How the farmers benefit when they adopt Inga alley cropping
Slash and burn farming destroys the rainforest, but the farmers remain poor, generally just about able to eek out a living with staple crops, but without being able to grow cash crops to earn any money. Child malnutrition is common. We have farmers ready and waiting to start to plant Inga, but we need more money to get them started (to provide seeds or seedlings, advice, etc.). See below how they would benefit, and please
whatever you can afford. Thank you!
All a farmer needs is Inga seeds and ‘know how'. Not in terms of how to tend and look after plants (knowledge that they already have in abundance) but how to work the system - how far apart to plant the Inga trees; when to cut them; how to cover the ground with the cuttings etc.
Farmer's family. Photo by Antony Melville 2007.
2 The System costs very little (Debt free farming)
Unlike many agribusiness ‘solutions' that require expensive pesticides to control weeds; fertiliser to enhance and replace soil nutrients; and machines to harvest crops - Inga alley cropping relies only on farming ability. The only additional input that may be required is an initial application of inexpensive rock phosphate. The farmer gets TOTAL independence from large corporations or merciless moneylenders.
3 Land security
Many of the world's tropical forests are lawless frontiers. Possession is 99/100ths of the law. Evidence of land cultivation is taken as evidence of ownership. The problem with many slash and burn plots is that the farmers don't live anywhere near the plots they are tending, making ownership of those plots virtually impossible to prove. Not only is it easier to lay claim to a plot outside their own back door, but also when they can point to a neat row of Inga trees it is hard to dispute that they planted these and so have a legitimate claim on the land.
4 Crop security
Proof of land tenure aside, a more immediate concern for a farmer needing to feed his family is theft of his ripening food crop. Inga alley cropping means that the farmer and his family can watch over their crop as it's outside their door. This becomes even more important for valuable cash crops. Indeed these could not generally be grown in plots that were far from the farmer's home, but they can now be grown with Inga alley cropping.
5 Make money
For many of these farmers their priority is providing enough food for their families. However, a 1-hectare plot should provide more than enough food for a family of 8, with spare capacity to grow a few cash crops such as vanilla or peppers, now possible, see above.
For example Victor Coronado, one of the first farmers to adopt the Inga alley cropping system, left his wife to the running of the pepper crop completely. After harvesting and grinding, she mixed it with cumin according to local custom and sold it in the town square. ‘She has made $900 for the family selling pepper,' Coronado beamed. For these farmers this is a substantial sum, perhaps the equivalent of a couple of months wages.
6 100% organic
As Inga alley cropping mimics the natural rainforest ecosystem, the soil is protected and nurtured by the cycling of the Inga tree cuttings. No further chemical inputs are required. Not only is this not a financial burden on the farmer but also it means he is not exposed to highly toxic chemicals. And further down the line, should the farmer wish to sell any of his produce on the open market - possibly through a fairtrade co-operative - then he should get a premium for organically grown produce.
7 Family help
For many slash and burn farmers it's a long and lonely trek from their home to their plot, with the added burden of having to walk home burdened with wood for fuel and/or harvested crops. Living next to his crop, the farmer can get help from his family when it comes to tending the plants, harvesting and guarding the crops and collecting fuel.
8 Fuel supply
Not only are the Inga trees an essential part of protecting and feeding the crops but they are an invaluable and sustainable supply of firewood. According to one Inga farmer he was getting the equivalent of three month's fuel for the kitchen stove from his 1/10th hectare plot.
9 Allows farmers free time
Once Inga alley cropping is set up, say the farmers, it requires less time and effort than slash-and-burn. From the second year of harvesting onwards, they save at least 40 days work a year, because there are no more weeds to deal with.
Victor Coronado's grandchildren. Photo by Antony Melville 2007.
10. Helps family planning
Slash and burn farmers have large families as a form of insurance. All the family work together to put food on the table, whether that's on the land or for an industrial plantation company etc. Evidence suggests that greater food and land security enables them to make choices, to have smaller families if they desire, taking the pressure off women to have many children. On the other hand if they want to have a large family, getting better crops will obviously help them to feed everyone well.