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Research article2019Peer reviewedOpen access

Forest Dynamics in the Peruvian Amazon: Understanding Processes of Change

Marquardt, Kristina; Pain, Adam; Bartholdson, Orjan; Romero Rengifo, Luis


The Peruvian government seeks to stop deforestation in its primary forest in the Amazon. It alleges that the main culprit of deforestation is smallholders who practice swidden farming. However, this is a simplified view, concealing the main reasons for deforestation and the complexity of land use changes. By studying land and forest use through the lens of the indigenous Kechwa-Lamas people, who live along forest covered mountain slopes in the region San Martin, we attempt to show the complex and intertwined reasons for deforestation, as well as how the indigenous people try to cope with this development. We identify and discuss three ideal types of land usethe swidden and tree based systems of the Kechwa-Lamas people, agricultural intensification practices (particularly perennial cash crops), and state conservation approaches. In practice these uses overlap spatially and have synergistic and antagonistic aspects. Kechwa-Lamas may clear land for tree cash crops, but they also manage forests and seek to conserve them for particular needs. Migrants from the Andes clear forests to plant perennial crops, penetrating the ancestral territories of the Kechwa-Lamas, while large scale capital intensive agriculture often intrudes into primary forest and jeopardizes existing subsistence systems. The opening up of forest areas in San Martin and its gradual integration into the nation's market economy, together with the local government's division of the region into zones intended for different purposes, have had both intended and unintended consequences. There is a need to develop a more nuanced understanding of the forms and complexity of forests and their transitions, particularly where secondary and managed forests replace previous rainforest areas. The findings draw on field observations and interviews with households, key NGO informants and a detailed case study of 13 Kechwa-Lamas villages.


Forest transition; Swidden farming; Agrarian change; Forest conservation; Land rights; San Martin; Secondary forest

Published in

Small-Scale Forestry
2019, Volume: 18, number: 1, pages: 81-104
Publisher: SPRINGER