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Guano, Intensive Agriculture, and Environmental Change in Latin America and the Caribbean

Summary and Keywords

Agrarian societies in Latin America and the Caribbean have accomplished some of the most important and influential innovations in agricultural knowledge and practice in world history—both ancient and modern. These enabled indigenous civilizations in Mesoamerica and the Andes to attain some of the highest population densities and levels of cultural accomplishment of the premodern world. During the colonial era, produce from the region’s haciendas, plantations, and smallholdings provided an essential ecological underpinning for the development of the world’s first truly global networks of trade. From the 18th to the early 20th century, the transnational activities of agricultural improvers helped turn the region into one of the world’s primary exporters of agricultural commodities. This was one of the most tangible outcomes of the Enlightenment and early state-building efforts in the hemisphere. During the second half of the 20th century, the region provided a prime testing ground for input-intensive farming practices associated with the Green Revolution, which developed in close relation with import-substituting industrialization and technocratic forms of governance. The ability of farmers and ranchers to intensify production from the land using new cultivars, technologies, and techniques was critical to all of these accomplishments, but often occurred at the cost of irreversible environmental transformation and violent social conflict. Manure was often central to these histories of intensification because of its importance to the cycling of nutrients. The history of the extraction and use of guano as a fertilizer profoundly shaped the globalization of input-intensive agricultural practices around the globe, and exemplifies often-overlooked connectivities reaching across regional boundaries and between terrestrial and aquatic environments.

Keywords: rural history, agricultural improvement movement, agronomic expertise, fertilizer, irrigation, pesticides, livestock and plant breeding, import-substituting industrialization, Green Revolution

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Guano is the excrement of birds and bats. The term derives from the Quechua word wanu, which refers to any form of excrement used as an agricultural fertilizer. But it especially refers to dung produced by nesting colonies of marine birds, which accumulated in enormous quantities on islands off the coasts of Peru, Argentina, Mexico, and in other locales around the world associated with regions of intense marine upwelling. Guano is rich in nitrogen, phosphate, and potassium, often shortened to NPK. Before the development of synthetic fertilizers, it was the most concentrated and complete source of nutrients available to farmers hoping to maximize the productivity of their crops. Guano has been used—even venerated (Figure 1)—since ancient times. This humble substance went on to play a pivotal role in the evolution of input-intensive forms of agriculture and ecological thinking around the world during the 19th and 20th centuries. Guano therefore provides an invaluable reference point when surveying the history of intensive agriculture in Latin America and the Caribbean from its ancient beginnings to the present.

Guano, Intensive Agriculture, and Environmental Change in Latin America and the CaribbeanClick to view larger

Figure 1. The Cultural Significance of Guano in Ancient Peru.

Note: A woman from Chinchaysuyo is shown offering bird eggs in a circular nest made of guano to the coastal deity Pachacamac, husband of the bird goddess Urpi Huachac, and to the snow-capped peak Pariacaca, provider of irrigation water to the south-central coast.

Source: Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala, El primer corónica y buen gobierno (1615), Copenhagen, The Royal Library, GKS 2232 4o, fol. 266 [268], reproduced with permission under Creative Commons license BY-NC-ND.

There are important distinctions between intensive, extensive, and input-intensive agriculture. Extensive agriculture refers to forms of plant horticulture and livestock raising that are geographically expansive, often involving a high degree of mobility, and that typically involve modest investments of labor, capital, and material inputs. Intensive forms tend to be far more geographically stable and typically involve concentrated investments intended to maximize the long-term productivity of a specific plot of land. Input-intensive farming refers to practices that are highly dependent on the application of water, nutrients, energy, technology, labor, finance, or expertise derived from distant environments. Large-scale agricultural concerns are known variously in the region as haciendas, fazendas, estancias, and plantations. Small-scale farms are known by an even greater variety of terms, including granja, rancho, conuco, and the widespread Quechua-derived words chacra and chácara. All of these terms have place-specific meanings, and do not necessarily indicate much about the intensity of farming on a plot of land. As populations grow and investments accumulate, agriculture and ranching in Latin America and the Caribbean have tended to become more intensive and larger in scale over time. Nevertheless, extensive and small-scale forms of land use have proven to be resilient. Latifundia, smallholdings, and a diversity of cultivars, livestock, and farming techniques continue to coexist in most regions, even under the influence of industrialization.1 Intensification is never a unidirectional or deterministic process.

Intensive Agriculture in the Ancient Americas and under Colonial Rule

Input-intensive farming may be as old as plant domestication and settled life in the Americas. “Dump heap” gardening is still prevalent among Latin American peasants today. It typically incorporates household and yard sweepings, kitchen ashes and refuse, animal droppings and bedding, even human waste. Crop plants grow so well in these regularly disturbed, nutrient-rich environments that some students of the origins of agriculture believe that settled farming got its start in these household dumps.2 The first cultivators of cotton, gourds, squash, beans, peanuts, and other crops in the desert valleys of Peru’s north-central coast benefited from seasonally flooded plots of land nourished by water and silt washed down from the high Andes. These early farmers appear to have developed a close symbiotic relationship with specialized communities of fishermen who provided fish and other marine resources in return for farm goods. It cannot have taken long for them to discover that silt-enriched irrigation water, the composted leaves of nitrogen-fixing tree species, and leftover plant, fish, animal, and human remains could all dramatically improve farming yields when added to cultivated lands. Such practices would have become even more valuable after the introduction of two nutrient-hungry, high-productivity domesticates from Mesoamerica, maize and sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas), to the Pacific coast of South America by 3300 bce.3 Intensive agriculture provided an indispensible ecological foundation for the construction of massive pyramids, plazas, and housing complexes at Caral, Peru, and other nearby sites beginning around 2600 bce—the first urban civilization in the Americas—just as it did for contemporaries living in the river valleys of Mesopotamia and Egypt when they wrote down The Epic of Gilgamesh and built the first Egyptian pyramid.4 Despite its great antiquity and importance for sustaining a large portion of the earth’s ancient population, Latin American and Caribbean agriculture is often marginalized in histories of world agriculture.5 More troublingly, scholars continue to repeat derogatory myths that indigenous peoples in the Americas mostly failed to domesticate animals, often suffered chronic protein deficiencies or resorted to cannibalism as a consequence, and were therefore uniquely vulnerable to conquest by Old World guns, germs, and steel.6 Andean peoples domesticated the llama and alpaca by at least 5,500 years ago, as well as three small animals—the dog, guinea pig, and Muscovy duck—which were widely raised in the Caribbean at the time of European contact.7

Guano birds, guano islands, and presumably guano itself have had an important place in the economy and culture of indigenous peoples living along the desert coast of Peru for at least 1,500 years, and perhaps much longer. Effigy vessels produced by the Moche culture vividly portray coastal islands with marine birds, nests, and eggs, sea lions, reed boats, and human visitors. Nineteenth-century miners excavated hundreds of indigenous artifacts from deep within island guano deposits.8 The most distinctive of these was a European-style coat of arms buried under seventeen feet of accumulated guano. Its inscription indicates that it belonged to an indigenous noble living just after the Spanish conquest with inherited rights to nearby guano islands and coastal lagoons. These derived from the belief that he was a descendant of Urpi Wachak, “she who gives birth to birds,” an important coastal deity. The white, disk-like nests of the most important guano bird, the guanay cormorant (Phalacrocorax bougainvillei), were known as quillairaca, “the moon’s vagina,” and possessed great power both as symbols and agents of fertility. A thriving colonial guano trade controlled by indigenous merchants based out of the ports of Chancay and Callao served coastal plantations and lasted until the export boom of the 19th century. According to colonial chroniclers, highland Andean farmers also made frequent use of excrement from llamas and alpacas and their own bodily waste to fertilize their fields. Those living near waterways could also manure their crops with fish, algae, and other water life.9

The use of nutrient-rich soil amendments was only one of a host of techniques used by Andean and Amazonian land managers to maximize production from the soil. At middle altitudes, indigenous farmers cultivated trees to prevent soil erosion and maintain soil fertility. Along the shores of Lake Titicaca, ancient farmers built terraced and raised fields integrated with an elaborate hydraulic infrastructure designed to carefully control the moisture content of the soil for growing tuber crops. In the lowlands of Amazonia, farmers also built raised fields and used wood charcoal and household and fishing waste to promote the development of highly fertile “dark earths.”10 Other intensive agricultural techniques used traditionally in this region include irrigation, composting, mulching, weeding, multicropping, phased planting, crop rotation, fallowing, nitrogen-fixing crops, silt traps, sunken fields, and embankments.11 Another signature technique from the Andean region is the spatial dispersal of fields in “vertical archipelagos” to take advantage of local peculiarities of soil and climate at different altitudes for growing complementary crop varieties.12 After colonization, Spanish estate managers usurped pre-Hispanic irrigation networks, as well as indigenous farming techniques, labor, and expertise to maximize the productivity of their estates. Indigenous farmers in South America, likewise, adopted a long list of domesticated plants and animals introduced from the Old World. In fact, Guaman Poma was originally inspired to write his famed illustrated chronicle of Spanish misdeeds by his failure in colonial courts to protect his forefathers’ groves of trees and chacras from expropriation (Figure 2).13

Guano, Intensive Agriculture, and Environmental Change in Latin America and the CaribbeanClick to view larger

Figure 2. An Andean Woman Watering Maize Sprouts in November, “The Time of Water Scarcity and Heat.”

Note: Irrigation has long been the most important form of input-intensive agriculture in drier regions.

Source: Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala, El primer corónica y buen gobierno (1615), Copenhagen, The Royal Library, GKS 2232 4o, fol. 1162 [1172], reproduced with permission under Creative Commons license BY-NC-ND.

The chinampas of the Valley of Mexico are the most famous example of intensive agriculture from Mesoamerica. Tourists today can still visit the picturesque “raised gardens” and canals of Xochimilco—now almost completely engulfed by Mexico City. Chinampa is the local name for narrow, raised plots of land surrounded by waterways. Archaeological investigations indicate that intensive wetland agriculture involving raised fields dates back at least eight hundred years in the Valley of Mexico, and suggest that the rapid expansion of chinampas was fundamental to the emergence of the Aztec state as the dominant polity in Central Mexico around 1400 ce. Chinampas are formed by piling up mats of aquatic plants, lake mud, and imported topsoil onto raised fields within a wetland environment. This creates a planting surface safely above water level, but with easy access to moisture during all seasons. Chinampas were periodically fertilized with muck dredged from adjacent wetlands, supplemented with household and agricultural waste.14 Agroecological studies have shown that the high biological activity of chinampa soils also strongly inhibits plant pathogens, an important factor in allowing these soils to be cultivated continuously for years on end.15 Chinampas and other traditional forms of intensive agriculture may have expanded even further during the colonial period, when Xochimilco farmers are known to have used bat guano from the caves of Ixtapalapa to increase their production of nitrogen-hungry chiles. Chinampa farming continued to flourish, if on a greatly reduced scale, until the mid-20th century, when industrialization and urbanization began to severely pollute chinampa soils and destabilize the water table. As a consequence, an amphibian species so well adapted to this humanized wetland environment that it became a symbol of Mexican nationality, the axolotl salamander (Ambystoma mexicanum), is now on the verge of extinction in the wild.16

Intensive wetland agriculture was also prevalent between one and two thousand years ago along the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean coast in lowland regions that have long since been overtaken by tropical forest and extensive cattle ranching.17 The construction of irrigation canals to ensure the availability of water and hillside terraces to mitigate against soil erosion was even more widespread in ancient Mesoamerica, and extended into what is now the Desert Southwest of the United States. As in the Andes, a number of Mesoamerican canal systems built in ancient times are still in use today.18 It was once thought that ancient Mayan civilization relied almost entirely on shifting, slash-and-burn cultivation of maize, beans, and squash in milpas for its subsistence—also known as swidden farming, a classic extensive form of agriculture—but the discovery of intricate networks of canals, raised fields, and hillside terraces in Belize and other locales has changed this view. Soil erosion and sedimentation caused by intensive agriculture in deforested areas may have contributed to the downfall of some ancient Mayan cities, which has led some to speculate that the collapse of Classic Mayan civilization ultimately resulted from environmental mismanagement.19

The impact of European colonialism on agriculture and the environment in Latin America and the Caribbean remains a controversial subject. Some have argued that the introduction of Old World livestock, cultivars, farming practices, and mentalities contributed to wholesale environmental destruction.20 Others insist that pre-Hispanic societies also caused large-scale degradation, that indigenous depopulation may actually have reversed these trends, and that Spanish colonizers brought their own ways of preventing environmental ruin.21 The Lake Pátzcuaro Basin in Michoacán, Mexico, has been a special focus of these debates because of the availability of high-resolution lake sediment cores recording long-term changes in the lake and its agricultural surroundings.22 To complicate matters even further, climatic change strongly impacted many parts of the hemisphere during the Little Ice Age (c. 1550–1720) and again around the turn of the 19th century.23 It is therefore difficult to make broad generalizations regarding historical trends in this huge region during the colonial period, except to remark that extensive forms of horticulture and livestock grazing tended to dominate in most regions where land use was concerned. It is important to recognize, however, that extensive agricultural practices were still often very labor intensive, especially during plowing, weeding, and harvesting. Input-intensive production nonetheless flourished in a number of contexts during the colonial period, including the coastal valleys of Peru, the Bajío plain and Valley of Mexico, and the tobacco fields of northeast Brazil.24 Access to irrigation water was a particularly important point of political and social conflict in many regions.25

The most significant change to the agricultural economies of Latin America and the Caribbean that took place under colonial rule involved the introduction of market-based systems of production and trade: for export commodities like sugar cane and cattle hides; for staple crops like maize, wheat, and manioc consumed in the colonies; even for use of guano by colonial plantations along the Peruvian coast. This produce provided an essential ecological underpinning for the development of the world’s first truly global networks of trade based on silver, slaves, and other commodities.26 In the case of the Caribbean islands, the first European settlers ruthlessly killed off their native inhabitants, but adopted indigenous methods of shifting cultivation of manioc, sweet potatoes, and other crops in small mounds known as conucos in recently cleared forest. In fact, the first British settlers of Barbados sent an expedition to Guyana for the explicit purpose of bringing back native plant stock and enslaved Arawak farmers to teach them indigenous horticultural techniques. African slaves contributed their own crops, animals, and farming know-how to this ethnic mix and greatly valued the relative autonomy from supervision that food cultivation and cattle herding could offer.27 However, the production of crops for export represented the plantation colonies’ main reason for being, and food production was often an afterthought. Early planters of tobacco, cotton, indigo, ginger, coffee, cacao, and, above all, sugar cane almost invariably chose to site their plantations in areas that had recently been cleared of forest and scrub and had the most fertile soils. Sometimes they were only able to harvest a few crops before the easily depleted soils of the humid tropics began to lose their fertility and compelled them to move on to new tracts of forest. Over the centuries, such extensive “soil mining” practices contributed mightily to the disappearance of primary forest in the Caribbean and on the coast of Brazil. The intense work of land clearance was also socially destructive; it was strongly associated with the high mortality of slaves, no matter what their race.28

In the case of Brazil and Cuba, this cycle of land clearance followed by extensive cattle grazing continued in plantation zones well into the 20th century. However, on smaller islands and along the Caribbean’s southern coast, British, Dutch, and French planters adopted a number of intensification practices intended to make plantation agriculture more sustainable. Some of these eventually spread to other plantation regions. As a stopgap against hillside erosion, sugar planters in Barbados employed slaves to cart soil back up slope and to build weirs and check dams in waterways to stop gullying. Animals provided an important source of motive power on sugar plantations. This created the opportunity for “dung farming,” involving the paddocking of livestock on fallow land to enrich the soil, before a series of animal epidemics during the 1710s killed off the practice. In the wake of this disaster, Barbados planters developed a new technique for working the soil known as “cane holing” that involved the construction of checkerboard fields made up of small, erosion-resistant, moisture-saving, sunken plots that could be enriched with excrement, compost, ash, marl, sea wrack, or planted with nitrogen-fixing pigeon peas (Cajanus cajan) before they were planted with cane. Plantation owners also encouraged the cultivation of “guinea corn” (Sorghum bicolor) and tropical grasses introduced from Africa to provide cattle feed and thereby maximize manure production. The integration of intensive cattle raising allowed productive use of depleted cane lands and had a major long-term impact on the biodiversity of tropical and subtropical grasslands all over the hemisphere. Brazilian sugar planters tended to eschew these labor-intensive techniques. However, Brazilian tobacco farmers developed an elaborate system for maintaining the fertility of their lands involving crop rotation, irrigation, and paddocking animals on their fields. Canal irrigation was a crucial but little-studied aspect of the development of Saint Domingue (now Haiti) into the most profitable plantation colony of the 18th century. In the Guianas and northeast Brazil, Dutch-inspired construction of dikes and trenches enabled the drainage and plantation cultivation of large swaths of tidal wetlands. As with forest clearance, however, most of these intensive techniques required enormous labor to maintain and tended to be despised by slaves. The social ecology of intensive plantation agriculture thus tended to inspire sabotage and revolts, and these practices were often abandoned after the abolition of slavery.29

Agricultural Improvement and the 19th-Century Guano Export Boom

The German scientific traveler Alexander von Humboldt was responsible for sparking the interest of Europeans in guano. During his 1802 visit to Peru, he had a sneeze-inducing encounter with barges filled with this strong-smelling substance destined for use by local plantations, and sent out samples for analysis to leading chemists in Europe. They detected some of the highest levels of nitrogen compounds ever found in an organic substance, which contributed to the scientific discovery that nitrogen plays an indispensible role in plant nutrition. This intervention also played a foundational role in granting scientific experts influence over the development of intensive agricultural practices in many parts of the world.30

Improving farmers on the remote Atlantic island of St. Helena, then in northwestern Europe, the eastern United States, Mauritius, and the West Indies engaged in field experiments with guano that reached a fever pitch during the early 1840s. The success of these trials on a broad range of crops helped convince farmers to try other new fertilizers—including nitrates mined from the Atacama Desert of Peru—and inspired enterprising traders, following in the footsteps of whalers and seal hunters, to comb the world ocean for other sources of guano. Large deposits were eventually discovered off southwestern Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Patagonia, Baja California, and on atolls in the Caribbean and Central Pacific. But no source of guano rivaled Peruvian guano, either in quantity or quality. This search provided a potent motivation for colonization and human exploitation of some of the world’s most isolated specks of land. But since guano miners tended to focus on only a couple of islands at a time, the industry had a relatively light impact on the population of marine birds. Market hunters in search of eggs, meat, skins, and feathers had a far greater impact.31

It is wrong to conclude that guano contributed in a direct way to the increase of the food supply in Great Britain and other locales that consumed the lion’s share of it during the guano boom of the mid-19th century. Most guano went to fertilize feed crops consumed by animals, which enabled the most privileged inhabitants of the industrialized world to eat more meat, employ more animals as workers, and place more livestock manure on their fields. Cotton planters in the U.S. South purchased a substantial share, and the search for guano islands provided an important early encouragement for the United States government to become engaged in overseas imperialism, for example, by forcibly taking phosphate-rich Navassa Island from Haiti. Sugar plantations in the Caribbean, Indian Ocean, and China together bought 134,000 metric tons during the 1870s, the last decade of Peru’s guano boom, while a handful ended up in Brazil and Central America. European sugar beet growers, meanwhile, were the largest consumers of nitrates mined from the Atacama Desert—to the direct detriment of the sugar cane producers with whom they competed in Latin America and the Caribbean.32

Peru, meanwhile, used income from the guano and nitrate trades to change the landscape of its major cities and build railroads that penetrated high into the Andes. All told, the global guano industry of this era produced well over fifteen million tons of fertilizer and exhausted the most important accumulations by the 1870s—with devastating effects on the political stability of Peru and capital markets in London. To make matters worse, Peru and Bolivia lost their nitrate deposits in the Atacama to Chile during the War of the Pacific (1879–1883), which brought a violent end to Peru’s guano boom. The guano boom’s overall historical influence was as much cultural as it was ecological or geopolitical. Guano helped accustom its users to purchasing concentrated agrichemicals and to relying on scientific experimentation and expertise to improve their yields. In the process, livestock raisers also became far more aware of the importance of nitrogen-rich feed to animal growth.33

Guano’s success as a commodity was founded, above all, on the growing geographical extent and influence of an elite-driven international movement aimed at agricultural improvement. As with many export economies, the guano trade created enormous fortunes for a privileged few. William Gibbs became the richest commoner in Britain on the basis of the wealth he acquired from the Peruvian guano and nitrate trades. Tyntesfield, the spectacular neo-Gothic country house that he built near Bristol during the 1860s, is one of the most frequented and best-preserved Victorian country estates in the United Kingdom today (Figure 3).34 It exemplifies the prosperity experienced by improving farmers during the heyday of “High Farming” in Great Britain, which served as a model for the improvement movement in many other parts of the world.35

Guano, Intensive Agriculture, and Environmental Change in Latin America and the CaribbeanClick to view larger

Figure 3. Guano Turned Into Gold.

Note: This stained-glass window provides the only tangible sign at Tyntesfield of the source of the Gibbs family fortune. It shows realistic images of the northern gannet or alcatraz común (Morus bassanus)—a close local relative to one of Peru’s main guano-producing birds—portrayed wearing pearls, golden bracelets, and other accoutrements of wealth.

Source: Photos by author; all rights reserved; do not reproduce without permission.

Literature and institutions devoted to agricultural improvement began to appear during the 18th century as a key feature of the Enlightenment in Latin America and the Caribbean. They appeared first among Jesuit writers, before their expulsion from the hemisphere, and in the British Caribbean, where the movement developed in intimate communication with agricultural improvers in other parts of the British Empire.36 In the Spanish colonies, patriotic societies such as the Sociedad de Amantes del País in Lima (est. 1790) and Sociedad Económica de Amigos del País in Havana (est. 1792) provided an important source of advocacy, as did a growing number of societies established during the 19th century explicitly dedicated to agricultural improvement, such as Barbados’s Society for the Improvement of Plantership (est. 1804), the Sociedad Chilena de Agricultura i Beneficiencia (est. 1823), and the Instituto Imperial Fluminense de Agricultura (est. 1860). Even though most of these institutions were short-lived, such advocacy had a significant impact on the adoption of intensive agricultural practices in parts of the British Caribbean.37 The improvement movement had less influence in Spanish America and Brazil, at least initially, where it gave birth to the persistent, often pernicious belief that rural culture in Latin America had converted planters, peasants, and workers into almost unredeemable slaves to agricultural “routine.”38 This reputation for “routinism” and technological backwardness was not altogether unwarranted, but should not obscure the willingness of farmers in most regions to adopt new, higher yielding and disease-resistant crop varieties when local environmental and social conditions warranted. For example, sugar cane planters in Brazil and the Caribbean Basin nearly all substituted Otaheite cane from the Pacific Islands for older creole varieties between the 1780s and 1820s as part of a much broader “neo-Columbian exchange” of organisms between world regions. State-supported botanical gardens provided vital assistance with the introduction and acclimatization of new crops and varieties, including the first coffee bush introduced to the hemisphere in 1723.39 The agricultural improvement movement also played a foundational role in promoting environmental conservation in the region, although liberal-minded planters in Cuba served as notorious opponents of colonial regulations designed to protect Cuba’s forests.40

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, colonial, national, regional, and local governments began to provide more widespread and consistent institutional support for agricultural improvement through the establishment of Ministries of Development, dedicated Departments of Agriculture, agricultural and industrial expositions, agronomy schools, and experiment stations. Some, such as the Atkins Botanical Garden in Cuba (est. 1899) and Insular Experiment Station at Río Piedras in Puerto Rico (est. 1910), received direct support from private interests. Individual experimenters also produced agricultural research of major influence. In response to a devastating plague of cotton wilt on the coast of Peru, Fermín Tangüis painstakingly bred a disease-resistant cotton hybrid based on indigenous cultigens that responded vigorously to the use of guano as a fertilizer. This new strain rapidly took over the Peruvian cotton industry after 1912. Most of these improvement efforts were elite-led, but small producers from modest backgrounds sometimes played a visible role, as in the case of Tangüis, a Puerto Rican–immigrant tenant cotton farmer. Export crops received by far the most attention from these institutions. Nevertheless, these institutions sometimes served as outspoken proponents of agricultural diversification and the development of subsistence crops, and for projects intended to promote local industrialization.41

The highly successful movement to improve the productivity of livestock in the Río de la Plata region of South America was intimately tied to the improvement movement in Britain and other parts of Europe. The independence wars brought an end to Spain’s carefully guarded monopoly on possession of fine-wool breeds of sheep, while the industrial revolution in textile manufacture in Britain and Belgium created a lucrative market for wool exports. Between 1824 and 1826, the Rivadavia administration gave direct support to the introduction of improved sheep breeds to Río de la Plata, although British entrepreneurs, creole improvement societies, and Basque and Irish shepherds provided the main initiative for the proliferation of fine-wool sheep on the Pampas. By 1870, wool had supplanted dried beef, tallow, and hides as the most important export from Argentina and Uruguay. Beef cattle made a dramatic comeback at the end of the 19th century, however, thanks to improving efforts by a vanguard of large creole landowners and British immigrants centered on the Sociedad Rural Argentina (est. 1866).42

Similar to sugar cane and the Green Revolution (see the section “Industrialization and Input-Intensive Agriculture during the 20th Century”), the successful introduction of high-yielding breeds of sheep and cattle from Europe to the Pampas was accompanied by far-reaching transformations in ranching technique, social organization, and the basic landscape and ecology of the region. The proliferation of fine-wool sheep was premised on the ecological replacement of tough, native bunch grasses and invasive thistles by short, tender turf grasses and herbs that had been accomplished by previous generations of creole cattle ranching and range burning. Smallholders first introduced wire fencing to the Río de la Plata region in 1845 to protect crops, orchards, and wild lands from incursions by livestock. Sheep, then cattle ranchers embraced the practice to keep their improved animals on the best pastures and, more importantly, to carefully control their reproduction for the purpose of systematic breeding—often with the guidance of foreign experts linked to the improvement movement in Europe. Enclosure had the side effect of enabling ranch managers to develop intricate, hierarchical programs of specialized land use and to experiment with improving the quality of forage on their lands. The most important innovation on the latter count involved deep-plow cultivation of the nitrogen-fixing legume alfalfa (Medicago sativa). Alfalfa had been introduced to the hemisphere as part of the original Columbian Exchange of biota during the 16th century and was widely cultivated on a small scale as part of crop rotations during the colonial period. By the mid-19th century, intensive farming in Chile’s Central Valley had come to depend on periodic planting of alfalfa, which was introduced by Chileans, in turn, to the irrigated farmlands of California, and went on to provide an important basis for the renovation of cattle raising and wheat cultivation in Chile at the end of the century. Thanks to alfalfa, Chilean wheat farmers had little need for guano or nitrates produced along the northern coast. In Argentina, ranchers began to experiment widely with the cultivation of alfalfa after the drought of 1887. They quickly discovered that it could dramatically decrease the financial risks of land ownership, since it had cash value as pasture, hay, or seed; that it survived droughts better than other planted forage; and that it could be integrated easily with tenant cultivation of wheat or maize. These cumulative efforts at improvement and intensification were vital to the transformation of Argentina and Uruguay into two of the world’s largest exporters of meat and grain by the end of the 19th century, and to the growing dominance of large landowners on the political scene.43

Cattle and sheep ranchers elsewhere in Latin America adopted improvements much more slowly than their counterparts in the Southern Cone. This supposed resistance to change has often been blamed inaccurately on “routinism.” The lack of transportation infrastructure and unsuitability of local soils for alfalfa were significant inhibitions to the adoption of the Argentine model of livestock improvement in Brazil’s Rio Grande do Sul. In Colombia and the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica, the widespread adoption of African-derived pará, guinea, and yaraguá grasses between the 1840s and 1910s helped ranchers to improve the productivity of cattle raising across a wide range of tropical ecosystems and to insert themselves into vibrant regional economies of meat and dairy supply. They did so, however, at the cost of becoming dependent on the cultivation of fodder crops. The introduction of zebu cattle (Bos indicus) and provision of salt supplements helped bring the improvement movement to hot, lowland regions like Central Brazil, the Colombian llanos, and Amazonia from the 1870s onward. On the Peruvian altiplano, on the other hand, estate owners had good reasons for maintaining relatively unproductive, extensive patterns of sheep grazing. Maximizing the number of unimproved stock on their holdings provided the most straightforward means of protecting their tenuous land claims and for maintaining good relations with indigenous workers. Peasant laborers often interpreted the introduction of fencing to the altiplano as a direct attack on their autonomy and livelihoods, which depended on maintaining their own mixed flocks of creole sheep, llamas, and alpacas alongside those of the estate that employed them. Therefore, such “improvements” frequently met with intense resistance in the Andean highlands.44

Unfortunately, the increasing pace of international exchange of new crop and animal varieties also greatly accelerated the global spread of disease, pests, and other invasive species. In the case of sugar cane, planters had to again switch to new varieties developed by plant breeders elsewhere in the world after the outbreak of gum disease in Brazil in 1860 and mosaic disease in Puerto Rico in 1917. Genetic research (which can provide a valuable independent source of historical evidence on the lineages of plants, animals, diseases, and humans) has demonstrated that agricultural improvers in Peru were directly responsible for introducing cotton wilt to the region in shipments of seed imported from agronomic stations in the southern United States at the turn of the 20th century. The same is likely true of the spread of mosaic disease with improved cane varieties from Java. Despite some modest successes by experimenters based at the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture in Trinidad, agricultural science has been unable to stem the long-term collapse of cacao farming in Ecuador and Brazil, due to fungal infestations and competition with African growers. American arabica coffee producers, on the other hand, have benefited tremendously until recently from the absence of coffee leaf rust in the Western Hemisphere. New methods of cultivation and ranching and novel ideologies of managerial labor control that accompanied these innovations often had a negative impact on the livelihoods of rural workers and peasants, however, and they inspired major strikes and peasant revolts in a number of regions.45

Where national politics was concerned, the most important long-term legacy of the agricultural improvement movement was its promotion of a greatly increased role for the state in farming and ranching and its advocacy for technocratic paradigms of governance. These paradigms gave preference to the search for technological solutions to problems and greatly elevated the political power of scientific experts in countries all over the hemisphere. Together, these innovations gave birth to modern industrialized farming and its dependence on inputs.

Industrialization and Input-Intensive Agriculture during the 20th Century

The adoption of input-intensive practices has been a hallmark of agriculture in Latin America and the Caribbean during the 20th century, as in most parts of the globe. This history of intensification and rising productivity is strongly associated with the so-called Green Revolution. In its narrowest usage, the Green Revolution refers to the scientific breeding of new, high-yielding, hybrid varieties of cereal crops by institutions like the Rockefeller Foundation’s Mexican Agricultural Program (est. 1943). Since the late 1980s, such conventional breeding programs have been supplemented by the highly controversial introduction of genetically modified organisms.46 However, the history of the adoption of high-yielding varieties of plants and animals can only be understood in relation to a much broader set of interrelated developments involving heavy inputs of materials, finance, and human capital. These include the proliferating use of:

  • irrigation and drainage networks, including large dams and underground pumps;

  • fertilizers and other soil amendments, sometimes in association with new crop rotations;

  • chemical pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, veterinary drugs, food preservatives, and sanitation practices intended to stop or prevent attacks by pests and disease;

  • powered machinery used for moving earth and for the cultivation, harvest, transport, and processing of crops and animals;

  • climate-controlled greenhouses and animal facilities;

  • rural credit, government subsidies, tax breaks, and regulations encouraging the adoption of input-intensive practices;

  • scientific research, agricultural education, extension services, centralized planning, and other forms of recourse to expertise to guide the implementation of input-intensive practices; and

  • low-wage labor, often involving migrants from less prosperous regions moving across international borders.

Compared with the earlier histories of indigenous agriculture and the improvement movement, many of these issues have received little attention from historians.

The United States provided a key source of inspiration and resources for the adoption of industrial farming practices, many inspired by ongoing trends in northern manufacturing.47 However, it is important to recognize that industrial methods have long been characteristic of sugar production (Figure 4),48 and that regional elites widely advocated input-intensive practices as a means to promote the industrialization of Latin America and the Caribbean. They hoped that input-intensive agriculture would generate markets for regionally manufactured fuels, chemicals, machinery, construction materials, and other industrial products, as well as provide cheap food and clothing to the region’s industrial workers and exploding urban population. How exactly to implement these transformative changes was a perennial source of political and social contention, which played a signature role in the emergence of technocratic forms of governance and in the generation of revolutionary ferment during the 20th century all over the hemisphere. The form that these developments have taken has had a powerful impact, in turn, on patterns of agricultural innovation in the United States and other rich nations leading into the 21st century.49 Meanwhile, the rapid growth of industrial agriculture has only intensified the threat to biodiversity in places like the cerrado of interior Brazil.50

Guano, Intensive Agriculture, and Environmental Change in Latin America and the CaribbeanClick to view larger

Figure 4. Factories in the Field: W. R. Grace & Company’s Paramonga Sugar Estate, Peru, 1930.

Note: Nineteenth-century sugar plantations were among the first agricultural institutions in the world to integrate energy-intensive production facilities and railway transport with crop production, and they reorganized the landscape into vast, continuous monocultures of cash crops. Large, highly capitalized multinational companies like W. R. Grace typically possessed a marked advantage over smaller concerns in obtaining credit and purchasing inputs like guano, but were also highly vulnerable to outbreaks of disease, pests, and climatic extremes.

Source: George R. Johnson, Peru from the Air (New York: American Geographical Society, 1930), 76.

Conflict over irrigation supplies was already emerging as a major preoccupation of modernizing governments at the turn of the 20th century. Urbanization and the growth of manufacturing, steam-powered transport, and hydroelectric power all exacerbated regional demands for water. Expanding the water supply was usually an expensive proposition, and so political elites often preferred the option of empowering hydraulic experts to “rationalize” the distribution of water. This usually meant giving preference to those who could make the “highest use” of water in accord with the “gospel of efficiency” that drove conservationists of that era. This usually favored large producers of export crops, but could also be used to advocate for colonization programs involving small farmers or for reforestation projects aimed at protecting water resources.51

To this end, Mexico, Peru, and Brazil all promulgated new water laws (in 1888 and 1926, 1902, and 1934, respectively) that dramatically increased the state’s supervisory role over water use. In Peru, intervention by experts and the national state created entirely new sources of rural conflict. In the Ica and Pisco valleys, technocratic policies designed to regularize flow, reduce canal leakage, and reduce siltation had the contradictory effect of reducing the amount of water and silt that reached indigenous farmers and wetlands at the end of coastal irrigation networks. This led indigenous farmers to violently oppose expert intervention and flat out refuse to pay for “government” water, arguing that indigenous users were owed water in reciprocity for labor that they had expended to build and maintain these irrigation networks over many generations. In northern Peru, large sugar planters took advantage of disastrous El Niño flooding and their influence over local water boards to further monopolize land holdings, which helped turn the region into the stronghold of the 1930s American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (APRA). In southern Peru, bungled reforms in water provision by the Revolutionary Government of the Armed Forces during the 1970s helped enflame the Shining Path uprising of the 1980s.52 Meanwhile in northeastern Brazil, technocrats installed a massive developmental apparatus, intended to mitigate against severe drought, that totally remade the hydraulic infrastructure of an entire region.53

In Porfirian Mexico, intra-elite rivalries over water resources needed to irrigate the cotton plantations of the Laguna District helped elevate Francisco Madero, a University of California–trained agronomist belonging to one of northern Mexico’s most powerful families, to the presidency in 1911—a move that opened the way to revolutionary violence in his home district and beyond. Meanwhile, the monopolization of irrigation water by large landowners helped turn the Morelos region into one of the world’s most advanced centers of sugar cane production, only to see much of it swept away by the Zapatista movement during the Mexican Revolution. It is therefore no surprise that the construction of high dams and expansion of irrigation networks became one of the signature features of agricultural reform by the Mexican state after the revolution. Hydraulic development was a vital prerequisite to dramatic increases in agricultural productivity associated with the Green Revolution in places like the Yaqui Valley. To help further promote import-substituting industrialization and decentralization of water control in Mexico, the post-revolutionary state also encouraged the manufacture and sale of diesel-powered hydraulic pumps that could access underground water resources—notwithstanding the pleas of irrigation technocrats that these resources were already dangerously overexploited in places like the Laguna District.54 Meanwhile in Peru, an immigrant hydraulic engineer from Switzerland, Martine Stähle, figured out how to repurpose hydraulic pumps for use by the fishing industry. His company Hidrostal made a fortune supplying the fishing boom of the 1960s in Peru, Chile, and other countries, which itself played a foundational role in the development of high-protein animal feeds vital to the industrialization of chicken and hog raising around the world during the second half of the 20th century.55

Guano’s place in world history did not end with the depletion of ancient deposits during the 19th-century guano boom. Agricultural improvers in Brazil briefly developed a network of fertilizer supply linking coastal agriculture with guano deposits from the Fernando de Noronha archipelago.56 During the 20th century, the governments of Peru and South Africa independently developed elaborate institutions for shepherding living populations of marine birds on coastal islands. They did so for the purpose of producing nitrogen-rich fertilizer for consumption by local agribusiness on a sustained-yield basis from the annual production of guano. In the case of Peru, this conservation program proved so successful that the breeding population of guano birds grew by a factor of ten from 1917 to 1956. “The most valuable birds in the world” supplied the majority of national demand for concentrated fertilizer, fed a boom in Tangüis cotton cultivation, and enabled Peru to become one of the highest per capita consumers of fertilizer in the world during this period. Conservation activists from the United States widely hailed this program and influenced its replication on a smaller scale in Mexico and Chile. However, large Peruvian agribusiness sometimes used forced sales of guano fertilizer to sharecroppers to reinforce its power over land and labor, much like it did with control over irrigation supplies.57

In the wake of a politically explosive food crisis during World War II, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate for president of Mexico, Miguel Alemán, made the combined increase of agricultural and industrial production a centerpiece of his 1946 campaign. After his election, he initiated a major program to build dams, canals, and farm-to-market roads—to the direct benefit of Mexico’s state-run cement and petroleum industries. Fertilizer manufacture was also crucial to the PRI’s plan to use state-sponsored industrialization to drive the modernization of Mexican agriculture and support urban development. With the help of engineering expertise and a major loan from the United States, the Mexican state opened the first ammonia-producing plant of any kind in Latin America in 1951 at Cuautitlán, served by a new natural gas pipeline to Mexico City from Veracruz. This petrochemical complex serving both industry and agriculture provided an influential model for the transfer of agrichemical production to Colombia and other countries in the region. (It also resulted in the abrupt abandonment of Mexico’s small but growing guano industry.) With the help of large government subsidies, fertilizer manufacture, consumption, and crop productivity increased by leaps and bounds in Mexico over the next three decades. High-yielding varieties of wheat and maize developed by Rockefeller Foundation plant breeders would have been much less valuable without the nutrient inputs provided by the Mexican fertilizer industry. Developmental economists refer to this agricultural transformation as “the Mexican miracle,” and it enabled the country to emerge as a major food exporter, even though a majority of its population had left the countryside for Mexican cities or to emigrate abroad. This model of state-led development proved impossible to sustain during the intense fiscal crisis of the 1980s, however, and gave way to the privatization mania of the 1990s.58 Peru tried to copy Mexico’s success in developing its own fertilizer manufacturing industry during the late 1950s and 1960s. To help eliminate competition for this nascent petrochemical industry, state planners allowed Peru’s revived guano industry to collapse under pressure from enormous industrial fisheries that targeted the schools of small fish that provided the guano birds’ main sustenance. Tragically, fertilizer manufacturing was never profitable and closed down when the Peruvian government stopped supporting it in the 1990s. Today, Peru imports all of its fertilizer, except for small amounts of guano sold to cultivators of organically grown quinoa and other crops.59

Traditional techniques for controlling agricultural pests include handpicking, setting fires, applying tobacco or chile pepper infusions, and the use of multicropping and crop rotations. The proliferation of vast monocultures of plantation crops has greatly exacerbated the challenge of controlling pests, especially in tropical regions that never experience a killing frost. Introducing predatory organisms was a favored way of controlling agricultural pests at the turn of the 20th century, but often had the negative side effect of establishing invasive species, and the practice is now widely discouraged.60 To choose an exceptionally destructive example, Caribbean agronomists introduced the cane toad (Bufo marinus) to Puerto Rico from Barbados to help control infestations of white grub on sugar cane. They, in turn, advocated their introduction to sugar plantations in Hawaii and Australia, where the toads turned into a plague of biblical proportions.61

Shifting cultivation is another traditional means of escaping pests. The fungus responsible for Panama disease in bananas first appeared in the Caribbean basin in the 1890s and became a serious problem throughout the region by the 1910s. Large corporations like the United Fruit Company responded to infestations in places like Honduras by cutting down new forests and shifting banana cultivation to uninfected soils. Sometimes they picked up and moved their plantations to entirely new countries—an extreme example of extensive production that left abandoned regions in ecological and social ruin. The rapid spread of Sigatoka disease among Caribbean banana plantations during the 1930s inspired a different tactic. Plant pathologists quickly discovered that the application of mineral pesticides made from copper, sulfur, and lime could act as an effective fungal control, and United Fruit installed a massive, labor-intensive apparatus for spraying its groves with Bordeaux mixture in Honduras and Costa Rica. This pest-control technique has been blamed for causing debilitating lung damage among workers with long-term exposure.62

Latin American and Caribbean plantations were not only among the first in the world to adopt mineral pesticides on a large scale, but also the new, synthetic chemical pesticides that took the world by storm after World War II. Cotton growers in Mexico, Brazil, the eastern Caribbean, and Peru began experimenting with lead arsenate and other mineral insecticides during the 1930s, and soon discovered that their use could encourage serious secondary pest outbreaks. In the public health sector, Paris green insecticide was a key constituent of the Rockefeller Foundation’s interwar campaign against yellow fever in Brazil. Heavy metals were also a key component of dips used to control animal parasites such as cattle tick, the carrier of Texas fever and an important source of cross-border tensions between the United States and Mexico. In keeping with the region’s long-standing place as a laboratory for northern science, Mexico, Trinidad, and Brazil served as testing grounds for the efficacy of DDT during World War II—often without the informed consent of locals. DDT was just one of a whole new class of persistent organochlorine insecticides resulting from wartime research. They killed a broad spectrum of insects so effectively that promoters began advocating the total eradication of insects from farms, rather than mere “pest control.” Early adopters in Latin America and the Caribbean soon found themselves trapped on the infamous “pesticides treadmill.” This is a form of technological lock-in in which growers, enticed by financing provided by local banks and international organizations, and encouraged by extension services intent on stimulating industrialization, get caught up in purchasing an ever-growing diversity of insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, and nematicides in ever-expanding amounts just to maintain productivity in the face of evolved pesticide resistance and a proliferating variety of pest species.63

The intensive use of pesticides underwrote a postwar boom in cotton production along the Pacific coast of Central America stretching from Chiapas to Guanacaste (Figure 5).

At first, these chemicals were mainly imported from the United States, but import-substituting industrialization programs shifted the formulation and manufacture of pesticides almost entirely to Central America by the end of the 1950s, after which the region developed into one of the heaviest users of chemical pesticides in the Global South. By the late 1970s, a cascade of problems threatened to turn this cotton boom into a bust. The worst problem, by far, was the social cost of pesticide poisoning. The introduction of acutely toxic parathion to Nicaragua in 1952 for boll weevil control directly caused hundreds of poisonings and dozens of fatalities, leading to a short-lived government ban. Other chemicals have been proven to cause sterility and cancer, but were often prohibited long after their risks to human health had been demonstrated. Contrary to the intent of developmental experts, input-intensive cotton cultivation exacerbated instead of reducing social inequities, and the cotton boom played a significant role in turning Central America into one of the world’s hotspots of political conflict during the late 1970s and 1980s. The recent switch to fruit and vegetable crops has not significantly reduced dependence on pesticides, unfortunately, and all of this took place at the cost of the near destruction of tropical deciduous forest on the Pacific coast of Mesoamerica and severe damage to coastal estuaries from pesticide runoff.64

Guano, Intensive Agriculture, and Environmental Change in Latin America and the CaribbeanClick to view larger

Figure 5. Boom and Bust in Latin American Cotton Farming, 1940–2013.

Note: The widespread adoption of input-intensive agricultural practices enabled a stark rise in cotton production in Mexico, Central America, Peru, and Colombia from the late 1940s to late 1960s. The collapse of the Peruvian guano industry in 1965 was a significant cause for the decline of Peruvian cotton, which had been among the earliest adopters of input-intensive practices. The growing cost of petrochemical inputs, beginning with the oil-price shock in 1974, and pest-control problems were major factors influencing the overall decline of cotton production and its almost complete disappearance from Central America by the early 1990s. Cotton yields remained comparatively stable during the 1980s and 1990s in Argentina and Brazil, and production there now far surpasses levels in the rest of the region.

Source: International Historical Statistics, 1750–2010 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), table C6; FAOSTAT statistical database, accessed November 2016.

One boom region decided to get off the pesticide treadmill early on. Cotton growers in the Cañete Valley of Peru have long been enthusiastic adopters of new, high-yielding varieties and input-intensive practices, and were among the largest consumers of locally produced guano. Cañete farmers were also among the first in the world to observe secondary pest outbreaks and evolved resistance after the application of chemical insecticides, even before they embraced new organo-pesticides like DDT. After the near failure of the cotton crop in 1956, valley growers banded together with Peruvian agronomists to implement an alternative approach to pest control. They rejected the use of synthetic insecticides and instead relied on cultivation practices that discouraged pest insects, used limited applications of mineral insecticides, and sought to reintroduce the natural enemies of pest insects that had been killed off by synthetic sprays. They experienced remarkable success, and these practices quickly spread elsewhere in Peru, perpetuating the cotton boom. This approach came to be called “integrated pest management” once it was adopted by northern agronomists who, regrettably, almost never acknowledge its Latin American pioneers.65

One of the tragedies of the changing pattern of pesticide use over the past half-century has been the way in which it has shifted hazards onto migrant workers at the “bottom of the labor market,” such as Ramón González, a Mixtec who died after bathing in a pesticide-contaminated canal in the Mexican state of Sinaloa after picking winter tomatoes bound for U.S. supermarkets. The gradual abandonment of cheaper, less toxic, but far more ecologically damaging persistent pesticides like DDT, and their replacement by more expensive, far more acutely toxic, non-persistent pesticides like organophosphates and carbamates has made agricultural work even more dangerous, as has the shift from indiscriminate aerial spraying to more economic and targeted backpack application. Meanwhile, the overall use of chemical pesticides continues to increase.66

Heavy use of agrichemicals has not been restricted to agribusiness and large estates. Input-intensive practices are also growing among smallholders and contract producers of export crops, most notably among Colombian coffee growers.67 Contrary to the way that Third World pesticide use has sometimes been portrayed, peasants in the British colony of St. Vincent demonstrate a great deal of caution and economy, as well as a great range of individuality and experimentalism when using pesticides. They are typically very careful to avoid contaminating food crops when applying chemicals to bananas destined for export, although the growing desire for blemish-free produce has extended to local food markets in the region, leading to increased demand for pesticide use on peasant-grown food crops. Careful ethnographic research has revealed some important additional truths about input-intensive agriculture. Even poorly educated peasants and farm workers have exercised significant agency regarding agrichemical use and in obtaining legal protection from hazards.68 Contrary to expectation, industrial agriculture has not become deskilled with the advent of modern technology in Latin America and the Caribbean. Nevertheless, field labor remains poorly remunerated because it is still labor- and skill-intensive and, thus, tainted by social biases dating back at least to the colonial era.

Discussion of the Literature

The fertility of the countryside of Latin America and the Caribbean is legendary, and the cornucopia of products that have been produced from the region’s soils over the centuries is an essential feature of its enduring image as a tropical Eden. Nevertheless, until about fifty years ago (c. 1965), agriculture in Latin America and the Caribbean had a decidedly negative reputation when compared to most world regions. In its ancient, colonial, and modern forms, it has been widely portrayed as backward, inefficient, and environmentally destructive, and was routinely blamed for the region’s extreme social inequalities and political tensions. For example, in his highly influential Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain (1808–1811) and other writings, Prussian naturalist Alexander von Humboldt squarely blamed Spanish colonialism and the institution of slavery for mistreatment of the land, poor crop productivity, widespread hunger, and regional desertification in places as diverse as northern Venezuela, coastal Peru, and the Mexican highlands.69 Nineteenth-century advocates of agricultural improvement from the region such as Brazil’s José Bonifácio and Cuba’s Álvaro Reynoso greatly amplified this critique—often in combination with a precocious environmental sensibility.70 Some of the foundational histories of Mexican cattle ranching, Caribbean sugar plantations, and Brazilian coffee estates reinforced these views, variously crediting environmental determinants, the concentration of land holdings, owner seigneurialism and absenteeism, stark limitations in the supply and capabilities of rural labor and capital, and a supposed cultural tendency toward “routinism” for giving rise to the region’s present-day poverty and underdevelopment.71 In fact, the widespread, midcentury belief that Latin America was an overpopulated “continent sliding to ruin” powerfully influenced conservation and development policy far outside the region.72

Several trends have brought about a fundamental reconsideration of this “black legend” regarding agricultural backwardness in Latin America and the Caribbean. First and foremost, the work of archaeologists, geographers, and historical demographers, particularly that of the so-called Berkeley School, has demonstrated that most of the Americas was not an underpopulated wilderness before 1492, as many once believed. The highlands of Mexico and the Andes at that time supported some of the densest populations of the premodern world, and the hemisphere as a whole contained from forty million to perhaps as many as 100 million people. Physical evidence shows that large conglomerations even inhabited the now forested tropical lowlands of Mesoamerica and Amazonia. Supporting populations of this size and density necessitated intensive agriculture that has left many living legacies still visible today.73 The realization that the transoceanic exchange of American cultivars after 1492 had a revolutionary impact on the ability of Old World societies to reproduce themselves also provided stimulus for investigation of the place of American cultivars in traditional agricultural systems wherever they were found. This discovery is often credited to Alfred Crosby’s The Columbian Exchange (1972), but was already an important aspect of William McNeill’s The Rise of the West (1963) and Redcliffe Salaman’s encyclopedic study of The History and Social Influence of the Potato (1949).74

From a theoretical perspective, Danish developmental economist Ester Boserup’s seminal 1965 study The Conditions of Agricultural Growth explained how traditional societies are capable of intensifying food production in response to population growth, particularly by altering the length of time that land is allowed to remain fallow.75 Karl Wittfogel’s thesis that the implementation of large-scale hydraulic infrastructure almost necessitated the development of highly centralized, authoritarian, bureaucratic forms of governance has long been discredited, but nonetheless continues to attract scholarly attention to the linkage between irrigated agriculture and state formation, both ancient and modern.76 From a practical perspective, field-based agroecological research has revealed the amazing capacity of traditional farming practices to produce surpluses on a sustainable basis, even in marginal circumstances, in ways that strongly promote local biodiversity.77

Two generations of research by rural historians and social scientists into the socioeconomic development of colonial haciendas and plantations has opened up historical farming and grazing operations to meticulous scrutiny. This scholarship was inspired, in large part, by the desire to create a “history from below” reconstructing the lives of slaves and other subaltern groups. This research has revealed that colonial enterprises were more market-oriented than once believed, and even played a formative role in the development of capitalism and industrialization on a global scale.78 Rural historians have given much less attention to change over time in agricultural practices than one might expect, however. Agricultural history, inspired by historiographical models from the United States and Great Britain, has long been overly preoccupied with tracing improvements in technology and productivity—and how Latin America and the Caribbean supposedly fell behind trends in the industrialized world.79 The advent of environmental history as a new subfield since the 1970s has helped redirect this preoccupation toward the impact of agricultural and grazing practices on the soil, water, forests, and workers’ bodies. To be sure, many such studies have confirmed the rapacious capacity of agriculture to degrade the environment and erode the status of the rural poor, but environmental studies have also repeatedly highlighted the ingenuity of farmers and herders in the region. More recently, the efflorescence of commodity studies, particularly those adopting the commodity chain approach, has provided tremendous encouragement to the study of agricultural practices and contexts extending across international boundaries.80

The most frequent publishers of research articles and book reviews concerned with these topics include Agricultural History; the Annals of the Association of American Geographers; Environmental History; HALAC: Revista de la Sociedad Latinoamericana y Caribeña de Historia Ambiental (SOLCHA); the Hispanic American Historical Review; and the Journal of Historical Geography. There are many readily available avenues for future research:

  • The emergence of trans-Pacific labor flows to agricultural estates in the Americas, dating as far back as the 16th century, is a hot topic for recent research. The work of guano extraction on remote islands has often been deceptively portrayed as exceptionally exploitative, without bothering to compare it to coerced labor conditions found in so many of the region’s plantations and mines. Polynesian and Micronesian workers played a pivotal role in guano and phosphate mining in the Central and Western Pacific, typically in close association with other extractive industries and plantation agriculture, but there is no hard evidence that any Pacific Islanders ended up enslaved on Peru’s guano islands. Asian farm workers played an important role in the introduction of new crops and farming techniques to California, including rice and irrigated orchards, but we know very little about their influence on farming in Latin America and the Caribbean.81

  • Intensified consideration of the Americas’ long-standing and durable agricultural ties with Africa and the Indo-Pacific world offers the opportunity to write new transregional histories of agricultural booms and busts. For example, how did ecological, economic, and imperial dynamics in the Eastern Hemisphere influence the fate of coconut, indigo, and cacao plantations in the Greater Caribbean?82

  • The adoption of new farming and herding practices by “traditional” indigenous communities after colonization throughout the hemisphere, and their significance to cultural adaptation and survival, has also received little attention.83 The history of chinampas in late colonial and modern Mexico is a key example of such adaptation that deserves research.

  • The vast literature on agricultural estates, including the Mexican hacienda, has given strikingly little notice to the evolution of intensive farming practices and the agroecological contexts that have shaped the historical behavior of peasants, workers, and estate managers and owners. These are potentially vital to our understanding of the early development of capitalism. The organization, operation, and repurposing of sugar and coffee estates in Saint Domingue—particularly irrigated estates—has inspired little scrutiny. This limits our understanding of how it attained its reputation as the most profitable plantation colony in the hemisphere before the Haitian Revolution.

  • Much remains to be done in tracing the intellectual ties between agricultural improvers during the 18th and 19th centuries, especially those operating across colonial, imperial, and oceanic boundaries. Sugar cane, coffee, and bananas are the only sectors with extensive transnational historiographies.

  • What specific influence did late-imperial reforms and independence movements have on the productivity and degradation of land? What role did intensive agricultural practices play in the transition from slave- to free-labor regimes? Were Humboldt’s conclusions correct? For which regions, societies, and practices?

  • Except for Mexico, Caribbean hurricanes, and recent droughts in the Brazilian Northeast, the impacts of climate change and extremes on rural life have received only scattered attention from regional historians. El Niño chronologies must be used with immense caution when interpreting these climate trends.

  • Animal raising, across the board, has received much less investigation than horticultural practices. The history of animal disease and veterinary practice—including international campaigns to control foot-and-mouth disease (aftosa) and cattle fever—is conspicuously undeveloped.

  • Many aspects of the development of input-intensive agriculture and its relation to industrialization have received scant notice. The recent emergence of controlled environments for fresh flower, fruit, and vegetable cultivation is in dire need of research, particularly the role of the plastic industry in these developments. The “Blue Revolution” in oceanic fishing and aquaculture, fishmeal and soy production, and industrial poultry raising have had a revolutionary impact on patterns of animal protein production and consumption in the region.84 The history of herbicides is virtually absent from the history of pesticides—and essential to understanding our current era of “Roundup Ready” crops. Studies of organic agriculture in the region are also sorely lacking—whether considered as a field-level practice, as an industry, or as a cultural movement—with the marked exception of post-Soviet Cuba and fair-trade coffee.85

Primary Sources

For the Americas before 1500, archaeological reports—including “gray literature” of limited circulation housed at specialist libraries and research institutes—provide the best source of information on ancient agricultural practices.86 The closely related study of seeds, pollen, phytoliths, soils, lake and wetland sediments, genetic lineages, and human remains has become indispensable to the reconstruction of past agricultural environments.87 Archaeologists have even developed techniques using nitrogen isotopes to determine if ancient plant residues were fertilized with fish or guano.88 Anthropological and agroecological investigations into contemporary farming practices with traditional roots can also produce valuable perspectives on the deeper past, despite the hazard of anachronism.89 Historical archaeology is also beginning to reveal important insights about the operation and social dynamics of haciendas and plantations.90 Document-based researchers ignore this physical evidence at their peril.

For the colonial period, chronicles of conquest and colonization only rarely provide detailed information on domesticated plants and animals and farming and herding practices. Since they were typically written by outsiders with little farming experience, they must always be read with a critical eye. The same is true for most modern travel accounts.91 Official geographical surveys known as the relaciones geográficas provide accounts of varying detail for many parts of Spanish America during the 16th and 18th centuries, and may even include intricate maps and reports of indigenous authorship.92 Colonial court cases over land, water, livestock, and labor in regional archives tend to provide more thorough information, albeit of a local nature.93 National, regional, and private archives sometimes possess the records for entire agricultural estates. The records of Jesuit estates in Spanish and Portuguese America and large sugar plantations in the British Caribbean, for example, have a well-deserved reputation for detail regarding agricultural practices.94 Drawings, paintings, photographs, maps, and advertisements present vivid evidence of the history of material life, and also provide valuable representations of the relationship between nature and culture. The visual sources included here illustrate how agricultural trends can be linked to cultural history.

In some countries, governmental expropriation of agricultural estates and campaigns to rescue cultural patrimony from decay have created extraordinarily rich archival collections covering both the colonial and modern periods. The Archivo del Fuero Agrario in Peru, created in 1971 as a part of revolutionary land reform, was one such archive that inspired a slew of academic research.95 It has since been incorporated into Peru’s Archivo General de la Nación (AGN) and scattered regional archives, but for decades remained almost inaccessible due to low priority given to its processing. A similar trove of documents related to fertilizer and fishmeal production possessed by the AGN has recently been made available to at least one researcher, after years of telling interested parties that it had been mostly destroyed by fire. Researchers need to have patience, persistence, letters of support, and a good measure of charm and luck when endeavoring to access the recent archives of government institutions and private organizations. Express confidence that valuable materials can be found even in collections that are completely unorganized.

Agricultural manuals produced by the improvement movement provide an indispensible source on agricultural practice and the aspirations of improvers during the 18th and 19th centuries.96 So, too, do periodicals produced by economic societies such as the Mercurio Peruano (1790–1795), Semanario económico de México (1808–1810), and Gazeta de Guatemala (1797–1816), and geohistories concerned with plantation and ranching districts.97 This literature became far more extensive and diverse as agricultural improvement became institutionalized as a central component of postcolonial nation-building movements during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Specialized periodicals produced by agricultural societies, botanic gardens, agronomy schools, and government ministries can provide a rich source of information on agricultural activities, albeit usually from a narrow, pro-development perspective that must be interpreted with caution, particularly with regard to their representation of “traditional” practices.98 The Memoria del Directorio and Boletín published by Peru’s Compañía Administradora del Guano from 1912 to 1963, for example, provide voluminous detail, not only on guano production and use in Peru, but also on industrial farming and fishing around the world.

National statistics for the production and export of major commodities occasionally date back to the late 18th century, but only become systematically available for some countries and activities after the establishment of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in 1945.99 Detailed agricultural censuses begin to appear for a handful of regions and subjects in the early 20th century, but still were not common for some areas by century’s end.100 Due to the proliferation of studies produced by outside experts during agriculture’s industrial era, research universities and institutions inside and outside of the region frequently possess rich collections of rare publications, periodicals, pamphlets, and other “gray literature,” as well as archival materials and staff capable of providing oral histories related to the history of the provision of expertise. In fact, the Rockefeller Foundation’s collections have been used so frequently for this purpose that its efforts have been overrepresented in the histories of agricultural modernization cited here. Oral histories can provide invaluable source material regarding recent events, above all, because they can reveal aspects of history—particularly working-class history—that leave little trace in written or physical records.101

Further Reading

Barickman, Bert J. A Bahian Counterpoint: Sugar, Tobacco, Cassava, and Slavery in the Recôncavo, 1780–1860. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998.Find this resource:

    Beach, Tim, Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach, and Nicholas Dunning. “A Soils History of Mesoamerica and the Caribbean Islands.” In Soils and Societies: Perspectives from Environmental History. Edited by John R. McNeill and Verena Winiwarter, 51–90. Strond, U.K.: White Horse Press, 2006.Find this resource:

      Cushman, Gregory T. Guano and the Opening of the Pacific World: A Global Environmental History. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013.Find this resource:

        Cushman, Gregory T. “The Environmental Contexts of Guaman Poma: Interethnic Conflict over Forest Resources and Place in Huamanga (Peru), 1540–1600.” In Unlocking the Doors to the Worlds of Guaman Poma and His Nueva Corónica. Edited by Rolena Adorno and Ivan Boserup, 87–140. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, 2015.Find this resource:

          Dean, Warren. With Broadax and Firebrand: The Destruction of the Brazilian Amazon Forest. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1995.Find this resource:

            Denevan, William. Cultivated Landscapes of the Native Amazonia and the Andes: Triumph over the Soil. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.Find this resource:

              Funes Monzote, Reinaldo. From Rainforest to Cane Field in Cuba: An Environmental History since 1492. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008.Find this resource:

                Grossman, Lawrence S. The Political Ecology of Bananas: Contract Farming, Peasants, and Agrarian Change in the Eastern Caribbean. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998.Find this resource:

                  Guhl, Andrés. Café y cambio de paisaje en Colombia, 1970–2005. Medellín, Colombia: Fondo Editorial Universidad EAFIT/Banco de la República, 2008.Find this resource:

                    Hewitt de Alcántara, Cynthia. La modernización de la agricultura mexicana, 1940–1970. Mexico City: Siglo XXI Editores, 1978. Originally published in English by the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development in 1976.Find this resource:

                      McCook, Stuart. States of Nature: Science, Agriculture, and Environment in the Spanish Caribbean, 1760–1940. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002.Find this resource:

                        McCook, Stuart. “The Neo-Columbian Exchange: The Second Conquest of the Greater Caribbean, 1720–1930.” Latin American Research Review 46 (2011): 11–31.Find this resource:

                          Murray, Douglas L. Cultivating Crisis: The Human Cost of Pesticides in Latin America. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010.Find this resource:

                            Rogers, Thomas D. The Deepest Wounds: A Labor and Environmental History of Sugar in Northeast Brazil. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010.Find this resource:

                              Skaggs, Jimmy M. The Great Guano Rush: Entrepreneurs and American Overseas Expansion. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994.Find this resource:

                                Soluri, John. Banana Cultures: Agriculture, Consumption, and Environmental Change in Honduras and the United States. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006.Find this resource:

                                  Thurston, Tina L., and Christopher T. Fisher, eds. Seeking a Richer Harvest: The Archaeology of Subsistence, Intensification, Innovation, and Change. New York: Springer, 2008.Find this resource:

                                    Watts, David. The West Indies: Patterns of Development, Culture and Environmental Change since 1492. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1990.Find this resource:

                                      Whitmore, Thomas M., and Billie L. Turner II. Cultivated Landscapes of Middle America on the Eve of Conquest. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.Find this resource:

                                        Wright, Angus. The Death of Ramón González: The Modern Agricultural Dilemma. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990.Find this resource:


                                          (1.) For a still-useful differentiation of these institutional forms, contrasting the extensive “hacienda” and intensive “plantation” as ideal types, see Eric R. Wolf and Sidney W. Mintz, “Haciendas and Plantations in Middle America and the Antilles,” Social and Economic Studies 6.3 (1957): 380–412.

                                          (2.) Edgar Anderson, Plants, Man, and Life (Boston: Little, Brown, 1952), 136–151. On garden horticulture and arboriculture, see Thomas M. Whitmore and Billie L. Turner, Cultivated Landscapes of Middle America on the Eve of Conquest (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 27–50.

                                          (3.) Sonia Zarrillo, et al., “Directly Dated Starch Residues Document Early Formative Maize (Zea mays L.) in Tropical Ecuador,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 105.13 (2008): 5006–5011; Dolores R. Piperno and Tom D. Dillehay, “Starch Grains on Human Teeth Reveal Early Broad Crop Diet in Northern Peru,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 105.50 (2008): 19622–19627; and Jonathan Haas, et al., “Evidence for Maize (Zea mays) in the Late Archaic (3000–1800 bc) in the Norte Chico Region of Peru,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110.13 (2013): 4945–4949.

                                          (4.) Ruth Shady Solis, Jonathan Haas, and Winifred Creamer, “Dating Caral, a Preceramic Site in the Supe Valley on the Central Coast of Peru,” Science 292 (2001): 723–726; and Charles Mann, “Oldest Civilization in the Americas Revealed,” Science 307.1 (2005): 34–35.

                                          (5.) For an exception, see Marcel Mazoyer and Laurence Roudart, A History of World Agriculture: From the Neolithic Age to the Current Crisis, trans. James H. Membrez (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2006).

                                          (6.) Marvin Harris, Cannibals and Kings (New York: Random House, 1977); and Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (New York: W. W. Norton, 1997).

                                          (7.) David Watts, The West Indies: Patterns of Development, Culture and Environmental Change since 1492 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 61, 70, 77; Elizabeth S. Wing, “Animal Domestication in the Andes,” in Advances in Andean Archaeology, ed. David L. Browman (The Hague: Mouton Publishers, 1978), 167–188; Peter W. Stahl, “Animal Domestication in South America,” in Handbook of South American Archaeology, eds. Helaine Silverman and William Isbell (New York: Springer, 2008), 121–130; and José M. Capriles and Nicholas Tripcevich, eds., The Archaeology of Andean Pastoralism (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2016).

                                          (8.) George Kubler, “Towards Absolute Time: Guano Archaeology,” in A Reappraisal of Peruvian Archaeology, Memoirs of the Society for American Archaeology, no. 4 (1948): 29–50.

                                          (9.) Gregory T. Cushman, Guano and the Opening of the Pacific World: A Global Environmental History (Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 1–8, 34–35.

                                          (10.) Bruno Glaser and William I. Woods, eds., Amazonian Dark Earths: Explorations in Space and Time (Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 2004).

                                          (11.) For a comprehensive overview, see William Denevan, Cultivated Landscapes of Native Amazonia and the Andes: Triumph over the Soil (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).

                                          (12.) John V. Murra, “‘El Archipiélago Vertical’ Revisited,” in Andean Ecology and Civilization: An Interdisciplinary Perspective on Andean Ecological Complementarity, eds. Shozo Masuda and Izumi Shimada (Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press, 1985), 3–20. Indigenous groups in other mountainous regions, such as the Mam and K’iché Maya on the Pacific slope of Guatemala, also cultivated complementary crops along altitudinal gradients. See Stefania Gallini, “A Maya Mam Agro-ecosystem in Guatemala’s Coffee Revolution: Costa Cuca, 1830s–1880s,” in Territories, Commodities, and Knowledges: Latin American Environmental Histories in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, ed. Christian Brannstrom (London: Institute for the Study of the Americas, 2004), 23–49; and Stefania Gallini, Una historia ambiental del café en Guatemala: la Costa Cuca entre 1830 y 1902 (Guatemala City: AVANCSO, 2009), 29–52.

                                          (13.) Gregory T. Cushman, “The Environmental Contexts of Guaman Poma: Interethnic Conflict over Forest Resources and Place in Huamanga (Peru),” in Unlocking the Doors to the Worlds of Guaman Poma and His Neuva Corónica, eds. Rolena Adorno and Ivan Bosreup (Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, 2015); and Alex Chepstow-Lusty and Per Jonsson, “Inca Agroforestry: Lessons from the Past,” AMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment 29.6 (2000): 322–328.

                                          (14.) Whitmore and Turner, Cultivated Landscapes of Middle America, 220–225;Charles D. Frederick, “Chinampa Cultivation in the Basin of Mexico,” in Seeking a Richer Harvest: The Archaeology of Subsistence, Intensification, Innovation, and Change (New York: Springer, 2008), 107–124; and Christopher T. Morehart and Charles Frederick, “The Chronology and Collapse of Pre-Aztec Raised Field (Chinampa) Agriculture in the Northern Basin of Mexico,” Antiquity 88.340 (2014): 531–548. These works have extensive bibliographies on chinampas.

                                          (15.) Robert D. Lumsden, et al., “Suppression of Damping-Off Caused by Pythium Spp in Soil from the Indigenous Mexican Chinampa Agricultural System,” Soil Biology and Biochemistry 19.5 (1987): 501–508; and Bert M. Zuckerman, et al., “Suppression of Plant Parasitic Nematodes in the Chinampa Agricultural Soils,” Journal of Chemical Ecology 15.6 (1989): 1947–1955.

                                          (16.) Teresa Rojas Rabiela, La agricultura chinampera: compilación histórica, 2d ed. (Chapingo, Mexico: Universidad Autónoma de Chapingo, 1993); Rosalía Ramos-Bello, et al., “Metales pesados, sales y sodio en suelos de chinampa en México,” Agrociencia 35 (2001): 385–395; Victoria Contreras, et al., “Recent Decline and Potential Distribution in the Last Remnant Area of the Microendemic Mexican Axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum),” Biological Conservation 142.12 (2009): 2881–2885; and Roger Bartra, The Cage of Melancholy: Identity and Metamorphosis in the Mexican Character, trans. Christopher J. Hall (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1992).

                                          (17.) Whitmore and Turner, Cultivated Landscapes of Middle America, 195–227; Andrew Sluyter, “Intensive Wetland Agriculture in Mesoamerica: Space, Time, and Form,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 84.4 (1994): 557–584; and Alfred H. Siemens, A Favored Place: San Juan River Wetlands, Central Veracruz, ad 500 to the Present (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998).

                                          (18.) Whitmore and Turner, Cultivated Landscapes of Middle America, 133–194; William E. Doolittle, Canal Irrigation in Prehistoric Mexico: The Sequence of Technological Change (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990).

                                          (19.) Tim Beach, Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach, and Nicholas Dunning, “A Soils History of Mesoamerica and the Caribbean Islands,” in Soils and Societies: Perspectives from Environmental History, eds. John R. McNeill and Verena Winiwarter (Strond, U.K.: White Horse Press, 2006); and Jeffery L. Baker, “The Wet or the Dry?: Agricultural Intensification in the Maya Lowlands,” in Seeking a Richer Harvest, eds. Thurston and Fisher, 63–90. On the ancient Maya collapse controversy, see Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (New York: Viking, 2005); and Patricia A. McAnany and Tomás Gallareta Negrón, “Bellicose Rulers and Climatological Peril?: Retrofitting Twenty-First-Century Woes on Eighth-Century Maya Society,” in Questioning Collapse: Human Resilience, Ecological Vulnerability, and the Aftermath of Empire, eds. Patricia A. McAnany and Norman Yoffee (Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 142–175.

                                          (20.) Elinor G. K. Melville, A Plague of Sheep: Environmental Consequences of the Conquest of Mexico (Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994); Warren Dean, With Broadax and Firebrand: The Destruction of the Brazilian Amazon Forest (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1995).

                                          (21.) Karl W. Butzer and Elisabeth K. Butzer, “Transfer of the Mediterranean Livestock Economy to New Spain: Adaptation and Ecological Consequences,” in Global Land Use Change: A Perspective from the Columbian Encounter, eds. Billie L. Turner, et al. (Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas Editorial, 1995), 151–193; and Karl W. Butzer and Elisabeth K. Butzer, “The ‘Natural’ Vegetation of the Mexican Bajío: Archival Documentation of a 16th-Century Savanna Environment,” Quaternary International 43/44 (1997): 161–172.

                                          (22.) Sarah L. O’Hara, F. Alayne Street-Perrott, and Timothy P. Burt, “Accelerated Soil Erosion around a Mexican Highland Lake Caused by Prehispanic Agriculture,” Nature 362 (March 4, 1993): 48–51; and Christopher T. Fisher, “Agricultural Intensification in the Lake Pátzcuaro Basin: Landesque Capital as Statecraft,” in Seeking a Richer Harvest, eds. Thurston and Fisher, 91–106.

                                          (23.) On the impact of climate-induced disasters on agriculture and rural life in Mexico, see Arij Ouweneel, Shadows over Anáhuac: An Ecological Interpretation of Crisis and Development in Central Mexico, 1730–1800 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1996); Georgina H. Endfield, Climate and Society in Colonial Mexico: A Study in Vulnerability (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008); and Virginia García Acosta, Antonio Escobar Ohmstede, et al., Desastres agrícolas en México: catálogo histórico, 2 vols. (Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica/CIESAS, 2003–2004). Other regions of Latin America and the Caribbean have received much less attention on these matters.

                                          (24.) Robert G. Keith, Conquest and Agrarian Change: The Emergence of the Hacienda System on the Peruvian Coast (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1976); Nicholas P. Cushner, Lords of the Land: Sugar, Wine and Jesuit Estates of Coastal Peru, 1600–1767 (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1980); Keith A. Davies, Landowners in Colonial Peru (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1984); David A. Brading, Haciendas and Ranchos in the Mexican Bajío: León 1700–1860 (Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1978); Eric Van Young, Hacienda and Market in Eighteenth-Century Mexico: The Rural Economy of the Guadalajara Region, 1675–1820, 2d ed. (Lanham, MD: Rowan & Littlefield, 2006), 220–224; and Bert J. Barickman, A Bahian Counterpoint: Sugar, Tobacco, Cassava, and Slavery in the Recôncavo, 1780–1860 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998), 178–183.

                                          (25.) Sonya Lipsett-Rivera, To Defend Our Water with the Blood of Our Veins: The Struggle for Resources in Colonial Puebla (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1999).

                                          (26.) The Cambridge History of Latin America, ed. Leslie Bethell, vols. 1–2 (Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984) includes essays by Enrique Florescano, Magnus Mörner, and Stuart Schwartz that survey the vast older literature on agricultural estates during the colonial period, which tended to emphasize economic and social dynamics rather than farming practices and environmental dynamics. See also Eric Van Young, “Mexican Rural History since Chevalier: The Historiography of the Colonial Hacienda,” Latin American Research Review 18.3 (1983): 5–61.

                                          (27.) Watts, The West Indies, 53–68, 114–116, 152–154; Barickman, A Bahian Counterpoint, 57–63; Michael Craton, Empire, Enslavement, and Freedom in the Caribbean (Princeton, NJ: Markus Wiener, 1997), 282–305, 324–347; see also Judith A. Carney and Richard Nicholas Rosomoff, In the Shadow of Slavery: Africa’s Botanical Legacy in the Atlantic World (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2010).

                                          (28.) Watts, The West Indies, 152–160, 166–168, 184–188, 219–223, 434–443; Reinaldo Funes Monzote, From Rainforest to Cane Field in Cuba: An Environmental History since 1492 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008); and Dean, With Broadax and Firebrand.

                                          (29.) Watts, The West Indies, 195–196, 382–405, 423–433; Barickman, A Bahian Counterpoint, 178–183; James J. Parsons, “The Africanization of the New World Tropical Grasslands,” Tubinger Geographische Studien 35 (1970): 141–153; Jock H. Galloway, The Sugar Cane Industry: An Historical Geography from Its Origins to 1914 (Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990), esp. 103–104, 145; and Gert Oostindie and Alex van Stipriaan, “Slavery and Slave Cultures in a Hydraulic Society: Suriname,” in Slave Cultures and the Cultures of Slavery, ed. Stephan Palmié (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1995), 78–99.

                                          (30.) Cushman, Guano and the Opening of the Pacific World, 23–53.

                                          (31.) Cushman, Guano and the Opening of the Pacific World, esp. 45–48, 66. For a comprehensive catalog of historic island and cave guano deposits around the world, see George Evelyn Hutchinson, The Biogeochemistry of Vertebrate Excretion, Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, vol. 96 (New York, 1950).

                                          (32.) Cushman, Guano and the Opening of the Pacific World, esp. 45–48, 79–84; J. A. Perkins, “The Agricultural Revolution in Germany, 1850–1914,” Journal of European Economic History 10.1 (1981): 71–118; and Brett Clark and John Foster, “Ecological Imperialism and the Global Metabolic Rift,” International Journal of Comparative Sociology 50 (2009): 311–334. On U.S. guano imperialism and fertilizer use during the 19th century, see also Jimmy M. Skaggs, The Great Guano Rush: Entrepreneurs and American Overseas Expansion (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994); Richard Wines, Fertilizer in America: From Waste Recycling to Resource Exploitation (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1985); and Timothy Johnson, “Reconstructing the Soil: Emancipation and the Roots of Chemical-Dependent Agriculture in America,” in The Blue, the Gray, and the Green: Toward an Environmental History of the Civil War, ed. Brian Allen Drake (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2015), 191–208.

                                          (33.) Cushman, Guano and the Opening of the Pacific World, esp. 45, 51–52, 73–74; see also Rory Miller and Robert Greenhill, “The Fertilizer Commodity Chains: Guano and Nitrate, 1840–1930,” in From Silver to Cocaine: Latin American Commodity Chains and the Building of the World Economy, 1500–2000, eds. Steven Topik, Carlos Marichal, and Zephyr Frank (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006), 228–270.

                                          (34.) See the National Trust’s companion website; Tyntesfield, Somerset: A Souvenir Guide (2012); and William M. Mathew, The House of Gibbs and the Peruvian Guano Monopoly (London: Royal Historical Society, 1981).

                                          (35.) For an overview of these trends, see Francis Pryor, The Making of the British Landscape: How We Have Transformed the Land, from Prehistory to Today (London: Allen Lane, 2010), 471–479, 488–497; Francis M. L. Thompson, “The Second Agricultural Revolution, 1815–1880,” Economic History Review 2d ser., 21.1 (1968): 62–77.

                                          (36.) Richard B. Sheridan, “Samuel Martin, Innovating Sugar Planter of Antigua, 1750–1776,” Agricultural History 34.3 (1960): 126–139; and Jock H. Galloway, “Agricultural Reform and the Enlightenment in Late Colonial Brazil,” Agricultural History 53.4 (1979): 763–779.

                                          (37.) Watts, The West Indies, 391–392; Barry W. Higman, Plantation Jamaica 1750–1850: Capital and Control in a Colonial Economy (Kingston, Jamaica: University of the West Indies Press, 2005); Robert J. Schafer, The Economic Societies in the Spanish World (1763–1821) (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1958).

                                          (38.) For contrasting opinions on “routinism” in Brazil, see Stanley J. Stein, Vassouras: A Brazilian Coffee County, 1850–1900: The Roles of Planter and Slave in a Plantation Society (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1957), 48–51, 213–249; Barickman, A Bahian Counterpoint, 162–185; and Thomas D. Rogers, The Deepest Wounds: A Labor and Environmental History of Sugar in Northeast Brazil (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010), 84–85, 109, 114–124.

                                          (39.) Stuart McCook, “The Neo-Columbian Exchange: The Second Conquest of the Greater Caribbean, 1720–1930,” Latin American Research Review 46 (2011): 11–31; Stuart McCook, States of Nature: Science, Agriculture, and Environment in the Spanish Caribbean, 1760–1940 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002), 11–25, 77–104; Galloway, “Agricultural Reform”; Dean, With Broadax and Firebrand, 117–143; Anyda Marchant, “Dom João’s Botanical Garden,” Hispanic American Historical Review 41.2 (1961): 259–274; Miguel Ángel Puig-Samper and Mercedes Valero, Historia del jardín botánico de La Habana (Madrid: Ediciones Doce Calles/Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 2000); Richard Drayton, Nature’s Government: Science, Imperial Britain, and the “Improvement” of the World (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000); and Rick A. López, “Nature as Subject and Citizen in the Mexican Botanical Garden, 1787–1829,” in A Land between Waters: Environmental Histories of Modern Mexico, ed. Christopher R. Boyer (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2012), 73–99.

                                          (40.) Richard H. Grove, Green Imperialism: Colonial Expansion, Tropical Island Edens and the Origins of Environmentalism, 1600–1860 (Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995); José Augusto Padua, Um sopro de destruição: pensamento político e crítica ambiental no Brasil escravista (1786–1888) (Rio de Janeiro: Jorge Zahar, 2002); Funes, From Rainforest to Cane Field in Cuba.

                                          (41.) McCook, States of Nature, 47–127; Warren Dean, “The Green Wave of Coffee: Beginnings of Tropical Agricultural Research in Brazil (1885–1900),” Hispanic American Historical Review 69.1 (1989): 91–115; Alejandro Tortolero Villasenor, De la coa a la máquina de vapor: actividad agrícola e innovación tecnológica en las haciendas mexicanas: 1880–1914 (Mexico City: Siglo XXI, 1995), esp. 48–127; Marcos Cueto and Jorge Lossio, Inovación en la agricultura: Fermín Tangüis y el algodón en el Perú (Lima, Peru: Centro de Investigación de la Universidad del Pacífico, 1999); and Teresa Cribelli, Industrial Forests and Mechanical Marvels: Modernization in Nineteenth-Century Brazil (Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 76–140. On the tribulations of governmental institution building, see James R. Scobie, Revolution on the Pampas: A Social History of Argentine Wheat, 1860–1910 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964), 133–152.

                                          (42.) Osvaldo Barsky and Julio Djenderedjian, La expansión ganadera hasta 1895, vol. 1 of Historia del capitalismo agrario pampeano, ed. Osvaldo Barsky (Buenos Aires: Universidad de Belgrano/Siglo XXI Editores, 2003), esp. 163–186, 300–337; Stephen Bell, “Aimé Bonpland and Merinomania in Southern South America,” The Americas 51.3 (2015): 301–323; Samuel Amaral, The Rise of Capitalism on the Pampas: The Estancias of Buenos Aires, 1785–1870 (Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998), esp. 250–284; Carmen Sesto, La vanguardia ganadera bonaerense, 1856–1900, vol. 2 of Historia del capitalismo agrario pampeano, ed. Barsky (2005).

                                          (43.) Sesto, La vanguardia ganadera bonaerense, esp. 231–280; Ernest Small, Alfalfa and Relatives: Evolution and Classification of Medicago (Ottawa, ON: NRC Research Press, 2011), 163–164; Cushman, “The Environmental Contexts of Guaman Poma,” 112; Edward Melillo, Strangers on Familiar Soil: Rediscovering the Chile-California Connection (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015), 93–97; Claudio Robles-Ortiz, “Agrarian Capitalism in an Export Economy: Chilean Agriculture in the Nitrate Era, 1880–1930,” (PhD diss., University of California, Davis, 2002).

                                          (44.) Stephen Bell, Campanha Gaúcha: A Brazilian Ranching System, 1850–1920 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998); Marc Edelman, The Logic of the Latifundio: The Large Estates of Northwestern Costa Rica since the Late Nineteenth Century (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1992), 68–92; Robert W. Wilcox, “Zebu’s Elbows: Cattle Breeding and the Environment in Central Brazil, 1890–1960,” in Territories, Commodities, and Knowledges: Latin American Environmental Histories in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, ed. Christian Brannstrom (London: Institute for the Study of the Americas, 2004), 218–246; Shawn Van Ausdal, “Productivity Gains and the Limits of Tropical Ranching in Colombia, 1850–1950,” Agricultural History 86.3 (2012): 1–32; and Nils Jacobsen, Mirages of Transition: The Peruvian Altiplano, 1780–1930 (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1993), 306–323.

                                          (45.) Cushman, Guano and the Opening of the Pacific World, 136–138; McCook, “Neo-Columbian Exchange”; McCook, States of Nature, 82–102; Stuart McCook, “Global Rust Belt: Hemileia vastatrix and the Ecological Integration of World Coffee Production since 1850,” Journal of Global History 1.2 (2006): 177–195; Rogers, The Deepest Wounds, 99–156; Jock H. Galloway, “Botany in the Service of Empire: The Barbados Cane-Breeding Program and the Revival of the Caribbean Sugar Industry, 1880s–1930s,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 86.4 (1996): 682–706; Kerstin Skovgaard, et al., “Evolution of Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. vasinfectum Races Inferred from Multigene Genealogies,” Phytopathology 91.12 (2001): 1231–1237; and Steve Striffler, In the Shadows of State and Capital: The United Fruit Company, Popular Struggle, and Agrarian Restructuring in Ecuador, 1900–1995 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002).

                                          (46.) Cynthia Hewitt de Alcántara, La modernización de la agricultura mexicana, 1940–1970 (Mexico City: Siglo XXI Editores, 1978), 31–55; Deborah Fitzgerald, “Exporting American Agriculture: The Rockefeller Foundation in Mexico, 1943–53,” Social Studies of Science 16.3 (1986): 457–483; John H. Perkins, Geopolitics and the Green Revolution: Wheat, Genes, and the Cold War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997); Joseph Cotter, Troubled Harvest: Agronomy and Revolution in Mexico, 1880–2002 (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003); Gerardo Otero, ed., Food for the Few: Neoliberal Globalism and Biotechnology in Latin America (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008); and Elizabeth Fitting, The Struggle for Maize: Campesinos, Workers, and Transgenic Corn in the Mexican Countryside (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011).

                                          (47.) Deborah Fitzgerald, Every Farm a Factory: The Industrial Ideal in American Agriculture (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003).

                                          (48.) Manuel Moreno Fraginals, The Sugar Mill: The Socioeconomic Complex of Sugar in Cuba, 1760–1860 (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1976); and Lizette Cabrera Salcedo, De los bueyes al vapor: caminos de la tecnología del azúcar en Puerto Rico y el Caribe (San Juan: La Editorial de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, 2010).

                                          (49.) Angus Wright, The Death of Ramón González The Modern Agricultural Dilemma (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990).

                                          (50.) José Drummond, Proteção e produção: biodiversidade e agricultura no Brasil (Rio de Janeiro: Garamond, 2014).

                                          (51.) Cushman, Guano and the Opening of the Pacific World, 136–166; Clifton B. Kroeber, Man, Land and Water: Mexico’s Farmland Irrigation Policies, 1885–1911 (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1983), 31–86; and Luis Aboites Aguilar, El agua de la nación: una historia política de México, (1888–1946) (Mexico City: Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social, 1998).

                                          (52.) Cushman, Guano and the Opening of the Pacific World, 142–146, 183–189; María Teresa Oré, Agua: bien común y usos privados: riego, estado y conflictos en La Anchirana del Inca (Lima: Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, 2005); Peter F. Klarén, Modernization, Dislocation and Aprismo: Origins of the Peruvian Aprista Party, 1870–1932 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1973); Michael J. Gonzales, Plantation Agriculture and Social Control in Northern Peru, 1875–1933 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1985); and Paul B. Trawick, The Struggle for Water in Peru: Comedy and Tragedy in the Andean Commons (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003).

                                          (53.) Eve E. Buckley, The Limits of Expertise: Drought and the Politics of Technocratic Reform in Modern Brazil (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017).

                                          (54.) Kroeber, Man, Land and Water; Aboites, El agua de la nación; Alejandro Tortolero Villasenor, “Water and Revolution in Morelos, 1850–1915,” in Land between Waters: Environmental Histories of Modern Mexico, ed. Christopher R. Boyer (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2012), 124–149; Hewitt, La modernización de la agricultura mexicana, 120–263; Mikael D. Wolfe, “The Historical Dynamics of Mexico’s Groundwater Crisis in La Laguna: Knowledge, Resources, and Profit, 1930s–1960s,” Mexican Studies/Estudios Mexicanos 29.1 (2013): 3–35; and Mikael D. Wolfe, Watering the Revolution: An Environmental and Technological History of Agrarian Reform in Mexico (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017).

                                          (55.) Pesca (Lima, Peru), Sept. 1963, 56–57; Pesca, Apr. 1966, 21–23; and Pesca, June 1968, 25. This Peruvian magazine is an excellent primary source for understanding the international development of the fishmeal, poultry, and fishing industries during the 1960s and 1970s.

                                          (56.) Dante Martins Teixeira and Jorge Bruno Nacinovic, “O guano de aves marinhas no Brasil,” Publicações avulsas do Museu Nacional 95 (June 2002): 1–68.

                                          (57.) Cushman, Guano and the Opening of the Pacific World, 167–204, 282–289; Cushman, “‘The Most Valuable Birds in the World’: International Conservation Science and the Revival of Peru’s Guano Industry, 1909–1965,” Environmental History 10.3 (July 2005): 477–509; and Vincent C. Peloso, Peasants on Plantations: Subaltern Strategies of Labor and Resistance in the Pisco Valley, Peru (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999).

                                          (58.) Jesús Gracia Fadrique, et al., Estado y fertilizantes (1760–1985) (Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1988); Enrique C. Ochoa, Feeding Mexico: The Political Uses of Food since 1910 (Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 2000); and Hewitt, La modernización de la agricultura mexicana, 56–118.

                                          (59.) Cushman, Guano and the Opening of the Pacific World, 289–328, 333–341.

                                          (60.) Lawrence S. Grossman, The Political Ecology of Bananas: Contract Farming, Peasants, and Agrarian Change in the Eastern Caribbean (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998), 192; McCook, States of Nature, 74; and McCook, “Neo-Columbian Exchange,” 26–27.

                                          (61.) Cane Toads: An Unnatural History, directed by Mark Lewis (1988; New York: First Run Features, 2011), DVD; “Crop Duster Attack,” North by Northwest, directed by Alfred Hitchcock (1959; Burbank, CA: Warner Home Video, 2000), DVD; and Cane Toads: The Conquest, directed by Mark Lewis (2011; London: Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment, 2012), DVD. Films are currently available for online streaming on Youtube and Kanopy. See also the companion book by Stephanie Lewis, Cane Toads: An Unnatural History (New York: Doubleday, 1989).

                                          (62.) John Soluri, Banana Cultures: Agriculture, Consumption, and Environmental Change in Honduras and the United States (Austin, University of Texas Press, 2006), 41–74, 104–127; Steve Marquardt, “‘Green Havoc’: Panama Disease, Environmental Change, and Labor Process in the Central American Banana Industry,” American Historical Review 106.1 (2001): 49–80; and Steve Marquardt, “Pesticides, Parakeets, and Unions in the Costa Rican Banana Industry, 1938–1962,” Latin American Research Review 37.2 (2002): 3–36.

                                          (63.) Wright, The Death of Ramón González; Douglas L. Murray, Cultivating Crisis: The Human Costs of Pesticides in Latin America (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010), 12–13, 35–37, 65–68; David Kinkella, DDT and the American Century: Global Health, Environmental Politics, and the Pesticide That Changed the World (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011), 21–27; Grossman, The Political Economy of Bananas, 105, 194; and Claire Strom, Making Catfish Bait Out of Government Boys: The Fight Against Cattle Ticks and the Transformation of the Yeoman South (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2010).

                                          (64.) Murray, Cultivating Crisis, esp. 7–54. On similar developments in Colombia and their part in government efforts to support import-substituting industrialization, see Philippe Leurquin, “Cotton Growing in Colombia: Achievements and Uncertainties,” Food Research Institute Studies 6.2 (1966): 143–180.

                                          (65.) Johannes E. Wille, “Biological Control of Certain Cotton Insects and the Application of New Organic Insecticides in Peru,” Journal of Economic Entomology 44.1 (1951): 13–18; Teodoro Boza Barducci, “Ecological Consequences of Pesticides Used for the Control of Cotton Insects in Cañete Valley, Peru,” in The Careless Technology: Ecology and International Development, eds. M. Taghi Farvar and John P. Milton (Garden City, NY: The Natural History Press, 1972), 423–438; and M. Kogan, “Integrated Pest Management: Historical Perspectives and Contemporary Developments,” Annual Review of Entomology 43 (1998): 243–270.

                                          (66.) Wright, The Death of Ramón González.

                                          (67.) Andrés Guhl, Café y cambio de paisaje en Colombia, 1970–2005 (Medellín, Colombia: Fondo Editorial Universidad EAFIT/ Banco de la República, 2008).

                                          (68.) Grossman, The Political Ecology of Bananas, 188–208; and Susanna Rankin Bohme, Toxic Injustice: A Transnational History of Exposure and Struggle (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2014). On the limitations of indigenous peasant agency involving synthetic fertilizer use, see David Carey, “Guatemala’s Green Revolution: Synthetic Fertilizer, Public Health, and Economic Autonomy in the Mayan Highlands,” Agricultural History 83.3 (2009): 283–322. On changing attitudes in southern Brazil, see Miguel Mundstock Xavier de Carvalho, Eunice Sueli Nodari, and Rubens Onofre Nodari, “‘Defensives’ or ‘Pesticides’?: A History of the Use and Perception of Pesticides in the State of Santa Catarina, Brazil, 1950–2002,” História, Ciências, SaúdeMaguinhos (Rio de Janeiro) 24.1 (2017). Available online

                                          (69.) Gregory T. Cushman, “Humboldtian Science, Creole Meteorology, and the Discovery of Human-Caused Climate Change in Northern South America,” Osiris 26 (2011): 19–44; and Nicolaas Rupke, “A Geography of Enlightenment: The Critical Reception of Alexander Von Humboldt’s Mexico Work,” in Geography and Enlightenment, eds. David N. Livingstone and Charles W. J. Withers (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), 319–344.

                                          (70.) José Augusto Padua, Um sopro de destruição: pensamento político e crítica ambiental no Brasil escravista (1786–1888) (Rio de Janeiro: Jorge Zahar, 2002); and Funes, From Rainforest to Cane Field in Cuba.

                                          (71.) François Chevalier, Land and Society in Colonial Mexico: The Great Hacienda, trans. Alvin Eustis (1952; Berkeley and Los Angeles University of California Press, 1963); Lowell J. Ragatz, The Fall of the Planter Class in the British Caribbean, 1763–1833 (New York: Octagon Books, 1963); and Stanley J. Stein, Vassouras: A Brazilian Coffee County, 1850–1900: The Roles of Planter and Slave in a Plantation Society (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1957).

                                          (72.) William Vogt, “A Continent Slides to Ruin,” Harper’s Magazine, June 1948, 481–489; Cushman, Guano and the Opening of the Pacific World, 243–281. On connections between anti-poverty programs in the United States and Latin America during the Cold War era, see Sheyda Jahanbani, The Poverty of the World: Rediscovering the Poor at Home and Abroad (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017).

                                          (73.) William M. Denevan, “The Pristine Myth: The Landscape of the Americas in 1492,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 82.3 (1992): 369–385; William M. Denevan, ed., Native Population of the Americas in 1492, 2d ed. (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992); and Charles Mann, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005).

                                          (74.) Key studies of the impact of the “Columbian exchange” in various parts of the Eastern Hemisphere include Redcliffe N. Salaman, The History and Social Influence of the Potato (1949; Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985); Ping-ti Ho, “The Introduction of American Food Plants into China,” American Anthropologist, n.s., 57.2 (1955): 191–201; William H. McNeill, The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community (1963; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009); Alfred W. Crosby, The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1972); Jack Golson, “The Ipomoean Revolution Revisited: Society and the Sweet Potato in the Upper Wahgi Valley,” in Inequality in New Guinea Highlands Society, ed. Andrew Strathern (Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 109–136; Sow-Theng Leong, Migration and Ethnicity in Chinese History: Hakkas, Pengmin, and Their Neighbors, ed. Tim Wright (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1997); and James C. McCann, Maize and Grace: Africa’s Encounter with a New World Crop: 1500–2000 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005). For an updated perspective on the Columbian Exchange, see McCook, “The Neo-Columbian Exchange,” and Charles Mann, 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011).

                                          (75.) Ester Boserup, The Conditions of Agricultural Growth: The Economics of Agrarian Change under Population Pressure (Chicago: Aldine, 1965); republished by Earthscan in 1993. See also Ester Boserup, Population and Technological Change: A Study of Long-term Trends (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981); and Ester Boserup, “Environment, Population, and Technology in Primitive Societies,” in The Ends of the Earth: Perspectives on Modern Environmental History, ed. Donald Worster (Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 23–38; originally published in Annales: E.S.C. 29 (1974). On the reception and influence of Boserup’s work and for a survey of explanatory models for intensification, see the introduction to Thurston and Fisher, eds., Seeking a Richer Harvest.

                                          (76.) See Karl A. Wittfogel, Oriental Despotism: A Comparative Study of Total Power. (1957; New York: Vintage, 1981); and Barbara J. Price, “Prehispanic Irrigation Agriculture in Nuclear America,” Latin American Research Review 6.3 (1971): 3–60. On hydraulic infrastructure in the Basin of Mexico, see Vera S. Candiani, Dreaming of Dry Land: Environmental Transformation in Colonial Mexico City (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2014); and Manuel Perlo Cohen, El paradigma porfiriano: historia del desagüe del valle de México (Mexico City: Instituto de Investigaciones Sociales, UNAM, 1999).

                                          (77.) Miguel A. Altieri, ed., Agroecology: The Scientific Basis of Alternative Agriculture, rev. ed. (Boulder, CO: Westview, 1987); Karl S. Zimmerer, Changing Fortunes: Biodiversity and Peasant Livelihood in the Peruvian Andes (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1996); Stephen R. Gliessman, Agroecology: Ecological Processes in Sustainable Agriculture (Chelsea, MI: Sleeping Bear Press, 1998); Roberto J. González, Zapotec Science: Farming and Food in the Northern Sierra of Oaxaca (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2001); and Ivette Perfecto, John Vandermeer, and Angus Wright, Nature’s Matrix: Linking Agriculture, Conservation and Food Sovereignty (London and New York: Routledge, 2009). For a useful catalog of traditional farming practices, see Gene C. Wilken, Good Farmers: Traditional Agricultural Resource Management in Mexico and Central America (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1987).

                                          (78.) On research trends and source materials in Mexico, see Eric Van Young, “Mexican Rural History since Chevalier: The Historiography of the Colonial Hacienda,” Latin American Research Review 18.3 (1983): 5–61; and John Tutino, Making a New World: Founding Capitalism in the Bajío and Spanish North America (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011). Trinidadian intellectual turned politician Eric Williams was the most important early promoter of the thesis that plantation agriculture and slavery were central to the birth of capitalism and inspired a debate that is still ongoing; see Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery (London: André Deutsch, 1944); and Barbara L. Solow, “Capitalism and Slavery in the Exceedingly Long Run,” in British Capitalism and Caribbean Slavery: The Legacy of Eric Williams, ed. Barbara L. Solow and Stanley L. Engerman (Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 51–77. Sidney Mintz overtly connected plantation production to the subsistence of industrial workers in Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History (New York: Viking, 1985).

                                          (79.) Works that help explain this emphasis include Deborah Fitzgerald, Every Farm a Factory: The Industrial Ideal in American Agriculture (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003); and Alan L. Olmstead and Paul W. Rhode, Creating Abundance: Biological Innovation and American Agricultural Development (Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008). See also Stephen Haber, ed., How Latin America Fell Behind: Economic Histories of Brazil and Mexico, 1800–1914 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1997).

                                          (80.) See Steven Topik, Carlos Marichal, and Zephyr Frank, eds., From Silver to Cocaine: Latin American Commodity Chains and the Building of the World Economy, 1500–2000 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006); and Sterling Evans, Bound in Twine: The History and Ecology of the Henequen-Wheat Complex for Mexico and the American and Canadian Plains, 1880–1950 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2007).

                                          (81.) Contra Edward D. Melillo, “The First Green Revolution: Debt Peonage and the Making of the Nitrogen Fertilizer Trade, 1840–1930,” American Historical Review 117.4 (2012): 1028–1060; see instead Cushman, Guano and the Opening of the Pacific World, 55–56, 85–108, 119–124, 213, 236–238. Other key studies include Tatiana Seijas, Asian Slaves in Colonial Mexico: From Chinos to Indians (Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014); Gregory Rosenthal, “Life and Labor in a Seabird Colony: Hawaiian Guano Workers, 1857–70,” Environmental History 17.4 (2012): 744–782; Cecilia Méndez, Los trabajadores guaneros del Perú, 1840–1879 (Lima, Peru: Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, 1987); and Skaggs, The Great Guano Rush, 159–198.

                                          (82.) See Prakash Kumar, Indigo Plantations and Science in Colonial India (Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012).

                                          (83.) For a primer on these trends in early colonial Peru, see Cushman, “The Environmental Contexts of Guaman Poma.”

                                          (84.) For an introduction to the Blue Revolution and its relation to the Green Revolution, see Cushman, Guano and the Opening of the Pacific World, 282–328; John Soluri, “Something Fishy: Chile’s Blue Revolution, Commodity Diseases, and the Problem of Sustainability,” Latin American Research Review 46.4 (2011): 55–81; and works by Kristin Wintersteen.

                                          (85.) Fernando Funes, et al., Sustainable Agriculture and Resistance: Transforming Food Production in Cuba (Oakland, CA: Food First Books, 2002); Julia Wright, Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security in an Era of Oil Scarcity: Lessons from the Ground Up (New York: Earthscan, 2009); Adriana Premat, Sowing Change: The Making of Havana’s Urban Agriculture (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2012); and Carey Clouse, Farming Cuba: Urban Agriculture from the Ground Up (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Architectural Press, 2014). See also María Elena Martínez-Torres, Organic Coffee: Sustainable Development by Mayan Farmers (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2006).

                                          (86.) Representative examples of “gray literature” studies of ancient and contemporary practices include Annual Report of the Tehuacan Archaeological-Botanical Project (Andover, MA: Robert S. Peabody Foundation for Archaeology, 1961–1964); and Thyrele Robertson, The Peruvian Fertilizer Industry: Present Situation and Future Prospects (Lima: Iowa Universities Mission to Peru/Coporación Nacional de Fertilizantes/U.S. Agency for International Development, 1968).

                                          (87.) For an introduction to methods for reconstructing paleoenvironments, see Neil Roberts, The Holocene: An Environmental History, 3d ed. (Malden, MD: Blackwell, 2013).

                                          (88.) Paul Szpak, et al., “Influence of Seabird Guano and Camelid Dung Fertilization on the Nitrogen Isotopic Composition of Field-Grown Maize (Zea Mays),” Journal of Archaeological Science 39.12 (2012): 3721–3740; and Paul Szpak, “Complexities of Nitrogen Isotope Biogeochemistry in Plant-Soil Systems: Implications for the Study of Ancient Agricultural and Animal Management Practices,” Frontiers in Plant Science 5.288 (2014): 1–19.

                                          (89.) Miguel Santamaría’s 1912 report on extant chinampas in the Valley of Mexico is a well-known historical example of this kind of study; Las chinampas del Distrito Federal: informe rendido al señor Director General de Agricultura (Mexico City: Secretaria de Fomento, 1912).

                                          (90.) See Prudence M. Rice, “Wine and Brandy Production in Colonial Peru: A Historical and Archaeological Investigation,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 27.3 (1997): 455–479; and Elizabeth Terese Newman, Biography of a Hacienda: Work and Revolution in Rural Mexico (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2014).

                                          (91.) Important exceptions include Bartolomé de las Casas, Historia de Indias, 3 vols., ed. Lewis Hanke (Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1951); Fernão Cardim, Tratados da terra e gente do Brasil (1584; São Paulo: Companhia Editora Nacional, 1939); Bernabé Cobo, Historia del nuevo mundo, vol. 2 (1653; Seville: Imp. de E. Rasco, 1891); and, for a vividly illustrated indigenous perspective, Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala, El primer nueva corónica y buen gobierno (1615).

                                          (92.) For Mesoamerica and Peru, see Relaciones geográficas de Indias: Peru, 4 vols., ed. Marcos Jiménez de Espada (Madrid: Ediciones Atlas, 1881–1897); Relaciones geográficas del siglo XVI, 8 vols., ed. René Acuña (Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Instituto de Investigaciones Antropológicas, 1982); Relaciones geográficas de la governación de Venezuela (1767–68): con prólogo y notas (Madrid: Imprenta del patronato de Huérfanos de administración militar, 1908); Cosme Bueno, Geografía del Perú virreinal, siglo XVIII, ed. Carlos Daniel Valcárcel (Lima, 1951); Relaciones geográficas de 1792 (Mexico City: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, 1994); and Barbara E. Mundy, The Mapping of New Spain: Indigenous Cartography and the Maps of the Relaciones Geográficas (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996).

                                          (93.) At the Archivo General de la Nación (AGN) in Mexico City and some other national and regional archives, court cases and titles regarding “tierras” and “aguas” have their own separate categorization.

                                          (94.) See, for example, the Cartório dos Jesuitas at the Arquivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo in Portugal and microfilmed records at the St. Louis University Library in Missouri. For published records, see Instituto do Açucar e do Álcool, Documentos para a história do açucar, 3 vols. (Rio de Janeiro, 1954–1963); and Barry W. Higman, Jamaica Surveyed: Plantation Maps and Plans of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries (San Francisco: Institute of Jamaica Publications, 1988).

                                          (95.) Humberto Rodríguez Pastor, “El Archivo del Fuero Agrario, Lima, Perú,” Latin American Research Review 14.3 (1979): 202–206.

                                          (96.) Key examples include André João Antonil, Cultura e opulência do Brasil por suas drogas e minas (Lisbon: Officina Real Deslandesiana, 1711); Samuel Martin, An Essay upon Plantership (Antigua: T. Smith, 1750); José Mariano de Conceicão Veloso and Oliveira Lima, O fazendeiro do Brazil melhorado na economia rural dos generos já cultivados, e de outros, que se podem introduzir, 5 vols. (Lisbon: na Regia officina typografica, 1798–1806); G. R. Porter, The Tropical Agriculturist (London, 1833); and Álvaro Reynoso, Ensayo sobre el cultivo de la caña de azucar, 2d ed. (Madrid: Imprenta de M. Rivadeneyra, 1865).

                                          (97.) Exemplary geohistories concerned with plantation agriculture include Edward Long, The History of Jamaica, 3 vols. (London: T. Lownudes, 1774); and Ramón de la Sagra, Historia física, política y natural de la isla de Cuba, vols. 1–2 (Paris: 1838–1857).

                                          (98.) Representative examples include the Anales de la Sociedad Rural Argentina: revista pastoral y agrícola (Argentina, 1866–1999); Revista agrícola do Imperial Instituto Flumnense de Agricultura and Relatório annual da Estação Agronómica de Campinas (Brazil, 1869–1891, 1890–1896); El agricultor: órgano de la Sociedad de los Agricultores Colombianos y el Departamento de Agricultor Nacional (Colombia, 1873–1901); Memoria de fomento y agricultura (Costa Rica, 1872/1873–1940/1941); Informe de la Secretaria de Fomento, Agricultura y Trabajo (Honduras, 1888–1938); Boletín de agricultura, minería é industrias (Mexico City: Secretaria de Fomento, 1891–1901); Revista de agronomía y de ciencias aplicadas de la Escuela de Agricultura (Paraguay, 1897–1902); Revista de agricultura de Puerto Rico (1918–1939); and Boletín oficial de la Comisión Central de Agricultura (Uruguay, 1877–1879).

                                          (99.) The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations provides free online access to a wide range of data related to agricultural production, inputs, investment, prices, trade, food balance and security, and environmental impacts for many parameters at the national level for the whole world dating back to 1961. Data from the 1950s and a wealth of qualitative information can be found in FAO Statistical Yearbooks and special publications. Earlier data can be found in national statistical publications, the International Yearbook of Agricultural Statistics (Rome: l’Institut International d’Agriculture, 1915–1940), and in downloadable form in International Historical Statistics, 1750–2010 (N.p.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).

                                          (100.) Early examples include São Paulo, Secretaria de Agricultura, Comércio e Obras Públicas, Estatistica agricola e zootechnica no Anno Agricola de 1904–1905, 4 vols. (São Paulo: Carlos Gerke & Rotschild, 1906), reproduced in M. S. B. Bassanezi and P. S. B. Francisco, eds., Estado de São Paulo. Estatística Agrícola e Zootécnica, 1904–1905 (Campinas, Brazil: Nepo/Unicamp, 2003), CD-ROM; Agricultural and Pastoral Census of the Nation: Stock-Breeding and Agriculture in 1908, 3 vols. (Buenos Aires, 1909); and José Antonio de Lavalle y García, El guano y la agricultura nacional (Lima: La Opinión Nacional, 1914). See Andrés Guhl, Café y cambio de paisaje en Colombia, for an exemplary use of National Federation of Coffee Grower censuses in 1970, 1980, and 1993–1997 to track the intensification of coffee cultivation.

                                          (101.) See Rogers, The Deepest Wounds.