Amazonian Food Forest

It seems that the creation of permaculture and food forests is not such a new concept. A group of scientists studying the biodiversity of the Amazon rainforests, recently came to a startling conclusion:
the Amazon IS a food forests, planted by ancient peoples.

A team of archaeologists, paleontologists, botanists, and ecologists from the University of Exeter in England, overlaid data from over a thousand forest surveys and three thousand archaeological sites across the Amazon.

They discovered that over half of the total trees were made up of only a small amount of species, many of which were domesticated. Food-bearing trees, such as the Brazil nut – a long lived tree that’s just one of the dozens of edible trees and superfoods that were cultivated by ancient people.

Earlier studies have suggested that the Amazon rainforest is crisscrossed by a network of “garden cities,” arranged in orderly yet complex patterns.

The new study supports this theory and shows that humans had a much more profound effect on the rainforest than previously thought, introducing crops to new areas, boosting the number of edible tree species, and using fire
to improve the soil.

In Eastern Brazil, researchers also found evidence of maize, sweet potato, manioc, and squash farming as early as 4,500 years ago. Their farming was done under a canopy of trees, rather than on cleared land.

“People thousands of years ago developed a nutrient-rich soil called Amazonian Dark Earths,” says paleo-ecologist Yoshi Maezumi, who led the study. “They farmed in a way which involved continuous enrichment and reusing of the soil, rather than expanding the amount of land they clear-cut for farming.”

As the world’s population continues to grow and land use tightens, the long-term success of ancient “forest-gardens” like the Amazon, could serve as a model of sustainability for future farmers to feed the world.