Soil Conservation on Don Maximo Escobar’s Farm

Crop productionSoil health

Notes to broadcasters

Content:  Don Maximo Escobar farms land on a very steep hillside.  He experiments with different methods of pest control and uses effective soil conservation techniques.


Two years ago Don Maximo Escobar, a farmer from Pata Galana, Guatemala, began to farm an abandoned plot of land on a very steep hillside. He had several goals.

He hoped to farm the land using almost no dangerous chemical fertilizers or pesticides. He wanted to prevent or limit soil erosion but he knew that would be a difficult task on such a steep slope.

He also wanted to try different farming methods that were being used by the Guatemalan Movement for Rural Reconstruction on their nearby research station. These included using a variety of pest control methods at the same time, and mixing trees with crops. He knew that he had set difficult goals and that this work would be very challenging.

Two years later Don Maximo is still working hard to farm the land. He does almost all the work by himself because his children no longer live close by. And he has been successful. He spends a lot of time testing different methods to decide what is best for his land. Here are some of the techniques which work for him, techniques he likes to share with other farmers.

Pest control:
Don Maximo’s plot of land covers an area of 4,000 square metres (2/5 of a hectare). He grows corn, beans, onions, chili peppers, coffee, wheat, fruit trees, avocadoes, and raspberries. He also has a small garden where he grows vegetables for his family. As part of a pest control program he rotates his crops, particularly the corn, beans, wheat, and vegetables.

He also intercrops repellent plants with the vegetables. Repellent plants are plants with strong odors which are unpleasant for some insects and keep them away. Some of the repellent plants used by Don Maximo are common lambsquarters (Chenopodium album), common rue (Rutagraveolens), oregano, marigold, garlic, and onion. He plants these repellent plants every two metres among his vegetables.

Although he tries not to use dangerous pesticides, he does prepare an insecticide made with tobacco leaves when he has a serious insect problem. However it is poisonous and must be handled carefully. Usually Don Maximo doesn’t have a lot of pest problems. He thinks that growing a large variety of crops and crop species is the key to keeping the pest population low.

Soil conservation:
Because the land is so steep, soil conservation is important. Don Maximo uses rock barriers, living barriers of napier grass, and terraces. The rock barriers help to hold back soil which can easily be washed down the slope by rainwater. This technique is used where there are many rocks around. He builds these rock barriers along the contour. They are about 35 centimetres (14 inches) wide and 40-50 centimetres (16-20 inches) high. A rock wall this height will hold back the soil for a long time.

Live barriers of napier grass also help to reduce soil erosion. Napier grass is an example of a plant that is often planted as a live barrier. Vetiver grass is also used for this purpose. Don Maximo planted napier grass along the contour on some of the steeper areas of his land. These barriers also hold back the soil and prevent it from being washed down the slope when it rains. Don Maximo has a special interest in napier grass because it is a new crop in his area. Once he has all the grass he needs for his living barriers, he plans to share the grass with his neighbours so that they can build their own barriers or use the grass for livestock feed.

Another important part of soil conservation on the farm is tree planting. He plants trees here and there among the crops, all over the farm. He also has one area with a nursery, and onepart where he is completely reforesting the land with cypress, eucalyptus, casuarinas, pines, and ash trees. The trees hold the soil in place and hold water in the soil. Of course they will also provide firewood in future years.

Don Maximo feels that he has been successful on his farm for the past two years. He has good production and much less soil erosion than his neighbours. As well he doesn’t have to buy many inputs for the farm. His neighbours are always interested in his progress. They agree that his methods make sense because they help save the soil.


Don Maximo Escobar does on-farm research with help from the Guatemalan Movement for Rural Reconstrucion (M.G.R.R.) in Jalapa, Guatemala.

Two DCFRN scripts explain how to mark contours on hillsides with an A-frame.  They are:

Saving hillside topsoil (Part 1) – Package 5, Item 7

Saving hillside topsoil (Part 2) – Package 5, Item 8

Information sources

Information for this item was collected on a visit to Don Maximo Escobar’s farm during the International Seminar on Regenerative Agriculture, hosted by the Guatemalan Movement for Rural Reconstruction (M.G.R.R.), and the International Institute for Rural Reconstruction (I.I.R.R.), in Jalapa, Guatemala, in July 1991.  Guatemalan Movement for Rural Reconstruction, Torre Profesional 1, Centro Comercial, Zona 4, Oficina 203, Apartado Postal 1697, Guatemala, Centro America.

Information about the farm was also provided by Rudy Neftali Yanes, Assistant, Programme for Economic Improvement, Guatemalan Movement for Rural Reconstruction, Jalapa, Guatemala.