This last week was spent in the Cayo district; home to Mennonites, Mestizos, Guatemalans, and Creoles. This region is known as the agricultural region of Belize, in which large-scale and mechanized farming is quite prevalent here. I was fortunate enough to work with the Belizean Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) here, who were beyond pleased to host a student researching just what sustainable agriculture entails. In fact, I was quite surprised to learn about all the different projects that the MOA was currently working on to incorporate more sustainable practices into farming here in Belize, or as they call it ‘agroecology’.
They had multiple research gardens and farms- some being grown strictly organic, others using “green label” fertilizers, greenhouse growing projects, as well as an urban garden (ex. using old tires, plastic bottles, recycled material as gardening beds). All of their different projects, in some way or another, exemplified sustainable methods to growing food. It was great to see that the government here in Belize is striving towards improving farming production both on a large and small-scale level.
One of the days working with them was spent in a Mennonite (Amish) community, known as Spanish Lookout. This community was like no other place in Belize, in which there was a lot of deforested land for pasteurization, as well as large mechanized farming equipment present in all directions. This place looked like a rural Idaho farming town (my home base). The Mennonites in this community are known more as ‘progressive’ Amish because they drive cars, use large farming equipment (fossil-fuel dependency), and dress casually. Whereas ‘traditional’ Amish use oxen and horses to pull their wagons and tractors (non fossil-fuel dependency), as well dress and look like what you’d expect an Amish to look like.
Although the traditional Amish are more sustainable because they don’t use large fossil-fuel machinery, both types of Amish do use a lot of chemical fertilizers and deforest a lot of land for monocropping. To me, seeing these Amish farms were nothing new and reminded me of potato farming back home. Speaking with multiple Amish farmers they didn’t see what was wrong with using fertilizers- in fact one said he really didn’t care about the quality of the product rather than the quantity because that’s where the money is. The Amish here have a lot of money due to their mass production and control of many of the exported crops out of Belize. They also work with a lot of other local farmers- teaching them to use fertilizers, tilling their farms for them, etc. Due to their commercial style of farming I believe that they are negatively affecting even small-scale farmers here in Belize by promoting unsustainable techniques. I can easily say that their practices could be one of the root causes of environmental degradation and a growing threat for agriculture here in Belize.
On a different note, my time here in Belize was spent quite productively. Being immersed into the Belizean culture was a life-changing experience for me. I learned a great deal about what sustainable agriculture entails, I gained lifelong friends, I lived with indigenous people, I explored deep regions of the Central American rainforest, I swam with sharks in the worlds second largest barrier reef, I explored many ancient Mayan ruins, etc. I am walking away from Belize with a better understanding about not just sustainable agriculture, but what sustainability in general actually entails. This was a research experience that I wouldn’t have done any other way. But most importantly, beyond my intended research, I learned a great deal about myself. I have traveled quite a bit in my life thus far (not as much as some of my other close friends) but this was my first time ever traveling alone. Doing something completely out of my norm. I feel I have become a better person because of this internship with ProWorld. I can honestly say that I am more at peace with myself than ever before because of this internship experience.