The transformation of Tarahumara agriculture in Chihuahua, Mexico



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The Tarahumara are one of the most isolated and intact indigenous groups in Mexico. Their agriculture has traditionally been practiced within the steep canyons and uplands of the Sierra Madre Occidental in southwestern Chihuahua. Adapting to these rugged conditions, the Tarahumara developed a variety of agricultural techniques that allowed them to be self-sufficient in food production and independent of external inputs. As varied and ingenious as their techniques are, they share one main objective -- to overcome the lack of organic matter in the stony mountain soils. Since the arrival of the Spaniards, the addition of organic matter has involved large amounts of animal manure to increase organic matter in the soil and maintain fertility. The focus of this study is to investigate new agricultural techniques that the Tarahumara are adopting due to the pressures of globalization and alleged climate change. These new technologies may still include many traditional agricultural methods, but they are increasingly using commercially available fertilizers and other modern agricultural additions, thereby losing self-sufficiency. This study includes in depth interviews with 28 Tarahumara farmers to better understand the modern agricultural techniques, their motivations, and overall sustainability. Soil samples determined the viability of Tarahumara agricultural techniques on soil fertility by examining the visual description, organic matter content, soil texture, and a chemical analysis. The analyses showed that traditional Tarahumara agricultural practices are efficient and sustainable, while modern additions are often ill-suited for their environment and are disruptive to Tarahumara culture.