THE MILPA OF THE MAYAN

LOCATION | Mexico

TYPOLOGY | Forest Farming
SYSTEM | Milpa
PEOPLE | Mayan

Home to the advanced ancient Mayan civilization, humans have been living and altering the ecosystems under the majestic canopy of the Maya Forest for thousands of years. Milpa is the most widely known agroecological system of the Mayan culture and is still central to traditional environmental practices. More than just successful food production, it is a sophisticated resource management system that has been practiced for millennia within the region. Milpa, the Nahuatl word for maize field, is an open-field polyculture centered on maize that rotates with woodland vegetation in a cycle of around ten to twenty-five years. Dependent upon the processes of ecological symbiosis and succession, milpa shapes woodland ecology and is designed to create relatively large yields of food crops without the use of artificial pesticides or fertilizers. This agroforestry system is a type of swidden agriculture activated through the use of fire that is common to Latin America and historically used by the Mayan people of the lowlands of southern Mexico and northern Central America. Associated with most forested areas of the tropical world, swidden involves the regeneration of woody vegetation after a period of annual cropping. Swidden is probably the oldest form of farming in the Americas and is often blamed for deforestation but in fact plays a large role in forest conservation.

Illustrations by Despoina Linaraki

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© 2019. Julia Watson Studio

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