Fallow management practices in Guatemala's western highlands: Social drivers and biophysical impacts

  • Wittman H
  • Johnson M
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Land pressures and environmental degradation are driving forces behind
shortened fallow periods in the tropics, often resulting in reduced crop
yields and increased migration from rural areas. This paper describes
contemporary fallow practices in the Western Highlands of Guatemala
based on interdisciplinary data collected using participatory rural
appraisal and qualitative research methods in combination with a
quantitative evaluation of the impacts of fallow management decisions on
soil fertility. Case studies of two communities in San Marcos department
illustrate contemporary and traditional land use practices. Currently,
over 70 per cent of families engage in a variety of fallow management
practices, with combined cropping-fallow cycles within a field averaging
3-6 years. Despite the reduction in length of fallow cycles, new fallow
practices in the study area appear to improve some aspects of soil
fertility while also providing fodder and fuelwood. Calcium and
magnesium concentrations in fallow soil were twice that of cropped
plots, indicating that weathering reactions and atmospheric deposition
during fallow periods are able to restore base cation fertility that is
taken up by potato crops during cropping cycles. Soil in cropped plots,
however, showed 25 per cent higher soil organic matter and five times
higher nitrate concentrations than soil in fallow plots, which resulted
from additions of compost and inorganic fertilizer to cropped plots.
Nevertheless, the (13)C/(12)C isotopic ratio of soil organic carbon
indicated that as soil organic matter content decreases in cropped
plots, the remaining carbon is increasingly degraded. Potential
improvements in fallow management practices proposed by farmers and
researchers are also presented. Copyright (C) 2007 John Wiley & Sons,

Author-supplied keywords

  • Andisol
  • Baccharis vaccinioides
  • Buddleia skutchii
  • Enriched fallows
  • Fallow systems
  • Grazed fallow
  • Guatemala
  • Seasonal migration
  • Soil fertility

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