Peri-Urban Agroforestry in the Brazilian Amazon [*]

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT. Together, urbanization and the search for sustainable development present a dilemma in the Brazilian Amazon: how to accommodate an expanding urban population while creating and maintaining sustainable production systems that feed the people and manage the forest. A unique peri-urban agroforestry project, implemented by a municipal government in western Amazonia and concerned with a citywide influx of rural agriculturalists and former forest-dwelling extractive producers, is examined as a source of food and self-determination. Peri-urban agroforestry seems to be a viable option for other Amazonian cities that are experiencing increasing urbanization and its associated problems. Keywords: agroforestry, Amazonia, Brazil, migration, urbanization.

If agroforestry research has progressed on many a front, there remains lamentably little known about the informal agroforestry of peri-urban settings. Still less documented are planned pen-urban agroforestry projects. The small, urban backyard gardens have by and large lived outside the realm of formal urban research and planning. Instead, they exist as unsponsored and largely individual efforts, providing households with nutrition and subsistence (Alcorn 1990). To date understudied, the development of agrosilvopastoral systems that combine perennial trees and shrubs with animals and annual crops in areas surrounding cities presents an attractive, if little explored, opportunity for urban planners and policymakers working in developing countries to grapple with food provision and with urban social concerns.

The Municipal Pole for Agroforestry Production (Polo Municipal de Producao Agroflorestal) is an original alternative being explored by the municipal government of Rio Branco, Acre, in western Amazonia (Figure 1). The project addresses the challenges of urbanization created by an influx of agriculturalists and extractivists, mainly rubber tappers, from rural areas. A 19205 decline in the price of natural rubber from Brazil was initially driven by elevated rubber production on Asian plantations and then followed by improved profits to be gleaned from the mass production of synthetic rubber. Agroforestry was adopted as an alternative strategy that could potentially produce food, generate income, and combat hunger and other social problems experienced in city slums (Prefeitura de Rio Branco 1993). The experience of the Agroforestry Production project compares favorably with low-income housing initiatives a more traditional government response. Pen-urban agroforestry has great potential to reduce some of the soci oeconomic challenges of urbanization in Amazonia.


Over the past twenty-five years colonization of the Brazilian Amazon has been the subject of extensive research and writing, but studies of the frontiers of Amazonian colonization rarely consider concurrent urban developments (Volbeda 1984). Although the Amazon is journalistically thought of as an "agricultural frontier," in reality the population is highly concentrated in urban areas (Godfrey 1990; Martine 1993; Browder and Godfrey 1997).

Driving migration and concurrent urbanization in the Brazilian Amazon are the concentration of land in the hands of large property holders, the lack of formal title to properties, stagnation in areas once devoted to extraction and agriculture, and the "pull" of possibly better urban services and employment opportunities (Ramos de Castro 1989; Schmink and Wood 1992). Stagnation in agriculture and in such extractive economies as rubber tapping and brazil-nut collecting has influenced migration to the cities of Manaus, Belem, and Rio Branco (Sawyer 1990). Urbanization in the Amazon increased from 36 percent in 1970 to 59 percent in 1990, and in Acre the proportion of people living in urban areas doubled from 28 percent in 1970 to 55 percent in 1990 (Sawyer 1990).

High urbanization rates in the Brazilian Amazon are provoking many of the same problems that affect the three-quarters of the Brazilian population living in cities. …


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