Reinventing agro-ecological self-reliance in traditional farming systems in Costa Chica, Guerrero, Mexico

Research of the Farming Systems Ecology Group aims to provide scientific support for continuous and sustainable development of agro-ecosystems with special reference to organic agriculture and reduced use of external inputs in both the Netherlands and abroad. This is one of our research topics.

Peasants with small plots of farm land predominantly in marginal environments, remote from markets and institutions, and using traditional and subsistence methods make up the majority of farmers in Latin America (Altieri, 2002). To break vicious cycles of decreasing product prices, increasing input costs, lack of investment capacity and decreasing yields due to resource degradation, the agronomic challenge is to make more efficient use of natural on-farm resources. An important avenue of improvement is to utilize internal resources more effectively and thus enable reduction of external inputs and market dependence (Pretty, 1995).

In the Costa Chica region, part of Guerrero State in Mexico, farming systems rely on maize and roselle. Cropping systems have moved away from traditional crop rotations through fertilizer subsidy schemes and promotion of herbicides. Farmers experience a strong dependency on fertilizers and herbicides. Lack of crop rotation, unbalanced crop nutrition and intensive herbicide use have led to soil degradation, declining yields and eutrophication of surface water through leaching of plan nutrients, resulting in unsustainable agro-ecosystems. The current situation is a major concern for the farmers and local policy makers, who are looking for and evaluating land use options that improve standards of living while strengthening the natural resource base. These elements are starting point of a research project aimed at development of alternative sustainable farming systems by means of interactive processes between farmers and researchers. Agro-ecological engineering approaches will be used to describe and diagnose current farming systems, and design and explore alternatives.

Overall aim of the project is to investigate whether farming systems can be developed with a stronger emphasis on resource use efficiency and resource base conservation while providing farmers with an acceptable economic return. The project will focus on the scales of field and farm. We will emphasise objectives on farm economics, resource use efficiency and resource conservation. We hypothesise that farm output can be increased and resource use be improved by

  • Diversifying crop rotations, including leguminous inter- and cover crops;
  • More balanced crop nutrition;
  • Enhancing recycling of nutrient resources in compost and manure; and
  • Decreasing erosion by use of cover crops and intercrops.

Combining existing modelling tools and experimentation, we will diagnose current nutrient flows on farms in the Tecoanapa municipality which has been a site of action research of the Colegio de Posgraduados for almost a decade, and nutrient dynamics in selected maize crops. Experimental work will be done in support of understanding major growth limiting factors and to investigate options for improving systems through use of nitrogen-fixing green manure cover crops, such as Mucuna epp. and Canavalia spp.

Research questions and hypotheses

- Which is the current situation of the farming systems regarding cropping systems, cultural practices, resource flows, and socioeconomic conditions?

  • Major limiting crop growth factors concern plant nutrition, simplified cropping systems and crop management.

- What are the general components and characteristics of the farming systems in each community?

  • Current farming systems differ considerably inputs and resources base, which is reflected in productivity.

- Do alternative land use systems based on an agro-ecological approach contribute to develop alternative farming systems towards more ecological self-reliance?

  • Agro ecological innovations or scenarios can be designed to improve the current cropping systems
  • The scenarios promote the self-reliance of the current farming systems

Specific aims

1. To realize a diagnostic of the current state of farming systems in the communities Las Animas and Xalpatlahuac in socio-economic and agro-ecological terms, and to prioritize the factors (nutrient balance, organic matter level, soil erosion, inefficient use of inputs) that are most limiting at farm and field level.

2. To bring together agro ecological data, models (LINTUL, NDICEA. ROTSOM, ROTEROSION), knowledge and experience to design land use alternatives based on an agro ecological approach fitted to the socioeconomic conditions of farmers in the region

3. To evaluate selected agro ecological alternatives for a group of pilot farms aimed at use of intercrop and cover crop systems, compost and manure using indicators that allow joint fact finding by researchers and farmers.


1. Altieri, M. 2002. Agroecology: the science of natural resource management for poor farmers in marginal environments Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 93, 1–24

2. Pretty, J. 1995. Participatory Learning For Sustainable Agriculture. World Development, Vol. 23, No. 8, 1247-1263.


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  1. Re-inventing sustainable cropping systems in Costa Chica, Mexico (download poster in PDF-format)


  • Flores, S.D., Kleine K. J. Rossing, W., Lantinga, E, and van Bruggen, A. 2007. Reconversión agro ecológica de sistemas de producción de la Costa Chica México: Primeras lecciones. Memorias 1er. Congreso Científico Latinoamericano de Agrecologia. Medellín, Colombia.
  • Flores, S.D. , Kleine Koerkamp, J., Rossing, W. A.H., Lantinga, E.A., van Bruggen A. H.C. 2006. Re-inventing sustainable cropping systems in Costa Chica, Mexico. In: Abstracts of the 7th European IFSA Symposium, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
  • Flores, S.D., Perez, O. M., Navarro, G.H. 2004. Rehabilitación agroecológica de suelos volcánicos endurecidos, experiencias en el Valle de México. Agreocological rehabilitation of hardened volcanic soils, experiences in the Valley of Mexico LEISA, Revista de Agroecologia. Vol. 19, Num. 4, Abril 2004, Rehabilitación de tierras degradadas.
  • Navarro, H., Pérez, A y Flores, D. 2004. Productividad del tepetate con sistemas rotacionales. Productivity of Hardened Volcanic Soil under Rotatory Systems. Terra Latinoamericana, México, 22:71-79.