A raging fire engulfed Peruvian Amazon rainforest charring more than 20,000 hectares of forest land and crops. The fire broke out when an indigenous community called Pitsiquia was preparing the land for cultivation in their usual slash-and-burn method of farming. Authorities claim that less rain due to climate change and last year’s El Nino weather pattern made the Amazon drier this year.
Slash-and-burn method of farming is used by tribal communities for a thousand of years. However, a growing dependence on this practice is destructive and unsustainable in the longer run. In this method of farming, a portion of forest land is cleared by cutting or slashing and the remaining plants and shrubs are burned down. The resulting land is used for cultivating crops to feed their families.
It has already denuded huge chunks of forest land making it unfit for cultivation. The soil on such farmlands becomes unfertile after two consecutive years of cultivation. Consequently, farmers abandon the land and hunt for another strip of land. Earlier the stripped farmlands were left to fallow for around 15-20 years to enable the soil to regain its fertility before reuse. However, the growing population puts pressure on the land and communities don’t wait for that long leaving the forest land permanently damaged.
Environmental activists have repeatedly criticized this method of farming because fire gets out of control leading to massive air pollution. This is a huge challenge for forest authorities. Amazon rainforest is home to many rare specifies of flora and fauna. Fire leads to loss of habitat and wildlife. Moreover, such accidental fires expand to unimaginable proportions and risk killing people in inhabited areas.
Poor tribal farmers have no other way to support their families and hence they resort to such methods. Many green organizations are stepping in to help local people adopt sustainable methods of agriculture like alley-cropping where people plant food crops alongside trees.