As a significant portion of the Guatemala
n population is involved in agriculture, it is worth it to add a node of my observation
s of it while I was in the country.
The four most important Guatemalan crops are corn, beans, coffee, and bananas. Coffee is grown in the shade in small plots of bushes, usually beneath a canopy of much taller trees. Most coffee fields in Guatemala are barely a hectare, but the beans from these fields usually end up in coffee from the big-name producers like Folgers, etc.
Corn and beans are grown on the same fields, but in different seasons. Once the corn is harvested, the stalks are left to stand, as natural beanpoles for the bean vines to grow on. There is another convenient symbiosis to this arrangement as well: Beans are good nitrogen fixers, while corn consumes a lot of nitrogen. Old corn stalks can then be used for construction as well; In many villiages, I saw some properties in which every building was created out of bundled cornstalks.
I cannot say anything about bananas, because I never got down to the lower altitude at which they are grown.
Growth rate of the crops depends highly on altitude. Crops grown at the bottom of a volcano can bear three harvests in a year. Higher up on the cone, cornstalks grow higher, but the ears take up to eight months to ripen.
Guatemala is by nature a very mountainous country. Thus, many farms are located on a hillside. However, the idea of hillside farming is sometimes taken to an extreme. Fields at a 30 degree grade are common, fields at 45 degree grades are sometimes farmed, and we once spotted a true hanging cornfield that I swear had to be at about a 60 degree grade. The people who tend these fields will sometimes anchor themselves with a rope to prevent themselves from falling out.
Oddly, despite all the hills and grades, we saw very few examples of the terraced farming that can be spotted more frequently in the incan parts of South America. The area around Lake Atitlan did have some terraces, but for some reason, the staple crop of corn was never grown in them.