Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS)

The Amazonian Chakra, a traditional agroforestry system managed by Indigenous communities in Napo province, Ecuador

GIAHS since 2023


Detailed Information



Global Importance

For a long time, the Amazon was defined as an unexplored and underutilized region in terms of agriculture, due to the composition of the soils and the high levels of rainfall and temperature, presenting fragile or poor soils for conventional agriculture. However, the nomadic communities themselves, i.e., those specialized in hunting, fishing, and gathering have succeeded in adapting to this context and developing agriculture.

Thus, it has been estimated that agriculture in the Amazon Region has been developed for at least 5,300 years, relying on an amazing process of domestication and use of innumerable species of the Amazon rainforest such as: chili, beans, cassava, sweet potato, corn and cacao or bush cocoa.

This makes the Kichwa communities truly guardians of the Amazon rainforest through their sustainable practices and their way of life in harmony with the ecosystems. It is widely recognized that Indigenous Peoples have a considerable role to play in safeguarding biodiversity, languages, traditional knowledge and in adapting to climate change. Chakra production is fundamental not only for economic reproduction, but also for social and cultural reproduction.

Food and livelihood security

In terms of sustainable production, the Amazonian Chakra combines the cultivation of staple foods, timber trees, fruit trees, and ornamental and medicinal plants, which are essential for both food security and the well-being of Indigenous Peoples. The main staple foods are represented by cassava, plantain and chonta palm, among others.

Over time, other agricultural species with commercial value have been integrated into this traditional agroforestry system, such as fine aroma cocoa, robusta coffee, and in recent years guayua (Ilex guayusa Loes). Cacao cultivation plots are generally located in areas adjacent to primary and secondary forests and fallow land, forming a productive landscape that is ecologically friendly with the biodiversity of the area. Thus they contribute to food security and sovereignty, and at the same time generate economic resources for rural households settled in this area.

The Chakras’ food supply is also supported by forest activities such as gathering, hunting and fishing. All products from the chakras and the forests are refined using traditional knowledge about food transformation and local cuisines. In addition, the particularity of the ecosystem and its natural and cultural attractiveness have spurred the development of tourism ventures focused on eco- and agro-tourism.


The Amazonian Chakra is a polyculture cropping system with a high level of biodiversity present in its different elements, one of which is the existence of a large number of timber and fruit trees both within farms and often outside the forested area. More than 100 plant species have been identified as in regular use by farmers characterized by their state of conservation and linkage to markets.

Beyond agricultural crops, a central aspect underlying the significance of the Amazonian Chakra farming is the opportunity for biodiversity conservation, particularly endemic, vulnerable, and threatened species, as well as basic ecological and genetic fingerprints. Moreover, the intrinsic dynamics of the Amazonian Chakras may have impacts on diverse ecological attributes associated with species turnover. It is well known that Agroforestry Systems and other wooded areas generate different ecosystem services, such as preventing the erosion of soils from wind and water and retaining nutrients and water table levels.

Local and traditional knowledge systems

The Chakra is a productive family or community space, maintaining patterns in its spatial design and well-defined phases in its temporal management cycle, which mimics the natural processes of succession or restoration of forests, known locally as: Chakra-ushun-purun-realce. The cycle starts with the opening of the forest canopy, then perennial crops are established, followed by interrelated short-cycle crops, which are rotated to manage soil fertility and avoid the presence of pests and diseases. The cycle is completed with periods of rest and natural regeneration (enhancement). Farmers pay particular attention to caring for the soil to regenerate its fertility and nurture it through time including in permanent plots.

The structure of chakras is based on at least three levels or vertical strata, which are established in agroforestry designs for the generation of cover and shade, always echoing the structure of the surrounding forest. On the upper level, the treetops and the broad leaves of timber and fruit trees, palms, banana, and papaya, etc., form an initial barrier against the destructive action of rain and sun, while on the intermediate level, cassava, little oranges, and certain shrubs provide a relatively dense and almost uniform vegetative cover that helps protect the soil against leaching. Finally, at ground level, the tangled carpet of vegetation of taro, pumpkin, yam, and sweet potatoes unfolds in patches. Companion plants are well managed to effectively orchestrate harvest periods and ecological needs among the plants. One of the characteristics of the Amazonian Chakras is the crop diversity, both within the Chakra and between Chakras. Although there are patterns of setting-up, management and composition, the Chakra have characteristics that differentiate or complement them to provide family goods.

Cultures, value systems and social organizations

The Amazonian Chakra is a space for recreation, transmission of knowledge and cultural values, generating reciprocity and security for families, as well as establishing roles and making visible the complementarity among family members. Generally, the whole family participates in the establishment and management of the Amazonian Chakra.

The crops, management, and development of the Chakras carry the imprint of knowledge of Kichwa human culture: technical skills related to farm tasks have a large repertoire; the stars are agricultural indicators; agriculture is the core of social organization; arts have a profound agricultural content; and language is rich in agricultural expressions. Deities and their rituals are related to the special circumstances of agricultural life.

Landscapes and seascapes features

The GIAHS system is composed of primary, secondary, and degraded rainforests, as well as scrubland, and herbaceous vegetation. The resilience and connectivity between protected areas and the Amazonian Chakra it is very well recognised and important, as is the relationship to the human resources represented by the local communities settled in the zone of influence of the Amazonian Chakra.

One of the main characteristics of the Amazonian Chakra system is its impact on ecological and cultural connectivity, mainly in the province of Napo. This connectivity is expressed through ecological networks in which the recognition of socio-economic and cultural dimensions in sensitive ecosystems is essential. It is also important to remember that connectivity, as a function, is also typical of social systems, which base their existence on complex networks encompassing flows of matter, energy and information. On the other hand, the Amazonian Chakra systems, based on the interrelationship between cultural practices and a specific natural environment, depend on and create numerous environmental services which depend on the functional continuity of the ecosystems of which they are formed.