic and social viewpoint. Revenues are as high as 4-5 t/ha for rice and corn, significantly surpassing the traditional 1.2-1.5 t/ha. Socially, these techniques have had a positive impact on comfort and work safety, food security, community empowerment and the involvement of youngsters in this new concept of farming. Besides this, the adoption of these new concepts paves the way for the reorganisation of the rural space at the property and community scales, especially through the implantation of agro-forest and pasture systems adapted to local conditions and through the reconstruction of forest areas in fragile zones (closeness to rivers, river sides, steep hills, etc.) Why did it take so long and why did we have to destroy so many natural resources before reaching this new paradigm?.

Mots-clés : amazonie

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