Sunday, May 24, 2009

burning season...blame it on the farmers!

I mentioned burning season in yesterday's post about the palomillas. I thought you might be interested in knowing a little more about it.

The culprit of all of the smoke during burning season is from slash and burn agriculture.

It's a method that has been used in this area since the time of the Mayans. Slash and burn agriculture is when you use fire to prepare a field for planting. Cut vegetation is left to dry during the dry season, then right before rainy season, it is burned and the new plants are planted in the ashes.

I have been critical of this farming technique for a long time. I mean, I'm no farmer, but it always seemed to me that burning everything would just strip the soil of its nutrients. Not to mention all of that smoke. That just can't be good for the environment (or my allergies!).

And then last week when we were on our way to the hot springs in Copan Ruinas, we passed a burning field. I asked the driver, "Why do they do that?" His explanation was that the fire kills the disease causing bacteria in the soil.

Hmmm. I was intrigued. So I came home and looked it up. It is estimated that 250-500 million people practice this in 1/2 of the land in the tropics. And evidently, if done correctly, there are some benefits to slash and burn farming:

1. Slash and burn farming resembles natural ecosystems...more so than modernized farming does. Ex: with slash and burn farming, you don't have to remove the trees like you do to accomodate the equipment used in modern farming. Also, fields are supposed to be left to return to their natural state every few years. They sure don't do that in the fields in KY!
2. The "charcoal" left in the soil from the burned plants (the slash of slash and burn) creates a natural fertilizer. A much more environmentally friendly fertilizer than the man-made ones.
3. It does reduce the chances of losing crops to disease.

BUT... notice that I said if done correctly. There is an exception in all of this that applies to Honduras:

1. It takes A LOT of land to use this type of farming correctly because plots of land have to be rotated and left unused for long periods of time. It takes a lot more land than the typical Honduran farmer has access to.
2. In areas with steep slopes (hello, all of Honduras) or in areas with population booms, it is destructive because the "rest periods" are not used for the proper amount of time.

So, after the facts, what do you think?

I have decided that the Honduran farmers should not use slash and burn farming. If you know one, tell him I said that. And then wait for him to laugh at me, because hey, what does this gringa know? Haha.

1 comment:

Lisa (LGMB) said...

Hi! I had to say hello ... since I too am originally from KY. Here in S.C. burning the land, at least near the coast where I am, seems pretty common. Lots of people burn their yards around here.

I thought they were nuts! LOL

~Lisa

P.S. Congrats on avoiding the ticket :)