As part of our work on ecological restoration in the Purépecha region of Michoacán, in Mexico, we gave a course on horticulture, with a focus on medicinal plants, shrubs, herbs, and vegetables. We also developed an agroforestry system around the concept of alley intercropping.
The economic activities of the region include the fabrication of guitars and other string instruments, some crafts, carpentry, and furniture manufacturing. The second-largest economic activity is agriculture, which has been shrinking due to the rising population and the overexploitation of the ecosystems of the region. That is why we recommend agroforestry systems in the Purépecha region.
By recuperating the biodiversity of these ecosystems, agroforestry plays a key role as it also provides marketable products in the short, medium, and long term. These products allow rural populations to generate food and employment. They help the local economy and contribute to the restoration of the soil’s potential.
Because of its flat topography (less than 5% slope), which has supported agriculture for generations, the location is considered suitable for alley intercropping. By spacing rows of trees at a distance of 2.5 m between individuals and 4.0 m between rows, there is enough space to plant heirloom varieties of corn (Zea mays). The trees we used are Pinus pseudotrobus, P. ayacahuite, Quercus obtusata and Taxaduin mucronatum; fruit trees such as Prunus presica (peach) , Pyrus malus (apple), and Eriobotrya japonica (níspero) were also used.
The reaction of the farmers who worked on the plot was positive. We found that implementing an alley intercropping system is compatible with corn farming, as the corn grown was of high quality. The reaction was also positive once we developed the gardens with vegetables, medicinal plants, and herbs for food preparation.
Our work in the Purépecha region shows that agroforestry is not a novelty, but rather a practice that shows that a farm can produce different harvests on different timescales. We should note that this practice has usually been carried out in tropical areas. In the Purépecha region, locals have lived for years with home gardens that support the family economy. However, agroforestry designs were quite simple. Here, the design objective is to produce food for subsistence.
As the project advances in the region, we’ll find ways to transition into an analog forestry system. This will involve selecting species based on their compatibility with the nutrients and environmental conditions, as well as the needs of the population. In the end, the objective is a sustainable ecosystem, based on ecological, economic, and social considerations, where people’s customs are alive in the ecosystem.