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.