Tropical plant

Amazon Interactive
Coffee and Conservation

Forest panorama

Life in the Amazon has changed dramatically in recent years. Since the 1950s, the population of Napo province has been growing tremendously. More and more people are hunting and fishing, and nowadays there are few animals or fish left in the forest. Traditional agricultural methods is no longer viable, and most people have turned to agriculture to survive.

Quichua familyAs a Quichua farmer, you still grow food for your family to eat, but now you also grow food to sell at the market. You use this income to buy meat and other food. As your children grow, you also need money for clothing, school supplies and other things. You'd also like to fix up your house. You hope to buy a tin roof to replace the grass thatch. You would also like to build a family outhouse so you no longer need to use the community outhouse down by the river.

You've cleared several more hectares of primary forest to grow cash crops to sell at the market. You've found that freshly-cleared land produces more crops with fewer weeds. You're tempted to clear more land each year to ensure high crop yields, but you also want to preserve some of the primary rainforest on your land. Primary forest is a valuable source of natural medicines. It's also an important part of your culture.

What are you growing?
 Coffee beans on the bush Coffee from your fields is sold throughout Ecuador. One hectare of land produces between 120 to 250 pounds of coffee annually. At the market, that will bring between $85 and $200. Coffee prices change often, so it's hard to predict exactly how much you will earn from it.
 Maize Maize is the original species of corn, native to the Americas. It has larger kernals than the corn we usually eat. It's still an important crop for many indigenous Americans. One hectare produces 200 pounds of maize annually. At the market, that will bring about $140.
 Cacao tree Cacao is the chocolate tree. Cacao beans--which are actually seeds--are used to make cocoa and chocolate. One hectare produces about 300 pounds of cacao beans annually. They'll bring about $120 at the market

It's time to plant for the coming year. With a growing family, you need to expand your fields and bring in more money. You have 15 hectares (40 acres) of land. You currently have 1 hectare of coffee, and 1/2 hectare each of cacao and maize. These brought in $260 last year. You want to make more money this year--over $300, and ideally closer to $400.

Map of your 15 hectare plot of land

What do you want to plant? Think about these things when planning your strategy:

  • How much land do you want to clear and plant?
  • What crops do you want to plant?
  • How much primary forest do you want to clear?

 High income strategy
2 hectares of coffee on primary forest
1 hectares of cacao on primary forest
1 hectares of maize on secondary forest
 Conservation strategy
1 hectare of coffee on secondary forest
1 hectare of cacao on secondary forest
1 hectare of maize on secondary forest
Balancing agriculture and conservation
1 hectare of in coffee on secondary forest
1 hectare of in cacao on primary forest
1 hectare of in maize on primary forest


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