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Emergy Evaluation of Lacandon Maya Indigenous Swidden Agroforestry in Chiapas, Mexico

Abstract

The Lacandon Maya of Chiapas, Mexico practice a system of swidden agroforestry that mimics the surrounding ecosystem and its successional stages. Their fields rotate through grass (milpa), and shrub (acahual) and forest fallow stages that regenerate soil, nutrients, and seed banks. Each successional stage, including the fallow stages, produces over 25 types of crops, raw materials, and medicines. Lacandon traditionally do not use fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. An emergy evaluation of Lacandon agroforestry was conducted to quantify resource use, productivity, environmental impact, and overall sustainability. Six systems were analyzed. The Emergy Yield Ratios of the systems ranged from 4.5 to 50.7, which indicated a high level of output per purchased investments. The agroforestry systems had minimal environmental impacts as shown by Environmental Loading Ratios between 0.03 and 0.38. The Emergy Sustainability Index (ESI) of the systems ranged from 12 to 1740, indicating a high level of sustainability. The high ESI values were partially due to a large fraction of renewable resources that varied from 0.72 to 0.97. ESI was dependent upon land area devoted to the system for each family, where greater land area resulted in higher values of ESI. Labor invested did not exhibit a direct effect on sustainability.

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Correspondence to Jay F. Martin.

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Diemont, S.A., Martin, J.F. & Levy-Tacher, S.I. Emergy Evaluation of Lacandon Maya Indigenous Swidden Agroforestry in Chiapas, Mexico. Agroforest Syst 66, 23–42 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10457-005-6073-2

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Key words

  • Agroecosystem
  • Energy flow
  • Milpa
  • Resource use
  • Sustainability