The Dark Side of Q’eqchi’ Agriculture
If Q’eqchi’ traditional agriculture is about balance, harmony, equalibrium and respect for the mountain, why are the cloud forests disappearing?
The unhappy reality is that population growth, adiction to expensive chemical fertilizers, land tenure issues, and the strangling grip of poverty have changed the equation. Traditional agricultural practices need to be reevaluated and retooled based on the current ecological situation. Many traditional practices and especially traditional values need to be kept and treasured. Other practices simply need to be tweaked. Some practices, such as agricultural burning, should be left behind altogether or moved into the symbolic realm.
Q’eqchi’ Agricultural Expansion:
The ritual of “asking permission” of the mountain before cutting down a tree is one form of showing respect to Qaawa’ Tzuul Taq’a (the spirit of the mountain-valley) in traditional Q’eqchi’ agriculture. Facing the vast scale of forest loss, one wonders, perhaps a bit sacreligiously, how would Qaawa’ Tzuul Taq’a ever say “no” if the worshipers only ask permission and then start slashing and burning into the forest.
The obvious reality is that the loss of cloud forests is directly due to Q’eqchi’ Maya agricultural expansion. The average family size hovers around 10 children. Agricultural expansion seems inevitable.
Cloud Forest Loss:
Photo right: The freshly cleared and burned corn field of Juan Bo Yaxcal of Semesche’. Notice the stump of a fern tree (family Cyatheaceae) representing the recent conversion of this land from cloud forest to corn field.
Traditional Q’eqchi’ agriculture was able to provide sustenance to small populations with access to large areas of land, using resources of mountains, forests, alk’al and k’al. However, the Q’eqchi’ of today are facing new challenges, which require investigation and experimentation. The problems facing Q’eqchi’ communities today are not greater than the depth and richness of wisdom and tradition in their agricultural practices, if alternatives are developed along the trajectory of agroecology.