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Yanesha Agriculture in the Upper Peruvian Amazon: Persistence and Change Fifteen Years

down the 'Road'

Authors(s): Catherine C. Hamlin and Jan Salick
Source: Economic Botany, Vol. 57, No. 2 (Summer, 2003), pp. 163-180
Published by: Springer on behalf of New York Botanical Garden Press
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Hamlin, Catherine (Environmental Studies, Ohio University, Athens, OH 45701, USA; e-mail:, and Jan Salick (Curator of Ethnobotany, Missouri Botanical Gardens,

Box 299, St. Louis, MO 63166-0299, USA; e-mail: YANEsHA AGRICULTURE


Economic Botany 57(2):163-180, 2003. For centuries the Yanesha have practiced complex swid-

den agriculture well adapted to the narrow valleys of the upper Peruvian Amazon. The 1980s

marked a time of increased change in the Palcazu Valley, beginning with the construction of a

marginal highway (Carretera Marginal) in 1984 that dissected several native communities. This

study employs quantitative plant ecology and interviews to describe change in Yanesha agriculture

in Laguna fifteen years later. Percent cover, planting density, field size, and diversities of species

(a), field-type (f3), and height class did not change in fields. In 1999, black earth and commercial

agroforestry were new field types, and upland rice fields were absent. In home gardens, species

richness persisted, while changes in species composition reflected species experimentation and

aggregation of homes along the roadside (with upland soils). The road facilitated the flow of

plants, people, and markets to influence Yanesha agriculture, and facilitated other agents of

change during more than a decade of guerrilla, military, Ashaninka, and drug-trafficking activities

plaguing the Palcazu Valley. This violence punctuated calmer periods when "development" was

promoted by aid agencies. Agents of conservation included community land titles, immigration

restrictions, a national park, protection forest, and communal reserves.


QUINCE ANos. Por siglos los Yanesha han practicado un sistema agr(cola de roza-y-quema bien

adaptado a los valles de la alta Amazonia peruana. En los ahos ochenta varios incidentes afec-

taron el Valle Palcazu, incluyendo la construcci6n de una carretera (la Carretera Marginal) que

dividi6 algunas comunidades indfgenas. Esta investigaci6n utilizo metodos de ecologfa botdinica

cuantitativa y entrevistas para describir cambios en la agricultura Yanesha en Laguna despue's

de quince anos. El porcentaje de cobertura, la densidad de siembra, el tamanio de campo agrfcola,

y las diversidades de especies (a), del tipo de campo (/3), y del nivel de altura no cambiaron en

los campos agrfcolas. Entre los cambios importantes en 1999 se presentaron nuevos tipos de

campos con tierra negra y campo agroforestal comercial y una ausencia notada de arrozales.

En huertas domesticas, se conserv6 la riqueza de especies, aunque se presentaron cambios en la

composici6n de especies como resultado de la experimentacio'n y agregacion de casas por la

carretera (con suelos pobres de altura). La carretera facilito movimiento de plantas, personas, y

mercados que influyeron la agricultura Yanesha, y facilit6 otro agentes de cambio durante mas

de una decada de actividades de guerrillas, militares, Ashaninka, y narcotraficantes en el Valle

Palcazu. Agentes de conservation incluyieron titulos comunitarios, imigration restrijida, un par-

que nacional, un foresta de protection, y reserves comunales.

Key Words: agriculture; Amazon; Peru; Yanesha.

The Yanesha of the Palcazu Valley in the cen-

productivity within environmental constraints.

tral region of the Peruvian Amazon (Selva CenThese practices have been central to their sub-

tral) have developed indigenous agriculture

sistence for centuries or longer (Salick 1989).

characterized by flexibility, buffering, and sevSince European conquest of Peru, missionaries,

eral levels of diversity to achieve stability and

colonists, and other actors have disrupted the

Yanesha (Salick and Lundberg 1990). In the

1980s, a new and potentially radical vehicle of

' Received 3 December 2002; accepted 5 April

change was poised to enter Yanesha lands. This

Economic Botany 57(2) pp. 163-180. 2003

(C 2003 by The New York Botanical Garden Press, Bronx, NY 10458-5126 U.S.A.

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vehicle was a new highway (Carretera Margin-

al), and its penetration of the Palcazu Valley

served to widen and accelerate the links con-

necting Yanesha communities to ideas, markets,

impact of road construction on the physical en-

vironment and on indigenous cultures (Barclay

1985; Brown 1984; Bunker 1985; Loker and

Vosti 1993; Maki, Kalliola, and Vuorinen 2001;

Salick and Lundberg 1990; Schmink and Wood

and resources.

In 1980, newly re-elected Peruvian president

Fernando Belaunde Terry proposed eight "spe-

cial projects," one of which earmarked the Selva

1992; Shoemaker 1981; Smith 1982; Works

1984). Existing literature recounts tales of indig-

enous societies in which stronger links to cash

Central for improvement and extension of fair-

markets and Western culture influenced every-

weather roads between the town of La Merced

thing from diet to religious practices (Behrens,

through the Palcazu Valley to Puerto Bermudez

Baksh, and Mothes 1994; Behrens 1996; Brown

on the Pichis River, and then to Pucallpa, a dy-

1984; Kensinger 1995; Stocks 1981; Works

namic and growing commercial center to the

north. Road construction began in 1984 and was

1984). Agricultural changes typically involved

integration of commercial cropping, and often

completed and under improvement by 1999, dis-

signaled pivotal economic change. To date, how-

secting several Yanesha Native Communities in

ever, no study has attempted to explore quanti-

the Palcazu Valley and several Ashaninka com-

tatively how roads initiate change in traditional

munities in the Pichis watershed. The road per-

agriculture, the basis of subsistence for most

mitted greater movement of people, goods, pros-

Amazonian Amerindians (Camino 1984). These

pectors, and ideas. The effects of the road's pen-

ancient, usually swidden agricultural systems are

etration were pronounced at the time of our

well adapted to a physical environment charac-

study in 1999.

terized by poor soils, extreme rainfall, and in-

During the 1980s, there were also agents of

tense pathogens and weeds (Beckerman 1987;

conservation in the Palcazu Valley including

Moran 1993) but are they adapted to a global-

community land titles, immigration restrictions,

ized environment?

a national park, a protection forest, and com-

munal reserves supported by Cultural Survival,

USAID, and the Peruvian government and con-

servative cultural traditions of the Yanesha

Studies of Yanesha agricultural practices from

1984 to 1986 (Salick 1989; Salick and Lundberg

1990) described the ecological basis of Yanesha

agriculture at a time prior to, during, and im-

themselves. Has change or conservation held

mediately following the appearance of the Ca-

greater sway in the Palcazu Valley and among

rretera Marginal. We used tools from anthropol-

the Yanesha?

ogy and plant ecology to measure and under-

The fifteen years between our two studies

stand agricultural practices at this pivotal time.

marked a time of turbulence. Guerrilla and mil-

In 1999, we returned to the Palcazu Valley and

itary intrusion, invasion by a neighboring indig-

reapplied these methods to quantify cropping

enous group, and establishment of Colombian

changes and to understand motives and factors

cocaine traffickers shattered peace in the com-

leading to those changes.

munities of the Palcazu Valley for several years.

When the last drug lords were gone, an explo-

sion of timber extraction ushered in another

The Palcazu Valley is in the Andean foothills

short-term income boom for people throughout

approximately 400 kilometers northeast of Lima

the valley.

in the Selva Central (Central Jungle) (Fig. 1).

In this study our primary focus was agricul-

About 180 km in length, the valley is bordered

tural change, and we anticipated that the new

on both sides by recently protected mountain

highway and concomitant activities would stim-

ranges: the San Matias Protection Forest to the

ulate change in indigenous swidden agriculture.

east (up to 2000 m elevation) and the Yanachaga

By linking communities to markets, improving

National Park to the west (up to 4000 m eleva-

communication and transportation, and allowing

tion). The valley floor is approximately 15 ki-

more access to the wider Peruvian and global

environment-cultural, economic, political and

military-new roads are potent forces in the

Amazonian hinterland (Laurance et al. 2001).

Several studies of Amazonia addressed the

lometers wide and has a lowland tropical cli-

mate. Rainy season is from November to May

with a somewhat dry season in July and August.

Partly due to orographic lift of moisture masses

from the lowland forests to the east (Fig. 2),

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/ m> I ,iElevations

4 _,-., W J<_ In Meters

A/qu os 0 _j> - , |-~*'Cl 2000

yb; "-'-I.. -' '. 500 3000

alcazu .,-~~~~~~~~~~ & ~1 000 L ]4000

V ley 17 x t . s

| Peru %N) |/^ '--' ''

I Iscozacin) > s I

Puerto? Lagun BPuertomd

I . P~~~~~~~I

. Ohio University Cartographic Center

C> R /iver Timothy A. Price 7/2002

Fig. 1. Palcazu Valley in the Selva Central area of Peru. The Marginal Highway (Carretera Marginal) is

indicated, as well as cities, rivers, and protected areas mentioned in the text.

rainfall is very high in the Palcazu, over 6000

the Palcazu Valley. Optimal lands for agricul-

mm/year (Staver 1989; Staver, Simeone, and

tural use are alluvial floodplains along the valley

Stocks 1994). High rainfall and steep slopes

floor, though many of these are tenured by de-

contribute to erosion and landslides throughout

scendents of European immigrants who operate

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ployed the same quantitative and qualitative

methods for data collection as those used pre-

viously (Salick 1989; Salick and Lundberg

1990). One third of the households in Laguna

were sampled (n = 18) for the purpose of this

study, prioritizing those households included in

the previous study (n = 10) and the remainder

selected to reflect the range of ages and occu-

~. - - pational situations represented in the communi-

ty. We sampled all agricultural fields and home

gardens for crops, voluntary edible plants, and

other species of economic importance (exclud-

Fig. 2. Logging truck with a full load of hard-

ing magic and medicinal plants for which the

woods negotiating the muddy Marginal Highway.

Yanesha reserved intellectual property rights and

ornamentals). In agricultural fields, we laid strat-

ified random quadrats (2 m X 5 m = 10 m2) to

extensive cattle ranching operations (Santos-

sample 5% of the total field area or until the

Granero and Barclay 1998). Villa Rica is a city

species richness did not increase in three suc-

upriver from the Palcazu, and is the center of

cessive quadrats. In the quadrats, we measured

coffee cultivation for the Selva Central.

the inventoried plants for height and distance to

The Yanesha are of the Arawak linguistic

another plant of the same species, estimated per-

group, and archaeological evidence traces the

cent cover, and noted the nearest neighboring

Yanesha to this part of the upper Amazon from

species. From these data we calculated density,

as early as 4000 B.P. Yanesha communities for-

cover, and diversities of species (a), field-type

merly located in the Palcazu, Pozuzo, Pichis,

(,B), and height class for all agricultural fields.

and Perene river valleys were forced to the edg-

Fields were classified on the basis of land type

es of traditional tribal lands by encroachment of

(beaches, alluvial lowlands, acidic uplands, and

European and Andean settlers (Smith 1977).

black earth uplands) and on the basis of field

Since contact with Spaniards in the 16th century,

type (bean/peanut, maize, cassava transition,

the Yanesha of this region have seen more Euplantain, early upland, late upland cassava, and

ropean and Andean colonization, increased maragroforestry). Height class and ao diversities

ket commerce, Adventist missions, development

were calculated by field type and L diversity by

projects, and more recently, violence related to


political subversive groups and international

Ecological measures were used to describe

drug traffic.
agricultural fields and home gardens, and were

Puerto Laguna (hereafter "Laguna"), the fo-

analyzed with nonparametric univariate paired t-

cal Yanesha community in this study, was estab-

tests and multivariate polar ordinations. Semi-

lished in 1970, and was one of thirteen Yanesha

structured interviews with Yanesha agricultur-

Native Communities to receive official land title

alists and others in the Palcazu Valley provided

bases for interpreting motives influencing agri-

in titling campaigns of the 1970s and 1980s

cultural practices. Data from interviews with Ya-

(Smith 1982). Laguna is situated at the conflu-

nesha and non-Yanesha individuals in the Palence of the Raya River with the Palcazu River.

cazu Valley were also used for understanding

In 1985, members of Laguna divided upland

social, economic, political, and military factors

community lands into family parcels.

at play in the valley and influencing Yanesha


livelihoods. Interviews with market vendors in

Villa Rica garnered information about the ecoPermission for the present study and its pub-

nomic conditions at play in this city, a primary

lication was obtained from the individuals inter-

destination for agricultural goods exported from

viewed, from the community of Laguna, from

the Palcazu Valley.

the Yanesha council and its Cornesha (elected

leader), and from the Peruvian government, Ins-


tituto Nacional de Recursos Naturales (INRE-

Eighty agricultural fields were sampled and

For the most effective comparison, we em-

were categorized by field type as per Salick

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Cl cv *l 4 cs - 00


v : CN 66666o
1 - * _ 1983-86

a C + + +tl l +1

00 66

66 006

! D X D <t N ~~~~~m z 00 r- I


H' Beta H' HtH' Dens Cov/100 Area/Ha

Field characteristics

> o 5) o o~~~~~0 oo 00 o)

Fig. 3. Changes in crop (ox), height class, and f

!1 +1 +1 +1 +1 +1

+Is 6666oc
(field) diversities, and density (stems/m2), percent cov-

00 -0o

er, and field size (m2/10 000) between 1983-1986 and

1999. The asterisk indicates a significant trend of de-

creasing species diversity (Z = 1.41, P = 0.079).

(1989), with the addition of two new field types

(Table 1). Upland "black earth" (tierra negra)

Q <: mv ~~~~I+ +1 t+ +1 +1 +1

fields were new, comprising 1% (1990 m2) of

the total cultivated area sampled in the study.

Z~~~~~~~~~0c m N o N

Thirteen upland agroforestry fields were also

new in 1999, comprising 46% (36 750 m2) of

>0 . = N D CD o o

the upland area sampled, or 27% of the total area

<) H 'ca 00i I+I I 0 0 0+0

sampled in the study. These agroforestry fields

.0U ; CX O. F c o 00
were planted mostly with market crops, includ-

ing coffee (usually Coffea arabica) and peach

palm (Bactris gasipaes). Most of the agroforest-

ry plots were intercropped with subsistence

crops such as cassava. In the previous studies,

upland acidic terraces were planted with rice,

0. I +I +1+I +1+1+1

Cl 00 No~W
followed by cassava, but in 1999 we found no

upland rice fields.

Wilcoxon Signed Ranks nonparametric paired

t-tests of planting density, mean percent cover,

< H .= 0 O O O O X O
field size (area), and diversities of species, field-

type and height class showed no significant

O C-m :, e I +I + I+I +I +f

change in Yanesha fields between 1983-1986

and 1999 (Fig. 3). In a polar ordination with

major crops (beans/peanuts, maize, cassava, and

O Cl

plantains) used as poles, fields paired by house-

hold and field type were tested; no significant

changes were found (Fig. 4). Notable within this

ordination, however, was the proximity of agz~~~~~~~~- $ r

roforestry fields to cassava fields, reflecting the

common practice of intercropping of coffee

(Coffea sp.) and peach palm (Bactris gasipaes)

C: ? n >-t = r ~~~~~;>
with cassava in agroforestry fields. Upland rice

fields occurring in the center of the ordination

Lx < I 4 i ? 's U Q

were from 1983-1986 with this field type absent

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Field groups

v A 1983-86

80 V A 1983-86 Rice

A v 1999

V:VV 'A Agroforestry

m v ~~~Vv vEw4

0 40 V8V


40 40 80

Cd v~~~Maz 123%
=~~~~~~~~~~~1 0.2)

Fi.4 ryCrtsodnto o oshlssape n18-18 n 99 Fed r lttdaogae

base on ensiy ofmajo crp.Fel ar weentdfeetbtentetosuis( 3 .3

= 0.22). ~ ~ v

in 1999. A polar ordination with non-subjective

stricted mostly to acid upland soils, and hence

axes of only households sampled in both studies

are associated with fewer garden species (Table

revealed significant changes in field pairs be-

2). Other households, dispersed from the road-

tween 1983-1986 and 1999 (z = 2.053, P =

side and often located near or within the flood-

0.04) (Fig. 5) and in field types overall (Mann

plain, have more space for gardens and greater

Whitney U = -3.264, P = 0.001). A significant

access to richer alluvial soils on which diverse

crop bias was seen in this ordination with ten of

species thrive. Differences also correspond to

the twelve bean/peanut fields occurring in 1999

variation in traditional plant knowledge among

and five of the seven plantain fields in 1983-

community members. Species richness between

1986. Interviews with agriculturalists concern-

gardens of households sampled in both studies

ing these fields revealed a single event under-

did not change significantly (z = 0.84, P = 0.4).

lying these significant differences: a major flood

In a Bray-Curtis polar ordination of gardens by

in 1999 destroyed several plantain fields, which

species presence/absence, there was significant

were subsequently replanted with beans and pea-

change in species composition of paired gardens

nuts typical of beach fields. This flood caused

(Wilcoxon Signed Ranks z = 2.24, P = 0.025).

both the preponderance of bean fields and dearth

Culinary herbs associated with Spanish-Peru-

of plantain fields in our 1999 sample.

vian cooking (Capsicum frutescens, Allium sp.,

In 1999, the species richness of home gardens

was not significantly different from the earlier

Coriandrum sativum) were more common in Ya-

nesha gardens in 1999. Introduced plants such

study. Species richness was related to the garden

as fruit trees have been both added to and

area and location: households situated along the

dropped from Yanesha gardens. Fruit trees pro-

roadside were built close together and were re-

moted by PEPP in the 1980s such as star fruit

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. ~~~~A


A 1983-86

Cassava fields V 1999


00 v

A | T Bean, peanut, maize fields

- ~~~~~vAV &


0 40 80


0 L0~~v

Axis 1 (19.84%)

Fig. 5. Bray Curtis ordination of agricultural fields by species density. Fields plotted are old (1983-1986)

and new (1999) measures of the same households. Field pairs were different between the two studies (n = 23,

z = 2.053, P = 0.04).

(Averrhoa carambola), and araza' (Eugenia sti-

fields in cultivation than a family of ten. At one

pitata) were more common in 1999, while other

extreme, a small family in which the father was

introduced plants such as Mamee apple (Mam-

a full-time laborer had no fields under cultiva-

mea americana) and cacao (Theobroma cacao)

tion and acquired all food goods with cash. At

were mostly abandoned. Also, plants tradition-

the other extreme, an older family (heads of

ally familiar to the Yanesha such as aguaje

household older than 60) with long-held access

(Mauritia flexuosa), papaya (Carica papaya),

to lowland and upland parcels, and with a long-

guava (Psidium guayaba), taro root (Colocasia

established membership in the community had

esculenta), pacae (Inga edulis), and peach palm

the highest field-type diversity. The premise here

(Bactris gasipaes) were more common in 1999.

is that because floodplain soils support a variety

of nutrient-demanding crops, access to lowland

fields makes greater field diversity possible.

Field-type diversity was calculated based on

number and types of fields within families, and

Most households cultivated several different

land types simultaneously (higher field-type di-

then related to social factors such as lowland

versity); exceptions were small households,

access (present/absent), length of family estab-

those subsisting largely on cash income, or those

lishment in community (number of years), in-

with limited access to lowland fields. Unequal

volvement in cash cropping (present/absent),

access to lowland fields is partly due to their

and/or household size (number of individuals

relative scarcity in the mountainous terrain of

under same roof) (Table 3). For example, a fam-

Laguna and the unequal distribution of com-

ily of four or five members may have had fewer

munity lands that resulted from parceling in

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species Family establishment/limitations


richness on gardening
sity Household economy, family establishment

1.63 Swidden agriculturalists with secure land ten-

7 Young family, single man, small area at

8 roadside home

ure and family establishment


1.39 Swidden agriculturalist and laborer with large

11 Plants attacked by leafcutter ants


12 High field crop diversity

1.10 Swidden agriculturalists establishing families

1.10 (same)
12 Small garden area at roadside home

1.05 (same)

13 Large garden, traditional plant knowledge

1.05 Establishing family with some cash cropping

15 Low field crop diversity/area

1.04 Small establishing family

1.04 (same)

18 Traditional plant knowledge

1.01 Professional with swidden agriculture and

cash cropping

19 Large garden area, traditional plant

0.87 Agriculturalist with small family and exten-

20 knowledge
0.64 sive cash cropping

Swidden agriculturalist with small family (1-

27 Large garden area, well-established fami3 persons)

28 ly

0.64 (same)

0.64 (same)

0.64 Swidden agriculturalist with poor establish-


1985. Supporting key crops such as maize,

0.00 Professional with small family

beans, peanuts, plantain, papaya, and squash in

0.00 Swidden agriculturalist with small family (1-

their fertile soils, these floodplain fields are cru-

3 persons)

cial to Yanesha field and crop diversity. Unequal

0.00 Laborer

access to these fields was cause for conflict in

1985 and continued to be so; in 1999 many com-

munity members expressed concern about a

this time. Incursions incited the rebellion of an-

shortage of floodplain fields.

gry Ashaninka (the neighboring indigenous

group in the Pichis) to crush the guerrillas and


terrorize European colonists in both valleys. Af-


ter the departure of the Ashaninka from the Pal-

Before presenting the quantitative data col-

lected in 1999, it is appropriate that we present

results on the nature and extent of the events

affecting the people in the Palcazu Valley during

the fifteen years preceding this study. The grow-

ing activity of guerrilla movements in Peru pen-

etrated the Palcazu and Pichis valleys in the late

1980s, and from 1988 to 1989 increasingly fre-

quent visits from left-wing guerrillas of first the

Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) and later the

Revolutionary Movement of Tupac Amaru

(MRTA) subjected many communities to kid-

nappings, violence, theft, cattle slaughter, and

harassment. Many European and Andean people

evacuated the Palcazu and Pichis Valleys during

cazu Valley in approximately 1991, the drug

traffickers already evident along the Carretera

Marginal, including the upper Palcazu, estab-

lished in the lower Palcazu under the leadership

of a Colombian drug-lord. The drug-lord recruit-

ed countless local people into employment and/

or coca production causing a booming economy.

Even the army personnel based in Iscozacin

were corrupted by the lure of money to protect

the burgeoning drug trade and its clandestine

transport activities. It was the failure of this sup-

port base, due to a belated Peruvian government

crackdown, that prompted the evacuation of the

drug-lords in 1995.

The close of the drug trade ushered in a

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Area of cultivated land (ha)


household Cash- Land

Total member cropped Sociological factors types

<- Extensive cash cropping, large family, L, U

1.87 0.16 1.06 part-time laborer

1.69 0.14 0 - Large family L, U

1.49 0.25 1.23 - Extensive cash cropping U

1.34 0.27 0.64 Good land tenure, small household, L, U

1.17 0.59 0 cash cropping L, U

0.88 0.11 0 e Some borrowed land L, U

0.84 0.21 0.14 ) L, U

0.78 0.13 0.34 ) Good land tenure, cash cropping L, U

0.57 0.10 0 L, U

0.56 0.08 0 L, U

0.56 0.11 0 ) Good land tenure, no cash cropping L, U

0.54 0.11 0 L, U

0.37 0.07 0.06 e Poor land holding U

0.37 0.12 0 L, U

0.24 0.05 0 Head of household is full-time laborer/ L, U

0.24 0.05 0 professional U

0.17 0.17 0 e Widower L, U

0.12 0.12 0 e Widow L, U

peacetime boom in the timber industry in the

Palcazu Valley (Fig. 2). Road access allowed re-

roadside, comprising what was called the

"Raya" sector of the community. By 1999, sev-

moval of high-graded timber for export mostly

eral small Yanesha and Andean businesses lined

to Lima. The industry advanced so quickly that

the road, selling food staples, toys, tools, or hot

timber merchants interviewed claimed that all

meals; a few rented out rooms to schoolteachers,

accessible hardwoods had been sold by the late

transient workers, and travelers. From 1998-

1990s, forcing proprietors to sell lower grade

2000 PEPP worked to construct a spur road

woods. Besides the sociopolitical highlights here

along the western flank of the Raya River with

reviewed, another important trend taking place

plans to build a small hydroelectric dam, neither

during the last twenty years in the Palcazu Val-

of which were ever completed.

ley was the steady, though legally moderated,


immigration of peasants from the Andean high-

lands, placing incremental pressure on land and

resources in the region (Hierro, Hvalkof, and

Gray 1998).

The Yanesha continued to classify land types

based on their respective flooding regimes and

soil types, reflecting the crops these soil/land

Since the early 1980s, development projects

were in the area, including the Pichis-Palcazu

types supported (Salick 1989). In 1999, there

was the addition of infrequent fertile uplands

Special Project (PEPP) and USAID that built the

(tierra negra) that were cropped with maize or

Carretera Marginal, and the non-governmental


organization Pro-Naturaleza associated with the

The area under cultivation by each household

Yanachaga National Park. Aside from the road

was associated with different social factors (Ta-

and the conservation areas, these projects have

ble 4). Greater area under cultivation was found

had little measurable effect on the area.

in households that had more members, had a

Since the road dissected Laguna in 1984, most

households relocated their homes along the

longer history of establishment in the commu-

nity, or had devoted much upland area to com-

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mercial agroforestry. In addition, individuals

planting it is the soft growing meristem (palm

with regular cash income were less likely to

heart) that is harvested and directed for exterior

farm a large area due to lack of time or need.

markets. However, export marketing of palm

One exception was a part-time medic who was

heart required efficient transportation and/or

keeping a large area in cultivation, though this

area was mostly cash cropped.

Adaptive practices observed in 1999 included

experimentation with introduced species in

sanitary canning that depended on capital and

electricity, none of which were available in La-

guna in 1999.

Access to preferred locations or land types re-

home gardens and staggered planting in low-

mained of concern to many people in Laguna.

lands to buffer against crop failure. People often

In some cases, fields were so distant from the

took advantage of field microsites by planting

school and clinic that families opted to build

sugar cane or plantains in moist depressions of

their homes in the roadside Raya sector and visit

upland fields. Flexibility in cropping strategies

fields only occasionally. Many community

extended to handling problems of land tenure

members expressed concern about limited low-

and access: a family with no lowland fields bor-

lands for the community, a problem noted also

rowed a lowland plot from a neighbor; another

by Salick and Lundberg (1990) fifteen years ago.

family experimented with planting lowland

Three of the families interviewed were newly

crops (beans, plantains) on upland hillsides.

establishing families that had no access to low-

When we asked people why there were no

upland rice fields planted, most agriculturalists

land or floodplain fields. To adapt, families with

limited lowland access "rented" or borrowed

emphasized that rice was a very demanding

lowland fields or purchased lowland crops from

crop, requiring diligent weeding, and yields

other community members. The father in one

could be jeopardized by bird predation of ripe

newly establishing family was a fulltime logger,

seed heads. Homegrown rice had to be hulled

and in lieu of cultivating his fields, he bought

by hand, or carried across the Palcazu River to

food goods within the community, or borrowed

the community of Loma Linda, where one could

from his parents' fields. Some people claimed

hire a rice-hulling machine for the cost of the

that they had resorted to reducing the fallow pe-

fuel. These disadvantages of growing rice were

riod of lowland fields to one or two years in

off-set by readily available, cheap rice from the

order to maintain usifruct access.

Peruvian coast that most families purchased in



Coffee and peach palm were introduced by

In general, people were reluctant to discuss

development programs in the 1980s and re-

the turbulent events of the previous fifteen

mained the most popular commercial crops

years: the guerrilla era, the Ashaninka rebel-

planted by agriculturalists (Fig. 6). Lowland va-

lion, and the period of the Colombian dru-

rieties of coffee (Coffea robusta) introduced in

glords. Terror and coersion were preferably for-

the 1980s, had been largely abandoned for the

gotten. However, some acts did directly affect

more popular C. arabica varieties, since the lat-

Yanesha agriculture. In 1991, several hundred

ter would get a higher price and were less likely

Ashaninka in the area demanded that both La-

to be rejected at market. World prices of coffee

guna and Loma Linda slaughter cattle to feed

fell dramatically in July of 1989 when the In-

the Ashaninka; Laguna's communal herd was

ternational Coffee Organization's export quota

reduced by half, eventually contributing to

system collapsed and launched worldwide cof-

abandonment of communal cattle operations.

fee prices into tailspin (McCormick 1994). Re-

Maginal Yanesha pastures and cattle produc-

duced coffee exportation forced producers'

tion, not a direct subject of this research, are

gross income nationally to an average of 3.51

addressed elsewhere (Staver, Simeone, and

Nuevos Soles (approx. US $1 in 1999) per ki-

Stocks 1994; Staver in press).

logram (La Reputblica 1999).

Peach palm (Bactris gasipaes) had been pro-

Yanesha perceptions of the road and its im-

pacts were usually positive. They were optimis-

moted by PEPP since the early 1980s, harvest-

tic about the changes the road would continue

able two or three years after field planting.

to bring. In interviews, most informants reflect-

Peach palm produce an edible starchy fruit con-

ed on positive changes since the road's arrival,

sumed by the Yanesha, though in commercial

citing greater health services, and improved ed-

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Fig.6 UplAn l . i a f .


Fig. 6. Upland fields intercropped with commercial coffee (C. arabica) and fruit trees.

ucation, communication, and especially trans-

munity of Laguna used timber revenue to buy


a satellite dish with diesel generator, and con-

The construction of the highway and the

tinued to raise money for its operation and

timber boom, nevertheless, left some obvious

maintenance. Thus, even in a remote indige-

effects: home improvements, purchase of

nous village without electricity or running wa-

goods, and increased travel. In 1995 the com-

ter, it was possible to occasionally see soccer

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Fig. 7. Upland black earth fields were planted by Amuesha agriculturalists with nutrient-demanding maize.

games, nature programs and soap operas

of intercropping, crop rotation, flexibility, spe-

broadcast from Lima.

cies experimentation, and employment of agro-

biodiversity at the species, field, and land-type


levels. Flexibility was obvious in the common

Market vendors pay very little for lowland

response to perturbation-the major flood early

food crops since the local economy, dependent

in 1999-when Yanesha transformed their low-

largely on coffee production, became depressed

land crop fields into beach fields by planting

when coffee prices collapsed more than a decade

beans and peanuts among rotted plantains. Like-

ago. Dealers in lowland crops such as plantains

wise, agriculturalists that discovered upland

and bananas often travel to production areas to

black earth sites recognized their potential and

buy and provide transportation to the markets;

planted them with nutrient-demanding crops

however these dealers by-pass the Palcazu,

such as corn and beans (Fig. 7). As Salick

which has limited lowland floodplains for low(1989) showed previously, many Yanesha agri-

land crop production. The vendors interviewed

cultural strategies are complex and forestall di-

expressed frustration with the local economy

saster; in 1999 they had not lost these strategies.

and unanimously supplemented incomes through

Cassava continued to be the staple food in Ya-

labor such as seasonal coffee-picking.

nesha diet and to be a focus of their spiritual

beliefs (Salick, Cellinese, and Knapp 1997; Sa-


lick and Russell in prep. The consistent inter-

cropping of cassava in almost all field types re-

Yanesha cropping practices in Laguna in 1999

reflected great persistence of indigenous agri-

culture: beach (peanut/bean), lowland (relayed

maize-cassava-plantain-short fallow) and upland

flected these relationships, with cassava promi-

nent even in commercial coffee and peach palm


Likewise, other studies have found persis-

fields (cassava-long fallow). The major defining

tence of indigenous agriculture; subsistence gar-

characteristics of Yanesha swidden systems en-

dens and crops were persistent among the Ma-

dured overall (Fig. 3) and within households

chiguenga, also of the Peruvian Amazon, after

(Fig. 4), as did traditionally adaptive practices

ten years of increased contact with the market

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economy, western influences, and many other

cial agroforestry reflected common economic as-

changes (Baksh 1995). By reducing risks, inter-

pirations in Laguna. Interest in cash crops was

cropping as practiced by both the Yanesha and

not new among the Yanesha, though coffee and

the Machiguenga continued to ensure the pro-

palm heart seemed to offer limited profits. In

duction of vital food crops.

Laguna, coffee was a popular cash crop pro-

moted by development workers with the advan-

tage of the established market in Villa Rica. As

Despite persistence in indigenous agricultural

strategies, some significant agricultural changes

a cash crop, coffee did have some advantages.

Despite being labor intensive to plant, cultivate,

were recorded in 1999 that revealed important

and harvest, coffee required little initial capital

trends in Yanesha subsistence and livelihood.

investment, it had a ready market, it earned a

Species composition changes in home gardens

reflected plant introduction and the massive re-

location of homes from the lowland sector to the

upland Raya sector of the community. In 1999,

higher price than other food or fruit-tree crops,

it endured transportation well, and had a greater

ratio of price to transport costs than many crops

(Pichon et al. 2001). Also, once planted, coffee

almost half of the households sampled were lo-

produced for several years. Nevertheless, the

cated along the road, packed closely together

collapse of coffee prices internationally meant

mostly on upland acidic infertile soils (Fig. 7).

that Yanesha from Laguna could earn US $50

There, limitations of space, soil fertility, and gar-

for a sack of coffee in 1999, which is relatively

den age influenced garden species. Also, many

little compared to the time and energy invested

fruit trees have been introduced over the years.

in producing the coffee. In many coffee-growing

Cooking herbs such as cilantro (Coriandrum sa-

areas of central Peru, the collapse in coffee prof-

tivum), chili pepper (Capiscum annuum), and

its caused agriculturalists to turn to cattle pro-

green onion (Allium sp.) were more common in

duction (Hierro, Hvalkof, and Gray 1998) but

1999 gardens, revealing a trend among Yanesha

to adopt tastes traditional to Andean and coastal

cattle have never been profitable for the Yanesha

(Staver, Simeone, and Stocks 1994). In another

cooking. Greater familiarity with Spanish-Peru-

part of the Peruvian Amazon, production and

vian cooking herbs is not surprising, given the

marketing problems with commercial rice and

increasing number of young Yanesha women

coffee left Machiguenga communities just

working in Lima (Salick 1992, 1997) and the

breaking even, even after several years of im-

influx of people and customs from the Andean

proved market links (Baksh 1995).

and coastal regions of Peru along the new high-


Palm heart was also a popular cash crop in

Laguna, although the marketing of this product

The use of black earth for nutrient-demanding

depended on resources unavailable to them: sup-

crops in some upland fields was an intriguing

plies, training, electricity, and dependable trans-

find: the presence of black earth in this area may

portation to market. In addition, market linkages

indicate previous human settlement. That the

Yanesha recognize and take advantage of these

fertile soils speaks to their historical knowledge

of their environment and to the agricultural po-

tential of these possibly anthropogenic soils.

Community parceling and the construction of

the Raya spur road may have compelled people

to shift field sites further into the uplands where

these black earth soils were found.

Reduced rice cultivation was probably a con-

sequence of two factors: rice cultivation was la-

bor intensive, and inexpensive, imported rice

and other products were increasingly available

at the stores that have sprung up along the road.

Given these options, many people purchased

rice because it saved time and cost little.

The expansion of cash cropping and commer-

were undeveloped in 1999. As a strategy, many

suggest that agroforestry is an important area for

commercial development in the Amazon. For

the Runa of the Ecuadorian Amazon, the incor-

poration of maize, coffee, and cacao into their

shifting cultivation system has allowed them to

produce market crops, and may also have re-

sulted in agricultural intensification, an impor-

tant trend for the Runa, whose regional popula-

tion has been on the increase (Irvine 1987).

Outside of coffee and palm heart, the Yanesha

of Laguna had not ventured widely into com-

mercial cropping. Local crops such as barbasco,

cassava, plantains, maize, and peanuts were oc-

casionally sold within the community, but the

potential for large-scale commercial production

was limited even with the road: transport was

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costly and unreliable, while food crops were in-

other Yanesha communities prior to the road's

appropriate, perishable, or insufficient for mar-

arrival, but in 1999 Laguna exhibited a wide-

ket. To make matters worse, with the depressed

spread though low-level dependence on cash.

economy in the closest market, Villa Rica, ven-

Several small stores sprang up along the road-

side, and most families were engaged in cash

dors buy very little anyway.

earning at some level, making cash exchange an

The most significant change we found was

increasingly common way to barter services or

commercial cropping, and despite reflecting both

a greater perceived need for cash and signifying

goods. During the last ten years of booming tim-

greater time and energy investments, the Yanes-

ber sales, many people in Laguna found new

ha people of Laguna, with few exceptions, main-

wealth by selling hardwood from their parcels.

tained food security. These results support the

By 1999 this activity had apparently slowed, and

popular theory that subsistence agricultural so-

many men worked intermittently as laborers for

cieties tend to practice risk avoidance (Scott

regional timber merchants.

1976). A system based on food security rather

Increased articulation with the market econo-

than high yield, swidden agriculture allows the

my is ubiquitous in indigenous Amazonia. As

Yanesha an existence relatively safe from an un-

Barbosa (2000) puts it, indigenous peoples are

predictable market economy. Or possibly, de-

becoming more aware economic resources are

velopment forces in the Palcazu Valley never en-

essential in the world economy that is 'engulf-

couraged the Yanesha to abandon subsistence

ing' them. For the Machiguenga, well-being has

agriculture, unlike parts of the Brazilian Amazon

become increasingly dependent on the ability to

(Ellen 1982; Hecht 1985).

have a reliable cash income (Baksh 1995). For

the Tupi-Monde, the trends of aggregation of


more sedentary communities combined with


greater involvement in the market economy has

Reliable roads and strong market links are vi-

intensified natural resource exploitation (Santos

tal to successful distribution of cash crops. Thus,

and Coimbra 1998). Anthropologists and soci-

difficulties of market access are typical for set-

ologists have been active in exploring the cul-

tlers trying to market crops from homesteads in

tural effects of these economic transitions. A

the Amazonian frontier (Behrens, Baksh, and

Mothes 1994; Mahar 1989). These distances are

shift in values from a traditional reciprocal econ-

omy to those inherent in market economy such

compounded by insufficiently maintained roads,

as accumulation, saving, and investment are

so marketing agricultural produce becomes ab-

common, and often lead to conflict and contra-

solutely impractical (Barbosa 2000; Ryder and

diction. Those who transition largely to market

Brown 2000). Even recent projects aimed at

economy practices are regarded as threats to the

linking indigenous communities directly to mar-

cultural survival and material equality of the

kets and cutting out middlemen have failed due

community (Benavides 2000). After gold miners

to transportation costs and lack of training in

followed road construction into Yanomami ter-

enterprise management (Benavides 2000). In the

Palcazu Valley the Marginal Highway was prac-

tically impassable during the wettest months of

the year, and in several places had required ex-

tensive repairs where bridges collapsed at high

water or landslides covered the highway.

Nevertheless, the movement of people and

goods along the mud track was persistent even

when slowed by poor road conditions. The high-

way has been central to the growing involve-

ment by the Yanesha in the cash economy, al-

lowing greater influx of cash goods, routes for

timber export, and easier mobility of people. By

1999, it was evident that the cash economy was

a driving force in the Palcazu Valley. The pres-

ence of the cash economy existed in Laguna and

ritory in Venezuela and Brazil, the ensuing in-

vasion of new markets and customs led many

Yanomami to conditions of hunger, disease, beg-

gary, alcoholism, and prostitution (Sponsel

1995). The conflicts in this region have been at

times extremely violent.

The Kayapo of eastern Brazil became famous

in their resistance to gold mining and hydro-

electric dams, gaining the endorsements of rock

star Sting. When their signing of timber conces-

sions was seen as a 'corruption' of their tradi-

tional values and sacrificed them their support

by Sting and much of the international com-

munity, it was clear that for the international au-

dience the image of the 'noble savage' held no

room for timber concessions. In fact, logging

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has been a common entry to many Amazonian

ically in the previous fifteen years. On the other

indigenous groups into the market economy. Of-

hand, many of the community members inter-

ten, timber extraction in the Amazon is depen-

viewed in 1999 were Yanesha previously dis-

dent on indigenous knowledge and labor, much

placed by overcrowding around Villa Rica and

as was the rubber industry in earlier times (Hier-

Oxapampa where highland immigration has

ro, Hvalkof, and Gray 1998). The Yanesha went

been significant; additionally, many families had

through economic booms consecutively of coca

children who had out-migrated to Amazonian

and timber increasing their dependence on cash

cities or Lima. Immigration of peasants from the

and market goods.

Andean highlands may intensify problems of

land access and emmigration of Yanesha may


threaten cultural continuity.

A continuing situation in Laguna in 1999 was

Common among indigenous settlements under

pressure on lands. Tenure of fertile lowlands has

pressure of roads and socioeconomic and polit-

been an issue before the first studies in 1983-86

ical influences is the gradual aggregation of the

and since the Yanesha were forced from their

community. Schools and clinics are poles of at-

open homelands in other valleys into relatively

traction. Such patterns have in some cases led

small, bounded reserves with limited fertile low-

formerly nomadic societies to increasingly sed-

lands. Laguna gained land title in 1984, and after

entary lifestyles (Benavides 2000). This aggre-

parceling uplands to individuals in 1985, began

gation has been linked to decline in subsistence

to see a surge in disagreements related to these

resources and capabilities. For example, trends

lands as well. Land pressures prompted many

may include decreased fallow, decreased agri-

people to borrow fields from neighbors or rela-

cultural potential, soil degradation, a declining

tives, or to experiment with lowland crops

diversity in the dietary intake, and declines in

(beans, plantains) on acid, upland hillsides. The

wild foods, game and fish (Baksh 1995; Santos

success of these strategies was never promising:

and Coimbra 1998). Where social fellowship

borrowing depended on the willingness of others

was traditionally supported by the flow of inter-

to share, and the plantains and beans observed

household food and labor exchanges, new con-

on upland fields were few, and unlikely to flour-

flicts arise over issues of fish and fauna scarcity,

ish. Of even more concern was the strategy of

community-organized labor, political leadership,

fallow reduction in lowland fields; fallows are

and health care costs. For some, like the Yuqui

traditionally short where soil fertility is high (Sa-

in lowland Bolivia, these trends of aggregation

lick 1989). Reduced fallow times could result in

result in followed population increases that cul-

reduction of soil fertility (Beckerman 1993;

minated in extreme resource stress (Stearman

Lovejoy 1985; Shoemaker 1981) and even more

likely on these fertile lands, in increased weed


The trend of aggregation seen in many native

infestations (Staver 1989). If the increasing pres-

societies in Amazonia is also evident in Laguna,

sure on lowland fields does not lead to intensi-

where people are drawn to the clinic, the high

fication (reduced fallowing time or greater fal-

school, and the road. Interestingly, it was the

lowing frequency), it may result in further dis-

road that first brought Laguna community mem-

agreements over land tenure. Further study is

bers to relocate homes in the Raya sector in

needed to track Yanesha adaptive responses to

internal land pressures.

Most Yanesha communities in the Palcazu

Valley have obtained legal land title, as well as

access to communal reserve lands for subsis-

tence practices (Hierro, Hvalkof, and Gray

1998). However, the reserves created were de-

lineated somewhat arbitrarily, ignoring both eq-

uitable soil type distribution and size of tradi-

tional hunting and gathering grounds; boundar-

ies drawn for communities overlooked the po-

tential for population growth. In 1999, the

population of Laguna had not increased dramat-

1984-85, even though at that time the clinic and

school were in the Laguna sector of Puerto La-

guna, about ten minutes walk from Raya. Later

the school and clinic were relocated close to the

road and the new village center. By 1999, few

families in Laguna did not have a home located

within the roadside Raya sector, despite the con-

sequences that farming plots were more distant

for many, and Raya homes were close together.

We noted one possible effect of this trend in the

changing array of plant species seen in home

gardens. The socio-cultural consequences of this

change toward a reduction in privacy and inten-

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sified social interactions and outside influences

chances for a new life are more likely a squat-

could be of even greater import. Given that La-

ter's hut or servant's quarters rather than real

guna has one of the few secondary schools in

opportunity. In an ideal world, the complex and

the entire valley, the community will continue

adaptive nature of Yanesha agricultural systems

to draw both Yanesha and non-Yanesha influ-

that have evolved during centuries will persist

ence in the years to come.

while continuing to evolve with the challenges

of a dynamic community on a busy road in the

Peruvian Amazon. We have seen some signs for

Among the most remarkable features of the

such optimism, but also some warning of more

Laguna community are the regular town meet-

pessimistic scenarios found elsewhere in the

ings. There the Yanesha leader dressed in the

Amazon. What is clear is that the Yanesha will

typical cotton 'cushma' and his executive board

not persist, nor ever have persisted, in isolation.

meet publicly with all community members who

Who will be their influencing associates?

respond to his summons on a giant conch shell.

After almost two decades of sweeping change,

the Yanesha of Laguna still keep most important

This study was supported by the Ohio University John Houk Memorial

Grant, as well as the Environmental Studies Program and the Department

decisions on a community platform: how much

of Environmental and Plant Biology at Ohio University. Partial field trav-

chicken and rice each home should provide for

el was provided by the United States Agency for Intemational Devel-

opment. Timothy Price and the Ohio University Cartographic Center

the town anniversary, how to raise money for

kindly prepared the map of the Palcazu Valley. We would especially like

repairs of the satellite dish, when and where the

to acknowledge our graditude to the community of Puerto Laguna for

next Adventist retreat will take place, who will

their warmth, openness and support of our study. May your road be paved

with something more positive than good intentions and something less
organize a maintenance crew for the water wells,

harmful than warfare-guerilla, indigenous, army and druglord.

if there will be transportation to next week's soc-

cer and volleyball games downriver. Most im-


portant and often with observation restricted are

Baksh, M. 1995. Changes in Machiguenga quality of

issues of land tenure. All these issues reflect the

life. Pages 187-205 in Leslie E. Sponsel, ed., Ininfluences the road has had on the community

digenous peoples and the future of Amazonia. Uni-

of Laguna. The meetings attract an array of peo-

versity of Arizona Press, Tucson.

ple: there have been the guerrilla and drug re-

Barbosa, L. C. 2000. The Brazilian Amazon rainfo-

cruiters, transient road crews, government and

rest: global ecopolitics, development, and democ-

project workers, nurses and school teachers

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Barclay, F. 1985. Andlisis de la divisi6n de trabajo y

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Beckerman, S. 1987. Swidden in Amazonia and the

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Guilford Press, New York.

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