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The Mayan milpa is at risk of disappearing: CICY 

- July 9, 2024

The Mayan Milpa is an ancient agricultural system used by the Maya civilization in Mesoamerica. A milpa is a small, intensively cultivated plot of land that was typically surrounded by forests or other vegetation. The Mayans believed that the earth was alive and had to be treated with respect, so they developed a sophisticated system of agriculture that involved crop rotation, composting, and mulching. This allowed them to maintain soil fertility and control pests and diseases.

In a typical milpa, corn (maize) would be planted in rows, with beans and squash interspersed throughout. The beans provided nitrogen for the corn, while the squash spread out its large leaves to shade the soil and prevent weeds from growing. This “Three Sisters” method of crop rotation allowed the Mayans to grow a variety of crops in a small space, making it an efficient and sustainable way to feed their communities. Today, the Mayan Milpa is recognized as a model for sustainable agriculture and has inspired modern farmers and environmentalists around the world.

According to Miguel Fernández Barrera, head of Natural Resources at the Yucatán Scientific Research Center (CICY), the Mayan milpa is at risk of disappearing because new generations are not interested in preserving the ancestral method of subsistence farming.  

While these new generations could have been a replacement for those already working in Yucatán’s fields, most of them prefer other productive sectors to seek better incomes, making the milpa their last option. 

The expert emphasized that ancestral practices like the milpa serve not only as an economic driver and food security measure but also have implications for agricultural systems in combating the impacts of climate change, such as intense droughts and heavy rainfall. 

To preserve the Mayan milpa as we know it, more than just support is needed; promotion is crucial. People should recognize the benefits of this ancestral knowledge, not only for its intrinsic value but also for the food sovereignty it offers. By cultivating milpa, one can enjoy healthier organic and natural products while safeguarding a tradition that spans over 3,500 years and has become a cultural heritage of the region. 

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