[permaculture] if there were a benefit to deforestation...

Tripp Tibbetts slowfoodguy at yahoo.com
Wed Jan 6 21:37:00 EST 2010

Lawrence, you are familiar with the terra preta in the Amazon, right?  Have you read Toby's article on indigenous agroforestry:
Really opened my eyes to their genius.  
>From the article:
"Even those westerners who recognized the fantastic productivity of these tropical homegardens still had nothing good to say about the underlying rotational pattern that maintained fertility in tropical soils, the much maligned slash-and-burn system. I remember, as a grade-schooler, being taught this concept in words that soured my mouth: Ignorant villagers burn a patch of beautiful tropical forest, plant some annual crops, ruin the soil in just a few years of brutish scratching, and then are forced by their own stupidity to move to another section of virgin rain forest and burn it down in turn. The image combined the worst aspects of nomadic rootlessness, plundering of nature, and subhuman consciousness. Oh, the stupid savages!"


The best fertilizer is the gardener's shadow.
-Chinese proverb

--- On Thu, 1/7/10, Lawrence F. London, Jr. <venaurafarm at bellsouth.net> wrote:

From: Lawrence F. London, Jr. <venaurafarm at bellsouth.net>
Subject: Re: [permaculture] if there were a benefit to deforestation...
To: "permaculture" <permaculture at lists.ibiblio.org>
Date: Thursday, January 7, 2010, 2:23 AM

Tripp Tibbetts wrote:
> There isn't, but this is pretty cool.
> "The discoveries have demolished ideas that soils in the upper Amazon were too poor to support extensive agriculture..."
> Or maybe not.  The soils may have indeed been too poor for agriculture, but maybe not for indigenous agroforestry systems.
> http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jan/05/amazon-dorado-satellite-discovery

I keep hearing that Amazon rainforest soils are not good and fertility 
is difficult to sustain, thus slash and burn agriculture. But...the 
multinational agribusiness corporations exploiting those lands do not 
seem to have much trouble growing forage crops for their cattle 
industry, soybeans for export, probably various grains and sugar cane 
for food and biofuel. Of course they may well be using conventional 
chemical-based farming. There are also delicious Brazilian oranges (I 
think a type of Valencia or indigeneous Brazilian variety similar to 
that) for export to the US (I wish we could get them around here).
The pictures I have seen show a great looking friable red soil.
So, does it need remineralization? Can it grow nitrogen fixing crops
endlessly in rotation with others? What about large scale heavily 
mulched raised bed broadacre farming. Brazil has a very fine machine too 
industry with the ability to design and prototype tractor-based 
machinery that could create, plant, harvest and maintain miles of these 
beds using such a farming system. I would think strip cropping could be
done with this raised bed system. Alternate rows of beds would be 
planted, harvested then planted in companion cover+N2Fix crop as the 
adjoining bed/row was in the opposite cropping scheme, either cover (for 
biomass, increase soil OM, nutrients, N) or crop. This ought to work 
great for sugar cane. Build harvesters able to work long rows of raised 
beds. Those South American countries have some excellent soil. I know 
people with relatives in Venezuela who farm on incredibly good land and
are a major produce supplier for the wholesale market there. So what is 
the real potential for the red soils in Brazil. Can they be improved to 
make long term permanent notill heavy mulch farming possible, and 
sustainable, returning minerals to the soil from deep mining cover 
crops. Do any of the permaculture folks in this list know about this 
from visits they have made to that region for PC convergences, workshops 
or other events? Obviously integrate the livestock industry with the 
cropping industry. Return the manure and its nutrients to the soil
as microbially-rich compost tea or thin slurry. Feed the raised bed rows 
growing cover crops with this, plow the cover under then plant the cash 
crop as monocrop or companion crop. There are many fascinating 
possibiities here. Interesting to sit here in central NC and daydream 
about miles of raised beds in the Amazon.

>From this fascinating article:

"New satellite imagery and fly-overs have revealed more than 200 huge 
geometric earthworks carved in the upper Amazon basin near Brazil's 
border with Bolivia.

Spanning 155 miles, the circles, squares and other geometric shapes form 
a network of avenues, ditches and enclosures built long before 
Christopher Columbus set foot in the new world. Some date to as early as 
200 AD, others to 1283.

Scientists who have mapped the earthworks believe there may be another 
2,000 structures beneath the jungle canopy, vestiges of vanished societies.

The structures, many of which have been revealed by the clearance of 
forest for agriculture, point to a "sophisticated pre-Columbian 
monument-building society", says the journal Antiquity, which has 
published the research.

The article adds: "This hitherto unknown people constructed earthworks 
of precise geometric plan connected by straight orthogonal roads. The 
'geoglyph culture' stretches over a region more than 250km across, and 
exploits both the floodplains and the uplands … we have so far seen no 
more than a tenth of it."

The structures were created by a network of trenches about 36ft (nearly 
11 metres) wide and several feet deep, lined by banks up to 3ft high. 
Some were ringed by low mounds containing ceramics, charcoal and stone 
tools. It is thought they were used for fortifications, homes and 
ceremonies, and could have maintained a population of 60,000 – more 
people than in many medieval European cities.

The discoveries have demolished ideas that soils in the upper Amazon 
were too poor to support extensive agriculture, says Denise Schaan, a 
co-author of the study and anthropologist at the Federal University of 
Pará, in Belém, Brazil. She told National Geographic: "We found this 
picture is wrong. And there is a lot more to discover in these places, 
it's never-ending. Every week we find new structures."

Many of the mounds were symmetrical and slanted to the north, prompting 
theories that they had astronomical significance.

Researchers were especially surprised that earthworks in floodplains and 
uplands were of a similar style, suggesting they were all built by the 
same culture."


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