Last Friday and Saturday, we hosted a workshop that invited students, faculty, and staff from Ohio State (as well as new friends from Kenyon College) to learn about Mayan milpa agriculture (maize farming) and reflect on how it may serve as a model for rethinking farming here in Ohio. We were very fortunate to have Abraham Kan, a guest from Aguacate village in the Toledo District of Belize, to lead us in planting a milpa at the OSU Student Farm with an array of different landraces of corn, from Oaxacan Green Dent Corn and Blue Jade Sweet Corn to Tom Thumb popcorn. From the beginning, we wanted the workshop to help encourage conversations and experiments in different types of agriculture in the OSU community. We hope the milpa is a step in that direction.
Many justifications have been made for ‘saving the Amazon’ from preserving the ‘lungs of the world’ to protecting unknown botanical wonders that might yield cures to deadly diseases. However, Amazonians have responded to these claims with charges of ‘international covetousness’, interpreting such foreign interest as a thinly-masked desire to take control of the region’s natural resources. In this article I examine some of the counter-claims that have emerged in Brazil that reflect Amazonians’ uneasiness with such foreign interest in the region. Drawing from my own engagement with rural Amazonians, I share their critiques of the deep global inequalities that they see in conservation efforts and international research in Amazonia. To conclude, I discuss the value of ethnography and anthropological inquiry for encouraging grounded views of Amazonia that challenge abstracted notions of the region, including that of the monolithic rainforest in need of ‘saving’.
My latest research article (co-authored with Chris McCarty and Charles Clement) is to be published in the December 2013 issue of Current Anthropology. It’s already available ahead of print through JSTOR. This is the abstract:
Social exchange networks play a critical role in the maintenance and distribution of crop diversity in smallholder farming communities throughout the world. The structure of such networks, however, can both support and constrain crop diversity and its distribution. This report examines varietal distribution of the staple crop manioc among rural households in three neighboring caboclo communities in Brazilian Amazonia. The results show that the centrality of households in exchange networks had no significant correlation with the number of manioc varieties maintained by households. However, household centrality did show a significant correlation with households’ perceived knowledge of manioc cultivation as well as the total area of manioc they cultivated. Although households with the most knowledgeable and active producers played a central role in the distribution of planting materials and manioc varieties, they did not maintain higher varietal diversity than more peripheral households in this study. This case study represents an important example of how social networks can constrain varietal distribution and contribute to low crop diversity in agricultural communities.
Forests have been planted around Ethiopian Orthodox churches since the early 13th Century. Unfortunately, in areas that are experiencing massive deforestation, these sacred forests are some of the only remaining islands of forest still left intact. To learn more, read the blog post from PLoS One here: http://blogs.plos.org/blog/2011/02/25/church-forest/