Center for Environmental Policy and Administration

Why Chacras (Swidden Gardens) Persist: Agrobiodiversity, Food Security and Cultural Identity in the Ecuadorian Amazon

Author:Thomas Perreault
Date: December 2005
Publication:Human Organization, 64(4), pp. 327-339

This paper has two aims. First, it seeks to document the cultivar diversity of household swidden garden, or chacra, plots in a lowland Kichwa community in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Second, it seeks to explain why chacra production remains important, and cultivar diversity remains relatively high, despite 30 years of market integration. In order to address this issue, using both quantitative and qualitative data, the paper examines the material importance of chacra production as central to household food security, and its symbolic importance as a marker of Kichwa cultural identity. Women in the study area cultivate a total of 48 food species, some of which (particularly Manihot esculenta) include multiple varieties. Despite increasing integration with the cash economy, chacra production remains vital to lowland Kichwa food security. Chacra cultivation also remains a valued symbol of (highly gendered) cultural identity. The relationship between market-oriented and subsistence-oriented activities is not unidirectional, but rather varies over time and with socio-spatial scale.


Thomas Perreault
Center for Environmental Policy and Administration
The Maxwell School, Syracuse University
Revised 06/14/2006 13:08:33