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    Avalon Member Ravenlocke's Avatar
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    Default Regenerative Agriculture in Mexico



    Regenerative agriculture in Mexico boosts yields while restoring nature

    NUEVO MEXICO, Mexico — Standing in her cornfield in Chiapas state, surrounded by mountains and dry tropical forests, Maria Luisa Gordillo Mendoza looks concerned. “They said we were pigs for sowing like this,” she says of the other farmers’ reaction to her fields covered with sticks and old corn husks and dotted with lanky trees.

    Yet Mendoza’s unorthodox farming method in Chiapas, in southeastern Mexico, are gaining recognition for restoring soil health, as well as making more money for farmers, freeing up land for conservation, and storing carbon in the ground.

    Traditionally, Mendoza says, farmers in the region would clear their fields in preparation for planting by burning the stubble on the ground and spraying agrochemicals — herbicides to kill the weeds and fertilizers to boost the crops.

    “My dad taught me the same thing,” Mendoza tells Mongabay. “But my plot became quite poor, it became so impoverished that it turned sandy and hard. So the corn, if it grew at all, didn’t yield very much.”

    The fall in productivity at Mendoza’s farm mirrors a wider trend in the Central American Dry Corridor, the dry tropical forest region that stretches from Chiapas to Panama. Here, lower crop yields and higher food insecurity linked to climate change and land degradation are some of the main drivers behind migration, according to a 2019 report.

    Mendoza says that in a year with good rains, she would harvest maybe around 2.5 metric tons of corn per hectare (about 1.1 short tons per acre). Sometimes the droughts would kill her father’s entire crop, she remembers, forcing the family to survive by foraging for plantains and native breadnut fruit (Brosimum alicastrum), a staple food of the ancient Maya. Yet these days, with technical assistance and working to boost soil health, her corn yields have grown to 8.5 metric tons per hectare, or 3.8 short tons an acre.

    “Due to the subsoil now there is enough water down there even with 40 days of drought,” Mendoza says, pointing to her green-patched fields.

    In-the-field studies

    “Corn in particular is one of the most damaging crops to natural resources mainly because of its management and because some government programs have encouraged the destruction of natural resources,” says Walter Lopez Baez, Chiapas coordination and liaison director with the Mexican government’s National Institute of Forestry, Agriculture and Livestock Research (INIFAP).

    Baez, who has worked with farmers in the region for more than 30 years, tells Mongabay that although crop productivity initially increased after the start of the Green Revolution in Mexico in the 1940s — a farming model that promoted high-yielding crop varieties and the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides — yields began dropping about 20 years ago, despite the continued intensive use of agrochemicals.

    In 2010, INIFAP worked with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to analyze 300 plots in Chiapas, Mendoza’s among them, and found similar results. Results showed that soils had high levels of acidity and aluminum, were lacking nutrients, and were highly compacted from tractors. This meant roots couldn’t grow deep, creating drainage problems — all signs of bad land management, according to Baez.

    “Farmers were saying that the soil was tired,” Baez says. “It’s extractive agriculture where you’re not giving anything back to the soil, unlike what happens in forests.” Based on research in Guatemala and Honduras, the team began to experiment with intercropping the corn with species that can help the soils recover, focusing on two key species: the trailing legume Canavalia and the ice cream-bean, Inga edulis, locally known as guama. This practice is part of agroforestry, an agricultural system combining trees with growing crops and raising livestock which not only produces food, but supports biodiversity, builds organic content in soils, boosts water table levels and sequesters carbon from the atmosphere. Both the guama and the Canavalia are part of the Fabaceae or bean family, and as such have roots that fix nitrogen in the soil. They also grow quickly, making them a “permanent biomass factory,” providing a cover of organic matter on the ground surface that maintains soil moisture, breaks down nutrients for other plants, and prevents the growth of weeds, thereby reducing the need for herbicides.

    The research showed using traditional methods resulted in an average yield of 3.5 metric tons per hectare (1.6 short tons per acre) with an investment of roughly $865 per hectare ($350 per acre), Baez tells Mongabay. Yet an additional investment of between $312 and $480 per hectare ($126-$194 per acre), could bring yields up to 7 metric tons per hectare (3.1 short tons per acre) in the first year and maintain that level going forward.

    While this increase in revenue is important for farmers, Baez says it also has wider community benefits: boosting water availability, reducing particulate matter in the air from fires, and capturing more carbon from the atmosphere. Additionally, INIFAP found that regenerative methods alleviate compacted soils, allowing moisture to penetrate deeper into the ground even during droughts.

    Connecting farming to conservation

    “In a forest there is a lot of diversity and yet there is no chemical fertilization, there is no control, there is no use of insecticides or herbicides, and a forest is super productive and resilient,” says Alejandro Hernandez, TNC’s Chiapas coordinator, who has worked on conservation issues with communities in the region for more than 40 years. “We are copying the forest model and applying it using agroforestry systems.”

    Chiapas is Mexico’s second-most biodiverse state and provides 30% of the country’s freshwater, so using agroforestry here becomes especially important, Hernandez tells Mongabay. He notes that greenhouse gas emissions in Mexico’s industrialized north come mainly from industry and motor vehicles, while in the south the main emitters are agriculture and cattle ranching. This is abundantly apparent in Chiapas, where 55% of the state’s forests having been cleared for farmland and pasture.

    Hernandez says inefficient production systems are pushing farmers and ranchers to either abandon their fields or cut down more forests for more land. This doesn’t solve the problem, he says, as continuing these bad practices only increases the need for more land after just a few years, putting pressure on the remaining forests.

    The solution requires seeing farmers and ranchers as allies rather than as threats, Hernandez says. By working together with conservationists to find models that are economically attractive to producers, he says, food and water security issues can be addressed while agricultural expansion into forests can be stopped and lost forests can be restored.

    “I think that generates more empathy between both sides, because then we aren’t fighting,” Hernandez says. “If we do this right, we’re going to free up for restoration areas in marginal zones that are not suitable for agriculture.”

    In Chiapas, TNC plans to massively scale up these impacts through Vision 2030, a road map for incorporating 2.5 million hectares (6.2 million acres) of land into sustainable agriculture and cattle-ranching schemes by 2030, as well as restoring and reforesting 1.4 million hectares (3.5 million acres) of land. In addition to corn, the project will also focus on beans and coffee, which are grown extensively in the state.

    The initiative seeks to build a broad alliance. The Mexican environment ministry’s climate change fund is providing $340,000 for the project, while INIFAP is contributing $150,000 and TNC is sourcing funding from its international “Plant a Billion Trees” campaign.

    Vision 2030 will also form part of TNC’s broader initiatives across Latin America, such as the Regenerative Ranching and Agriculture (R2A) strategy, which managed to restore 5 million hectares (12.4 million acres) of degraded soil and capture 550 million metric tons of carbon in Argentina, Brazil, and Colombia between 2018 and 2020.

    The rest of the article here:

    “My weary heart goes wandering along the path it knew
    Back to the dear old cottage, back, Mother dear, to you..
    And I forget my troubles put by each doubt and fear
    Reborn anew through your dear faith God bless you Mother dear.”

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    Scotland Avalon Member Ben's Avatar
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    Default Re: Regenerative Agriculture in Mexico

    There's a lot to be learned from Masanobu Fukuoka, who wrote the book 'one straw revolution'.

    It's basically about assisting nature to be her best, rather than trying to impose systems of ever decreasing yield.

    It really chimes with what the article above is describing, and well worth a read. Very inspiring.

    Last edited by Ben; 24th August 2022 at 16:01.

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