Promoting the use of ancestral farming techniques would help lower food prices

Get to know more about a proposal to plant the milpa through chinampas and encourage direct marketing from producer to buyer.

Promoting the use of ancestral farming techniques would help lower food prices
The Combination of Traditional Agricultural Systems in Mexico and Agricultural Markets. Photo by Christophe Maertens / Unsplash

The combination of milpa and chinampa production, two traditional agricultural systems, would contribute to expanding the generation and distribution of agricultural products in the Mexican capital and, in this way, lower the cost of food inputs, said Leonardo Alejandro Beltrán Rodríguez, from UNAM's Institute of Biology (IB).

It is worth mentioning that the milpa is a traditional agricultural system made up of a polyculture, which constitutes a dynamic space of genetic resources. Meanwhile, the chinampa is an artificial cultivation model, unique in the world, which consists of a system of floating islands of native plants and organic matter to be able to cultivate on the water.

Perhaps at the moment, these spaces would not be able to supply the demand, since a good part of them are used more for the cultivation of ornamental plants, while in others these are articulated with aromatic species on the edges, which prevent the entry of pests.

The university professor considered that precisely in the center, the milpa would be included, to make them highly productive and supply green markets; that is, direct commercialization from the producer to the buyer, of a local, seasonal product, free of toxins and respectful with the land.

Studies have shown that the milpa is a healthy and nutritious food model. In many regions of the country it continues to be the basis of food sovereignty, as it supports a broad and varied diet through the diversity of products grown there, said Beltrán Rodríguez.

The main species is corn, accompanied by others such as beans, pumpkins, chili peppers, and tomatoes, for example, depending on the region where it is located. These products offer multiple benefits, due to the immense variety that can be generated from the cereal grains complimented with leguminous plants, and eventually combined with the meat that in some cases the families that carry out this practice consume, which provides a complete diet, he affirmed.

The researcher of the Laboratory of Ecological Ethnobotany pointed out that, in general, the agricultural system developed in Mesoamerica is conceived as "small patches" that are created in hills or mountains and whose adoption alters the ecological and biological conditions of the site. However, some of its elements contribute to generating spaces where fauna crosses and also serve as connectivity to maintain the biological cycles of these areas.

An example of this is the living fences that limit the agricultural plots -trees, magueys, or nopales- and that goes beyond being simple plants, since they provide, in addition to food, shade, forage, and bark.

It is a complex integral agroecosystem that goes far beyond the three species that have distinguished it: corn, beans, and squash, which is called "the Mesoamerican triad". This system even takes advantage of edible herbaceous plants that grow naturally, which are considered weeds, including some types of chelites such as purslane, quintoniles, huazontles, rosemary, and watercress, he explained.

Conserving these practices and those associated with them is key for the food security of many communities that, for the most part, do not have substantial economic resources to afford a basic food basket, he said.

According to the expert, this type of production is maintained and those who conserve it practice the selection and management of their grains and seeds, which provides them with benefits such as resistance to climate change conditions and provides them with the nutrients they require.

Beltrán Rodríguez refers that in the Metropolitan Zone of the Valley of Mexico there are regions where milpas still exist, even in municipalities such as Milpa Alta and Iztapalapa and other more distant conurbations. Also in the State of Mexico, Texcoco and Ozumba, where there are houses that maintain combined elements, that is, a kind of backyard gardens, where the species and breeds that are planted there vary.

The continuity of this practice in some districts of Mexico City is due to a mixture of tradition and modernity. Some families or individuals come from or have been in contact with rural communities and seek to maintain their customs, even returning to their land just to plant. Meanwhile, a recent trend has been a special interest in a healthy and chemical-free diet that uses intensive agriculture.