We aim to optimally integrate between local integral practices and western permaculture concepts by observing, learning and working with local communities.
Chaikuni’s aim is to combine the best of both indigenous wisdom and modern knowledge to create sustainable and reciprocal alternatives to the current model of linear development and the widespread adoption of soil-depleting monocultures. By creating a meaningful, reciprocal dialogue and praxis between local indigenous and mestizo Amazonian farmers on one hand and Chaikuni’s professional agro-forestal engineers and permaculture experts on the other, we are experimenting with novel, healthy and sustainable ways to interact with the environment, its people and the local economies that sustain our land along the Nanay river. Our long term vision is to empower local communities to shift to more sustainable, ecological and financially-sound practices.
Chaikuni draws upon the concept of sumak kawsay, or “Buen Vivir” in the timeless Quechua wisdom tradition. This is a concept that was shared by many indigenous societies throughout the world, and at its root lies the understanding of the ecosystem as an harmonious continuum of interdependency between living beings and the environment that sustains them. Under this view, causing damage to the ecosystem is akin to causing damage to ourselves. A key component of this embodied, lived philosophy, is the agricultural practice knows as chacra integral. It is defined as an agricultural unit that, following ecological criteria, mimics nature in order to make the best rational use of the land, harmoniously combining cultivation and livestock in order to achieve socioeconomic auto-sufficiency and development for a rural family.
We seek to inspire people, both locals and visitors, to get closer to nature and become agents of change in order to rescue and preserve ancestral endangered agricultural and cultural knowledge.
The chacra integral, or “integral small farm or ranch”, also sometimes referred to as chacras indigenas or chacras tradicionales, were the ancestral models of sustainable and diversified agricultural production and cultivation proliferating all over pre-conquest South America. With the arrival of European colonizers and traders, as production methods shifted from local sustenance-based models towards the massive shipping of goods continentally and globally, this knowledge was progressively lost in favor of the increasing implementation of monocultures, which reached its peak from the mid-20th century and onwards. Today, the problem has been exacerbated due to the acute demand of produce coming from the big cities, both locally and globally, and most farming communities have adopted slash-and-burn styles that rapidly impoverish the soils and decimate the local environments.
Being inseparable from this worldview, a chacra integral translates into a production system that allows an extended family of farmers to cover a wide range of vital needs such as food, employment, income, medicine, shelter, company and craft-making, while being stewards and protectors of their environment. This is achieved through a highly diversified and high-yielding system of intertwined agricultural, forestal and livestock-related activities, which in turn provide refuse that is used as food for the livestock and the fish-farms and as raw materials for the production of arts and crafts. Since different crops bear fruit during different times of the year, such a system allows the chacra to maximize production by yielding a variety of harvests all year long, diminishing the dependence of the local families on the fluctuations of the markets. Furthermore, this practice is, in essence, a humanistic practice that acknowledges and empowers the farmer and his family as the primary architects of their own development: agriculture as an essential component of the general culture.
According to Chaikuni’s Forest Engineer Silvia del Aguila Reyna, the dangers of extensive monoculture and slash-and-burn style chacras have been presented through workshops and other interventions to local rural communities in the district of Loreto as early as during the 1980’s, yet there has been little to no practical incentives or support since to help farmers transition into a more sustainable practice. In present time, the practice of chacras integrales has almost disappeared from the Peruvian rural landscape, in favor of the ubiquitous yuca plantations which yield crops for two or three years after which the land is completely depleted and infertile, leaving behind a purma: a barren and unusable regrowth space that may take several years to recover. But not everything is yet lost: diverse groups have shifted away from slash-and burn monocultures and back to their ancestral practices, such as the Kandoshi people along the Pastaza river, who in the early 1990’s were already implementing chacras integrales, as have done since some Achuar and Kichwa communities in the upper Huasaga river.