Maya Mountain Research Farm has been continuously managed as an agroforestry system for the last 26 years. In 1988, when the farm was a citrus and cattle farm, much of the land was severely damaged. Years of cattle raising had left many acres of heavily compressed soils, and the acres of citrus were at the end of their productive life span.


The farm has been transformed from a damaged landscape to a verdant forest of fruit and timber trees, with ornamental, medicinal and marketable crops.


The agroforestry system at MMRF covers over 25 acres, and is expanding every year. Within that area, we manage hundreds of species of plants. We have an emphasis on cacao as a sub canopy species.


Broadly, the agroforestry system can be considered to have a canopy later, a sub canopy layer, an emergent layer, a terrestrial layer and a sub soil layer. In an idealized systems, each of those layers have components with yields, some leaving the system, and others that enhance the productiveness of the system, maintaining the fertility of the system by nutrient cycling.


By mimicking the batiral ecosystem of rainforest which would be here if humans were not, we are able to produce food, fuel wood, building materials, medicinal crops, fodder for animals and marketable crops suchas cacao, vanilla, coffee, ginger, cardamom and tumeric, for some examples, while replicating the ecological services that ecosystems provide, services that include carbon sequestration, soil and soil moisture retention and habitat creation. These are all important ecological services that have increasing value as natural ecosystems are compromised by a combination of shifting cultivation, markets for export crops and increasing levels of timbering, especially in the communities adjacent to the Maya Mountains.


Agroforestry has much to offer small holders in the lowland humid tropics, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Depending on the farmers needs and harvest time cycles, a farmer might have a timber dominant, fruit dominant or oil producing plant dominant agroforestry system, or use cacao or coffee as anchor crops to make medium to long term income while the timber trees mature.

Here at MMRF we have a very diverse polyculture, with timber trees, including native species like mahogany, cedar, guanacaste, mayflower, sam wood and exotics like teak. In between those trees we also have a lot of fruit trees, mango, avocado, mame sapote, rollinia, anona, soupr sop, noni, breadnut, bread fruit, golden plum, lime, etc, and amongst those we have coffee, cacao, jippy jappa palm, chi’kai palm and other species. At ground level we have plants like ginger, pineapple, chi’kai, tumeric, and leguminous plants like arachis pintoi and desmodium. Herbaceous perennials like banana and papayaare placed in the system where conditions are favorable for them, and serve as pioneer species, giving a quick return, and providing biomass to the farm when harvested.


Much of the food we eat, and most of the food we raise for our animals, the pigs, chickens, ducks comes from perennial crops in our agroforestry system. By utilizing perennial crops, we maximize the calorie production to energy expended ratio.


We practice something we call “induced patchiness”, with concentrations of species in certain areas, to facilitate easier harvesting, especially of seasonal crops, and better rates of pollination. This is similar to patchiness we see in nature. Around the classroom, the dorm and the posh pods, heading down to the drying floor/yoga studio, much of that is a coconut dominant polyculture. Close to the toilet, we have coffee, cacao, pineapple, coconut, sam wood, erythrina, breadnut and other species. While areas of MMRF are dominated by specific species all od these trees are planted with multiple species.


In 2008 we were hit by a devastating fire, after which we have had to push back the fire potential. We have expanded our cultivated areas by 12 acres to remove the wamil, or regenerative forest close to the buildings, and to replace it with agroforestry. Much of this has been centered on moringa, pineapple, coconut and banana, with pineapples being planted in long lines on contour to help to retain soil while also giving us a crop in the initial years. Now many of those tres are fruiting, and timber species have been planted.


In addition to the fruit and nut trees, and the marketable crops like coffee, cacao, cardamom, tumeric and ginger, we have many ornamental and leguminous trees.


MMRF is a good place to learn about agroforestry!