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Agro-Ecosystems, 7(1981) 173--185 173

Elsevier Scientific Publishing Company, Amsterdam -- Printed in The Netherlands

THE ECOLOGICAL BASIS FOR THE APPLICATION OF TRADITIONAL


AGRICULTURAL TECHNOLOGY IN THE MANAGEMENT OF TROPICAL
AGRO-ECOSYSTEMS*

S.R. GLIESSMAN l , R. GARCIA E. 2 and M. AMADOR A. ~


t Environmental Studies, University of California, Santa Cruz, California 95064 (U.S.A.)
2Rama de Fitopatologia, Colegio de Postgraduados, Chapingo (Mexico)
3Departamento de Ecologia, Colegio Superior de Agricultura Tropical, H. Cardenas, Tabasco
(Mexico)
(Accepted 18 February 1981)

ABSTRACT

Gliessman, S.R., Garcia E., R. and Amador A., M. 1981. The ecological basis for the appli-
cation of traditional agricultural technology in the management of tropical agro-eco-
systems. Agro-Ecosystems, 7 : 173--185.

The rural inhabitants (campesinos) of the lowland tropical region of southeastern


Mexico have managed their traditional agro-ecosystems for centuries with a focus on
sustaining yields on a long term basis rather than maximizing them in the short term.
Recently introduced agricultural technology in the region has been rapidly displacing and
even eliminating local practices in favor of large-scale commercial farming and cattle
raising, yet without achieving the production levels originally proposed. This is accom-
panied by a loss of diversity in local cropping systems, leading to an ever-increasing depen-
dence on imported food products, poorer nutrition, and degradation of natural resources.
Modular production units are proposed in order to help achieve once again the diversity
and stability of productivity originally characteristic of the traditional agro-ecosystems.
The primary focus of the units center around the application of ecological principles with
the incorporation of empirical knowledge of varieties and practices still extant in the
region. The basic structure of the units is described.
The ecological processes seen to be functioning in local agro-ecosystems are also applied
in the modular units. This includes high species diversity in both time and space, high rates
of biomass accumulation, closed nutrient cycling, and biological control mechanisms for
weeds, pests, and disease. The perspectives for such systems of production are discussed.

INTRODUCTION

Numerous rural development projects have been designed and carried out
in the tropics with the intention of increasing agricultural production. Con-

*Work presented by the first author at the second International Congress of Ecology,
Israel, September 1978, for which the generous support o f t h e Comision Nacional de
Ciencia y Tecnologia (CONACYT) is most gratefully acknowledged.

0304-3746/81/0000--0000/$02.50 © 1981 Elsevier Scientific Publishing Company


174

siderable technical and economic resources have been utilized, but the results
finally achieved very rarely approach the productive capacity originally ex-
pected (Barkin, 1977). This failure is due in large part to the lack of under-
standing of the relationship between productivity and ecosystem stability in
the tropics, as well as the misapplication of a technology derived in devel-
oped regions under a different set of ecological limitations and controls
(Janzen, 1973).
On the other hand, the rural inhabitants of tropical regions (campesinos)
have managed their traditional agro-ecosystems for centuries, balancing out-
puts (yields) by various practices designed to optimize productivity on a long
term basis rather than maximize it on a short term basis (Conklin, 1957;
Watters, 1960; Spencer, 1966; Miracle, 1967; Wilken, 1970; Ruthenberg,
1976; Soemarwoto, 1975; Yen, 1980). The ecological basis of these prac-
tices has been the subject of intensive studies, all of which we are applying
and testing in modular production units managed by the campesinos them-
selves (Gliessman, 1977, 1979; Gliessman et al., 1978).

STUDY AREA

The lowlands of Tabasco, Mexico (Fig. 1), are aptly classified as "humid
tropics", with mean annual temperatures consistently above 25°C and annual
precipitation ranging from 1500 mm close to the Gulf coast to above 5000 mm
in the foothills of the Chiapas highlands. In general, precipitation is seasonal,
there being a wet season with an early maximum in June and an absolute

.. k~i~', MER'DA C
"""~i 'U L, OF MEXICO ~;:;_~E,mo~c
~.-. %~. :f3
il ~..... ,
.,' "~:'. CAMPEQ,.~o \<,
," /.'. ~c:, ,!~4' T
• ~ ~" ~:i'.'. •:.~:i ~, [

Ioo 300Kin
I~002PO ZOOMI.
Fig. 1. Location of the s t u d y area in the state of Tabasco, Mexico.
175

maximum in September, followed by a gradual decrease to a minimum in


April.
Close to the coast during the drier months of March and April, approxi-
mately 40 mm of rainfall occurs, increasing to a minimum of over 100 mm in
the foothills. Climate can be classified primarily as Am to Af, according to the
KSppen system (Garcia, 1973).
Original vegetation consisted of primarily tropical rain forest, except for a
rather large area of savannah in the south-central part of Tabasco (see West,
1966, for detailed description). Marsh vegetation is also quite widespread in
the deltaic plain formed by alluvium deposits of the extensive river system
characteristic of the region (West et al., 1969). It was probably the areas with
forest or savannah vegetation in which most traditional agriculture occurred,
and in recent time has seen a considerable introduction of new agricultural
technology. Various forms of subsistence farming are known to have been
employed by the original Indian inhabitants (Wilken, 1970) and are thought
to have achieved highly productive levels. Slash and burn agriculture was
probably used for basic grain production (corn, beans,.etc.), whereas exten-
sive use of kitchen gardens (huertos familiares), composed primarily of tree
crops and their associated understory herbs, shrubs, and vines, added great
variety to the local diet. Cacao was produced as an understory element in
in these kitchen garden systems and this crop has been expanded considerably
using a plantation system which makes extensive use of legume shade trees.
In recent years the emphasis in agriculture in the Tabascan lowlands has
been away from subsistence agriculture and towards commercial farming and
stock-raising. Accompanying this shift towards commercial activities has been
a gradual abandonment of traditional agricultural practices and varieties. Loss
of diversity in the cropping systems is thought to have detrimental effects on
the diet and nutrition of the local people ~Hernandez et al., 1974) and to lead
to a greater dependence on food products of overall lower nutritional value,
usually imported from outside the tropics (Dewey, 1979). This problem has
become especially acute in recent years due to a failure of several moderniza-
tion schemes and agricultural reform projects to achieve the levels of produc-
tivity hoped for. Instead, the emphasis has been placed on low-risk export
crops such as bananas, sugar cane, and cattle raising. At the same time, once
the original limited productivity of the forest soils has been quickly depleted,
large areas have been converted to very low yield pasture or completely aban-
doned and allowed to become revegetated by weedy second growth species.
The objective of this project therefore, is to attempt to once again achieve
the diversity and stability of productivity originally characteristic of the
traditional agro-ecosystems and natural ecosystem of the region.

THE M ODULAR PRODUCTION SYSTEM

As part of a program to reclaim areas that once possessed a much greater


productivity, at various sites in the Tabascan lowlands we have installed pro-
duction units, referred to here as modular systems, whose primary focus
176

centers around the application of ecological principles to agriculture with the


incorporation of considerable empirical knowledge present in the region.
Each modular production unit can be conceptualized as a system that
strives to reach an equilibrium in productive capacity by interrelating agri-
cultural activities with ecological and socio-economic factors prevalent in a
lowland humid tropical region.
Each production unit consists of 5--15 ha controlled by several family
units as part of their other agricultural activities. Depending on the social
structure of the community, the families may actually live within each module,
or in a nearby community and work in the module during the day. Many
communities in Mexico are organized into a type of collective (ejido colectivo)
and work the different agricultural aspects of their communities on a communal
basis (Toledo, 1977). Thus production from each module would either be
consumed directly by the families living there, or the products would be
distributed to the members of the ejido. Any excess in production would be
available for sale or exchange.
Each production unit has as part of its basic structural design (Fig. 2) an
outermost band of vegetation consisting primarily of second growth species
present naturally in the region. This band serves simultaneously as a wind-
break, a source of natural predators and parasites for biological control, as
well as a source of firewood and building materials. At the same time these

~C

J,

Fig. 2. Diagramatic representation of the modular production unit at the Colegio Superior
de Agricultura Tropical, H. Cardenas, Tabasco, Mexico. (A, central tank; B, runoff collec-
tion canals; C, drainage canal; D, chinampas; E, annual and perennial cropping; F, forest
shelter belt. )
177

shelter belts serve as biological reserves or germplasm banks for part of the
great diversity of plants and animals normally present in tropical ecosystems.
By selective species enrichment with forest and fruit tree species, it is pos-
sible to apply agro-silvicultural management practices, increasing the long
term value of the shelter belt. This activity is consistent with the ecological
basis o f secondary succession and forest regeneration processes in natural
forests (Gomez-Pompa and Ludlow Wiechers, 1976), and can contribute sig-
nificantly to the successful reforestation of large areas of the tropics. Initial
observations of growth o f some of the more economically important forest
species in some modular units demonstrate rapid initial rates of development
(Table I).

TABLE I

Height increases (averages of 30 individuals of each species) in four important forest


species after one year from planting out in the second growth shelter belt, Modular Unit,
CSAT, H. Cardenas, Tabasco, Mexico

Species Local Height (m) Growth (m)


name
At planting At 1 y

Swietania macrophylla King Caoba 0.30 2.57 2.27


Cedrela mexicana Roem Cedro 0.35 2.11 1.76
Ceiba pentandra L. Ceiba 0.45 2.57 2.12
Tabebuia pentaphylla L. Maculi 0.25 0.88 0.63

The interior part of each modular unit is constructed on the basis of the
topographic diversity existent at each site. In cases where the lowest part of
the module can be centrally located, as in Fig. 2, we construct large tanks
which serve as catchments for all runoff from the production unit to collect
dissolved nutrients and particles of soil and organic matter. Fish, ducks, and
other aquatic animals are being produced in the tanks, with the aquatic plants
and sediments being used as fertilizer in other parts of the module. Frequent-
ly small canals are built, depending on topography and the size of the unit,
radiating o u t from the central tank in order to further aid in the capture of
excessive runoff. To avoid total inundation of the site, a principal canal can
be built to eliminate excess water from the site, or in some cases, serve as a
means of adding water in times of low rainfall.
Under certain topographic conditions we have been able to utilize a natural
water course in much the same way as the centrally constructed tank (Fig. 3).
By constructing small earthen dams and enlarging the reservoir behind each
dam, areas for fish, duck and other animal production have been possible.
The ponds aid in the production of aquatic plants as well as the capture of
sediments from the rest of the system.
Located around the central tank or along the edges of the water courses
we construct raised platforms, often with the same material extracted from
178

lOG m

Fig. 3. Diagramatic representation of the modular production unit in the Ejido Lazaro
Cardenas, Tacotalpa, Tabasco, Mexico. (A, reservoir formed by dam construction; B, stream
course; C, duck pen; D, chinampas; E, area of annual and perennial cropping; F, forest
shelter belt. )

the catchment basins, forming a system of tropical chinampas (Gomez-Pompa,


1978} for intensive vegetable production (Table II, part A). The soil of the
chinampas is constantly enriched with organic matter produced by the abun-
dant aquatic plant growth as well as the sediments from the bottom of the
reservoirs. Animals kept in small corrals, such as pigs, chickens, or ducks, are
fed the excess or waste produce from the chinampas, as well as from other
parts of the module, in order that manures can be incorporated back into the
platforms for added productivity.
Around the areas of chinampas, we concentrate the major part of the
production of basic food crops traditional in the region (Table II, parts B
and C). According to the distribution of soil types, drainage, topography,
and other physical characteristics of each site, a wide variety of annual and
perennial crops are planted following the planting methods and combinations
recommended by the campesinos. This includes such systems as the local
corn/bean/squash polyculture, cassava/corn/papaya, and fruit trees associated
with various cover crops, shrubs, or vines. A concept that we never lose sight
of is the need to make our modular units productive on a sustained basis.
Thus much of our experimentation is focused towards understanding the best
crop combinations and rotational schemes, especially in developing the best
means of managing the large organic matter inputs necessary for the main-
179

T A B L E II

H a r v e s t a v a i l a b i l i t y o n a m o n t h l y b a s i s d u r i n g t h e y e a s I o r d i f f e r e n t t y p e s o f c r o p s p l a n t e d in t h e
modular production units, inc|udlng an ecological classification for each one

Species** Local Month available for harvest Class*


name
J F M A M J J A S O N D

A. C h i n a m p a s a n d i n t e n s i v e v e g e t a b l e s
Lycopersicon esculentum Tomate X X X X X X X X X X X X 2L
C c p s i c u m a n n u m vass Chile X X X X X X X X X X X X 2L
C u c u r b ita P e p o vats. Calabaza XXX XXX 3M, F
C u c u m i s m e l o vass. Melon XXX 3F
A l l i u m cepa Cebolla X X X X X X X X X X X X 1R
Manihot esculenta Yuca XXX XXX 5R
Colocasia e s c u l e n t a Macal X X X X X X X X X X X X 4R
X a n t h o s o m a sagittifolium Malanga X X X X X X X X X X X X 4R
Carica p a p a y a Papaya X X X X X X X X X X X X 6F
M u s a ssp. a n d v a t s . Platano X X X X X X X X X X X X 6F
M u s a sPp. a n d v a r s . Guineo X X X X X X X X X X X X 6F
Cnidoscolus c h a y a m a n s a Chaya X X X X X X X X X X X X 6L
Brassica oleracea Col XXX 1L
B ixa oreUana Achiote XXX 6F
Coriandrum sativum Cilantro X X X X X X X X X X X X IL
I p o m e a batatas Camote X X 3R
S e s a m u n orientale Ajonjol~ X X 2F
Allium sativum Ajo X X X 1R
Citrullus vulgaris Sand~a X X X 3F
E r y n g i u m sP. Perejil X X X X X X X X X X X X 1L
Zea mats Mafz XX XX XX 2F
Ca]anus ca]an Chichaxo XXX 2F
O c i m u m basilicum Albahaca X X X X X X X X X X X X IL
M u n t i n g i a calabura Capulin X X X X X 6F
Crotalaria m a y p u r e n s i s Chipilln X X X X X X X X X X X X 2L, F
C u c u m i s sativas Pepino X X X X IF
R a p h a n u s sativus Rabarto X X X X X X X X X X X X IR
Vigna sinensis Frijol XX XX XX 2F

B. A r e a s o f b a s i c a n n u a l c r o p s
Zca m a t s Maiz X X X X X X 2F
O r y z a sativa Arroz X X 2F
P h a s e o l u s vulgaris Frijol X X 2F
Vigna sinensis Frijol X X X X X X 2F
Cucurbita pepo Calabaza X X X X X X 3M, F
Cnidoscoius chayamansa Chaya X X X X X X X X X X X X 6L
B i x a orellana Achiote X X 6F
Manihot csculenta Yuca X X X X X X 5R
S t i z o l o b i u m sP. Nescafe X X X X X X X X X X X X 3M, F
Canavalia e n s i f o r m i a Costilla X X X X X X X X X X X X 3M, F
Ca]anus ca]an Chicharo X X X 6M, F
Le ucae na g lauca Leucaen~ X X X X X X X X X X X X 6M, F,L
D i o s c o r e a alata Name X X X 9R
S e c h i u m edule Chayote X X X X 9F
Carica p a p a y a Papaya X X X X X X X X X X X X 6F

C. A r e a s o f p e r e n n i a l c r o p s
T h e o b ro m a cacao Cacao X X X X X 6F
A n n o n a muricata Guanabana X X X 'IF
M a n g i f e r a indica Mango X X X X 7F
Co f l e a arabica Care X X 6F
A nanas sativas PiCa X X X 4F
Citrus a u r a n t e u m vass, Naranja X X X X 6F
Citrus l i m o n i a vaxs. Lim6n X X X X X 6F
Citrus grandis Toronja X X X 6F
Psidium guayava Guayaba X X 6F
C o c u s nucifera Coco X X X X X X X X X X X X 7F
180

TABLE II (continued)

Species* * Local M o n t h available f o r h a r v e s t Class*


nalne
J F M A M J J A S O N D

Achras zapota Zapote X X X 7F


Chryssophyllum caimito Calmito X X X 7F
Talisis o l i v a e f o r m i s Gua~,a X X 7F
Persea a m e r i c a n a Aguacate X X X 7F
Persea sP Chinin X X X 7F
Tarnarindus indica Tamarindo X X X 6F
Passiflora edulis Granadilla X X X X X × X X X X X X 9F
Artocarpus comunis Castafia X × 7F
Annona scuamosa Anona X X X X 7F
SPondias purpurea Ci~elo X × X X 6F
Colocarpum mammosum Zapote X X X 7F
Anacardium occidentale Marafion X X 7F
Inga q u i n i c u i l Quinicuil X X 7F
B y r s o n i m a crassifolia Nanche X X 6F
H i b i s c u s sabdariffa Jamaica X X X 4F
M u n t i n g i a calabura Capulin × X X × X 6F
Theobromabicolor Pataste X X X X X X X X × X × X 7F
P i m i e n t a officialis Pimienta X X 7F
Heveabrazi|iensis Hule X × × × X X X X × × X X 8S
C y m b o p o g o n citratus Zacate IAmbn X × X × X × × X X X X X 4L

A d d i t i o n a l l y m a n y of t h e species f r o m A a n d B, b u t especially t h o s e w i t h a classification o f 3, 4, 5, 6


a n d 9.

*Classification o f c r o p s a c c o r d i n g t o t h e e c o l o g i c a l s t a t u s o f e a c h p l a n t in t h e c r o p p i n g s y s t e m s :
1, a n n u a l , l o w g r o w i n g (R = r o o t , F = f r u i t or seed, L = leaf, S = sap, M ffi g r e e n m a n u r e ) ; 2, a n n u a l ,
u p r i g h t ; 3, g r o u n d c o v e r ; 4, p e r e n n i a l , l o w g r o w i n g ; 5, p e r e n n i a l , m e d i u m height, e n t i r e p l a n t h a r v e s t e d
c o m p l e t e l y u s u a l l y in less t h a n o n e y e a r ; 6, p e r e n n i a l , m e d i u m height, leaves o r f r u i t s h a r v e s t e d o n l y ;
7, p e r e n n i a l tall, f r u i t c r o p ; 8, p e r e n n i a l , tall, leaf, w o o d , o r sap c r o p ; 9, c l i m b e r , u s u a l l y p e r e n n i a l .
* * N o m e n c l a t u r e a f t e r L.H. Barley, 197 5.

tenance of productive potential, and their importance in the overall func-


tioning of the agro-ecosystem.

ECOLOGICAL PROCESSES

The focus of the modular production units represents in many ways a


reversion to the diversity of cropping systems that were traditional among
the campesinos and makes use of ancient practices still existing in many parts
of the Tabascan lowlands. At the same time each of these practices has a
distinct basis in ecological theory.
The high species diversity in many tropical ecosystems is well known in
ecological literature (Whittaker, 1965, 1972). This same concept is managed
in each module, first in considering the overall diversity of each entire pro-
duction unit, and secondarily in each particular crop subsystem within the
unit (Table II). This varies from the chinampas {e.g. a platano/chaya/tomate/
cilantro]rabano mixture), to the annual cropping areas (e.g. the traditional
maiz/frijol/calabaza polyculture), to the perennial crop systems with diverse
mixtures of fruit trees and their associated understory herbs, shrubs, and
181

climbing vines. Greatest diversity is seen in the second-growth shelter belts


around each production unit. Following the practice of the local campesino,
every utilizable area is occupied by vegetative cover, both in time and space.
The classification of growth forms and habits presented in Table II gives an
idea of the structural diversity possible within each subsystem. Crops with
different canopy configurations give better light interception and ultimately
lead to better utilization of solar radiation (Allen et al., 1976), as well as
higher biomass accumulation within the system. Therefore, species diversity
on an area basis is increased even more through an increase in spatial arrange-
ment and crop architecture (Horn, 1971).
A further characteristic of tropical ecosystems, as well as the traditional
agro-ecosystems, is the high rate of biomass accumulation within the system
in relation to harvest output. This can vary from 16 to 22 t ha -~ dry weight
of organic matter (Whittaker, 1975), and is thought to play an important part
in the long term productive stability of each system (Sanchez, 1976b). With
higher crop diversity, it appears that the need to produce an increased harvest-
able food portion can be better combined with the need to maintain greater
organic biomass content in the system as a whole (Trenbath, 1974). Without
this organic matter input, it soon becomes necessary to constantly import
larger and more expensive amounts of inorganic fertilizers whose effectiveness
in the face of high temperatures and heavy rainfall is questionable (Gliess-
man, 1980). In the chinampas, for example, the major source of organic
matter input is the water hyacinth (Eichornia crassipes), capable of producing
up to 900 kg ha -~ dry matter daily (National Academy of Sciences, 1976).
Supplemented with relatively small amounts of animal manure high in
nitrogen, the chinampas can be made essentially self-sustaining (Gomez-
Pompa, 1978). Other aquatic plants are being tested, especially those with
nitrogen fixing potential.
In the annual crop areas the main sources of organic matter input come
from a rotation with various species of legume cover crops, other crop
residues, and the incorporation of any other associated herbaceous species
present. The importance of the legume cover crops in the elimination of un-
desirable herbaceous species, soil-borne diseases and nematodes, as well as
increasing soil fertility, is presently being studied (Gliessman and Garcia,
1979). The same cover crop concept is being employed in the areas of
perennial cropping, but we are finding that the biomass input in the perennial
systems in relation to output is very similar to that reported for natural
ecosystems of similar structure, and thus are much more stable in obtainable
yield. The nutrient flow in each system is presently being intensively studied
in several modular units in order to gain a better understanding of the rela-
tionship between biomass accumulation and yield output, especially in rela-
tion to diversity and its management.
As in traditional agro-ecosystems, the modular production units are
managed without the use of commercial chemical insecticides or fungicides.
By maintaining as high a structural diversity in each unit as possible, aided
182

by surrounding shelter belts of natural vegetation, we hope to attain the op-


timum equilibrium between pest populations and corresponding predator
and parasite populations proposed by Price (1976). Extensive evidence has
been accumulated which demonstrates that many traditional intercropping
patterns are in fact pest-suppressant (Litsinger and Moody, 1976). At the same
time, by utilizing native stock in all of our plantings, the probability that the
crop species still retain a high degree of natural chemical defenses is much
higher (Janzen, 1973). These types of biological control mechanisms can
function for insects, fungi, bacteria, and nematodes, above as well as below
ground. It is much less probable that population size of any one pest will
reach epidemic (and thus economic) levels due to the specific and structural
diversity present in the production units.
Biological control of pests can be extended to include the control of weeds.
The campesino employs a wide variety of crop combinations (mixture and
cover) and rotational rest periods in order to help keep his cropping areas
free of undesirable herbaceous plants. By maintaining a continual crop cover,
combined with other cultural practices, the opportunity for weed invasion
and growth is minimized. Recently it has been proposed (Putnam and Duke,
1974) that the allelopathic potential of the crops could be a definite mecha-
nism of weed control, especially since the traditional crop varieties could
still possess a greater toxic potential due to their continual association with
weed populations in the traditional agro-ecosystems. The fact that the
campesino rarely practices "clean" cultivation, but rather selectively leaves
some and eliminates others, suggests a potential for managing certain crop/
weed mixtures so that biomass accumulation in the system can be increased,
yet the harmful effects Of interference from certain weeds avoided.
Further enrichment of the cropping diversity in the modular units is being
attempted through the introduction of other varieties of crops already utilized
in the various regions of the Tabascan lowlands, as well as other parts of trop-
ical Mexico. Thorough ethnobotanical studies from this region are still
lacking, and the ecotypic variation available in most of the crops is very little
explored. The location of this variability into the ecological diversity of each
modular unit could aid in approaching productive stability as well as further
complementing the dietetic needs of the campesino. Introductions from
other tropical regions of the world could even be attempted, provided that
a thorough knowledge of the ecological relationships of each potential com-
ponent within the modular system was understood. By complementing the
system that the campesino already recognizes, the acceptance of the new
species would be more plausible. At present, for example, we are studying
the problems involved in the addition of the winged bean (Psophocarpus
tetragonolobus) into the traditional maize/frijol/calabaza polyculture of the
region. The potential of the winged bean for improving dietetic diversity and
quality is well recognized (National Academy of Sciences, 1975).
183

PERSPECTIVES

A thorough understanding of the ecological processes functioning in the


traditional agro~ecosystems in the tropics, coupled with the development of a
productive system with which the campesino can identify and understand,
holds out the possibility that we can develop a technology which will provide
a more varied diet, stability of production, reduced pest and disease problems,
more efficient use of family labor, and the potential for intensive production
despite the various limiting factors well recognized in tropical environments.
The need to focus research efforts towards the further development of crop-
ping systems with high structural and specific diversity has recently been
proposed (Sanchez, 1976a), and guidelines for the selection of proper varieties
have been given (Francis et al., 1976). So far, however, very little information
has been gathered and tested within the context of production oriented sys-
tems, especially as related to the understanding of the ecological relationships
between the many and varied components of the agro-ecosystems.
In the lowland tropical regions of southeastern Mexico a considerable body
of empirical knowledge exists concerning the structure and management of
traditional agro~ecosystems, as well as the original germplasm to utilize as the
basis for the organization of productive units. Utilizing the modular unit
concept, the potential for restoring a more productive capacity to tropical
ecosystems can be achieved. The imposition of a new technology has been
shown to have a very limited potential in increasing productivity, especially
when that technology comes from extra-tropical regions. The acceptance of
a technology with which the campesino can readily identify is an obvious
advantage for the introduction of modular units. At the same time, the col-
lective ejido structure can potentially satisfy the socio-economic limitations
posed by any kind of organized agricultural enterprise. Our ability to ensure
that each modular unit can sustain its productive capacity is dependent on
our understanding of the ecological relationships functioning within the
structural diversity that we design.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

The authors acknowledge Biol. J. Chavelas of INIF, San Pedro Bacalar,


Quintana Roo, Mexico, for originating the modular concept in his excellent
work with Mayan Agriculture. Considerable credit goes to Ing. Fausto Inzunza
and Tec. Radames Bermudez for their excellent capacities in the field. This
work was financed primarily by the Program of Investments for Rural Devel-
opment (PIDER) of Tabasco, Mexico, and partially by the Colegio Superior
de Agricultura Tropical in Cardenas, Tabasco, Mexico.
184

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