Dynamic adaptation of peasant agriculture to environmental variability in the Peruvian Amazon

Authors: Lauren Wustenberg*, McGill University, Oliver Coomes, McGill University
Topics: Latin America, Agricultural Geography, Rural Geography
Keywords: amazon; agriculture; adaptation; natural experiment; Peru; livelihoods
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Galvez, , Marriott, 5th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Agricultural livelihoods of Amazonian peasant communities are highly variable and dependent on unique characteristics of the community’s local environment. Previous studies focused on understanding how Amazonian communities adapt agricultural practices to their specific environments – through upland agroforestry and lowland agriculture on either nutrient-rich whitewater rivers or nutrient-poor blackwater rivers. Less is known about how residents adapt practices following dynamic change in their local environment. The 1989 river capture of half of the blackwater Tahuayo River by the whitewater Amazon River provides an opportunity to study livelihood adaptation to environmental change in this region through a natural experiment. Before the river capture event occurred, a census-level household survey collected data on demographics, agricultural production, fishing and hunting practices, land ownership, and non-land household asset ownership. This household survey was repeated 5 times from 1989 – 2015, providing rich quantitative information on the livelihood practices in 9 communities over that period. To understand the context in which livelihoods changed, a field season was spent hosting focus group discussions (n=11) and semi-structured interviews (n=37) with residents who had resided there since before the 1989 river capture. Descriptive and statistical analyses of the qualitative and quantitative data illuminate differential risks and opportunities facing residents of this changed and changing landscape. By understanding which main drivers differentiate the development outcomes across communities, and across households within communities, we can understand better how future changes in physical environments and sociopolitical programs in the region may affect these communities, and communities like them throughout the Amazon.

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