Rainforest Farm

One of the interesting things about being able to stay a long time in one place is that you get to be a part of people’s everyday lives. And in doing so, it is more likely you will see parts of those lives that a lightning strike tourist won’t. While volunteering in Guyana, my group and I met a woman who had a little shop in St. Cuthbert’s Mission, an Amerindian (Lokono) village. She also had a farm, located in the surrounding rainforest. About two months into our stay, she invited us to see it. I, for one, was delighted to receive the invitation – it was a way of life I knew nothing about and not to mention, it’s a farm in the middle of the rainforest! How cool is that! And yes, I am aware that my idea of cool can be a little weird…

The trip to the farm was a mini-epic adventure in itself. Tromping through the rainforest, getting covered and almost trapped by sucking mud, keeping an eye out for giant insects, traversing overgrown tracks, struggling to keep up with porters carrying way more things that we were…it almost felt like we were old-time explorers. After traipsing through the jungle for over an hour (sucking mud is a time eater), we came to a river, a tributary of the Mahaica River, which itself is a tributary of the Essequibo River. Here, we were introduced to the tradtional dugout canoe. The canoe was about 5 feet long and can fit 4 people and some gear. It’s quite shallow and it sits low in the water. It is quite the balancing act to climb in and out of the canoe. However, its position in the river meant that it was easy to stick my hand in the dark waters, traling it behind me as I was ferried deeper into the rainforest. As it fit into my idea of Adventure (capital letter necessary), I loved every minute of it.

Due to its isolated location, the rainforest farm had a fairly developped camping area – a small structure to escape the rain, some benches, hammocks, and a covered cooking area. The farm itself consisted primarily of fruit trees such as paw paw (also known as papaya) and citrus, ground fruits such as pineapple, and vegetables like pumpkin. The style of farming practiced in this area is called slash and burn. This agricultural technique means cutting down whatever is on a plot of land and burning it. The soil gains nutrients from the resulting ashes, making the burnt area fertile. It is a popular technique in the ‘developing’ world beause it requires nothing more than a cutlass and fire – as such, a person with access to some land can feed his family with no need to buy fancy equipment. The main drawback to slash and burn, however, is that the technique renders the land fertile for only a few years. After that, the land must be allowed to remain fallow for over a decade in order to heal and regenerate its fertility. At the farm we visited, they practice rotating fields which helps alleviate this particular problem.

Wandering around the farm, it is very evident how labour intensive it is to upkeep without machinery. They also have to deal with produce theft/destruction by animals and insects as well as possible theft by people. Since this farm is so spread out amongst the rainforest trees, much of the farm is unattended much of the time. As such, it is pretty easy for someone to steal what they want – though the farm’s isolation makes the prospect of human theft minimal.

A day at a rainforst farm can be surprisingly relaxing. I stuffed myself with food, I explored the farm and surrounding rainforest, I tried fishing for the first time (stick and string style), and I most definitely lounged in a hammock. I chatted with the farm owner about her idea of making her farm into an eco-lodge as the basics of it was already there. I personally love the idea. Guyana is definitely a country that could do well in eco-tourism and this farm is a prime example of this.

It was fascinating to see how farming is done when one has no access to fancy tools and equipment. What I also realized was that this is the kind of place where you want to be when the world eventually goes to pot! At the end of the day, we took the dugout canoe back to the village, slowly paddling our way through the tall trees and dense vegetation, listening to the birds call out to each other. What would have put my day over the top was if I heard a jaguar roar in the distance as we floated along in that canoe. Unfortuantely, it wasn’t to be. But that was okay. Listening to roaring jaguars while sitting in a dugout canoe in the middle of a small river surrounded by impenetrable vegetation would probably have been a tad unnerving…


3 responses to “Rainforest Farm

  1. Ah! Your feet! In serious need of some boots there!

    It must be so tough farming in a remote location like that with limited equipment. I’m curious, did you ask the owner about transporting their produce out of there? Also, how many fields does it take for the slash and burn rotation to be maintained?

    I enjoyed seeing the flowers on the pineapple, I’ve never really seen a pineapple growing before!

    I hope some day you get to see or at least hear a jaguar in the wild! 🙂

    • if I remember correctly, ther is a long round about way of getting there by vehicle so I believe that is how they transport the produce. it’s quite the trek!

      re rotation, i’m not totally sure. she had at least 8 or so fields so around that, i’d think, if one wants to have subtantial enough crops all the time to make it worth the effort. my own guess, though!

  2. Pingback: St. Cuthbert’s Mission | Rusty Travel Trunk·

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