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Effects of deforestation and expansion of agriculture in Peruvian highland jungle

In her dissertation Environmental effects of agricultural expansion in the upper Amazon – a study of river basin geochemistry, hydrochemistry, and farmers´ perceptions, Lina Lindell, a researcher in environmental science at Linnaeus University in Sweden, examines the geochemical status of the natural environment in the Amazonas Region, and to what extent it has been impacted by deforestation and altered land use.

The effects of deforestation in Amazonas reach far beyond the local areas, as these forests make up a key part of the earth’s hydrological and climatological system, which, for example, affects the scope of climate changes. In other words, it is of great importance for both local and global sustainable development that the deforestation of Amazonas be halted.

Deforestation of the Amazonas highland jungle is being done mainly by farmers establishing small-scale farms. The transformation of the landscape is being carried out through slash and burn, a land-use technique that is unsustainable given today’s population density.

To examine the effects of this, Lina studied how the soil is affected by the burning and by the altered land use. As altered processes in the ground in turn can impact the chemistry in waterways through surface run-off, for instance, she also studied the chemical quality of the waters that drain the area.

Her findings show that the impacts of deforestation and slash-and-burn farming on the chemical status of the environment are much smaller than the spatial differences in geochemistry caused by natural factors. The dissertation also shows that it is important to include factors that represent natural variations in studies of environmental impact in order not to misjudge the effects of human activities.

A unique feature of the dissertation is its integration of information fromnatural science and environmental psychology. To obtain a comprehensive understanding of the effects of environmental changes, alongside differences in the geochemical consistency of the soil, surface water, and sediment, Lina also studied the views of small-scale farmers regarding how the natural environment has changed over time and how this has impacted their life situation.

“To understand the interaction with the local population and to gain knowledge of farmers’ attitudes toward the environment and sustainable development is necessary to develop strategies for better use and stewardship of the natural environment,” says Lina Lindell.

In contrast with the findings regarding the chemical status, the study shows that the local population is experiencing an increasing and substantial deterioration of the natural environment that has been noticeable in the last 20 years. For example, there has been a drastic decline in the prevalence of fish and wild animals. They also feel that the climate has become drier and warmer, which they claim is one of the foremost factors behind a negative change in their quality of life.

The findings from this dissertation can be used in work to establish priorities and to identify key factors for achieving sustainable development, as regards both socioeconomics and the natural environment, in the Amazonas highlands as well as in other parts of the world that are experiencing similar problems.

Lina Lindell was born and raised in Mjölby. She took her master’s degree in Aquatic and Environmental Engineering at Uppsala University in 2003 and since 2005 has been a doctoral candidate at Kalmar University College/Linnaeus University.

The dissertation Environmental effects of agricultural expansion in the upper Amazon – a study of river basin geochemistry, hydrochemistry, and farmers´ perceptions was publicly defended on September 21, 2011 at Linnaeus University in Kalmar. The external examiner was Associate Professor Michael E. McClain, UNESCO-IHE, Institute for Water Education, Delft, Netherlands.

Karolina Ekstrand | idw
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