The "milpa" system is used because of fast rotation in virgin growing locations. Meaning no bugs or weeds -- meaning no pesticides or herbicides required. You should visit the Mennonites here. They are growing "modern" style. You simply can't believe the ever increasing amounts of chemicals they must use each year -- and in the end -- we simply have chemical resistant pests -- dead coral reefs -- and everyone with cancer.

Also -- the ash from burning the trees was the fertilizer. Ask the Mennonites how quickly soil nutrition depletes in the tropics -- and how much fertilizer you must use. Ask the cane farmers here as well!

As for the raised field agriculture in the swamps here. Still a good idea. The flooding of these once per year sterilizes them -- just like rotating milpa.

Of course -- it is inherent that all "modern" today think they know more than 10,000 years plus of high cultural existence that developed the best forms of agriculture. And now feel they know better!

I also can take you to 1000 acres that was used for this purpose for thousands of years.

There is 23,000 acres perfect for this in the North Part of Ambergris Caye.

The raised swamp fields -- which still exist -- are also capable of 100% organic food production.

Millions lived here for thousands of years using milpa and raised field agriculture. Very succesfully! Where now we have just 235 people in twice or more the area -- and they would starve if the canned food stopped coming in.

There never were "lush" rain forests in the Yucatan -- to dry!! As you all found out in the US a couple of years ago when all those forest burned sending their smoke right up into the mid-west US!! Stones and marl is what the soil is.

The land area measure refered to in milpa agriculture is Mecate -- this measure is presently applied here in Belize as 25 yards by 25 yards -- and 8 mecates to one acre.

The Maya "open" small sections -- measures in Mecate -- that is 25 yds by 25 yds. Not clearing trees from the land!! The wild life depends on these openings for their browsing. Stop milpa agriculture and wild life starves!

10 Mecaties per year feeds a family of 5 plus surplus for "trade". That is one acre and a quarter -- 8 makarties make one acre. Rotation time is 6 years. So 7.5 acres feeds a family of five for eternity -- barring exceptional droughts, volcanoes, earth quakes, falling stars or hurricanes. Which I believe would effect any style of agriculture == probably more so. As in droughts -- they "poke" the soil -- not plow -- so the soil hold moisture better. They had wells -- some in the Yucatan -- over 300 feet deep. They would carry water up long ladders and moisten their plants -- a few ounces to each.

Q: The experts say that the Mayan farmers used slash and burn techniques. But, at the same time they assert that such methods could not have sustained this large of a population for such a long period of time. Thus, there is the "Mystery of Classic Mayan Agriculture".

A: You really think so?? 247 acres = 1 km sq.
247/7.5 = 32.93 time five = 164.7 people per KM squared.
I do not see a "mystery" there!

The Maya had a written language when Europeans were crawling in the mud!! They knew the orbit of venus to 24 seconds -- which we only knew to "correct" a few years ago -- 2 thousand years ago! They new the concept of zero, minus numbers, and infinity!

The Mayan agricultural sciences exceed anything we have today -- when it comes to perpetual sustainability! The modern agricultural society is destroying itself due to not listening to their science!!

Their greatest achievements being the genetic engineering of all their food products -- that is their food plant seeds.

Of course, I do not know this to be fact. What I believe is based on a little experience, a little knowlege, a little observation, some thought given to the subject and on a great deal of hard labor that has proven to me that these methods succeed in increasing both soil fertility and crop yields. I had already been using these cropping methods successfully when I learned about the "Mystery of Mayan Agriculture". It does not matter if they used these techniques or not. I am just calling the method "The Mayan Cropping Method" because if they had used such a method it would explain their great agricultural achievements.

What does matter is what such a cropping system could mean to subsistance farm families, to the animals and plants which inhabit the quickly deminishing tropical rain forests and to the rest of us who live on this small planet. The burning of the Earths forests is a severe threat to the environment that we all depend upon for survival. If wide scale use of such cropping methods could be adopted by subsistance farmers around the world, they could continuously farm the same piece of land year after year while improving the soil, improving the diet of their families and halting the distruction of the environment.

I am sure that these methods can work with most crops and on any scale, from family garden to village fields. Although I have begun the research, I do not have the resources to expand it to include other crops and larger scales of production.

I have been providing this information to every organization I can find that is working with subsistance farmers, in the hope that someone with the resources would be interested in getting such methods out to those who need it. If you can use this information to help these farmers, please do so.

By far -- the greatest amount of wild life historic to the Yucatan depends on abandoned milpa for foods. Take these out of the formula and they die. Ergo panthers coming out of the deep bush to hunt chickens, dogs and other domestic game.

One last point. Modern man focuses on the classic period of the Maya civilization. Yet it was their ending. For 3500 years before the classic period they lived in a truly balanced harmony with nature. The "classic" period is their period of opulence and decay -- which makes it so attractive to moderns -- as they can relate only to that segment of the rise and fall of a society.

It is very poor "science" to base the history of the Maya only on their period of decadence just before their fall. Lest we forget!

Moderns are totally obsessed with bells, whistles and great temples. Not with civilized co-existence of the human species. How very unfortunate -- but how so like man kind always.

Tropical soil in lowland jungles, at least in Belize and the Amazon, it is one inch or less thick. I was fascinated in Guatemala on the west side of the mountain ridge by the Pacific, to see top soil on road embankments 15 to 20 ft thick. The cows were standing in grassy fields eating when the grass was over their shoulders and no fertilizers necessary, or other chemicals. There is logic to living in the western side of Guatemala, or Central America. The darn cows, never had to move out of a field, it grew fast and sometimes faster than they could eat it.

I'll start with bishop Landa -- who commented the Maya did not need domestic animals as game was plentiful in their abandoned milpas. This from 1565!

Deer, turkey, Gibnut -- etc -etc -etc -- all depend on browsing. Your baboons do just fine in the canopies though. but I still feel it is unfair for moderns to decide which life forms have the right to exist here -- namely only those that fit with their politically correct agenda -- that being the growing of rain forests.

Mechanized agriculture totally destroys the forest. Milpa does not! It works the same as a forest fire. New growth shoots back out from the ground. They poke -- not plow.

Greens show propaganda films of thousand acre clearing and burnings. These are in Brazil. And yes -- they hire Indians to do that. It is not milpa! They do this to raise beef! As the jungle comes back up -- the Beef browse it -- finally killing all future germinations. This turns jungle to desert! The beef raised in this way is to tough for human consumption -- some is "corned" -- but most is sold to the cat food industry in the US. I have yet to meet a "green" that does not keep cats. And I seriously doubt there is one of those that has not has beef from Brazil in their cat food.

I would like to see a study regarding just how many cats there are in the US (alone) and how many tons of beef (or other meats such as wild horse, baluga whales etc.) they consume daily.

Course -- that is not a politically correct direction to pursue -- is it?? If white man wants to strip this planet of its jungles to feed cats -- well as the superior being he is -- that is his right!

Back when white man arrived here, Europe was crawling out of the dark ages. The spanish were so suppressed to see healthy people working past the age of 80 and almost no children deaths. Europe was 8 out of ten children dead before ten and average life expectancy was 18 for men an 14 for women that survived their childhood. Indeed -- there was areas where the people were actually going extinct!

The Indian bathed twice per day and the whites twice per life! I think that is a good closing statement.

One last thing on food storage...

Because it is pre-processed and packaged and has a long shelf life in tropical conditions ( months if not years ). In what was previously British Honduras, you did not have refrigeration, only the odd storekeeper and a few rich. You still require refrigeration, nitrogen gas warehouses ( like in Canadian apples or cellars for potatos that are cold ). You cannot store foods in the tropics. And the market in Belize has been until now, too small to justify the investments and shipping charges on cans for instance, makes it improbable financially.

European industry to tropical empires was built around their ability to process foods that had long shipping conditions of months and shelf storage life in remote areas in hot, or cold conditions without any need of preventions against insects, heat/cold/damp, etc. You can leave a case of SPAM or Condensed Milk on a store shelf in tropical conditions for several years without compromising the product. You cannot do that with fresh produce. The transportation bruises many fruits and storage time is measure in hours, or a couple of days. Even imported potatos do not last very long.

Of course -- these are all "savages" -- after all -- they did not even have TV!!

Peter Singfield

The following references might be of interest to those discussing milpa agriculture. Many of these works directly refer to Belize.

Abrams, Ira Rance
1973    Cash Crop Farming and Social and Economic Change in a Yucatec Maya Community in Northern British Honduras. Ph.D. Harvard University.

Atran, Scott
1993    Itza Maya Tropical Agro-Forestry. Current Anthropology 34(5):633-700.

Bernstein, Richard H., and Robert W. Herdt
1977    Towards an Understanding of Milpa Agriculture: The Belize Case. Journal of Developing Areas 11:372-392.

Brockmann, Thomas C.
1979    Change in Northern Belize: Economic Development and Socio-cultural Change in Orange Walk. Winston-Salem: Wake Forest University.

Ewell, Peter T., and Deborah Merrill Sands
1987    Milpa in Yucat‡n: A Long-Fallow Maize System and its Alternatives in the Maya Peasant Economy. In Comparative Farming Systems. B. Turner II and S. B. Brush, eds. pp. 95-129. New York: The Guilford Press.

Flannery, Kent V.
1982    Maya subsistence: Studies in memory of Denis E. Puleston. New York: Academic Press.

Harrison, Peter D., and B.L. Turner II
1978    Pre-Hispanic Maya Agriculture. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

Hernandez Xoclocotzi, E, and R. Padilla y Ortega
1980    Seminario sobre la producci—n agr’cola en Yucat‡n. Mˇxico, D.F.: SPP/CP/SARH.

Jones, Grant D.
1971    The Politics of Agricultural Development in Northern British Hoduras. Winston-Salem: Wake Forest University.

Lambert, John D. H., and T. Arnason
1982    Traditional milpa agriculture in Belize. Ottawa: University of Ottawa, Institute for International Development and Co-operation,.

Nations, James D., and Ronald B. Nigh
1980    The Evolutionary Potential of Lacandon Maya Sustained-Yield Tropical Forest Agriculture. Journal of Anthropological Research 36(1):1-30.

Netting, R. McC
1977    Maya Subsistence: Mythologies, Analogies, Possibilities. In The Origins of Maya Civilization. Albuquerque. R. E. W. Adams, ed. pp. 299-333.

Perez Toro, Augusto
1942    La milpa. Merida: Publicaciones del Gobierno de Yucatan.

Pohl, Mary D.
1990    Ancient Maya Wetland Agriculture. Excavations on Albion Island, Northern Belize. In Special Studies in Archaeological Research. Boulder, Colorado: Westerview Press.

Reina, Ruben E.
1967    Milpas and milperos: Implications for Prehistoric Times. American Anthropologist 69(1):1-20.

Reina, Ruben E., and Robert M. Hill
1980    Lowland Maya Subsistence: Notes from Ethnohistory and Ethnography. American Antiquity 45(1):74-79.

Steggerda, Morris
1941    The Maya Indians of Yucatan. Washington, DC: Carnegie Institution of Washington.

Teran, Silvia, and Christian H. Rasmussen
1994    La milpa de los mayas. La agricultura de los mayas prehisp‡nicos y actuales en el noreste de Yucat‡n. Mˇrida: DANIDA.

Villa Rojas, Alfonso
1945    The Maya of East Central Quintana Roo. Washington, DC: Carnegie Institution of Washington.

Wilken, Gene C.
1971    Food Producing Systems Available to the Ancient Maya. American Antiquity 36(4):432-448.

Wilken, Gene C.
1987    Good farmers. Traditional agricultural resource management in Mexico and Central America. Berkley: University of California Press.

Caste War of Yucatan - Nelson Reed
One gets a very complete picture of how the Maya live -- especially detailed accounts of the milpa life style.

Yucatan - Before and after the Conquest
Friar Diego de Landa
(Translated by William Gates)
ISBN 968-7232-35-8
All that we have regarding European recording of Mayan Culture. Landa is famous for destroying the Mayan culture as well as exterminating over 80% of them. Hitler would have loved this guy!

The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico (1517-1521)
(A first hand account -- gives one an idea of the pressure the Aztec were exerting on the Maya)
by: Bernal Diaz del Castillo
Library of Congress No. 56-5758

An Overview of the Mayan World
Prof Gualberto Zapata Alonzo
ISBN 968-7232-19-6
Interesting for its connection between Maya and ancient Asia.

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