At Chakra Alegría de Amor, we are gifted with ancient tropical rainforest property, but we are also gifted with land previously clearcut for temporary harvest of corn, yucca, and/or plantains.
Instead of looking at the non-virginal land as an eyesore, or something to be left to nature to heal at her own pace, we’re actively designing and implementing regenerative agricultural systems to regain the fertility lost due to clear-cutting and swidden (i.e. slash-and-burn) agriculture. We welcome helping hands to join this extremely important mission of replanting and revitalizing the rainforest in a positive way. It is extremely rewarding to harvest and utilize nature’s gifts….not to mention fresh and delicious!!
Permaculture Institute and Regenerative Tropical Permaculture Farm
Ever since Omar attended ECHO’s tropical agriculture workshop in Florida, he’s been committed to bringing the best organic, sustainable, and regenerative techniques and practices for the betterment of the center’s land.
We see Chakra Alegría de Amor as a place for new ideas to flourish, for work-study volunteers and permaculturalists to come, get their hands dirty, imagine new possibilities, and shape those dreams into reality.
Our goal at the Chakra Alegría de Amor Permaculture Institute is to build symbiotic food, fuel, and fiber systems for the benefit of the center, and for use as a teaching and sharing tool for the subsistence farmers in our area.
Brief History of Indigenous Agriculture in the Amazon
Indigenous peoples of the Amazon had two options for agriculture in the Amazon. The river tribes and communities had vast agricultural zones with highly productive crop zones that were well cared for until the arrival of European diseases. They used techniques like terra preta where scientists suggest that charcoal was mixed in with compost and other nutrients to create fertile soil where land was previously nutrient-poor. They should be considered the pre-Columbian tropical permaculture experts that we’re trying to emulate.
The other nomadic tribes practiced slash-and-burn, or swidden agriculture. This is a highly effective method for temporary soil fertilization, if used properly. Tribes would clear the forest, roughly a one or two hectare lot, let it dry, and then light it on fire. The resultant burn would create a nutrient rich ash that would then be planted into.
Crops like manioc (yuca), papaya, plantains, and other staple foods would grow at exceptional rates for the first year or two, and then steadily decline. Knowing that decline was inevitable, the tribe would move camp to the next clearing and fell a new section of rain forest for preparation for another burn and planting. No plot would be returned to for a minimum of 13-years to allow the rain forest and its flora to reestablish itself for a new clearing, burn and planting.
The agriculturally rich river tribes are already gone, and we’ve succeeded in decimating the remaining nomadic tribes to mere slivers of their former selves. Now, nomadic tribes like the the Matsés have been converted into sedentary communities where their swidden agriculture is removing clearing more and more rain forest causing them to hike up to three hours, one way, to their farm plot.
Improperly Managed Agriculture is Consuming the Rain Forest
Tropical soils in the Amazon are not like those in temperate environments where some soils can reach depths of three meters or more. In the tropics, due to millennia of intense rain and heat, very little minerals remain near the surface and soil acidity can reach levels as low as 4.5 pH (Coca-cola and coffee are near 3.5 pH to give you some perspective).
This leaching of nutrients via water and heat leaves an acidic, heavy clay soil known as oxisols or utisols. Without nutrients in the soil, most of the biological recycling of nutrients occurs in the top most inches of soil, most of which is just leaf litter and fallen trees!
Unfortunately, many of the subsistence farmers in the Amazon continue to practice swidden agriculture for a one-two year growth of corn, or yuca and plantains. They enjoy a bumper crop for a year, and watch as their land’s production steadily diminishes. Once exhausted, they are either destitute, or purchase more land to cut and burn. This system is highly destructive, leads to entrenched poverty, and is damaging the sensitive Amazon rainforest at an alarming rate.
Tropical Permaculture and Regenerative Design Needed
Given the fragile soil biology of the Amazon, and its slow recovery after disturbance, we seek to integrate improved methods for nutrient recycling and retention on our farm using tropical permaculture techniques. Thoughtful and prolonged observation, appropriate design, and small and simple first steps, we can create regenerative and sustainable systems that provide food, fuel, and fiber for the current Amazonian citizens.
Amazing people, like Bill Mollison, David Holmgren, Geoff Lawton, and other Permaculturalists worldwide have shown the potential for using permaculture principles and ethics, appropriate technology, and effective collaboration to help us craft abundant and beneficial living systems for the benefit of all. Learn more on our permaculture resources page and visit Tropical Permaculture.
It is a slow, but rewarding process; a wonderful counter to our speed obsessed culture that puts quantity ahead of quality. We are already enjoying the benefits of our sweat and labor only a few years in. Within a decade, we look forward to sharing even more abundance, technology, and lessons with our neighbors, their neighbors, and so forth.
Get Involved, Come Work and Learn, or Contribute to Our Cause
We welcome all energy and love for this project. As our center grows, we encourage youthful exuberance and passion to be sweated out and left in the Earth as we build this teaching garden and farm.
Not into getting dirty, but want to support our endeavors to create a functional, inspiring Permaculture Institute? We accept donations, of any size and manner (but please keep in mind transportation challenges in the jungle). We are always in need of tools, wheelbarrows, seeds, farm supplies, etc.
You can contribute to our efforts by clicking below.