Traditional Agriculture in Latin America - Agriculture Essay Example
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Traditional agriculture is referred to as indigenous form of farming that has resulted from the evolution of local social and environmental systems in the context of ecological system. It uses intensively local knowledge and natural resources together with the management of agro–biodiversity. Traditional agricultural practices employ techniques such as mulching, manipulating shade, burning, flooding, rotations, crop diversity, and storage, fallow, storage practices multicroping and organic amendments, multistory systems among others (http://www.tropag-fieldtrip.cornell.edu/tradag/intro.html, n.d).
One of the prominent aspects of traditional farming system is application of biodiversity concept in form of polyculture and or agro-forestry patterns. This involves minimizing risks by planting many plants from different species and varieties which helps to ensure stable yields over long period of time. This has advantage in that it promotes dietary diversification and maximizes returns even with application of low levels of technology in resource limited setting. In such kind of farming practices soil has nutrient enriching plants , nitrogen fixing and decomposing bacteria, insect preditors,pollinators and many other organism that have crucial ecological functions. Traditional methods of agriculture have developed through trial and error for a long time, natural selection and keen observation (Lévêque and Mounolon, 2004).
Most of traditional agricultural practices have been seen to conserve energy, maintain natural resources and minimize chemical use. Through their wider application of biodiversity, they are able to achieve high degree of stability, resilience and efficiency. As it can be observed, traditional agricultural practices in different parts of the world vary with ethnic group or location of the place depending on population density, climate, water supply and the soil.
Traditional Agricultural Practices in Latin America
Traditional agriculture in Latin America revolves around cultivation of diversified crops and their varieties that has enabled traditional farmers to gain relatively high crop yields at low levels of technology application and limited environmental impact. Most of Latin American traditional farmers are small scale farmers who occupy different ecological set ups. Plant diversification in this region takes form of polycultures and agro-forestry patterns which characterizes traditional farming system (Altieri, 1999). The following is the discussion of traditional agriculture practices in Latin America of two randomly selected countries namely: México and Cuba.
Mexico is located in Northern America and it covers about two million square kilometers. It is the fifth largest country in America. Areas above one thousand meters experience about twenty four to twenty eight degrees Celsius a year. The low land areas are humid and hot during the summer with an average temperature of twenty to twenty four degrees Celsius. It is known for its bio-diversity in terms of flora and fauna. In fact it is one of seventeen mega-diversed countries in the world and also second in the world of ecosystems. Half of Mexico’s total land is classified as agricultural but only 12% of this is under cultivation (D’Silva, 2007).
In Mexico the most common traditional agricultural practices are slash –and – burn, fallow, intercropping and mulching (Martin, 2008). For instance, there is type of intercropping known as Milipa practiced in some parts of Mexico such as Yucatan and Oaxaca. Milpa is traditional intercropping system of corn, lima bean which is a common type of bean in the region and squash.
In Oaxaca, great part of the land has been devastated by soil erosion which has occurred on a large scale leaving farming land barren. This has caused poor crop yields because the soil is unproductive. In response to this, farmers in Oaxaca have decided to go back to pre-Hispanic farming method that employs traditional faming which acts as great barrier to pests and diseases. This has been achieved through use of Milpa technique.
Through this kind of intercropping system, farmers practice slash and burn together with small plots of vegetable such as chiles.Milpa rotation technique takes two years of cultivation and eight years of fallow or secondary growth to facilitate regeneration of natural vegetation. Intercropping of corn, beans and squash help to provide nitrogen fixing bacteria that increases nitrogen contents in the soil and biological control of insect and diseases.
Usually in Milpa systems, fallow and mulching are adjusted to increase soil potential. Longer period of fallow increases biomass production and nutrient recycling that boosts crop yields. It has been observed that communities that use this technique have high level of crop genetic diversification with many varieties of corn, beans, squash and chile. Many government programs in the region are promoting Milpa system because it conserves the environment by making minimal use of agrochemicals, conserves local knowledge and enables farmers to control their genetic varieties (http://www.agroecology.org/Case%20Studies/milpa.html, n.d).
Cuba is the most populated country in the whole Caribbean. It has tropical type of climate. The average temperature is around twenty one degree Celcius.Cuba is the world leader in rapid adoption of sustainable farming practices, use of biological pests control in place of farm chemicals and organic farming among others. Currently, Cuba is almost at point of attaining food sufficiency partly because of flourishing small scale farming, widespread community and house gardening together with diet marketing. Its policies are in favor of ecological sustainability through soil conservation, organic soil inputs and biological pest control among others (D’Silva, 2007).
Cuba gave agriculture quiet different approach after a crisis which was called ‘Special Period in Cuba’. It occurred after its trade relationship with the socialist bloc collapsed making pesticidess and fertilizers unavailable. This made it to have a reconstruction in agricultural production from monoculture farm economy based on sugar production to that which could effectively meet its population food demands. Many small farmers in Cuba are now using traditional farming practices such as polycultre and biological pest control. Cubans ability to utilize their indigenous knowledge has made them to increase food production which has been accelerated by use of experts.
Biological pest control is done by Centers for Production of Entomophages and Entomopathogens (CREEs) which is housed within the Ministry of Sugarcane. Synthetic insecticides are prohibited in Cuba, instead all insect control is achieved by use of biological controls. There are forty different biological agents which are used that include organisms such as entomophagenic, nematodes and entomophagous. In this program successfulness of this program depends on farmers’ attitude. CREEs produces five lines of entomopathogenic and entomophagous organisms sufficiently enough to meet the farmers demands.
There are five most popular biocontrol agents: Beauveria, Verticilium lecanii, Metarhizium anisoplia, Trichoderma spp and Bacillius thrurigensis. Beauveria is used to control sweet potato weevil, banana weevil and rice weevil. Verticilium lecanii is used to control organism such as whitefly, aphids and thrips. Metarhizium anisoplia control pests such as homeoptera, coleoptera and thrips palmi .Trichoderma spp is used in tobacco, vegetable crops for pink root disease, contols soil born fungal pathogens such as Phythium and Phytothera. Lastly Bacillius thurigiensis, which is in four stains, is used to control organism Lepidoptera larvae, leafminers, leafborer and mite. To use these biocontrols, they are prepared in dilute water with surfactant and sprayed accordingly. Besides biological control, intercropping is also used as traditional farming practice that was recovered during Special Period. Also use of polyculture is increasing gradually as opposed to former widely monoculture farming (Washington State University, 2003).
As it can be observed, traditional agricultural practices in different parts of the world vary with ethnic group or location depending on population density, climate, water supply and the soil. Though some traditional agricultural methods seem to have been abandon because they are considered to have low crop yields, Cuba is a good example of successful use of tradition farming practices. Use of traditional agriculture as seen in Mexico and Cuba has helped to rehabilitated unproductive lands and increase crop production through integration of modern researches.
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A Brief Introduction to Traditional Agriculture and Disease Management Practices, (n.d). Retrieved on 21st November 2008 from: http://www.tropag-fieldtrip.cornell.edu/tradag/intro.html
D’Silva, R., (2007); Cuba Facts: Interesting facts about Cuba. Retrieved on 21st November 2008 from; http://www.buzzle.com/articles/interesting-facts-about-mexico.html.
D’Silva, R., (2007); Mexico Facts: Interesting facts about Mexico. Retrieved on 21st November 2008 from; http://www.buzzle.com/articles/interesting-facts-about-mexico.html.
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Washington State University Center. (2003).Cuba Sustainable Agriculture Study Tour: Retrieved on 21st November 2008 from; http://csanr.wsu.edu/Cuba/CubaTripReport2003-09-09.pdf