Rural livelihoods persistence and change in dynamic Amazonia: river dynamics, communication technologies, and COVID‑19 in eastern Peru

Abizaid, Christian | $39,267

Ontario University of Toronto 2021 SSHRC

Growing concern over the fate of tropical forests and the peoples that live in them has inspired researchers across the board to learn more about the main threats to forests and forests peoples and to search for alternative development approaches that guarantee a future for both. Guided by the view that traditional forest peoples have lived, used, and conserved the forests and rivers over many generations, scholars and practitioners working in tropical forests are turning to, and supporting, traditional forest livelihood practices and resource governance systems as a strategy to promote sustainable use of tropical forests, improve local welfare, and enhance resilience. As the largest tropical forest in the world and the home of many traditional societies, the Amazon has received considerable academic attention. Despite the large number of studies that describe resource use practices, experience with shocks, local customs, and institutions among traditional Amazonian peoples, our understanding of how households and communities are affected by, and cope with, environmental and socioeconomic changes and pandemics remains limited. Research to date has focused disproportionally on the Brazilian Amazon and most studies have been carried out at a small-scale, often in communities that are within a short distance from cities, offering limited opportunity for broader regional generalizations and inter-scalar analysis.

This research will contribute to reduce these gaps and inform discussions on the viability of Amazonian rural peoples and their livelihoods by focusing on three main research questions: (1) how do traditional rural peoples respond to river dynamics over time?; (2) how might the adoption of cell phones reshape rural lifeways and rural livelihoods?; and (3) what are the impacts of the COVID‑19 pandemic on traditional rural peoples and the environment? Funds requested will support three inter-related ongoing projects on indigenous and folk peoples’ livelihoods in the Peruvian Amazon aimed at providing a much needed integrated and multi-scalar understanding of livelihoods in Amazonia. Project 1 consists of a longitudinal study of livelihood evolution in response to a colossal meander cutoff and local peoples’ experience with river dynamics in two communities affected by the cutoff, contrasting up and downstream effects. Project 2 focuses on the impacts of the rapid adoption of information and communication technologies (ICT) on forest livelihoods and their implications for rural poverty, conservation and vulnerability through ethnographic methods and large-scale surveys in ~30 communities (n=600 households), comparing communities with and without access to cell phones. Project 3 examines the economic, social, and environmental implications of the COVID‑19 pandemic for Amazonian riverine peoples through phone-based household surveys and case studies. The latter two projects will build on an existing large-scale multi-disciplinary collaboration with other experts.

The proposed research activities promise to shed new light on questions around the viability of rural peoples and their livelihoods, sustainable and inclusive development, and vulnerability in Amazonia. Results will be of interest to scholars and practitioners concerned with livelihoods, indigenous and peasant societies, and development in the Andes-Amazon interface and beyond. Results will be disseminated among academics, policy makers, practitioners, local organizations and communities through academic publications, lectures, conference presentations and workshops (virtual/in person), brief reports, and web-based resources, in English and Spanish, in Canada, Peru and internationally.

With funding from the Government of Canada

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