Mimicking the Natural Environment
In Clifford Geertz’s article, Two Types of Ecosystems, he suggests that the uneven distribution of the Indonesian population is in direct correlation with the different methods of agriculture used by those in the densely populated area and those in the less populated area. Geertz explores the distinct characteristics of two methods of cultivation in Indonesia, swidden and sawah agriculture. Swidden agriculture, as described by Geertz, is when the forest is burned and cleared so new crops can be sowed. The nutrients from the burned plants are used as a natural fertilizer to insure growth of its variety of crops. Swidden agriculture works in a cycle, once the nutrients in the soil are depleted, the field is abandoned to the forest, which quickly takes over, and the cultivator begins the process at a new location. Geertz describes sawah agriculture as an irrigated flooded paddy field, such as a wet-rice field. In this field only one crop, rice, is planted, intensive labor is need and the fields are rarely allowed to return to their natural state. Thus, for swidden agriculture more land area is needed than for sawah agriculture. Geertz concludes that this is why sawah agricultural methods are practiced on the densely populated island of Java, and swidden on the less densely populated islands.
Although the Indonesians analyzed by Geertz live half way around the world from the Guarani of Paraguay and Brazil, the agricultural ecosystems are relevant. In Richard Reeds ethnography, Forest Dwellers, Forest Protectors, he explores the Guarani people and how they have maintained themselves in their diverse ecosystem for thousands of years. The Guarani people have adapted to life in the dense rainforest of South America by living with in their means and by understanding the environment around them. The rainforest supplies the world with the most diverse plant and animal life, however, it is not premium agricultural land. The high canopy allows little light to filter to the earth bellow and the frequent rains rinse away the topsoil, both these characteristics allow for few nutrients to accumulate in the soil. The Guarani people have adopted agroforestry as their form of subsistence. Agroforestry is simple the incorporation of fishing, hunting, gathering and agriculture (Reed: 1997). The use of this form of production, has allowed the Guarani people to live off of the land utilizing its resources.
Like the Indonesians, the Guarani also use swidden agricultural methods to cultivate the surrounding forest. The Guarani pick a potential garden plot and as a communal effort, each family’s garden is cleared of vegetation and then burned to eliminate remaining vegetation. This slash and burn method provides the Guarani people with nutrient rich soil and ample sunlight. The garden plot is then planted with a variety of crops, often four or five different plant species in one square meter. Once the crops have...