Throughout my interactions with the Tohono O’Odham and those in the surrounding areas there exists a great desire to revive and celebrate traditional agriculture. People rally behind calls to restart the salt pilgrimage and to recreate harvests of Tepary beans as a means to both infuse physical activity into tribal members’ lives and to provide them with a nutritious alternative to more Western foods. Assuming the tribe were to put its full weight behind the cultivation of Tepary beans there still exist at least 3 major obstacles to the successful revitalization of traditional agriculture in any meaningful sense:
The O’Odham’s land receives very little rainfall throughout the year and as such is extremely difficult to tend to especially using the manual methods that are traditional to the tribe. As such, any meaningful revival of traditional agriculture will require significant portions of the population to dedicate themselves to cultivation. This goes against demographic trends and as such it most likely will require the input of significant capital.
The O’Odham have suffered under years of forced gastronomic assimilation via both the flood of cheap processed foods and the decline of traditional agriculture on the reservation. The tribe has reached a point where many people not only lack sufficient knowledge to prepare traditional foods, but also lack the knowledge to prepare balanced meals. This lack of knowledge contributes to the diabetes epidemic and must be addressed for traditional agricultural products to be consumed on the reservation.
With advances in cultivation techniques and crop varieties, there exists several viable alternatives to reviving traditional agriculture. Adopting more modern techniques such as runoff collection, mechanized planting and harvesting, or even hydroponics may require more significant investments in education and infrastructure but in the long run they could yield significantly more revenue than traditional agriculture. This means that the tribe could conceivably avert long term subsidies and attempting to reverse demographic trends and instead use that money for education and other desirable alternatives.
None of these points disqualify or otherwise toss the idea of revitalizing traditional agriculture, but for some people these obstacles may indicate that there could be an alternative to going all in on traditional agriculture.