Campbell Plowden

Title of Research: 

The Ecology, Management and Marketing of Non-Timber Forest Products in the Alto Rio Guamá Indigenous Reserve (Eastern Brazilian Amazon)

Kleinhans Fellow: 
1997 to 1999

Ethnobotanical studies have shown that indigenous people use hundreds of rainforest plant and animal species for subsistence purposes. It is more difficult, however, for forest peoples to support community development with the sustainable harvest and sale of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) such as fruits and oils. This challenge is particularly hard in remote terra firme forests where the natural density of economic species is often very low. One way a community may develop a viable NTFP enterprise in the short term is to sell moderate amounts of a variety of products. Long term prospects may be improved by increasing the local abundance of economic species through enrichment planting in natural forests and degraded areas. The first part of this strategy is being explored in Brazilian Extractive Reserves, but little work has been done to test the concept in indigenous reserves.

This project's main goal is to study the population ecology, production potential, and harvesting economies of NTFPs in the Alto Rio Guamá Indigenous Reserve, eastern Pará, Brazil. The Tembé Indians who live there have intimate knowledge of its terra firme forest plants and wish to expand NTFP sales to help promote local development and forest conservation. Like most forest peoples, however, the Tembé have little formal education and wish to work with outside researchers to accomplish their goal. A pilot phase of the project began studying the population ecology of Copaifera spp. and production of its oleoresin. This project will expand its focus to six other marketable products from rainforest trees. These are amapá latex (Parahancornia amapa), seed oil from andiroba (Carapa guianensis) and cumaru (Dipteryx odorata), and fruit from açai (Euterpe oleracea), bacuri (Platonia insignis), and cupuaçu (Theobroma grandiflorum).

Research will be based in the village of Aldeia Nova on the Gurupi River. The main study area will be a 2100 hectare section of forest near this and neighboring villages. The project will include 18 months of field work conducted between June, 1997 and August 1998 and an additional three months in 1999. Field work will be conducted by the principal investigator, Tembé and Ka'apor Indian co-workers, and a forestry student from FCAP (Agrarian Sciences College of Para). Project work will be jointly supervised by the U.S. and Brazilian advisors.

The project will use a combination of survey methods to streamline location of widely dispersed individuals and thus make it possible to study the distribution and population ecology of poorly studied low density terra firme species. Position, diameter, reproductive history, and evidence of fire damage will be noted for each mature target tree located. Basic soil type, forest type, elevation, evidence of fire, and stream locations will be systematically surveyed in the study area. More in depth inventories will be done in plots to chart the size class distribution of the target species and establish control populations for future studies on the impact of commercial scale harvesting. Oleoresin, latex, and fruit production will be quantified from a sample of target trees. Seedling establishment and recruitment will be studied for low density species through observations of natural regeneration and experimental planting in diverse forest conditions. Economic studies will document the time and money invested in collecting, processing, and selling samples of target species products and currently marked items in regional markets.

Data will be analyzed to determine: 1) how extensive and intensive survey techniques differentially estimate the density of rare species, 2) site characteristics and tree species most commonly associated with target species, 3) potential production per target species based on population density, size class structure, site characteristics, and season of harvest, 4) important factors affecting the regeneration of target species, 5) the potential gross revenue per species based on production, processing, and marketing aspects, and 6) the potential net revenue per unit time and money invested for each target NTFP and current revenue producing activity.

The results of the study will have both scientific and social value. It will produce new information about the population ecology of an important group of Amazonian species which have not been well studied. Information concerning the quantity and variation in the production of fruits and other marketable plant materials will help guide NTFP harvesting practices and natural forest management operations in the study area and other parts of the Amazon. Methodologies will be developed that will allow forest communities with little or no formal education to survey and evaluate the productive and market potential of NTFP resources in their area.