Use of the equatorial landscape

Shifting cultivation

Native tribes have lived in the world’s rainforests for thousands of years without irreparably damaging it. They practise a primitive form of agriculture called 'shifting cultivation'. It is a traditional and sustainable method of farming which involves producing just enough food for survival.

Along with other features of their culture and traditional way of life, shifting cultivation is under threat from large-scale clearance of the rainforests.

A burning section of the Amazon in Para State, Brazil
A burning section of the Amazon in Para State, Brazil

  • 'Slash and burn' agriculture is a traditional farming system practised in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil.
  • A small area of land is cleared using stone axes and machetes.
  • The vegetation is burned, providing ash which is used as a natural fertiliser.
  • Crops such as manioc (a root vegetable) are planted using a long pointed digging stick.
  • The diet is supplemented by hunting, fishing and gathering fruit.
  • After two to three years when the soil's fertility is exhausted, crops no longer grow well; the soil has been leached, nutrients have been washed out of the topsoil.
  • The tribe have to move on and clear another small area of forest to begin the whole process again.
  • The original area is regenerated over a period of 30 to 60 years, as it takes nutrients and seeds from surrounding vegetation.

Misuse of the equatorial landscape

Rainforest destruction

People destroy equatorial rainforests for a number of reasons:

Aerial view of the Urucu oilfield in the Amazon rainforest
Aerial view of the Urucu oilfield in the Amazon rainforest