Today we visited a farm in the indigenous community of Infierno. The farm is family-owned, which is typical of how farms are managed in the community, but a given household manages the farm without the right to sell the land. Young people have the right to choose to have their own land after they turn 16. However, many young people choose to stay with their parents and manage the same farm.
The farm we visited has a variety of plants in small patches, including bananas, papaya, rice and other crops. Due to heavy rains this year, some crops had been flooded and were dying.
Originally, farmers in the area used the slash and burn method. Now, a more sustainable way of retaining nutrients in the soil is becoming common among local farmers. Farmers grow beans first, which can retain nitrogen. After the legumes die, farmers grow other plants in the revitalized soil. Despite this progress, in my opinion, some serious problems exist in the farming sector in Peru.
After our visit to the farm, I spoke with our guide Rodolfo to learn more. According to him, the government doesn’t provide any help and support to the farmers. When heavy flooding comes, crops might die. The government provides no subsidy to the farmers, which leaves them in a very vulnerable situation. Instead, when there is a harvest, the government levies taxes based on the farmers’ income from selling their crops. Given this situation, many farmers go to cities to seek other opportunities to make a more stable living. Even in cities, they work in the informal sector.
The Interoceanic Highway brought a lurking threat to the local environment. The highway connects the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of South America, cutting through Brazil and Peru, thus facilitating connections to Asia, North America, and the rest of South America. In order to increase its exports, Brazil has now destroyed more rainforest to grow soybeans and raise cattle. The effect of the highway on Peru remains to be seen.
Despite some depressing problems facing farmers, ecotourism has brought benefits to the Infierno community. Visiting this farm is one activity for tourists at the lodge. The local community shares profits from Posada Amazonas, which they have used to build a secondary school and set up equipment to provide filtered drinking water, among other benefits. Previously, the whole community drank directly from the Tambopata River. Our other guide Oscar told me that scientists have tested the water quality of the river and claim that the river is not polluted by mercury from gold mining unlike other rivers in the area. However, I cannot confirm his testimony. Also, Posada Amazonas has brought jobs and better incomes to the local community. Now 90% of the staff members are from the native population.
Ecotourism, managed correctly, can provide important benefits to the community. Besides more income, local children receive more education with the secondary school built with the profits from Posada Amazonas, which might increase future opportunities. Even if ecotourism brings benefits to the local community, however, farming might still need to play an important role in local development. In this respect, the Peruvian government might need to do more work to be supportive!
– Juan Fan