Curt Bowen, of Semilla Nueva updated us on the progress and success they are seeing in providing  sustainable agriculture in Guatemala.  Our club participated in a Global grant campaign for the organization.
In many countries around the world including Guatemala, burning and tilling have been considered prerequisites to farming systems. Every year between harvests farmers will burn all the excess crop residue on their field and then turn the soil over with large plows before seeding. These practices are regarded as an annual ‘cleaning’ of the field, and seen as the easiest way to get rid of pests, weeds, and begin the season with a fresh start.
However, these common practices of slash and burn and excessive tillage are some of the most deleterious to long-term farm health and environmental sustainability. Burning causes substantial waste of precious nutrient resources and organic matter, particularly nitrogen. As the natural fertility and health decrease in soils, yields go down and evoke the necessity for more and more costly fertilizers. Tilling every year causes a breakdown of soil structure which produces hardpans in the soil – hard, thick, nonporous layers of soil that lower water retention and nutrient release. Furthermore, tilling exposes organically-rich topsoil to the surface which then oxidizes into CO2 and contributes significantly to climate change.