Government Extension, Agroecology, and Sustainable Food Systems in Belize Milpa Communities
A Socio-Ecological Systems Approach
The sustainability of milpa agriculture, a traditional Mayan farming system in southern Belize, is uncertain. For centuries, the milpa has been a sustainable agriculture system. The slash-and-burn aspect of milpa farming, however, has become less reliable and less sustainable over the last 50 years due to several factors, including forest loss, climate change, population growth, and other factors. The traditional milpa practices of slash-and-mulch and soil nutrient enrichment (nutrient cycling) are agroecological practices that produce food in a more sustainable way. Agriculture extension, a government service in Belize, can promote additional agroecological practices to address food and livelihood insecurities in milpa communities. This study examines perceptions of these practices from milpa farmers and agricultural extension officers in Belize using a socio-ecological systems (SES) framework. SES considers multidisciplinary linkages, including social, economic, environmental, cultural, and other factors in the agroecological system. The study finds several of these SES linkages between agroecological practices—specifically slash-and-mulch and soil nutrient enrichment—and the sustainability of the milpa farming system in southern Belize. Milpa communities are part of the broader SES and therefore are affected by changes to it. Milpa communities can also be enabled and participate in solution-finding. The findings imply that increasing the use of agroecology practices in milpa communities is needed and that government involvement and action, particularly from agriculture extension services, can facilitate a more sustainable milpa farming system and therefore more food and livelihood security in milpa communities in Belize.
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