Most people think of a tropical rain forest, with its thick green borders and towering trees, as being a fertile paradise. But, in actuality, heavy rainfall quickly leaches nutrients from the soil. The lush growth of the tropical rain forest is sustained by a bed of quickly decomposing leaves and stems. This thick layer of decaying organic matter is the original home of many native american crops which we now force to grow in soil that contains relatively little organic matter. Even after centuries of selection and hybridization these plants still produce best in beds of organic matter or in soil with very high organic matter content.
After looking into what is known of Mayan agriculture, I am convinced that they used cropping methods that relied on thick layers of decaying organic matter after initially clearing trees from the land. I originally thought they used this type of method on the levies that they built out into the yucatan swamps. But, I now also believe they practiced such methods on the terraced hillsides as well. This type of cropping system can even be used on top of rocky soil, weeds or sod without tilling the soil.
During the Classic Period of Mayan history the Mayan farmers fed millions of people for hundreds of years without sacrificing the fertility of the soil and without a great deal of erosion. The population has been estimated to be around two hundred people per square kilometer.
The experts say that the Mayan farmers used slash and burn techniques. But, at the same time they assert that such methods could not have sustained this large of a population for such a long period of time. Thus, there is the "Mystery of Classic Mayan Agriculture".
Like other Native Americans, these farmers were intelligent individuals whose ancestors had lived off the land and had become intimately acquanted, not only with the plants which provided them with food and fiber, but also with the micro-environments in which they found these plants. This knowlege was undoubtedly passed down from one generation to the next as these hunter gatherers became farmers.
Of course, I do not know this to be fact. What I believe is based on a little experience, a little knowlege, a little observation, some thought given to the subject and on a great deal of hard labor that has proven to me that these methods succeed in increasing both soil fertility and crop yields. I had already been using these cropping methods successfully when I learned about the "Mystery of Mayan Agriculture". It does not matter if they used these techniques or not. I am just calling the method "The Mayan Cropping Method" because if they had used such a method it would explain their great agricultural achievements.
What does matter is what such a cropping system could mean to subsistance farm families, to the animals and plants which inhabit the quickly deminishing tropical rain forests and to the rest of us who live on this small planet. The burning of the Earths forests is a severe threat to the environment that we all depend upon for survival. If wide scale use of such cropping methods could be adopted by subsistance farmers around the world, they could continuously farm the same piece of land year after year while improving the soil, improving the diet of their families and halting the distruction of the environment.
I am sure that these methods can work with most crops and on any scale, from family garden to village fields. Although I have begun the research, I do not have the resources to expand it to include other crops and larger scales of production.
I know that these methods will sound primative and simplistic, but, they do work. In the late 1960's I helped the Urarina Indians of Peru drastically improve their production of field rice with methods which were much simpler than these.
I have been providing this information to every organization I can find that is working with subsistance farmers, in the hope that someone with the resources would be interested in getting such methods out to those who need it. If you can use this information to help these farmers, please do so.