For centuries the Yanesha have practiced complex swidden agriculture well adapted to the narrow valleys of the upper Peruvian Amazon. The 1980s marked a time of increased change in the Palcazu Valley, beginning with the construction of a marginal highway (Carretera Marginal) in 1984 that dissected several native communities. This study employs quantitative plant ecology and interviews to describe change in Yanesha agriculture in Laguna fifteen years later. Percent cover, planting density, field size, and diversities of species (α), field-type (β), and height class did not change in fields. In 1999, black earth and commercial agroforestry were new field types, and upland rice fields were absent. In home gardens, species richness persisted, while changes in species composition reflected species experimentation and aggregation of homes along the roadside (with upland soils). The road facilitated the flow of plants, people, and markets to influence Yanesha agriculture, and facilitated other agents of change during more than a decade of guerrilla, military, Ashaninka, and drug-trafficking activities plaguing the Palcazu Valley. This violence punctuated calmer periods when “development” was promoted by aid agencies. Agents of conservation included community land titles, immigration restrictions, a national park, protection forest, and communal reserves.
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Vol. 57 • No. 2