The Amazon River floodplain (várzea) belongs to the few areas in central Amazonia with relatively high natural fertility and productivity, because the annual flooding with sediment-rich water add nutrients to the system. Many development planners consider the area to be of high agricultural production potential and of great importance for regional and national economy and development. Inland fishery provides an important part of the animal protein supply of the local population. However, agricultural production is low and does not satisfy the demand of large cities like Manaus, because of the specific ecological conditions of the várzea. Politicians have two options directing development planning: towards a small scale diversified agriculture to satisfy local and regional market demand or towards large scale export-oriented agro-industrial development. Decision makers face the problem that, because of the flood pulse, floodplain ecosystems behave differently from other ecosystems. There is little useful information available from other regions, because most of the cost-intensive management systems of temperate zone floodplains have failed and there is little information on low-cost management systems of tropical floodplains.

Principle ecological parameters of the Amazon floodplain and a cost benefit analysis of the actual production systems are presented. Data analysis shows serious economic, social and ecological restrictions favoring small scale labor-intensive farming systems in comparison with high-technological agro-industrial solutions.

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