Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Home Gardens in Amazonian Peru: Diversity and Exchange of Planting Material*

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Home Gardens in Amazonian Peru: Diversity and Exchange of Planting Material*

Article excerpt

Home gardens--also known as "backyard gardens," "dooryard gardens," and "house gardens"--are characterized by highly diverse cultivated plants (Kumar and Nair 2004) and are regarded as sustainable agricultural production systems for the humid tropics (Kehlenbeck and Maass 2005). Over the past few decades home garden research has emphasized the description and inventorying of the diversity and multiple uses of plant species (Kumar and Nair 2004) and the promotion of home gardening for nutritional and other welfare benefits for the rural poor (Trinh and others 2003). Whereas earlier studies hailed home gardens for their agrobiodiversity (Landauer and Brazil 1990; Jose and Shanmugaratnam 1993; Kumar, Suman, and Chinnamani 1994; Smith 1996), more recent studies have sought to reveal patterns of diversity within and among rural tropical communities (Salick, Cellinese, and Knapp 1997; "Wezel and Bender 2003; Coomes and Ban 2004; Kehlenbeck and Maass 2005). Agrobiodiversity is defined as "the diversity of useful plants in managed ecosystems" (Brookfield 2001, 40).

One reason for the increasing interest in home gardens is the global decline of cultivated plant diversity in tropical agricultural systems (Kumar and Nair 2004). David Cleveland, Daniela Soleri, and Steven Smith (1994) hypothesized that the loss of genetic diversity within folk varieties may result from a reduction in area of plantings and/or limited farmer opportunities for selection, management, and exchange of folk varieties. Genetic erosion of traditional varieties is well advanced, in part due to the dramatic drop in aboriginal populations since contact with Europeans in the early sixteenth century (Smith and Schultes 1990). Studies of home gardens are necessary to provide insights into the origins and functions of their high plant diversity and thus to inform the design of other, more sustainable land-use systems (Kumar and Nair 2004).

The exchange of planting material--seeds, cuttings, suckers--among traditional peoples, particularly subsistence and peasant farmers, is an essential component of maintaining cultivated plant diversity (Zimmerer 1996; Louette, Charrier, and Berthaud 1997; Tripp 2001; Bellon 2004). Farmers not only maintain a wide variety of land races but evaluate and strive to improve their planting material and exchange it with others (Kainer and Duryea 1992; Merrick 1992; De Boef and others 1993; Thiele 1999; Tapia 2000; Zimmerer 2003). A continual flow and selection of seeds build diversity, offsetting natural losses and degradation in germplasm and thereby reducing risk in agricultural production (Day and Strauss 1993; Tapia and Rosas 1993). Whereas the role of planting material exchange has been recognized as vital in building diversity in regions such as the Andes, Mexico, and dryland Africa, its role in the humid tropics, particularly with respect to home gardens, needs further study (Salick, Cellinese, and Knapp 1997; Brush 1998; Bellon and Risopoulos 2001; Bellon 2004).

In this article we examine patterns of agrobiodiversity and the role of planting material acquisition in home gardens of two traditional peasant communities in the Peruvian Amazon. We identify and describe the characteristics of households engaged in the active exchange of planting material and explore the relationship between planting material exchanges and home garden agrodiversity.

STUDY AREA AND DATA COLLECTION

The Peruvian Amazon holds remarkable biological diversity, and the use of traditional agricultural practices by its Amerindian and folk inhabitants is widespread. The rural population comprises predominantly riverine folk people of mixed Amerindian and Iberian descent. Most live as peasants, drawing on the land, forest, and water courses for their subsistence and cash needs; the degree of market integration varies markedly within the region, according to proximity to a network of towns and to the city of Iquitos. …

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