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The extraction of non-timber forest products by settlers

Rural peoples of Amazonia have always collected an assortment of products from forests and continue to do so outside of formally established "extractive reserves." The lifestyles of people living inside extractive reserves are likely increasingly to mirror those on the outside who farm, raise livestock, and extract forest products, including timber.

Settlers and long-time residents of Amazonia obtain a large array of foods, medicines, and building materials from forest on their property or from land they farm (table 4.5). For example, cipó titica (Heteropsis sp.) is gathered along the Transamazon and sold in Santarem to make wicker furniture; the forest vine is also sold in Acará, Pará, for the same purpose. A farmer along Ramal Andirobalzinho near Alter do Chão, Pará, complained that deforestation along streams has drastically reduced populations of guarumã (Ischnosiphon obliques), a marantaceous shrub used to make a traditional sleeve (tipiti) for squeezing cassava dough. The broad leaves of other moistureloving marantaceous plants are used to wrap meat, tapioca, and other foodstuffs. A shift to mechanical presses in the process of making cassava flour and the widespread adoption of non-degradable plastic bags have substituted in part for several traditional forest-based products or technologies.

The number and amount of plant species harvested varies considerably within a community and between different areas of the Amazon basin. The ecological heterogeneity of the region is evident in the variation in species harvested at the different sites (table 4.6). Natives of Pará (Paraenses), for example, are generally more aware of forest resources and harvest them consistently. More recent arrivals, on the other hand, tend to use the forest less, at least initially. Some widespread species, such as babaçu, are used throughout much of Amazonia, although the custom of cracking open the hard endocarp to obtain the oil-rich nuts appears to be confined to eastern Pará where dense stands of the massive palm have arisen after repeated cycles of swiddenfarming (Anderson, May, and Balick 1991).

Table 4.5 A small sample of non-timber forest products collected by peasants in the Brazilian Amazon. Several thousand wild plants in Amazonia are put to a wide variety of uses, in food, beverages, construction, crafts, and medicines

Plant Scientific name Uses Location
? Large trunks are hol-
lowed out to make
bins, about 1.5 m
high, for storing
São João Batista,
municipality of
Itupiranga, Pará
Açai Euterpe oleracea Fruit used to make
Inflorescence used for
Nenas Souza, km 46
Açai da terra
Fruit used to make
São João Batista,
municipality of
Itupiranga, Pará
Andiroba Carapa
Oil from seeds spread
on wounds to
promote healing
Juliano Pereira,
Comunidade Boa
Esperança, km 70
Santarém- Rurópolis,
Babaçu palm Attalea speciosa Ground nuts used as
bait for siri crabs
Fronds laid across
wooden bridges as a
base for dirt fill
Fronds used to thatch
Oil extracted from nuts
for cooking
Heart-of-palm eaten
and sold locally
Mosqueiro, Pará
stretch of Trans-
amazon, Pará
Brazilian Amazon muni-
cipalities of Marabá
and Itupiranga, Pará
Municipalities of
Marabá and
Itupiranga, Pará
Mato Grosso
Bacaba palm Oenocarpus
Fruit for making drink Pará
Brazil nut Bertholletia
"Navel (umbigo)" of
the capsule is burned
to make tea for treat-
ing haemorrhage
Empty capsules used as
burning containers to
create smoke for dis-
pelling black flies
municipality of
Itupiranga, Pará
Agrovila Coco Chato,
km 42 Marabá-
Altamira, Transmazon
Carapanaúba Aspidosperma
Bark used in treating
fever, esp. malaria
Juliano Pereira, Comu
nidade Boa Esperança,
km 70 Santarém-
Rurópolis, Pará
Cipó imbé Philodendron
Vine used to make
Nenas Souza, km 46
Cipó timbó Derris sp.? Vine segments tied
together to make
Ramal de Curupira,
side-road from km 39
of Santarém-Curuá
Una, Pará
Copaíba Copaifera
Resin used for treating
cuts and abrasions
São João Batista, mu
nicipality of Itupir-
anga, Pará; Juliano
Pereira, Comunidade
Boa Esperança, km 70
Cupiúba Goupia glabra Trough made from
trunk to hold cassava
Ramal de Curupira,
side-road from km 39
of Santarém-Curuá
Una, Pará
Cupuaçu. Theobroma
Fruit for making drink;
pulp sometimes sold
Municipalities of Marabá
and Itupiranga, Pará
Quina Geissospermum
Bitter bark used for
treating malaria
São João Batista, muni-
cipality of Itupiranga,
Inaja palm Maximiliana
Leaf base ("capema")
used for carrying rice
São João Batista,
municipality of
Itupiranga, Pará
Jatobá Hymenaea courbaril Resin melted, stirred in,
water, then 3 drops
put into each eye to
"clear" them
São João Batista
municipality of
Itupiranga, Pará
? Baskets, mortar Lastancia, municipality
of Itupiranga, Pará
Taboqui ? Baskets Lastancia, municipality
of Itupiranga, Pará
Taboquinha Olyra micrantha? Baskets Lastancia, municipality
of Itupiranga, Pará
Ubim palm Geonoma sp. Fronds used to thatch
Lastancia, municipality
of Itupiranga, Pará

Source: Field notes of NJHS, 19901993.

Table 4.6 Some non-timber products collected from upland forest in the vicinity of Paragominas, Marabá, and Santarém

  Product Marabá Paragomin as Santarém
Brazil nut + + +   +  
Cupuaçu + + +      
Bacaba +   +  
Babaçu + + +   +  
Guarumãa     +  
Cacauíb + + + + +  
Cacaoc Absent Absent +  
Curua     +  
Tabocad + +      
Taboquinhad + +      
Taboquid +      
Ubim palme +      
Macaúbaf +   +  
Quinag +      
Condurug +      
Copaíbag +   +  
Jatobág +   +  
Açai (Euterpe oleracea)     +  
Açai da terra firmeh     +  
Piquiá + + +  
Andirobag     +  
Cajá +      
Bacuri +      
Tucumã palmii +   +  
Inajá palm + + +  
Uxi   + +  

a. Ischnosiphon obliquus (Marantaceae); a moisture-loving plant used to make tipitis for squeezing cassava dough.

b. Theobroma speciosum; a relative of cacao with edible fruit.

c. Apparently wild populations in forest.

d. Several species of bamboo are used to make baskets and for light construction.

e. Unidentified palm used to thatch houses.

f. Acrocomia palm; oily fruit eaten by people and fed to livestock.

g. Medicinal plant.

h. Euterpe precatoria; fruit eaten.

i. Astrocaryam vulgare; fruit eaten and fibre used for hammocks and cord.

In addition to plant products, forests and second-growth communities provide game and fish. Game is an important source of meat to farmers in much of the Amazon Basin (Ayres and Ayres 1979; Ayres et al. 1991; Dourojeanni 1974; Smith 1976). White-lipped peccary (Tayassu pecari), white-collared peccary (Tayassu tajacu), tapir (Tapirus terrestris), and bracket deer (Mazama americana) provide appreciable quantities of protein and fats for rural folk, particularly during the early years of settlement. Some species, such as brocket deer and agouti, thrive in second-growth areas but, overall, game yields decline the more forest is cleared (Smith 1976).

The contribution to rural diets of fish from rain-forest streams is virtually undocumented. In part this may stem from a focus of fisheries research on major rivers or reservoirs. Fish from streams are thought to be too small and few in number to be of much consequence from the nutritional or economic standpoint. Nevertheless, the sight of boys and their fathers returning from a fishing expedition in the forest is not uncommon. As colonists and ranchers frequently clear right up to the margin of streams, and cattle often pollute waterways, fish populations undoubtedly suffer as the landscape is cleared.

How much forest settlers leave on their land depends on a host of factors, including how many children they have and where they choose to live, the productivity of fields, and the availability of other options to generate revenue. Although many settlers attest to the usefulness of forest, in reality not much forest is likely to remain on many lots given current technologies and land-use practices. As game and fish become scarce, settlers rely more on chickens, ducks, pigs, and in some cases cattle for meat. It is likely, however, that the intake of high-quality protein declines as game and fish populations are depleted or their habitats destroyed. Livestock need to be fed and cared for, and few colonists can afford to purchase meat, fish, or eggs in markets and stores on a regular basis. Finding ways to boost the productivity of fields and pasture, discussed in more detail in chapters 6 and 7, in order to reduce pressure on the remaining forest is thus imperative.

One could formulate arguments to the effect that forests provide a multitude of products and environmental services to local communities. More work is certainly warranted in this regard. The difficulty of quantifying in meaningful economic terms the value of such products and the role of the forest in supplying good-quality drinking water, for example, has hindered policy formulation with regard to land use in tropical forest areas. But reliance solely on a strategy of proving the worth of forests is unlikely to stem the tide of destruction. Forest extraction must be analysed within the framework of the larger landuse mosaic if fruitful policy recommendations are to ensue.


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