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chacra system of cultivating , two hands passing a plant

Cultivating Resilience: Why Chacra System is Key to Sustainable Farming

Greetings friend, I am glad that you had the time to visit us here in lovely Saloya. I understand you have come a long way to learn about our ways of farming here in our community, our chacra system. For many years now, big agriculture companies have been promising us a better life and more profits if we adopt their methods of massive monocropping. But those of us who still hold close to our traditional knowledge have seen what those methods have done to the land and people in other places, it is not a path of sustainability, it’s not a path of hope, it’s a path of degradation and extinction.

Plants Growing in Symbiosis

Please, sit with me awhile and I will share more about our chacra system which has been practiced by our people for generations. In our system, we cultivate biodiversity by growing many different native crop varieties together in small forest-like plots called chacras. Some typical combinations are plantains alongside corn, beans and squash. We also mix in a variety of roots, tubers, fruits and medicinal plants. By mimicking the layered structure of the rainforest, up to 12 different species may be grown together symbiotically in a single chacra. With no use of pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Only nature, only love.

working the chacra

Chacra permaculture: Natural Protection

The crops support each other in many ways. The beans fix nitrogen in the soil to nourish the other plants. Their vines use the tall corn and squash for structure. The lower plants receive sunshine that filters down, while the upper foliage protects the soil. This polyculture is more resilient, if weather or pests threaten one crop, the others will still provide nutrition. Seed saving is also easier as cross-pollination occurs between related crops side by side.

We practice attentive crop rotation, moving crops each season to replenish depleted soil nutrients. Potatoes or peanuts may follow corn one year, while squash and plantains return nitrogen to the land the next. Fallow periods are also honored, letting earth lay fallow when yields decrease to rebuild her fertility through natural processes. In this way, the chacras can be farmed indefinitely without chemical inputs that harm the environment.

Walking Through a Chacra

One of the most important native plants we cultivate is guayusa. This leafy tree grows wild in the Amazon but also has a place within our chacras. Guayusa provides us with a nourishing tea full of antioxidants. It thrives in partial shade underneath taller crops and trees. We prune it regularly to encourage bushy growth and maximize leaf production. The guayusa helps deter insect pests from invading our other plants while its leaf litter enriches the soil. Come, walk with me to see how a healthy chacra blends seamlessly into the surrounding forest that nurtures it.

Another crop grown within our forest-like chacras is cacao. This delicate understory tree produces the prized beans used to make chocolate. We protect young cacao seedlings by interplanting them among plantain and taller trees until they can withstand more sun. As the cacao matures, its branches are pruned to encourage more flowering and fruiting. Hummingbirds, bees and other pollinators thrive amongst the colorful blooms.

It’s all about Sharing

Leaving space for native trees  and vines like the caapi vine is another key part of living in balance. Forest islands within chacra plots maintain habitats for birds and insects that are natural pollinators and pest-controllers. Trees also protect against erosion during rains and help the water cycle. Their deep roots draw up nutrients to share with other plants through leaf litter.

a chacra of cacao and banana

Why the Chacra should be the Future of harvesting

Your methods of expanding single commodities across vast clearings through monocropping cannot match the elegant, sustainable design of our chacra system. Within just a few seasons, monoculture farming depletes and damages soils while the lack of biodiversity leaves crops vulnerable to pests and weather changes. Here in our chacras, polyculture cultivation and attentiveness to nature’s rhythms has kept the land fertile and production sustained for generations. By working with patterns of diversity, regeneration and fallow cycles, our ancestral system provides sustenance without cost to the environment. I invite you to open your mind to the wisdom of partnering with nature rather than dominating her. If large-scale agriculture is to have a future, we must find ways to reconnect it to the living land through promoting diverse, indigenous practices like our chacras. I hope exploring our food system here helps you reflect deeply on what true progress means – one that nourishes both people and planet for generations to come by supporting ancestral ways of life still offering solutions of sustainability, if others will open their eyes to see.

 

Author: Andrés Molestina

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Wakingherbs is a family project established in Ecuador. We work from Ecuador and The Netherlands where we have an office and distribution centre.

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