Wednesday, March 4, 2009
One of the major problems facing small and subsistence farmers is the quality of the land. The 'prime' agricultural land - large stretches of level ground with easy access to water - is already in the hands of larger and usually more financially capable farmers. Conversely, the poorest farmers cultivate marginal lands that have lower soil quality, that are often on hill slopes, and have rainfall as the only source of irrigation. Slash and burn agriculture is also often practiced on such marginal land, leading to a whole host of undesirable consequences.
However, most of the productivity of an ecosystem comes from the interactions of it's living components. This is especially true in tropical areas, where the temperature allows things to grow throughout the year. In a permaculture system, everything uses the outputs of something else. Nutrients are naturally integrated and then fully retained in the system. Over time, the inorganic soil serves primarily as a substrate, and all the necessary nutrients are obtained from the naturally composted biological matter on the top.
These beneficial interactions in a complex ecosystem, combined with small earthworks (swales and ponds) can convert any piece of land into a sustainable, productive, and profitable farm. The key is to plan a rich ecosystem that works with the layout of the land, and generates a harvest that satisfies the needs of the occupants.
An added bonus is that permaculture and natural farming practices work best without mechanization and do not require plowing. This is particularly beneficial for small farmers, who often go into debt to borrow farm machinary or even plow animals.
Here is an example of how seemingly barren land can be converted to a productive farm using permaculture principles:
As you can see, the knowledge of bringing barren lands back into production has been available for the past three decades. Unfortunately, the education and implementation has tremendously lagged behind the needs of subsistence farmers everywhere.