The Amazon basin is the world’s most biodiverse terrestrial ecosystem; in 2 hectares of land, we find more plant and animal species than we find in the entire continent of North America. Hydrological cycles modulated by the trees and rivers of the Amazon also play a key role in regulating weather globally.
Nonetheless, in the heart of the Peruvian Amazon, where we find widespread deforestation and landscape degradation from commercial resource extraction, Amazonian communities rapidly integrating into the market-economy opt for an unsustainable agricultural method called slash-and-burn or swidden farming, where a piece of pristine forest is razed to the ground, burnt, and replaced by one or two crops.
“A ‘chacra integral’ creates healthy food forests, produces abundance for local communities, counteracts deforestation and soil degradation, and thus helps to combat and mitigate climate change.”
At the Chaikuni Institute, we bridge traditional indigenous land-management techniques with modern permaculture methods in order to develop sustainable, integrated alternatives to land-use. Working together with communities in the Loreto department of the Peruvian Amazon, we are seeking to resuscitate an ancient practice called the “charca integral” – the ‘holistic’ garden. As an alternative to slash-and-burn, the chacra integral offers a method of land-use that does not burn the cut vegetation. In this system, communities plant a great variety of different edible fruit trees, hardwood trees, and other useful plants in highly biodiverse plots of land. A chacra integral creates healthy food forests, produces abundance for local communities, counteracts deforestation and soil degradation, and thus helps to combat and mitigate climate change.
“At our permaculture centre, situated on the lands of our sister organization the Temple of the Way of Light, in the lower Nanay River basin in the Peruvian Amazon, we offered a ten-day capacity building workshop to a diverse group of over 30 people; women, men, and youth from 3 neighbouring communities.”
Over the course of the last year or so, we have been able to sustain continued training and implementation of permaculture workshops, including the participation of indigenous leaders and local farmers from surrounding communities. At the beginning of March, our latest ten-day training offered a deeper look into the chacra integral system, and more specifically a method called “agrofloresta” -or syntrophic farming– under the masterful guidance of Tierra Martinez, founder of the Ná Lu’um permaculture Institute and one of the leading permaculture experts in Latin America. At our permaculture centre, situated on the lands of our sister organization the Temple of the Way of Light, in the lower Nanay River basin in the Peruvian Amazon, we offered a ten-day capacity building workshop to a diverse group of over 30 people; women, men, and youth from 3 neighbouring communities.
The agrofloresta method, also known as syntropic agriculture, it is an extremely diverse and productive system of climate- and biodiversity-friendly sustainable farming. Just like a multi-layered rainforest ecosystem. It works with plants that thrive on different levels and in different conditions (high, low, medium-altitude, shade, sun, etc..), each producing food, timber or medicines at different time intervals, assuring a year-round production. Perfectly aligned with our local chacra integral system, we promote the agrofloresta as a part of it.
Finishing the ten days, our team of eighty-plus hands of villagers and Chaikuni staff had left growing three such rich agrofloresta plots. Installed in areas previously degraded by local farming practices, they are bound to grow back to thriving and productive forests. At the Chaikuni Institute, we will continue to spread the knowledge on chacras integrales and the agrofloresta within our neighbouring communities and beyond, to keep creating a movement to regenerate the Amazon.
Text by Sophia Rokhlin and Stefan Kistler, pictures by Alienor de Sas (Chaikuni Institute all rights reserved)
Dear friends and supporters,
The Amazon is still on fire. As you have seen in the news, tens of thousands of forest fires are raging across the Amazon rainforest, and continue to spread through the region at an alarming pace. The fires have devastated immense areas in Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay.
While some fires are attributed to increased drought (unnatural in its occurrence and directly linked to a changing climate) most are deliberately set by humans seeking to clear the forest to expand business. In Brazil in particular, agri-business interests and cattle ranchers continue to set fires across vast swaths of forest in order to clear land for soy monocultures and cattle farms, fueled by the predatory right wing policies of president Bolsonaro.
With your support, we at the Chaikuni Institute promote an alternative to harmful slash-and-burn agriculture – the method which is largely responsible for these fires. At Chaikuni we promote a regenerative and diverse agro-forestry system called the chacra integral. One of the main characteristics of the chacra integral is a technique which involves letting chopped vegetation remain on the ground, which maintains nutrients in the bio-mass and mimicks the natural cycles of the rainforest ecosystem. The chacra integral system is a sure way to avoid fires in the region, because no burning is included in this process. An intact tropical rainforest is so humid that it is far more resilient to the spread of fires. A chacra integral promises a healthy and intact piece of rainforest, producing food, medicine and timber, providing myriad ecological and economic benefits to local communities as well as the global community.
Since we held our Permaculture Design Course (PDC) in May for local farmers from the surrounding communities of our permaculture center, we’ve continued to work on bringing these chacras integrales to their homes. By the end of the year, we set the goal to have installed 8 hectares of these rich agroforestry plots with participating communities.
The pioneers of this program are the local participants of the PDC, who we are working with to install these systems on their properties. We’ve started to visit them in their homes and on their land, collecting socio-economic data to build a solid baseline, which will later allow us to monitor the progress of this project. Just last week, we held a day-long course at our center to refresh the insights and techniques we learned from the PDC, focusing on the design of their properties, and in particular analyzing the best location for their agroforestry plots. In the case of one of the participants, we have already started implementing his chacra integral.
The work is done through so-called mingas. A minga refers to a day of communal work, and is very common for our region of the Peruvian Amazon. The owner mobilizes her or his family and neighbors to lend a hand in the field and offers them food in return. Our qualified staff accompanies and guides the work, and we also chip in with some of the food offered for the working crowd. From here onwards, we will assist in many more mingas to help establish the chacras integrales in the communities.
We are as committed as ever to keep creating a movement to regenerate the Amazon, spreading awareness and know-how that will also contribute to prevent future fires. Any donation will help us to take our project a step further.
Thank you so much for your support to local communities in the Peruvian Amazon and for being part of our movement.
The Chaikuni Institute Team