Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Landscape Change in Western Amazonia

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Landscape Change in Western Amazonia

Article excerpt

In some areas of the world, the dispersed and seminomadic characteristic of human settlements associated with traditional livelihoods remains almost unchanged (Roberts 1996). In other areas, the transition from dispersed-nomadic to nucleated-sedentary living arrangements has occurred as evolutionary processes associated with cultural, political, ecological, and technological changes (Roberts 1996; Dounias and others 2004; Waugh 2009). This transition generally shifts production strategies from extensive ones to intensive ones in order to secure the supply of food and sustain the growing sedentary populations (Boserup 1965). The shift from dispersed to nucleated settlements may also reorient the goals of production and management strategies from subsistence based to market oriented as long as surplus production exists (Turner and Brush 1987). Mixed subsistence-cash economies in newly clustered settlements do not conform to prevalent models for either development financing or ecosystem management (Poole 1989; Peres 1994). They demand a type of planning that allows for experimentation and recognizes local spatial structures, human capacities, and resource use strategies. As indigenous peoples become integrated into the national economy, these elements should be clearly understood in order to develop adequate management plans that respond to local economic production and resource use. This study highlights the implications of settlement nucleation on the spatial structure of production systems and territorial organization in western Amazonia. The study subjects are the Jivaro Achuar and Shiwiar of the Pastaza River Basin in the Ecuadorian Amazon (PRBEA).

Until the end of the 1960s, several indigenous groups in western Amazonia, such as the Jivaro, Huaorani, Campa, Ashaninka, or Zaparo, lived in dispersed and temporary settlements (Taylor 1996; Doughty, Lu, and Sorensen 2010). In this region the transition from dispersed and seminomadic to nucleated and permanent settlements in the past few decades is probably the most obvious factor associated with long-lasting landscape transformations in indigenous territories (Descola 1981, 1994; Salazar 1981; Taylor 1996; Rudel, Bates, and Machinguiashi 2002; Siren 2007). In the modern history of upper Amazonia, these changes correlate with the increased influence of external agents (for example, religious missions, markets, industries, or national policies) that promoted the grouping of families and production areas (Salazar 1981; Taylor 1981; Rudel, Bates, and Machinguiashi 2002).

Recent work in the Amazon region has shed light on the underlying factors associated with these changes in indigenous territories and frontier settlements. Some studies have shown that agricultural intensification is usually shaped by market forces, socioeconomic conditions, and land-tenure regimes (Rudel, Bates, and Machinguiashi 2002; Bremner and Lu 2006; Lu 2006; Gray and others 2008; Lu and Bilsborrow am). Other studies have shown how demographic composition (Mena and others 2006; Lopez and Sierra 2011), environmental factors, such as soil characteristics and topography (Siren 2007), and spatial factors, such as distance to key geographical features (residential areas, water sources, or accessibility infrastructure, for instance) (Lopez and Sierra 2010), also influence decisions about land allocation for agricultural use in areas with minimum exposure to markets. Although ethnographic and anthropological studies have improved our understanding of the social and institutional dimensions of these transformations (see Harner 1984; Merrifield 1985; Descola 1994; Sawyer 2004; Bremner and Lu 2006; Lu 2006; Alexiades 2009), the spatial structure of indigenous resource-use systems within the context of nucleation, sedentarization, and early market integration has received less attention. Our research contributes to this discussion by explaining the manner in which the spatial extent of indigenous production systems experiences a radical reduction when nucleated villages emerge but maintains the elements typical of traditional subsistence economies. …

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