Navajo Nation Whole Farm/Ranch Sustainable Systems Demonstration Project

1993 Annual Report for LWD93-006

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1993: $14,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1995
Region: Western
State: Utah
Principal Investigator:
Lyle G. McNeal
Utah State University.

Navajo Nation Whole Farm/Ranch Sustainable Systems Demonstration Project


1.To develop and sustain improved socio-economic conditions for Navajo agro-pastoralist,
while maintaining cultural integrity through the preservation of the traditional “Navajo Lifeway.”
2.To develop integrated systems to maximize output from Navajo agro-pastoral production practices, while minimizing negative environmental impacts, which include soil, plant, energy, waste management and water quality considerations.
3.To develop a trans-disciplinary whole-farm systems model for sustainable Navajo rural
economic development. The process would incorporate a two-way cross-cultural transfer of agro-pastoral technologies.
4.To provide on-site mentoring by a trained Navajo, develop entrepreneurial skills and cultivate leadership proficiency among the Navajo cooperator participants.
5.To establish a Four-Corners Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resources Advisory Council, made up of participants representing elected officials, federal and state government agencies, Land-Grant Universities, private enterprise and other appropriate organizations representing the States of Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado and the numerous Native American reservations that encompass the Four-Corners Region.
6.To examine Navajo women’s roles in the rural informal sector, their participation in rural markets, the roles of women who head their own households and the efforts of women to minimize economic risk by diversification into wage labor, cash cropping and small businesses on the Navajo Nation.

A significant amount of progress was made each year with each of the Navajo SARE cooperators. Early each year of the SARE Project, the joint specialist team reviewed the priorities and barriers as identified by each of the Navajo families in late March or early April at Utah State University. The integrated and diverse team of scientists developed and formulated their annual work plans for each year, from these assessments and priorities as established by the cooperator families. Generally the SARE project implementation plans embraced most of their concerns as they related to sustainable agriculture and pastoralism in the Navajo cultural context. However, many of the barriers identified by the Navajo SARE cooperator families are too difficult to overcome in one year or the brief life of this three-year project. Many of those barriers are institutional both political and social. Yet a close and trusting working relationship between the SARE scientists and each of the Navajo cooperators was an obvious outcome of the entire life of the SARE project. The overall emphasis of this SARE project was to help sustain an agro-pastoral lifestyle by demonstrated practices to help enhance the quality of life of each cooperator and to spread the word by model, participatory exemplary Navajo practitioners and by local field days and educational exhibits. Through the practices and visible accomplishments of the Navajo SARE cooperators, the PI continues to get requests from additional Navajo families that would like to participate by joining our cooperator base. However, due to our limited resources, and non-salary reimbursement structure of the SARE program, and now the short tenure of this particular SARE Four-Corners Project, only two Navajo additional families were taken on in 1995 or 1996.

Due to the extensive and devastating drought in the southwestern U.S. and especially on the Navajo Nation, all livestock producers were hit hard economically in 1996. The PI worked with an editor with the Washington D.C. Times to help solicit funds to assist in the procurement of supplemental feedstuffs for the Navajo Nation pastoralists. Funds were directed to Dine’ be’ iina (the Navajo Life Way cooperative) that the SARE team cooperates with. Despite the severity of the drought, all SARE cooperator families began a planning calendar with which to manage their sheep and goat flocks. Enhanced life-cycle nutritional feeding was initiated during the winter months, coupled with ad libitum salt/mineral mixes. Two field-days/workshops for the SARE Navajo families and others of the region were held at the SJBRC with many Navajos in attendance. Grazing habits and performance of goats vs. sheep vs. llamas were evaluated. Guard llamas were placed with the demonstration flock, numbering over 950 head of ewes, lambs, does and kids. No losses during the 1995 season were attributed to predation, while a neighboring Anglo-operated traditional range sheep operation reportedly lost lambs to bears. The animals in the study were negatively impacted near the end of the 1995 season due to a regional outbreak of Vesicular Stomatitis Virus (which did not effect any of our animals) that trapped the grazing project within a quarantine circle. Goats, especially Spanish goats, preferred oakbrush over other woody and non-woody species available, while llamas proved to be an effective biological control against thistle in riparian areas.

In 1994, 1995 and late 1996, homesite analyses were conducted at each of the SARE Navajo cooperator families. Garden and horticultural plant materials were re-introduced as requested. Specific developments and demonstration sites were enhanced by enlarged gardens and utilitarian types of plants near established hogans. The nuclear family and extended family clan/outfit were brought into the planning stages of each of the botanical projects with the SARE families. Functional agricultural plant materials were utilized in all cases. Plants that can be utilized for wool dyeing, basketry, foodstuffs, medicinal and ceremonial purposes are of primary concern to the team.

An economic analysis was conducted with each of the Navajo cooperator families. All the families wished to become more self-sufficient and to generate enough revenue to cover the costs of traditional yet sustainable agro-pastoral practices. One family initiated a value-added wool processing enterprise to their existing operation. A mail order catalog was created, describing various types of raw fleeces, carded roving, traditional Navajo foods, yarns, hand made vertical looms, vegetal wool dye kits, tanned pelts, custom Navajo rugs. Another cooperator family initiated a therapeutic bear-sewing project employing six Navajo women on the cooperator’s homesite. A historic stone building was renovated for the development of this business. A cooperator family’s daughter, a recent high school graduate, has been receiving business and management training from the SARE team as well as at the College of Eastern Utah-San Juan Campus, Blanding, Utah, so she can oversee entrepreneurship training for these new business ventures. Surplus computers and printers were acquired in year two for each of the Navajo cooperator families and a weekend training workshops were provided. One family, near a highway, is considering establishing a hogan bed and breakfast.

Economic Analysis
Family income is a major concern. Livestock, wool, mohair, vegetables, pelts and handmade products are sold. Anglo-owned chain stores and franchises are a very limited market for traditional Navajo agricultural products. The off-reservation markets and mail order businesses may be the best opportunity for enhanced marketability of Navajo products.

Potential Contributions
The actual development and provision of value-added enterprises to enhance and supplement personal and family financial resources are essential, as are the sense of pride and self-empowerment of becoming exemplary family and farm models by Navajo cooperator families in their respective communities. Ideally, families can move towards emotional solidarity and harmony with traditional culture through the implementation of integrated agro-pastoral practices and involvement and still develop a strong bond of trust with Anglos and a positive attitude toward the universities and programs they represent.
Reported in 1997