Ancient Amazon savanna farming technique could cut carbon release

Slash and burn deforestation is threatening the very existence of the Amazon, bringing with it problems for not just the animals and plants that live in the ecosystem, but for our global environment as well. Lessons on how to preserve the Amazon can be learned from ancient farmers who were able to grow crops sustainably in the vitally important area. Scientists have recently discovered an ancient method of Amazon savanna farming that doesn’t involve slash and burn methods called raised-field farming, according to this article. Very few fires are lit in raised-field farming, resulting in very healthy soil that benefits from floods, as well as less carbon being released into the air.

Europeans arrived in 1492 to the Amazon, bringing along not only slash and burn farming techniques, but old-world diseases that nearly wiped out local populations, resulting in the eradication of the raised-field farming method in the Amazon. Radiocarbon dating was used to determine the frequency of the fires, which jumped significantly following the arrival of Europeans to the area.   

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It was assumed that ancient indigenous populations practiced slash and burn farming, but it turns out the opposite is true. Indigenous farmers used a raised-field method of farming, where small agricultural mounds were built with wooden tools. These raised mounds provide better drainage, soil aeration and moisture retention that normal farming, and is ideal for an area that experiences both droughts and floods.

Although the method is very labor intensive, raised-field farming may be a way to lessen the release of carbon in the atmosphere by eliminating fires in rural areas of the Amazon.