Farming in Belize:
A look into international practices
Farming, as a cultural and economic practice, naturally varies from place to place. For one thing, northern and southern countries often adopt fairly different approaches. This could potentially be due to the people’s varying connections to the planet as well as their relations and ideas about sustainability. It is, however, important to be mindful of tradition, access and environment seeing as practices must be adapted to fit the environment in which the people live. To demonstrate this, I will be discussing and detailing a key agricultural practice that I witnessed and learned about in Belize: swidden agriculture. It is important to note that such techniques originate from Native peoples and has been practiced throughout Belize since the origins of these groups; they have a rich history.
Swidden Agriculture (Mayan Practice)
This practice is otherwise known as slash and burn or milpa farming. Though it began to be adopted in order to meet the rising need for food in the Mayan’s growing populations, it is still widely used today by the Mopan, K’ekchi and Yucatan communities. Swidden agriculture can be recognized by the large clouds of smoke that come from crops as well as the burnt soil, which can be seen in the image below.
1. Cut and align trees on the ground
2. Burn the trees to ashes which will become fertilizers
3. Let the soil fertilize for a few weeks
4. Dig holes and plant crops
5.Repeat in 2 sections of land every 3-5 years
Given the fact that milpa farming does not require the use of artificial fertilizers, it is much better for the environment than industrialized farming techniques. Also, it allows plots of land to be reused and redesigned in order to accommodate various types of crop. Though slash and burn farming is very effective in terms of enriching the soil, if used to excess within the same plot of land, the vegetation will not be able to restore itself. It is vital to wait the sufficient number of years before reusing the land. However, farmers are under a lot of pressure to meet consumers’ demands so often the proper technique is ignored. If the soil is overused, swidden agriculture could then be considered bad for the environment.
There is no clear line between what is “good” for the environment and what is not, nor are there perfect solutions to humanity’s treatment of the earth. Within all different areas of the world, we can see a “mistreatment” of earth materials. So, we must, as farmers, be mindful and willing to learn from different international practices, but also we must learn to be critical of them. Despite historical significance and tradition, with new knowledge must come a change in practice.