The University of Arizona

Development and the Yucatec Maya in Quintana Roo: some successes and failures

E. N. Anderson, Barbara Anderson


Maya agriculture is currently outperforming alternatives across the Yucatán Peninsula, while changing to incorporate new ideas that fit with its basic commitment to shifting agriculture based on maize as the staple and over 100 minor crops. Considerable research over the last 60 years has shown the reasons for agricultural resilience, which include thorough understanding of the Yucatán environment and use of a range of resources and techniques that allow fine-tuning in particular situations while remaining flexible overall. Development efforts have usually failed in this environment, which has shallow and fragile soils and suffers from frequent droughts, typhoons, and pest outbreaks. The predictor of development success is usually supply and demand: where there is a market, the Maya will work to develop supply capability; where there is no market, traditional subsistence methods are better than the introductions. Government or international help is, however, needed to help develop markets and to provide expert knowledge of how to mobilize for them and connect to them. When this has been done, some important successes have followed. A current problem is the international subsidy economy. Neoliberalism in the Maya context involves a reduction of government help to local and small-scale enterprises while large-scale multinational firms are given enormous direct and indirect subsidies by their home governments and by commodity-producing nations. The resulting unfair competition is a block on development. Actual free markets—in the sense of local grassroots enterprise being given something like a level playing field—could be an improvement.

Key words: Maya; neoliberalism; Indigenous agricultural knowledge; access to markets

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