Important Note

Tufts ended funding for its Open Courseware initiative in 2014. We are now planning to retire this site on June 30, 2018. Content will be available for Tufts contributors after that date. If you have any questions about this please write to

Tufts OpenCourseware
Author: Colin Orians

1. Discussion Questions

1.1. Chapter 8: Traditional tropical agricultural systems.

  • What is sustainable agriculture?
  • Review how well different food sources meet human needs for energy and protein. What are the advantages and disadvantages of starch crops, cereals and leguminous crops, respectively, from the alimentary and agricultural points of view? Rice and beans is a staple in Costa Rica. Comment on its nutritional value.
  • What traits have been selected for during domestication of plants? What other, perhaps unwanted, traits of crop plants have been selected for?
  • Why do a rather small number of plant species dominate tropical agriculture?
  • Should we care about preserving varietal diversity?
  • What are the challenges associated with tropical agriculture?
  • What are the benefits of burning in shifting cultivation?
  • Why does the yield decline during continued cropping in shifting cultivation?
  • Why is the length of the fallow period so important?
  • What are the problems that arise when, during the fallow period, grass rather than trees dominate?
  • Why was more intensified agriculture more often developed in floodplains than by terracing?
  • Under what conditions can shifting cultivation be sustained?
  • What features of the paddy rice cultivation system make it so sustainable?