The seduction of models. Chinampa agriculture in Mexico
Abstract, National Library of Medicine, 1988
Considerable excitement accompanied Mexico's plan in the mid-1970s to build "Chinampas," in the swampy region of Veracruz and Tabasco, that is, agriculture involving the construction of raised farming beds in shallow lakes or marshes. The plan was devised by Mexico's Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones sobre los Recursos Bioticos (INIREB). Perfected by the inhabitants of the Valley of Mexico before the Spanish Conquest, chinampas had nearly vanished except in a few isolated and shrinking areas around Mexico City. The chinampas have been steadily constricted in recent years as Mexico City has extended out and swallowed the best known of them, Xochimilco. The introduction of chinampa technology in Tucta, a Chontal village of approximately 300 families in 1978, began on a grand scale. The INI's objectives for the project were: to provide the landless Chontale Indians with permanent employment; to bring about self-sufficient food production in the area; to ensure a constant production of vegetables for the internal market of Villahermosa; to strengthen indigenous cultural identity; and to develop a real alternative for the incorporation of swampland into productive activities. In 1979, INIREB became involved in a 2nd chinampa project in the "ejido" of El Castillo, Veracruz. El Castillo was selected as an experimental project site because of the lake as well as the village's proximity to INIREB's central office in Xalapa, rather than community interest in chinampas. The examples of chinampa technology transfer presented had different outcomes, but they shared several crucial defects. In both cases, the stated and unstated objectives of project managers had little fit with the interests and needs of the farmers. The 2 projects were designed and implemented by outside technicians without significant local participation, and both rapidly fell apart when "beneficiaries" failed to cooperate. The Chontal case is notable because, after a series of failures, it finally worked. This was accomplished only after INIREB technicians broke free from preconceived programs and began listening to the Chontales. Then, the project became consistent with Chontal interests and achieved harmony with local social and economic structures as well as Tabasco's physical environment.