The Amazon River and its tributaries are important for local agriculture, for transportation and as a source of hydroelectric power. Unfortunately, the Amazon's economic value is also a leading cause of environmental degradation in the area.
In Brazil, it is easy for impoverished farmers to gain and maintain rights to agricultural lands simply by living on and using a plot of land for a year and one day. Unfortunately, much of the land surrounding the Amazon is excellent for supporting a tropical forest but only marginal for agriculture. Forest land supports farming for a few years before its fertility degrades and the farmer must move on to clear new land. Fortunately, new systems of crop and livestock rotation offer the promise of better forest stewardship in the future.
For many small, indigenous villages in the Amazon River region, the river and its tributaries are important sources of transport. The forest is so impassable in areas that river travel provides the only access between villages.
More recently, the Amazon is becoming a source of hydroelectric power via the construction of dams. While this is an important source of energy for growing towns and cities, it also brings controversy. Engineers point out that construction of fish ladders provide wildlife with a means of migration, but conservationists note that local people are already feeling the strain of poorer fishing, hunting and gathering in their native home.