The Taino: Can The Indigenous Agricultural Methods of Puerto Rico Feed the Island and Potentially Mitigate Climate Change?

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2023: $16,491.00
Projected End Date: 08/31/2025
Grant Recipient: Florida International University
Region: Southern
State: Puerto Rico
Graduate Student:
Major Professor:
Dr. Krishnaswamy Jayachandran
Florida International University


  • Agronomic: corn, peanuts
  • Fruits: apples, berries (other), pineapples
  • Vegetables: cucurbits, peppers, tubers
  • Additional Plants: tobacco, trees


  • Animal Production: manure management, bat guano
  • Crop Production: agroforestry, fertilizers, intercropping
  • Soil Management: soil quality/health

    Proposal abstract:

    Puerto Rico has struggled with food insecurity since it became a U.S. territory in 1898, largely due to the adoption of a commercial commodity crop model for products such as sugarcane, tobacco, cotton, corn, and coffee This has led to economic and ecological consequences, including a decline in agricultural production due to soil nutrient loss and the displacement of local farmers. The rebuilding of the agricultural industry requires a shift towards sustainable agroecological/regenerative farming practices that prioritize preserving biodiversity and a functioning ecosystem while also providing enough food for families. Agroecology, which often  utilizes Indigenous knowledge and practices offers an alternative to the industrial agricultural system. This research project aims to replicate Indigenous planting practices by planting native tubers, edible tree species, fruits and vegetables from Puerto Rico in raised mounds approximately 3 ft. x 9 ft. in circumference, of organic matter called conuco, using bat guano as a fertilization input. Certain species like the ones I have chosen for this project in this system promote soil build up with other native plants that are adapted to retain soil structure. Myresearch will analyze soil nutrient density, soil health, and chlorophyll levels in the crops as well as root health, yield productivity, crop height, and canopy light exposure. The project expects to see immediate positive impacts on soil aggregate strength and matter retention in the plant’s root system, paving the way for a more sustainable, regenerative agricultural industry in Puerto Rico.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Objective 1 (Contributions of Taino method to soil conservation):

    Soil degradation is a global problem with adverse effects on the environment and agriculture. The Taino agricultural method which involves the use of conucos has the potential to regenerate soil fertility and increase general soil health and aggregate. Therefore, the first objective of the research is to investigate whether the Taino method can improve soil conditions. Conucos are raised bed mounds that are created with a mixture of crop residue, organic matter, and mulch for aeration to create nutrient dense soil, packed with microbial activity, optimizing the grow environment (Bargout et. al. 2013). The Taino’s practice of early intercropping Agroforestry is a key component of the conuco system, where multiple crops are grown together in the same beds. This helps establish a diverse, sustainable agroecosystem that mimics the natural Ecology of Puerto Rico The study will measure soil properties, such as organic matter, macronutrient content, pH levels, and soil structure (aggregate), to determine the impact of the conuco system on soil health. 


    Objective 2 (Improvements in Plant Health): 

    In this experiment, plant health will be analyzed by measuring canopy height, leaf area, chlorophyll levels, and yield to determine whether the Taino agricultural method can improve plant growth and general health. Various tools will be used to conduct these observations, and the aim will be to determine the impact of different amounts of guano on macronutrient availability in the soil for each tuber planted. Additionally, the study will investigate the presence of allelopathic chemicals that are involved in potential mutualisms through plant roots while we analyze positive plant growth.


    Objective 3 (Mitigate Erosion): Mitigate Erosion:

    Soil erosion is a significant environmental problem that is caused by wind, rain, and water runoff. The conuco system may show potential to prevent soil erosion by healthy root structures developed by a biodiverse Agroforestry system of tubers, fruit trees, and annual vegetables. The research aims to measure erosion rates, both present and future, runoff, as well provide an analysis of the geological makeup of the different rock substrates in each of my four sites (Yuan et. al. 2015). 



    • Are Conucos a Productive Agricultural System?
    1. Main Crops: tropical tubers such as malanga, cassava, taro, yautia, , sweet potato, intercropped with maize, guava berries, aji dulce pepper, perennial peanut, culantro, tobacco, Cabezona pineapple, Caribbean pumpkin, intercropped with guavas, custard apple, sugar apple to gauge growth environment.

    My hypotheses are:

    1. Taino methods may improve soil conditions in a depleted farm with increased crop production and plant health
    2. Guano will prove to be a great use of animal manure for added fertilizer while using restorative techniques of nutrient cycling from the island’s endemic fauna
    3. Aerated conuco beds will improve resilience against erosion with stronger root structures and water retention, particularly this method will prove strong in areas prone to less rainfall
    4. On a 50 square feet of land using these methods, viable yield percentage, space, and resource maximization will maximize benefits for the average Puerto Rican family of 4.
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.