Technological change in contemporary peasant farming systems of northern Chiapas, Mexico
A study of the process of technological change in contemporary Mayan agricultural systems was undertaken by an action research method that involved close collaboration with the rural development efforts of farmers in the northern highlands of Chiapas, Mexico. Firstly, the socioeconomic context of technological change in Chiapas was described, with special reference to the effects of markets on agricultural development. Secondly, theta actors affecting the productivity and sustainability of the regions principal agricultural systems: maize and beans for subsistence and coffee for cash were described and measured. The use of traditional swidden methods of maize cultivation with shorter fallow periods was found to be causing a significant decline in the fertility of soils. Alternative, non-burning methods were found to be sustainable in terms of soil fertility, but required high labour inputs and were less productive during a 2-3 year transition period. Despite government programmes to promote the development of coffee plantations most farmers had adopted only ad hoc improvements, and coffee system productivities were found to be generally low. Models integrating dynamic and linear progranuning components of the improvement problem systems in maize and coffee production were constructed using evidence from the field studies. By examining a number of hypothetical scenarios, further hypotheses about the coffee and maize systems were generated. It was inferred that the relative scarcity of farm labour, cash or land resources would affect the optimum technical decisions of farmers. In particular, it was concluded that farmers with scarce cash resources would face most difficulty (in terms of loss of effective income) in adopting non-burning maize techniques and the promoted methods of coffee plantation improvement. On the basis of the evidence from the field studies and the modelling exercises a number of technical, project and policy recommendations were advocated. These were based upon the objective of maximising the potential competitive strengths of the peasant mode of production, including: the efficient use of marginal, dispersed and inaccessible resources and the production of a wide range of specialised agricultural and forestry products.