We should research and reproduce Mesoamerican technologies, like chinampas

“We are haunted by futures that failed to happen.” – Mark Fisher

Christian Patterson
2019-11-25
Underground Mall

I’ve been very interested in Mesoamerican culture lately, and I found an interesting article on New Atlas about the indigenous agriculture technique called chinampas.

Chinampas are a type of agriculture that uses shallow lake beds and artificial islands to make a robust irrigation system. They exemplify the technology that mesoamerica was proficient at, as many indigenous technologies were more advanced than the similar technologies of the conquering Spanish, contradictory to colonial narratives.

I will be quoting from New Atlas, which, frankly, seems like a dubious source – by that I mean, it’s not greatly written, and it seems like a clickbaity website. However, the article does source an academic heavily, and it’s not exactly investigative reporting, so I trust the source for what I’m using it for.

Chinampa

James Holloway writes (and quotes heavily from “Postdoctoral Research Associate Roland Ebel at the Sustainable Food Systems Program at Montana State University”):

[The Chinampa’s] artificial canals play a significant role [in the productivity and sustainability]. Not only can the earth dug be used to build the raised islands and fields, but they also contribute to the fertility of the chinampa system. With the right crop rotations, chinampas can result in seven harvests a year.

Not only are chinampas an efficient way of farming, because it allows for more enriched soil, better water irrigation, and consequently higher yields, but we have to be real here: in the near future, there will be more water intruding on inhabited land, due to global warming. Making farmland out of shallow lake beds would be a way to make the best of a terrible situation.

Holloway continues:

Today there are thought to be several examples of small farms applying chinampa systems across Latin America, while related raised field approaches are being tried as far afield as Indonesia and Bangladesh. In the latter case, it’s hoped farming on artificial floating islands held afloat by second-hand plastic containers could contribute to food supply in the face of the climate crisis.

I don’t have much too add on this, but it definitely reinforces the idea that chinampas will help mitigate the harm from global warming.

Chinampa

At the beginning of this post, I quoted Mark Fisher: “We are haunted by futures that failed to happen.” Chinampas are a very tangible manifestation of this.

We have relegated so many once effective technologies to the past, because they were deemed non-useful. But the reason a lot of Mesoamerican technology was deemed not useful to advance colonial domination purposes. But if we developed the those technologies to contemporary times, they would offer a new type of utility, that is now largely forgotten to history.

Holloway continues:

“While most strategists emphasize high-tech solutions such as complex vertical farms, I think it is worthwhile to learn from the achievements of our ancestors,” Ebel argues in the release. “A restored use of chinampas would allow intensive production of fresh vegetables close to Mexico City, avoiding transport needs and avoiding negative consequences on produce quality and greenhouse gas emissions,” he adds.

We see here more of the socialistic elements of chinampas. Since they’re more land-efficient, they can be planned more efficiently, and more integrated into urban space. Farming jobs now become more accessible.

Capitalist economy success is measured by capital growth. Socialist economy success is measured by the efficiency of production. A lot of times, efficiency in production also entails capital growth. But sometimes capital growth occurs because of economic inefficiency. For example, under our current economic system, inefficient farming is incentivized by motive. Companies don’t just do destructive farming just because, they do it because increased profits motivate them to do so.

Also, when farms are integrated closer to where people live, it increases efficiency in terms of commuting. But the capitalist class has no obligation to care about efficiency in commuting.

Finally, Holloway writes:

Further, Ebel argues that there are massive environmental benefits to adopting traditional farming methods. “In high-income countries, the productivity of farms is satisfactory – but their resource-efficiency is incredibly poor,” he tells New Atlas. “Ten times more freshwater evaporates on our fields than is actually absorbed by the crops. We also do not need to ship fertilizers and pesticides around the globe when most plant nutrients can be found locally and all nutrients can be recycled on-farm.”

What we can gather from this is that technologies like chinampas have their place, and would be useful, but we’re programmed to not even consider mass chinampa farms as a possibility. They are not seen as the natural way to farm, because they’re not seen as the ideologically neoliberal farming form, because they’re not seen as profitable. We live in a world where everything that’s seen as true are the things that are sublimated into a capitalist productive-minded ideology.

To close, here’s another quote by Mark Fisher in Capitalist Realism:

“What counts as ‘realistic’, what seems possible at any point in the social field, is defined by a series of political determinations. An ideological position can never be really successful until it is naturalized, and it cannot be naturalized while it is still thought of as a value rather than a fact. Accordingly, neoliberalism has sought to eliminate the very category of value in the ethical sense. Over the past thirty years, capitalist realism has successfully installed a ‘business ontology’ in which it is simply obvious that everything in society, including healthcare and education, should be run as a business. … emancipatory politics must always destroy the appearance of a ‘natural order’, must reveal what is presented as necessary and inevitable to be a mere contingency, just as it must make what was previously deemed to be impossible seem attainable.”

Mark Fisher
map of Tenōchtitlan

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