Civilization 2.0


This article was written by Gaia Education certified trainer Albert Bates.

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Why would the Lakandon farmers prefer to prolong the forest-growth stage? It is because that is the most productive part of the cycle when it comes to food, fibre, and animal products. The corn and beans are needed, but compared to the yields that come from mature trees, those corn crops are a lot more work. Their energy return on investment (ERoI) might be only 1.2:1 to 1.4:1, not nearly enough to create monumental architecture and elegant public arts and sciences. Parts of the traditional milpa practice are techniques that add to soil fertility. Small fires of moist weed piles build up char in the soil and prevent hotter forest fires that would leave only ash. Besides planting legumes, which contribute nitrogen and beneficial nematodes, the Lakandon are fond of the balsa tree, which drops rich leaf clutter favoured by soil microorganisms and whose star-shaped, aromatic blossoms attract birds, bees and bats. These pollinators transfer the seeds of food trees. Selective burning is a tool in the food-sustainability-kit that the last remaining 800 Lakandon Maya forest farmers in the Petén have saved from cultural extinction.


Cycle of Milpa

Near the town of San Pedro, Columbia, in Southern Belize, Christopher Nesbitt has been growing food crops in the ancient style at his Mayan Mountain Research Farm for over 20 years. He mixes some fast-growing native tree species, some annual crops, and some intermediate and long- term tree crops to build soil and produce continuous harvests. Some of his trees are leguminous and hold nitrogen by the microbial attraction of their roots. Some are pollinator-friendly and attract bees and hummingbirds to transfer the fertile pollen of important food plants. Understory trees like coffee, cacao, cassava, allspice, noni, ginger, neem and papaya benefit from intercropping with high canopy trees like breadfruit, açai and coconut palm, cashew, and mango. Fast-yielding crops like avocado, citrus, banana, bamboo, yams, vanilla, and climbing squashes provide an income for the farm while waiting for the slower harvest of samwood, cedar, teak, chestnut and mahogany to mature.


An example of a diverse Agroforestry landscape


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