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The Biogeochemistry of the Amazon Basin$
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Michael E. McClain, Reynaldo Victoria, and Jeffrey E. Richey

Print publication date: 2001

Print ISBN-13: 9780195114317

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195114317.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 25 October 2021

The Interface Between Economics and Nutrient Cycling in Amazon Land Development

The Interface Between Economics and Nutrient Cycling in Amazon Land Development

(p.156) 10 The Interface Between Economics and Nutrient Cycling in Amazon Land Development
The Biogeochemistry of the Amazon Basin

Carl F. Jordan

Oxford University Press

Most of the terra firme soils in the Amazon are highly weathered, highly leached, have low capacity for retaining nutrients against the continual leaching and weathering of the tropical climate, and are classified as Oxisols and Ultisols, soil types with extremely low fertility (see Cuevas, this volume). The naturally occurring forests of the region maintain a high production of wood and leaves through very efficient recycling of nutrients from decomposing litter to roots in a root-humus layer on top of the mineral soil or near its surface. The decomposing litter is important not only as a source of nutrients, but as a source of organic acids which prevent phosphorus fixation in the iron- and aluminium-rich soils of the Amazon. When forests on Amazonian terra firme soils are cut and burned, and the soils used for agriculture, litter, and humus are rapidly oxidized and destroyed. As a result, the potassium remaining from the original forest is quickly leached, the nitrogen is volatilized, and the phosphorus is immobilized in the mineral soil. This is one of the most important reasons that crop production can be carried out for only a few years under shifting cultivation. It is not just small scale agriculture that is limited by the low fertility of Amazonian soils. In the past, almost all types of development that destroy the nutrient conserving mechanisms of the forest have suffered financially. Two examples are given here to illustrate. In 1967, one of the largest conversions of tropical forest to pulp plantation began near the junction of the Jarí and Amazon rivers, in the state of Pará, Brazil (Time, 1976). The “Jarí” project was initiated and financed by Daniel K. Ludwig, one of the world’s richest men, and owner of numerous international corporations. Ludwig had anticipated a global shortage of wood fiber for pulp, and to meet this shortage, he and his advisors selected a site that they believed had high potential for pulp production (Time 1979, Kinkead 1981). By 1981, the total investment in the 12,000 km2 tract of land was approximately $1 billion (Kinkead 1981). Ludwig’s advisors recommended melina (Gmelina arborea) as the best species to plant.

Keywords:   Cajanus Cajan, Daniel Ludwig, Gmelina arborea, Jarí River, Oxisols, Paragominas, São Paulo, Ultisols, World Bank

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