Bobby J > Adventure Academy > About Bobby J > Distant Lands
The Amazon Rainforest
The Amazon Rainforest is the world's greatest natural resource - the most powerful and bio-actively diverse natural phenomenon on the planet. Yet still it is being destroyed just like other rainforests around the world.
Rainforests once covered 14% of the earth's land surface; now they cover a mere 6%. In less than 50 years, more than half of the world's tropical rainforests have fallen victim to fire and the chain saw and the rate of destruction is still accelerating. Unbelievably, over 200,000 acres of rainforest are burned every day in the world. That is over 150 acres lost every minute of every day. Experts estimate that at the current rate of destruction, the last remaining rainforests could be consumed in less than 40 years.
Experts also estimate that we are losing 130 species of plants, animals and insects every single day as they become extinct from the loss of rainforest land and habitats. How many possible cures to devastating diseases have we already lost?
The problem and the solution to rainforest destruction are both economic. Rainforests are being destroyed worldwide for the profits they yield - mostly harvesting unsustainable resources like timber, for cattle and agriculture and for subsistence cropping by rainforest inhabitants. Want to know more about how to save the Amazon Rainforest?
To learn more about the Amazon Rainforest, read this interview with Bobby J.
Question: How rainy is the rainforest?
Bobby J: The Amazon gets nine feet or about three metres of rain every year!
Question: Where did the word "Amazon" come from?
Bobby J: Francisco de Orellana was a Spanish conquistador and the first European to travel the length of the Amazon River, in 1541-42. Along the way, he and his men ran into a tribe of fierce women warriors, each "doing as much fighting as ten Indian men." Orellana recalled the Greek myth of warrior women and named the entire river "Amazonas."
The Amazon women of South America were only one of many indigenous peoples which Orellana met during his expedition. Most lived along rivers, where canoes made transportation easy. Many of these Indians, or indigenous people, died from diseases brought by Europeans. Others died after being enslaved. Today, there are fewer indigenous people in the Amazon than there were 500 years ago. But other people also live in the Amazon.
Question: Who lives in the Amazon today?
Bobby J: In the centuries since Columbus discovered the New World, many Europeans have migrated to South America. Most of the people living in South America today have both European and indigenous ancestors. Until recently, however, few of them lived in the Amazon. They preferred to live in established cities along the coasts and in the Andes mountains.
But in the past few decades, more and more mestizos have moved to the Amazon. They were having trouble finding work in their hometowns and saw opportunity in the Amazon. Many went looking for agricultural land. Others took jobs in oil fields or other industries.
Ecuador is on the west coast of South America. About a third of the country lies within the Amazon. Since the 1950s, cuadorians (mostly mestizos) from the Andean highlands and the western coastal plain have been migrating to the Amazon. The population of the Ecuadorian Amazon has increased from about 60,000 people in the 1950s to 350,000 people now. By clearing forest to build homes, plant crops, and extract petroleum, these people have had a dramatic impact on the rainforest.
Question: How do people making a living in the Amazon rainforest?
Bobby J: Indigenous peoples have lived in the Amazon for thousands of years. For most of that time, they hunted, fished, and grew a variety of crops in small gardens. Their lifestyle was called subsistence, because they hunted and grew only what they needed to subsist, or survive. To grow food, they practiced a kind of agriculture called slash and burn.
Question: Slash and burn, what's that?
Bobby J: Slash and burn may sound terribly hard on the environment, but--if done properly--it is one of the most ecologically harmonious methods of cultivation. Farmers clear the land by slashing the trees and bushes, then burning them to release nutrients into the soil. They grow crops in the new field for a few years, then clear another plot of land to plant. Later, they will return and clear an old field, now covered with the young trees of a secondary forest. In the Ecuadorian Amazon, for example, the indigenous Quichua people often rotate their crops every year. That way their crops always have rich soil. Also, after a year in cultivation, a field becomes overgrown with weeds.
Question: Do the Quichua also hunt?
Bobby J: Yes, but not as much as before. The Quichua hunt small birds and animals like the paca using a variety of techniques. The blowgun is an ancient tool--silent and, in the right hands, extremely accurate. Few people use the blowgun nowadays, however. Rifles have almost completely replaced them.
Question: What's a paca?
Bobby J: The paca was a common game animal until it became scarce due to over-hunting. Pacas and their larger cousin, agoutis, are rodents which live in the forest. They make a delicious meal.
Monkeys, wild pigs, rabbits, deer, and birds and fish of all kinds were also widely hunted. Today, most people must buy meat at the market with money earned from commercial agriculture.
Question: What else do the Quichua like to eat?
Bobby J: The Quicha eat manioc, also called cassava and yuca, which is a staple food for them. It grows underground, like a potato. Most people also boil it like a potato. However, it does not taste like a potato. It's starchy and rather bland.
They also eat plantains which look like large bananas, but they have a bitter taste unless cooked. They can be picked green or yellow.
To add variety to their diet, the Quichua also eat other crops such as sweet potato, chili peppers, and various fruits and nuts from the forest. They also enjoy an annual harvest of queen ants with egg sacs. The ants can be eaten fresh, but are often fried and eaten with a side of manioc (right).
Question: How has life changed in the Amazon rainforest?
Bobby J: Life in the Amazon has changed dramatically in recent years. Since the 1950s, the population of Napo province has been growing tremendously. More and more people are hunting and fishing, and nowadays there are few animals or fish left in the forest, and so most people have turned to agriculture to survive.
Question: Do Quichua eat all the food that they grow?
Bobby J: No. Though Quichua farmers grow food for their families to eat, they also grow food to sell at the market. They use this income to buy meat and other food. As their children grow, they also need money for clothing, school supplies and other things. They'd also like to fix up their house. They hope to buy a tin roof to replace the grass thatch. They would also like to build a family outhouse so that they no longer need to use the community outhouse down by the river.
Question: What do Quichua farmers grow?
Bobby J: Quichua farmers grow coffee, maize and Cacao. Coffee from their fields is sold throughout Ecuador. One hectare of land produces between 120 to 250 pounds of coffee annually. At the market, that will bring between $85 and $200. Because coffee prices change often, it's hard to predict exactly how much they will earn from it.
Maize is the original species of corn, native to the Americas. It has larger kernels than the corn we usually eat. It's still an important crop for many indigenous Americans. One hectare produces 200 pounds of maize annually. At the market, that will bring about $140.
Cacao is the chocolate tree. Cacao beans--which are actually seeds--are used to make cocoa and chocolate. One hectare produces about 300 pounds of cacao beans annually. They'll bring about $120 at the market.