tropical plant

Amazon Interactive
Making a Living

Forest panorama

Indigenous peoples have lived in the Amazon for thousands of years. For most of that time, they hunted, fished, and grew a variety of crops in small gardens. Their lifestyle was called subsistence, because they hunted and grew only what they needed to subsist, or survive. They practiced a kind of agriculture called slash and burn.

Cleared field in the rain forestSlash and burn sounds terribly hard on the environment, but--if done properly--it is one of the most ecologically harmonious methods of cultivation. Farmers clear the land by slashing the trees and bushes, then burning them to release nutrients into the soil. They grow crops in the new field for a few years, then clear another plot of land to plant. Later, they will return and clear an old field, now covered with the young trees of a secondary forest.

In the Ecuadorian Amazon, indigenous Quichua people often rotate their crops every year. That way their crops always have rich soil. Also, after a year in cultivation, a field becomes overgrown with weeds.

Watch the animation below to see how a Quichua farmer might rotate his crops over the years to ensure good yields on his land. Each year he clears and plants a new section of land, leaving the old section to regrow as secondary forest.

When you see the ?, it's your turn to decide where to plant crops for the coming year. Click on the section of land you would clear next.



 Primary Forest  Secondary Forest
Lower Left
Secondary Forest
Lower Right
Subsistence Cropland

Would you like to learn more about the crops or animals that you'd eat in the Amazon?

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