Introduction the history and significance of Mesoamerica farming system.

Introduction

                                     

Mesoamerica
is one of the most important farming systems in the history of Latin America. This
essay discusses the significance and contribution of the farming system to the
economic development of Central America and how climate change influences the
yield and the products of livestock in this region. The essay underscores the significance
of the existing adaptation measures being undertaken and how, strengthening
such adaptation strategies further, could lower the impact of change. Located
in Central America, it extends from Central Mexico to the Panama Canal and
covers the areas of Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and
Costa Rica down to the Gulf of Nicoya and has an estimated population of 77
million inhabitants and over 11 million are estimated to be smallholder
farmers, with over 14 million herds of cattle (Dixon, 2001). Maize and beans
are grown for both home consumption and commercial purposes and these crops are
the major source of energy requirement for the majority of the household, with
roughly a fifth of national bean production exported to countries like El
Salvador, Venezuela and the United States (FAO, 2001). More than 60 percent of
the World Bank funded projects have been to improve the production of beef and
about 30 percent was meant to improve swine, sheep and poultry production
(Jarvis, 1991). With the development of new technology and adoption of new
farming techniques such as shifting cultivation, intercropping, irrigation,
shifting grazing and land reclamation; the area is projected to produce
abundant food that would counter the increasing demand for food for the next
decades. Although much of the cultivation is still reliant on rainfed
agriculture, famers also practice irrigation, with an estimated irrigated land roughly
about 2.4 million hectares (40 %) outside the irrigated farm system and the
harvest from irrigated farms (6 tons/ha) is much higher than the harvest from
the rainfed farms (1-2 tons/ha), (Dixon, 2001). In Mexico, at least 50 percent
of maize is grown under this system of farming (FAO, 2001) while Nicaragua is
among the leading suppliers of beans into the world market (Gourdji et al.,
2015).

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Why has the farming system occurred in this region?

Several
kinds literature have been written which helped the researchers understand the
history and significance of Mesoamerica farming system. Dixon (1999) noted that
human occupation of Mesoamerica began approximately about 11,600 years before
the present time (BP). Along with Asia, Middle East and north China,
Mesoamerica is one of the world’s leading centers for domestication of maize
and beans species (Harlan, 1995). It was in Mesoamerica that maize (Zea mays
L.) and beans (Phaseolus spp.) species were domesticated and integrated into a
multi-crop system which has grown into abundance today and it’s its ecological
and nutritional complementarity that helped to support the expansion of highly
complex agricultural societies (Gepts, 2008). Archaeological evidence suggests that agriculture and
plant domestication in west Mesoamerica were probably initiated by small but
highly mobile groups of humans from a Clovis cultural tradition who were
associated with gathering plants, hunting animals and seasonally inhabited
small rock shelters near the rivers (Zizumbo-Villarreal, 2010). The
traits involved in the compact architecture of the maize plant had fixed by
about 4,400 BP, including apical dominance, fewer maize stalks that contained
1-2 cobs on the central axis and the cobs with 12-16 rows were the first to be
introduced. It’s during this period that human selection begins to change the
alleles determining protein and starch quality in maize and beans
(Jaenicke-Despres et al., 2003; Jaenicke-Despres and Smith, 2006). In the early Holocene, the distribution of
human shelters in the Mesoamerica and the similar technological development of
human groups in the area (MacNeish, 1967a; Ranere et al.,2009) suggest that,
the rivers, which should have been the regular source of water during the dry
season functioned only as biological and cultural dispersion corridors as
inferred from the earlier dates (Zizumbo-Villarreal, 2010).

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Characteristics of the Mesoamerican farming system.

Maize-Beans farming system in Mesoamerica is characterised by a
significant proportion of the indigenous population who are both agriculturally
and culturally identified as smallholder farmers. They have the small size of
holdings, mostly under five hectares in some areas and less than two hectares
in El Salvador and cultivated land extends as high as 3,500 metres above sea
level in the Guatemala highlands and between 400 to 2000 mm of rainfall per annum
(Dixon, 2001). Like other farming systems in Latin America,
Maize-Beans farming system is considered to have the greatest potential for
poverty and hunger reduction and would likely accelerate economic growth in the
decades ahead (Kassam, 2003). There is a high
degree of on-farm consumption of the farm produce and the seasonal migration of
wage to lowland agricultural and coffee estates is rampant. The migrating
workers aim to earn extra wages to supplement their household income. Apart
from the existing 11 million smallholder farmers, the system has about 14
million herds of cattle mainly reared for sale, beef, milk and some poultry (Dixon,
2001). Meat and milk consumption assume greater political and economic weight
in Latin America, with annual per capita meat and milk consumption averaging to
45kg and 105 kg respectively (Jarvis, 1991). Every year, beef production has
grown by 2.6 percent, milk production at 3 percent, swine production at 2.5
percent and poultry production being the highest, at 10 percent (Jarvis, 1991).

Maize and beans farmers live under poor economic conditions because of severe
poverty which is as high as 80 percent in regions like Guatemala (Kassam,
2003). Sometimes, access to financial assistance like loans have proven
difficult for most farmers but some assistance is provided to the livestock
farmers and this hampers the efforts of maize and beans growers to fight
poverty (Wainner et.al, 2013). The region also harbours large-scale estates estimated
to be over 100 hectares and these estates have traditionally been designed for
the production of coffee and beef, although more recently, rubber, cut flowers
and foliage production have also increased (Kassam, 2003). Due the impact of
climate change, the yield from maize and beans tend to be low, with
maize records as lower as 1-2 tons per hectares yet the average maize yield in
Sinaloa State where irrigation is widespread is reportedly high, reaching an
average of 6 tons per hectares while beans yield is estimated to be between 0.6
and 0.9 tons per hectares (Dixon 2001). The area is characterised by acute
poverty throughout the system, reported to be as high as 80 percent in
Guatemala and a regional average of over 60 percent and the continuous migration
of labour from one household to lowlands in search of employment to raise
additional income (FAO, 2001). As a result of the prolonged conflict in the
area, public infrastructure such as roads, school and health centres have been
lacking or far away from public domain. Coffee, the principal cash crop
occupies less than 0.5 hectares of the land yet it’s one of the most lucrative
sources of revenue among the households and food security has been worsened as
a result of variation in the prices of coffee (Dixon, 2001).

 

The Livestock and Poultry Farm:

 

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The total requirement for dry matter for most cattle is roughly 2-3% of
their body weight although high yielding animals may require more than 3%. Good
quality grasses with a minimum of 6% of crude protein on dry matter alone can
form maintenance ration of a cow of average size but it’s possible to maintain
milk production of up to 3-4 kg with grass-legume fodder. A bull in service
should be given good quality roughage with sufficient concentrate but too much
feeding should be avoided (Source: Dr. Princely Jajkumar, 2015).

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As explained in table two, the concentrate feeds for dairy animals must
always be fed individually according to the milk production requirement of each
animal and at least 20 kg of grasses or 6-8 kg of legume fodder can fit an
equivalent of 1 kg of concentrate in terms of proteins count (Source: Dr.

Princely Jajkumar).

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The effect of climate change on
livestock production, maize and Beans yield.

The
impacts of climate change especially high temperature on livestock rearing,
maize and bean production are enormous. Paleoecological records for the
Neovolcanic Transverse Axis and the lowlands south of the axis indicates rising
temperatures, rainfall and atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration between
12,000 and 9,000 BP as well, the long presence of drought period before the
next rainy season (Cunniff et al.,2008 and 2017; Metcalfe, 2006; Piperno,
2006). Several studies suggest that ecosystem will be more resilient when
inserted into a complex landscape matrix featuring genetically heterogeneous
and diversified cropping systems managed with organic matter-rich soils and
water conservation techniques (Altieri, 2015). The effect of radical increase
in global mean temperatures will lead to an increase in food prices by at least
30 percent, which might will lead to social disorders as experienced during the
2008 global food crisis (Hillel and Roserzweign, 2009) and without doubt,
climate change and weather-induced instability in food and fibber prices will
alter social and economic stability (Ziska and Dukes, 2014). It’s well documented that; the climate is a significant driver
of pest and diseases. The prevalence of pest and diseases increases especially
during cold temperatures where insects’ reproductive cycles are high since the temperature
has a strong and direct influence on insect development, reproduction and
survival (Altieri 2015). The new pests may invade new regions as temperature
and humidity conditions changes. The altered wind patterns may change the
spread of air-borne diseases and invasive species which constitute
agricultural, forestry, livestock and structural pests such as parasites or
vectors for diseases which are harmful to both livestock and the crops (Altieri,
2015). The problems of trade-offs between higher livestock prices in favour of
output and lower prices to benefit consumers has been a challenge to several
farmers (Jarvis, 1991). The efficient use of inputs such as fertilisers
necessitates its conservation by the particular crop, resulting in maximum
returns in agriculture produce per unit of input (Prihar, 1999). As global warming progresses and the rains
become less frequent, evaporation losses are increasing and soil moisture is
declining. Which is consistent with increasing drought faced by many farmers in
Nicaragua (Gourdji et al., 2015). Human
activities through emission of greenhouse gases are expected to increase
the level of carbon dioxide concentration by 57 percent in the year 2050
(Altieri, 2015) and this may be positive for agriculture since it will increase
the rate of photosynthesis and water use efficiency (Fuhrer, 2003). It’s
reported that the rise in carbon dioxide and associated greenhouse gases could
lead to a 1.4 to 5.8 ºc increase in global temperatures, with an imminent impact
on precipitation frequency and amount (Altieri, 2015).The demand for water for irrigation is projected to rise in a warmer
climate, which will increase evaporation from the soil and accelerate
transpiration in the plants, increasing competition between water for
agriculture, livestock and human use and this will likely increase the rate of evapotranspiration
and intensify drought stress (Doll, 2002). Falling water tables and the
resulting increase in energy needed to pump more water for irrigation makes the
practice of irrigation even more expensive (Altieri, 2015).

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Soil
type.

The
soil in Mesoamerica is described as fertile, thin silt soil which is ideal for
the cultivation of several crops (Kassam, 2003). However, the frequent
occurrence of soil erosion especially in the areas of El Salvador and Guatemala rendered the
soil to quickly lose its fertility (FAO, 2001). In Maya, soil
erosion and land degradation in affected soil fertility, forcing the farmers to
build terraces to retain silt and maintain agriculture productivity (Dixon,
2001) and intensive land reclamation of steeper slopes for farming purposes as
well as the occurrence of heavy rainfall during the year which sometimes causes
flooding and increases the chance of landslide, (Kassam, 2003).

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The
rainfall.

Cultivated
land in Mesoamerica extends from 3,500 meters above sea level in Guatemalan
highlands while the majority of the area lies between 400 and 2000 meters above
sea level, with a precipitation from 1000 to 2000 mm per annum (Kassam, 2003).

In Nicaragua, the altitude and the weather reaches over 1,879 meters above sea
level with a precipitation between 789-5844 mm (Gourdji et al., 2015). Changes
in precipitation will negatively affect crop production since this region
depends on a rainfed farming system, although most models assert that the
majority of the impacts are mostly driven by trends in temperature rather than
precipitation (Altieri, 2015). Changes in yields for rainfed crops will be
driven by changes in both precipitation and temperature, while changes in
yields on irrigated farms will only be driven by temperature and warmer
temperatures may make crops grow more quickly and this could affect the yield
(Altieri 2015).

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The
influence of non-biological factors.

ln
Guatemala, the nature of land determines the size of production fields, which
are estimated to be 3.5 hectares distributed in the ration of 1.5 for maize and
0.75 for beans respectively and low yield is possible from the second harvest
on part of holding, depending on the soils and slope of that particular area
(Kassam, 2003). It is reported that maize yield records about 5.3 tons per
hectares when grown on a mono-cropped field compared to 5.2 tons per hectares
when intercropped with beans (Kassam, 2003). However, such slopes are prone to
landslides and encourage flooding during heavy rains which destroy the crops
and increases the risk (FAO, 2001). Although Mesoamerica is a leading zone in
the production of maize and beans, it’s reported that, maize and beans still
yield below the world average (Dixon, 2001). Even though maize yield nearly
doubled in 1960, yet it dropped considerably in the year 2000 while beans yield
which was close to the world average in 1960 also fell (Gourdji et al., 2015).

 

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The higher yields are recorded in areas where there is sufficient and
reliable rainfall while areas with low rainfall registered low yield (Gourdji
et al., 2015) and this indicates that the total volume of precipitation is not
only an important determinant in attaining higher yield but also its timing and
intensity for crop growth is an essential (Barron et al., 2003 and Biazin et
al., 2012).

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The growing seasons in the Pacific and Central zones typically follow
the seasonal rains in May-July referred to as (Primera), September-November
(Postrera) which is the rainier eastern half of the country and from
December-March (Apante) which is a dry season where some crops are also grown
(Gourdji et al.,2015).

Maize
and beans have experienced harsh climatic conditions associated yield
reductions of more than 40 million tons per year from 1981 to 2002 at the
global level (Lobell et al. 2011). Jones and Thornton (2003) projected a
further reduction of over 10 percent in maize production in Africa and Latin
America as a result of harsh climatic conditions, will amount to US$ 2 billion
annually up to the year 2055. Political stability and trade embargoes, as well
as other natural disasters, have negatively contributed to annual yield loses
in Nicaragua (Kinzer, 2007; LeoGrade, 1996; Pielke et al.,2003) as well,
declining soil fertility (Stoorvogel and Smaling,1998) and the lack of access to
improved seeds and inputs by farmers (FAO, 2012).

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The impact of
climate on maize and beans yield is clearly marked using the main and
alternative models ( and ).  For model ,
climate impact on bean yield is notably negative and a bit similar across
seasons (-13, -11 and -14 %), indicating the decline in yield per decade. By
contrast, the climatic impact on maize are highest in Apante (-12 %) and only
half of that in the Primera and Postrera (-6 and -7%) respectively. At annual
and national scale, the yield declines for maize and bean on the cultivated
area are -7 and -13 percent per decade whereas for the model , the
annual and national loses are -4 and -5 percent per decade yet the estimated
gains from Primera for maize with alternative model are +16 percent per decade
and this is due to the strong climatic gains estimated by this model in the
central and eastern regions (Gourdji et al., 2015).

 

The adaptation of maize and beans to climate change.

 

Agricultural
and livestock products have been subjected to constant interruption from
climatic conditions. Farmers throughout the world, farmers have been struggling
to find suitable measures that could address such obstacles.  Adaptation should be seen as an integrated
model for simulating crop yields, livestock products and other related
indicators that influence the performance of agriculture (Tao and Zhang 2010).

Contrary to the system of monoculture, many traditional farming systems offer a
wide range of management opportunities and designs that enhance functional
biodiversity in crop fields and, consequently supports the resilience of
agroecosystem (Koohafkan and Altieri 2010; Toledo and Barrera-Bassols 2008). Intercropping
enables farmers to produce variety of crops simultaneously, minimising production
risk and the high cost (Vandermeer, 1989). Intensive silvopastoral system for
livestock combines fodder shrubs and palm to improve the pasture for livestock,
increasing milk and meat production. The system is reliant on rotational
grazing with electric fencing system and permanent water supply (Vandermeer,
1989). The government policy on trade and sanitary agreement with importing
countries and improving infrastructure, encourage quick access to production
areas so that livestock farmers could easily access the market (Jarvis, 1991). Climate changes will require adaptive management strategies
to cope up with the altered status of pest and pathogens, with warmer winter
temperatures encouraging larva to hibernate in areas where they are limited by
cold, eventually multiplying and causing a greater infestation (Altieri, 2015).

 

Early
warning and risk management are the most useful techniques for reducing
disasters and can facilitate adaptation to climate variability and change (Meza
and Wilk, 2003; Hensa et al., 2006). The change in cropping system such as
intercropping (Meza et al., 2008), switching from highly impacted crop variety to
another (Lobell et al., 2008), improving pest and disease forecast and control,
and improving inputs like water supply and irrigation, efficient use of tillage
and fertilizer application are the necessary adaptation strategies (Reilly and
Schimmelphnning, 1999). Today, a third and a half of Nicaragua farmers use
chemical fertilizers to improve crop yield and yet over reliant on fertiliser
affects soil fertility (CENEGRO, 2010). Fragmentation as a result of land inheritance
and other activities have also increased holdings from 321,000 to 667,000
between 1964 and 1996. Despite rapid urbanisation taking place in Mexico, there
will be no significant decline in rural population as a result of migration
over the next 30 years (Dixon, 2001).

 

With
the continuous activities of land reclamation, there is probable likelihood
that the exploitation of steeper slopes and intensification of farming will
increase. However, this may offer short-term solutions but will escalate the
occurrence of soil erosion (Kassam, 2003). As the population increase, the
production will also increase and this is likely to increase the yield for
beans and maize by 50 to 100 percent in Central America but the downward trend
in world prices and trade embargoes offer little protection to these smallholder
farmers (Kassam, 2003). The reliance of farmers on self-produced seeds coupled
with widespread soil limitation would likely limit the benefit they could get
from the system (FAO, 2016).

 

Diversification
of sweet onions in Nicaragua and chili pepper in Belize is likely to intensify
in the next 30 years (Dixon, 2001). Diversification in the form of genetic
variety (crops) and species diversity (livestock) reduce crops and livestock
vulnerability to pest and diseases (Altieri, 2015). On-farm employment and
other rural employment may initiate an upward spiral of employment, increasing
earnings for the farmers and the demand for goods and services. Also, the
stable political atmosphere led to the expanded post-conflict investment in
public infrastructure and the provision of services are likely to increase. The
role of private sector and civil society is also expected to increase in the
coming decades (Kassam, 2003). The study conducted among 360 households and 24
departments in Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala found that, sustainable plots
had 20-40 percent more topsoil, greater soil moisture and less soil erosion and
lower economic losses than their conventional counterparts (Holt-Gimenez,
2002).

 

 

Conclusion

While
maize and beans have been the chief crops for smallholder farmers in
Mesoamerica, its production has been below world average partly due to
unfavourable climatic conditions and acute poverty among farmers. The continuous
disruption of production as a result of natural disasters such as land
degradation, persistent drought, landslides and flooding hinders farmers’
incomes. There is a need for farmers to adopt holistic approaches such as the
use of fertilisers, improving their early warning forecast, building water
catchment for water harvesting and intensify the use of irrigation so as to
improve the yield. The trade-offs between high prices to encourage outputs and
lower prices to benefit consumers as argued by Jarvis, 1991. Both the
government and private sectors should enact policies that support the farmers through
access to loans and improved agricultural seeds and livestock vaccines for
better yield.