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Regenerating the ancient mayan food network: a community based landscape for coexistence and evolution of diverse food systems

Recognized tradeoffs between our diversified food systems will lead a transformation of the geomety and rules of engagement of its agents

Photo of Mauricio De la Puente
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Transformación, Arte y Educación AC

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

We are submitting this initiative as a single organization, however, our work in the Yucatán Peninsula convenes and seeks to cooperate with multiple stakeholders. Over 20 years we have successfully built strong and trustful relationships with local mayan leaders, tourism industry agents, government agencies, and national and international organizations invested in education, culture and nature conservation such as INFONAVIT, SEP, INAH and UNESCO. Going forward with this vision, we would seek to activate the potential of this high level trust relationships across sectors to refine and evolve our current vision.

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 10+ years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Ciudad de México

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?


Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Northern area of the Yucatan Peninsula. 90,000 km2

What country is your selected Place located in?


Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

I performed my undergraduate studies in food engineering and made traditional diary and meat products for a living.

In the early 90s I did academic and field studies of medicinal plant management and traditional ecological knowledge in the northwestern area of the Yucatan Peninsula, area that was selected because of its deep roots in traditional ecological knowledge; and because it had both a rich diversity of ecosystems and a high meteorological vulnerability, in the sense of the frequency of droughts, flooding, hurricanes, and forest fires. A fundamental idea of the study I performed there was that, due to the high ecosystem diversity and patchiness of the territory, the individual peasants of the area were in fact ecosystem managers that were handling simultaneously various food systems within different ecosystems in distinct successional periods.

I stayed in the Yucatan Peninsula for sixteen years. During this time I lived in several communities and worked with people dedicated to multiple fishing, forestry, agricultural, animal husbandry and hunting activities, all the while focusing my attention on how the environment and climate’s regular patterns and variability were understood and valued depending on the nature and scope of different food systems and the level of technology mediating the relationship with nature.

Direct experience of food system regeneration after several hurricanes, droughts, and forest fires at a local level made it possible for me to envision how both enhancing and regenerating the potential of the diversity of food systems is currently understood in Mayan language, and how it might have been learned and applied to large spatial scales by people organized as a community network during a long time in the remote past.

The time spent in the Peninsula enabled me to learn the Mayan language and participate as a mediator between different local agents and government agencies, businesses, non-governmental bodies and academic institutions.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

The Yucatan Peninsula is home to an extraordinarily biodiverse tropical forest, the “Mayan Jungle”. It contains one of the largest jaguar populations of the world, as well as other mammals, reptiles and over 400 species of birds. The climate of the Peninsula is mostly hot and sub-humid, as well as lesser arid and semi-arid regions. This is a key factor for its diversity and abundance. The Mayan culture has left indelible marks of grandeur via its monumental architecture and artistic expressions. Another strong cultural influence is that of the Spaniards who arrived a few centuries ago. During the colonization and evangelization process, churches and monasteries were built and remained as part of the syncretic landscape of the Peninsula. Today churches, monasteries, Mayan households, and pre-Hispanic monuments all contribute to weave this rich and intricate cultural fabric. Although “Mayan” and “Spaniard” are the words commonly used to designate the the most recognized cultural influences of the Peninsula, its social configuration is way more complicated. Since ancient times, the Yucatán Peninsula has been destination of several migration waves. The Itza, the Tutulxiu, the Cocomes, are the names of some of the people who early in history arrived and populated the Peninsula. There has also been other overseas migration such as the Lebanese; and more recent migration coming from within the country, such as the affluence of people from the state of Veracruz after the oil industry contaminated their rivers and lagoons connected to the Mexican Gulf. Also in recent decades, we could mention the migrations of people coming from the capital, Mexico City, after a tremendous earthquake that left grave infrastructural and psychological damage; and the migrations coming from the country’s northern region, as a consequence of the violent conditions there that have kept on increasing. All these people have brought with them their cultural baggage, adding to the existing configuration new food recipes, fishing techniques, traditions, and more. People in Yucatan have such a close relationship with food, that even in very ancient cosmic narratives, it is an important marker of the passing of time. In some myths, major events are paired up and narrated alongside changes in diet: “a hurricane came… and so they ate…”. The current inhabitants of Yucatan are generally regarded as light hearted, easygoing and kind. If one approaches the social constitution of the Peninsula on the surface, this is very much true. Unfortunately, many social issues lie beneath Yucatan’s people’s affectionate exterior. True, they have one of the lowest national homicide indexes; but they also have some of the highest regarding domestic violence, alcoholism, suicide and diet-related chronic degenerative diseases. These are some of the consequences of a cordially dealt with but deep political, religious, ethnic and economic division.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Current food systems in the area are highly diverse, spatially dispersed, ecologically interrelated and already manifesting negative trade-offs resulting in economic, dietary, cultural and political issues. In each of the themes related to the food systems (ecology, economy, culture, diet, politics and technology), fragmentation, diversification and polarization is underway. Therefore, a general challenge in which we may englobe each of the concrete challenges our food system faces, is finding a way in which fragmented, diverse and polarized agents might communicate and cooperate.

The first –and we believe the greater– challenge is the existing acute diversification of food systems and food meaning. Although there is an ample consciousness of the need to change the relationship with the natural environment, the reasons for it are diverse. Some may see the need for changes to happen in a food system as a business opportunity; others may perceive an ethical issue; others, a health emergency. Each stakeholder has their own image of what is happening and what has to be done in order to address their particular challenges as a system, which does not correlate to the image other stakeholders possess although the observed phenomena might be the same. Language is broken and breaking, and given that our fate is common and communication to direct it necessary, this must be attended.

Even if we surpass the challenge of uniting all of these agents around the same idea –that is, managing a forest to enhance its biodiversity productivity– the reasons to do it, the value of it and the language to express it will still be a barrier between them. Therefore, communication and cooperation has to be thoroughly and carefully organized. Fortunately, there is a silver lining within this fragmentation: awareness of the need to protect water, soil and biodiversity is already a common ground.

The second challenge is that prejudice surrounding the tropical forests overpowers knowledge. The prevailing image of the forest –also commonly known as the jungle– and its people, which has been shaped by ignorance, myth, and romantic and horror storytelling, hinders one of a rational community relationship of care. In other words, the idea we propose of cultivating tropical forest biodiversity as a food system faces ideological resistance and even denial as a possibility. For our vision to be realized, the forest’s dynamics, productivity and potential change due to management must be turned into common culture.

The third challenge has to do with the correlation of our images of the past and the future. Right now, our image of the past of the Yucatan Peninsula resembles a medieval setting. We picture a world of gods, kings, priests, wars, and a culture who suffers its fate as passive victim of its circumstances, although there is ample evidence of its agency in their astronomical, hydraulic, genetic, medical and other developments. It is a challenge to change our story of the past from that of a noncooperative nucleus fighting with each other, to that of a community built network of communication and cooperation that operated to take care of the place and its beings.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

To address the acute diversification of food systems and food meaning, it is necessary to find a way in which all stakeholders can communicate for the sake of cooperation. To achieve this, we shall develop a vision for the diverse stakeholders in and by which contradictions might be addressed, the benefits of cooperation enhanced and a land-use geometrical landscape and development plan in which each stakeholder can coexist is recognized. This will be done via the creation of a symbolic code to register meteorological and biodiversity events and relate its referents in four major semantic categories: net primary production, food production, market value and ecosystem services.

To address the matter of prejudice surrounding the tropical forest, there are two things to be done: narratives based on actual knowledge and real-time data acquisition register of water, soil and biodiversity of the ecosystem must be generated, and the knowledge of the forest’s dynamics, productivity and potential change due to management must be turned into common culture. Fortunately, the technology necessary for these registers is already available and becoming cheaper every day.

This knowledge and its correlation with recent discoveries and solid evidence of the extent of ancient settlement patterns, population density, hydraulic infrastructure, climatic variability, edible biodiversity, tropical forest management and traditional ecological knowledge will be enough to change the current narratives of the past towards an image of a network of diversified food systems managed collectively and oriented towards resilience in a variable and vulnerable environment. At the same time, with this notion of the past in mind, it will be easier to reinstall this system in the present and future.

All this can be included within one process which addresses all challenges: the generation of common experience. Even if within each food system and food system language (1) the image of the past (3), and the value/feasibility of the notion of cultivating biodiversity (2), are addressed; it is the experience of actually doing it what embodies the will towards action. The real work relies in doing it together, irrespective of the food system or food system meaning each one has.  To address this, a diverse array of practical, hands-on experience will be available so it can be accessible whether you are a tourist with just a couple of hours available, a traveler, a meditating being, a worker, a student, an investigator, an artist, a chef, a gardner, a healer, etc. 

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Given the diversity of food systems and meanings, the nodes and paths of the network will have also multiple meanings. They will manifest as

Places to learn and to teach

Food production systems

Carbon sequestration sinks

Stopovers and nesting places for migratory species

Places to work and earn a living

Networks where ancient Mayan knowledge and wisdom are restored

Sacred places for the continuity of traditions

Rainwater reservoirs

Tourist attractions

In essence, a place/network in which a different relationship with nature takes place.

We will address our particular necessities together, either of health, occupation or joy.

Information in different frameworks (net primary productivity, water and soil quality, food products, market values) will be available and thoroughly analyzed in itself and in their correlations. New and precise knowledge, which is currently obscured, will derive from the interactions between biodiversity and meteorological patterns. People will have access to real-time data about the evolution of the food system, which will enable each stakeholder to take informed and cooperative decisions, as opposed to the current disseminated and unarticulated actions. Children will learn it early on, and so knowledge of the forest’s dynamics productivity and potential change due to management will become common knowledge.

Instead of a sick population with diet-related issues there will be easy access to healthy food. Besides, a whole new set of high-quality, natural food products for consumption will enter the market, with a high potential to regenerate local economies.

Coordination and cooperation in a continuous task (even if the reasons to do it differ) will be of inconmensurable value and significance in addressing historical and systemic violences. By way of attending the environment, we shall also attend the relationship with one another as a society, because we will have to do it together.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Instead of viewing the Yucatan peninsula in terms of political divisions and through general categories of land-use, imagine the present land in 2020 as an archipelago of tropical forest islands in a matrix of deforested paths associated to roads (see attached image). You will find in this image over 200 islands of various sizes and different histories and levels of deforestation.

By 2050 regenerating biodiversity and connecting the 200+ islands, with all the challenges addressed, will result will in a 10 000 km² network that produces an average 2000 kg of food/ha.yr of about 400 different species.

Our full vision pictures the rhythms of food production associated to the regeneration of biodiversity aligning conscious decisions of diverse food consumers with the natural rhythms of the forest within the market. This will happen as an outcome of the network of information, knowledge and experiences that will be created through addressing current challenges. What this means is that, rather than a market offering whatever is demanded, whenever it is demanded –which can only be done via the exploitation of ecosystems such as the tropical forest–, conscious consumers and producers will compel the market to align to the natural periods of the ecosystem’s production. This does not mean in any way that there will be scarcity of any type of food, but rather, that all types of it shall be produced and consumed in a more healthy way for the environment, respecting its dynamics, which translates into a healthier life for the participants of the food system. Not only will there be high-quality food products. Given that the food system involves taking care of the tropical forest and nurturing it, this will also result in cleaner water, air and soil. Conscious and cooperative decisions will transform themselves into food traditions and the living force of a regenerative system.

We can not minimize the importance of partnership with animals. It is fundamental to care of them because we are better off working together with them in the regeneration process. There will be a transition from killing everything that moves, exploiting species and letting just some of them live because they are of service, to a reciprocal relationship of respect, partnership and even love.

In our vision, the potential of sharing a learning path from chaos to regeneration is not confined to the Yucatan Peninsula. As the network is solidified and expanded through time, it might become strong enough to cross any border. This is because of the particular nucleus of the system, which has to do with a type of communication that connects us beyond our cultural, economic, and political particularities: any human being can learn it as long as the have the disposition to rethink and reconnect their relationship with what surrounds them in the search of a better, healthier living, and a kinder approach to the ecosystems that enable it.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Email

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Photo of Trupti Jain

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