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The changing chagras: traditional ecological knowledge transformations in the Colombian Amazon

Valentina Fonseca-Cepeda, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Bogotá, Colombia
C. Julián Idrobo, Centro Interdisciplinario de Estudios sobre Desarrollo, Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá, Colombia
Sebastián Restrepo, Departamento de Desarrollo Rural y Regional, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Bogotá, Colombia


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Shifting agriculture systems in the Colombian Amazon, locally known as chagras, have been traditionally managed by indigenous peoples following their traditional ecological knowledge (TEK). However, different socioeconomic drivers of change are affecting indigenous chagra TEK, resulting in changes in practices and land-use patterns. This study examines TEK transformations from 1970 to 2016 and their relation to rainforest management in the Ticuna indigenous resguardo of El Vergel (Leticia Municipality, Amazonas Department). It employs an ethnographic case study design that articulates quantitative data on land-use variables related to chagras and qualitative ethnographic data describing dimensions of TEK and its perceived transformations, including knowledge of the environment, practices and management systems, social institutions, and worldviews. Our findings reveal that TEK transformations entail changes in land-use, including size of production area, temporality of land-use, and cultivated diversity. This study contributes to a reinterpretation of TEK transformations and emphasizes the importance of the chagra as an adaptive system. The TEK transformations related to chagras imply a constant reattunement of relations that bind people and their environments. Rather than being frozen in an ethnographic past, people have responded to social and economic drivers to meet their current needs and aspirations. Likewise, understanding TEK transformations and their relation to changes in land-use practices provides relevant insights about social-ecological dynamics in the Amazon rainforest to navigate change and provide the basis for a discussion of how to enrich management decisions to move toward sustainability in tropical forests.

Key words

Amazon rainforest; chagra; Colombia; indigenous people; land use; traditional ecological knowledge

Copyright © 2019 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087