ductiveness of the tropical soils decline so rapidly but because clearing the field of weeds is just more trouble than it is worth.

Done the right way, the Indian way, shifting cultivation rejuvenates the forest. It is the use of the technique on too large a scale by the non-Indian that is destructive.


The Indians of Amazonia have what we would consider an extremely low standard of living. Living in relative isolation from the national societies of the countries within whose boundaries they live, their economic production, whether from their agricultural practices or their use of game, fish, and natural forest resources, is strictly for their own subsistence. As a result, they are commonly stereotyped as poor and lazy with no potential as producers of anything for the regional, national, or international markets. Quite the opposite is true. A now-famous example is the successful production and marketing of highly marketable Brazil nuts by the Gavioes of Para State, Brazil—an activity they began on their own initiative in the mid-1970s (Ferraz, 1982; Ramos, 1980). Almost overnight, the Gavioes became not only quite well-to-do by local (non-Indian) standards but also transformed themselves, in the eyes of their non-Indian neighbors, from lazy good-for-nothings to productive members of society. In 1975 I knew of one Yanomami community that after exhausting the supply of bananas in its own fields, began a new, additional plantation so that it could continue to sell bananas to the tin miners who worked in Yanomami territory for a time in 1975 and 1976. As long ago as 1930, Curt Nimuendaju (1974) spoke of how the Ramkokamekra Canela Indians could have produced a marketable surplus of manioc flour but explained that they never did develop this potential because they had no way to transport the flour to market. Another example is the production and marketing of natural rubber in a recent community development project undertaken by one subgroup of the Nambiquara.

These are only a few examples. There has been considerable discussion of the possibly marketable products that can be grown in a properly and sustainably managed tropical forest (see, for example, Goodland, 1980). It is not yet known quite how productive the tropical forest can be or how large (or small) a population of resident producers it can support. The point here is simply that the Indians who live in the forest and know its ecology so well have long ago demonstrated their ability to function as valuable and effective producers of its marketable resources.


The destruction of the tropical forests has both a direct and an indirect impact on the resources and livelihood of Indian populations. In some cases, deforestation is occurring inside recognized Indian areas. Even when the deforestation occurs outside these areas, however, the impact on the animal and plant resources, the water supply, and the rivers, which serve as avenues of transportation, in and near Indian areas can be devastating.

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