Farming within the Natural Cycle
Dependency on nature for vital supplies is common to all human beings. The difference between this dependency for an indigenous person and a westerner, is that for the indigenous person, it is first hand, but for the westerner, most likely is would be second hand. The indigenous person may plant, reap and cook, but the westerner may buy the already prepared plant product from a shop or supermarket. One life skill that can be learnt from many traditional, indigenous peoples is how to live within the natural cycles of nature, so as to get our regular food supplies.
Everything has a cycle. Plants, animals including humans, the moon, sun, stars, weather etc. all have cycles that are interconnected. People close to nature learn this. Just by observing these cycles and using them to their advantage, indigenous peoples benefit without interfering too much with nature.
Recent changes in the weather pattern have disrupted many cycles. The weather influences when crops should be planted, how they grow and mature ... too much rain and certain plants drown, too much sun and some die. During the sunny weather of the seasonal cycle, when plants ripen they are ready for picking. This is a time of plenty.
One indigenous elder stated that if the dry season is too long, even the fish starve because they are confined to the narrow streams where too many of them have to compete for a small amount of food.
The social fabric of the community is reinforced during a time of abundance. This demonstrates how the cycle of the seasons even influences special aspects of the life of traditional peoples who live within that rhythm. Indigenous peoples have developed an understanding of how natural cycles work.
Indigenous style Permaculture
Working with nature is important in order to produce basics, including food. Through ages of learning the forest and surrounding areas, production techniques have been developed.
Everything from medicinal plants to forest fruits and edible plants are a part of the intention of preserving and growing useful trees and plants. Not only do traditional practices sustain usable trees and plants, but they support important carbon sinks that benefit the whole world. As well as preserving standing trees, one of the aims of traditional farming is to grow plants that are indigenous to the area. Such trees/plants as parapee (Bactris gasipaes) soursop (Annona montana) and the giant granadilla (Passiflora quadrangularis) are better growers as well as have better market potential.
Preserving Medicinal Trees and Plants
Many forest trees are medicinal and are preserved through medicinal gardens.
Reforestation Farming Techniques... Value of Traditional Indigenous Farming
The issue of the destruction of the Amazon rain-forest is topical, especially in today's environment of climate change.
Before non-traditional uses of rain-forest lands were introduced, Amazonian lands were sustained by its indigenous population. The sustainable use of the area has resulted in lands being intact until now. Presently, with non-traditional uses of these lands, indigenous peoples feel as if they are being dispossessed of their role as Guardians of the Forest and their ancestral heritage.
Reforestation Farming Techniques
Perhaps the most important form of rain-forest preservation that indigenous peoples have practised for centuries is re-forestation farming. With this unique technique of farming, no chemicals or pesticides are used, but the natural behaviour of the elements - including plants.
A traditional indigenous family using the forest to farm would have at least three small farms at any one time - one being prepared, one producing and one left to re-forest. Sometimes, years after a farm was abandoned to rest and to re-forest, crops such as bananas and pineapples would still be available for reaping. One important food crop that is farmed is cassava (Manihot esculenta). Traditional plant experts know of the different varieties that are suitable for different conditions.
Forest farms are allowed to be reclaimed by the forest, and after some time the land would be good and ready for clearing and planting once more. It is important when clearing the land, that bigger trees and plants are not cut to their roots so that they have a good chance of recovering.
Fruit Trees are saved by Reforestation farming
One important technique of forest preservation, is the saving of fruit trees when clearing the land for farming.
When a farm is being prepared, it would be prepared around fruit trees such as the Kuru palm (Astrocaryum tucuma). This palm bears edible fruit that is important to people as well as animals and birds.
Farms are always cleared with standing trees nearby.
These trees act as safe corridors for animals, as well as to re-marry the farm with the surrounding ecosystem as re-forestation takes place.
Farming with Nature
Indigenous system of agriculture is about providing variety and enough to sustain a family, or a small community, rather than about producing commercially.
Different plants are incorporated. However one important consideration is the preservation of nature. Using the land without too much interference with the natural environment is paramount. This is why the planting area in comparison to the surrounding forest is small.
Though forest farming is done on a wider scale, vegetable gardening is about planting on selective fertile soil and maintaining the soil within a bigger farm. A variety of crops provides a varied diet. The challenge of supplying variety involves using a limited piece of land to plant a mixture of crops.
Planting different plants in a small fertile space is a skill. The practice used is like the milpa method which is an ancient Mesoamerica technology that incorporates complementary plants like maize, beans and squash.
In Moraro pineapple, pepper, cassava, spinach, eddoe, plantain, tannia and yams, are all grown on selected soil types.
Organic farming has been done by indigenous peoples for centuries.
Planting with the elements: sun, rain, and other factors: soil type, location, animal behaviour are all important considerations. In traditional communities, the primary indication that the land is healthy is its ability to nurture natural, vigorous plants. This is the type of land that is sought after for agriculture and used until indications show it needs rest. With healthy, producing land, people do not starve.
The majority of today’s traditional, indigenous farmers are small scale farmers who are located far distances— away from modern aids to farming. This must be a blessing in disguise because where modern resources are unreachable, small scale farming must take nature into consideration. This in return, relies on traditional methods and so contribute to the production of organic foods. In other words to be 'so called poor' can have rich rewards.
Many indigenous farmers still practise customary techniques. Farmers work with what they have. Part of keeping the land, is ensuring that the land has its own way. Organic farming is about observing what type of plant grows best in the type of soil. Because plants have families, even though a plant is seen as wild, that plant most likely would have a family member that can be grown to produce food. This is how plants are selected for planting.
Advice from experts who have years of knowledge is valuable. One indigenous farmer Seaford Fredericks has been farming for many years. Apart from eliminating the cost and difficulty of getting ‘outside’ help, he is preserving skills that are valuable to organic, forest farming today.
Traditional indigenous organic farming does not produce a vast amount of food. Still this holistic approach provides many unique and rare foods, which can be much more beneficial than producing just for quantity. Plant-food supply system is very specialised and is a good way of saving rare food-plant species.
If however, due to the success of this type of farming, more food is produced than can be consumed by the household, there is always the opportunity to donate and sell excess to locals as well as farther afield.
Organic Farming in Moraro
We work with nature. So far we have saved many forest-fruit trees.
Terrain ranges from a hilltop unto a low swamp with a small creek.
Soils vary from white sand to pegasse, a type of tropical peat.
Plants and Trees
In the white sand, we save and allow different plants and trees to grow - traditional forest fruit trees, as well as medicinal ones. In addition, we farm plants that grow well in the soil. These include cashew, pineapple and cassava. The soil changes away from the hillside towards the swamp. We have planted yam and are experimenting with other crops as well.
Even though we have enough land, our approach is multi-tiered. With our mixed cropping, our main pest remains the Acoushi (leaf cutter) ant. We avoid using pesticides so are experimenting with food plants these pests do not find attractive e.g. bitter gourd. We are also experimenting with companion planting.
For us, these times are exciting and we look forward to the future with great optimism.
Rain-forest Re-forestation Farming With Re-forestation Farmer
Rain-forest, re-forestation farming is done by few known farmers. And, such farmers, working away diligently at keeping our rain-forests, can only be described as unsung heroes of reforestation.
The work of re-forestation farmer Seaford Fredericks is largely unknown. None-the-less, it is a marvel and a privilege to see the achievements of this skilled, hard working man.
As he explains his farming methods, evidence of coffee, avocado and pineapples growing amongst valuable rain-forest trees shows his achievements. Verification that birds and other forest dwellers find his farm a haven is clear to see.
It is difficult to comprehend how one man could do so much.
Way down in back lands, forest trees like the Locust (Hymenaea courbaril) are being cut down by indiscriminate loggers. Locust is an important forest-fruit tree, so Seaford has his own trees growing, for his own benefit and the benefit of the animals.
Seaford is preparing for a future, when indigenous people would be denied access to wood to make such valuables as canoes and houses. He has calculated that with careful monitoring, his reforestation farm would supply him with timber, food and other benefits such as plant medicine for a long time to come.
He claims that reforestation farming can be incorporated with traditional cassava farming for a more sustainable future. Then, there is the added advantage of his farming style contributing to carbon off-setting. One of his expectations is that with so much interest in carbon sequestration, his type of farming must be promoted.
From observing how his farm keeps trees and nature intact, farmers like Seaford should be compensated. Farmers like him help to off-set carbon, and if we are to have a healthy sustainable future, such farmers are our life-line.
This important, re-forestation farmer believes that if indigenous young people are to have forest resources for the future, they must start reforestation farming now.
As custodians of the forest, he believes that rain-forest peoples hold the preservation of valuable forest species in their hands. He practises what he preaches and shares his skill with whoever wishes to learn.
Unsung Native Agriculturists and Forests with Plants for the Future
There are still plants and trees in the forest of South America, that are lovingly cultivated and sourced by indigenous agriculturalists today.
Just to mention one plant. In fact, it is a vine and grows in the forest. A drink made from the Capudilla is not only used for its goodness but is also valued as an aphrodisiac.
Meanwhile, let us not forget those foods that our native agriculturists have put on our plates.
Peanuts were developed in South America over 700 years ago.
Pineapple is a most refreshing fruit and is related to another variety that is little known, but still used by native peoples today.
Cassava is the third-largest source of food carbohydrates in the tropics. It is a major staple in the developing world and provides a basic diet for around 502 million people
Chili peppers which have been growing in the Americans since we can remember are still cultivated for their culinary, and medicinal benefits.
Cocoa from which chocolate is made was used by native people when Europeans arrived in The Americas. Mayan and Aztecs peoples have always regarded the cocoa with high esteem and grew the crop for their own uses.
Maize or corn is a staple for a lot of families in the Americas today.Thankfully the first Americans developed a great variety many centuries ago.
Papaya can be found growing, sometimes in parts of the forest where they were never planted. Today, however this valued plant gives a fruit that is appreciated all over the world.
Potato This starchy tuber's originated in South America and many types are still planted today. Paste made from the Purple potato makes a filling and cooling drink that does not need chilling.