[permaculture] On the pain of desiring land

christopher nesbitt christopher.nesbitt at mmrfbz.org
Tue Dec 1 16:02:13 EST 2009


This is especially poignant to me. About five acres of our cultivated  
of our land was cattle pasture, and some of it was very badly damaged.  
20 years of work to rehabilitate that swath of damaged land has given  
poor results, and, even though the soil has been improved, it is still  
not more than mediocre soil, regardless of swales, companion planting,  
rotation pigeon pea, tithonia, canavalia ensiformis, etc.

I recently was asked to be a consultant to a piece of land here in  
Belize, a future demonstration project in the northern part of the  
country. The land itself is in savanna, and is a quarter inch or so of  
sand and a bit of soil on top of a heavy clay. Nothing much grows  
there, soma oak, some pines. It looks like Texas.

The owner of the land bought it to "rehabilitate" it, and has set up a  
not for profit to funnel finds towards repairing the land, but,  
truthfully, the land has not been damaged, it is just land that is not  
suitable for agriculture.

They have already planted out some cashew, which I would have  
suggested ffor this soil, and there is some cannavalia maritimus, but  
they want to plant out jatropha and other plants that are simply never  
going to grow there. They are ready to run sheep on it, and the grass  
they have, humidicola, at two years after planting, should be 6 feet  
tall. It is not even 6 inches tall.

The problems are many:
*The soil is poor and shallow
*This part of the country has a very hard dry season
*Wildfires lit to clear sugar cane rampage through the area every year

The feeling they had is that "permaculture" can overcome the inherent  
limitations of that land, and, frankly, it can't. That soils is simply  
not meant to be agriculture. It might produce something, but the  
amount of energy and time going into it will be draining, especially  
because a few miles away there is faifry good soil.

Now, container farming, with soil brought in form other locations,  
raised beds, aquaponics, etc, could do something ON that land, but not  
WITH that land. The "farming" could be anywhere if they go that route.

I wrote my recommendations, and stopped short of saying to find  
another piece of land, but the owner, who seems like a nice sort, is  
insistent that they need to demonstrate that such land can be  
"repaired". No matter how much energy they spend, in 20 years, that  
land will still be a poor land.

So, anyone tempted to buy "fix-it-up" piece of land because it is  
cheap, should look further and see the ultimate cost. FWIW< I ended up  
with good land, but nly by luck as I had no idea about agriculture  
when I bought this place. Lucky for me.

Best wishes,


On Dec 1, 2009, at 1:34 PM, Rain Tenaqiya wrote:

> I grew up with an intense hunger for my own plot of land, and was  
> desperate by the time I had the resources to buy some.  I really  
> identify with the lust for land of the US "pioneers" and landless  
> peasants.  I feel that permaculture, in its current form, does a  
> disservice to those seeking land by playing down the difficulties of  
> marginal land.  It is true that a lot of land that is currently  
> considered marginal can be coaxed into producing yields for  
> satisfying vital needs, but only with more work, money, time,  
> energy, and other inputs than prime farming land.
> On the other hand, it is less likely that permaculturists would  
> create dustbowls, because our practices are diametrically opposed to  
> such outcomes.  We don't like tilling, bare soil, and overirrigation  
> or unsustainable water use, and we like mulching, perennials,  
> appropriate earthworks, etc.
> Rain
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Christopher Nesbitt

Maya Mountain Research Farm
San Pedro Columbia, Toledo
PO 153 Punta Gorda Town, Toledo
Central America


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