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INGA ALLEY CROPPING
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Did you know that slash and burn agriculture is a major cause of rainforest destruction, yet the millions of farmers who practice it are trapped in poverty?
They do it because that is the only type of agriculture they know.
But there is an alternative: INGA ALLEY CROPPING
Inga alley cropping enables farmers to build rather than destroy the fertility of their soil, so they can get better harvests and farm in one location without having to continually burn more and more of the rainforest to get fertile land to farm.
A mature Inga alley and our Cameroon partner’s son with Inga pods. Each pod contains many seeds.
We are working with local and grassroots partners in Cameroon, Honduras and Ecuador to train as many farmers as possible to use this more sustainable system.
Please give a hand-up, not a hand-out to empower poor farmers to farm in a more sustainable and productive manner while also saving their local rainforests.
What is Inga alley cropping?
A special tree, Inga edulis or Inga oerstediana, is planted as hedges, with spaces, the alleys, between the hedges. When the trees are big they shut off the light so that the weeds die in the alleys. Then the trees are pruned, and the pruned leaves and small branches are placed in the alleys. The crops are then planted to grow in these prunings. The prunings fertilizethe soil because the Inga tree has a symbiotic (beneficial to both) relationship with fungi and bacteria that live in its roots. These take up the phosphorus and fix nitrogen from the air, so the Inga prunings contain the nutrients that crops need. This eliminates the requirement for chemical fertilizers. The trees regrow rapidly so the cycle of pruning and planting crops is repeated year after year. The bigger branches also provide firewood for cooking, thus taking further pressure off the forests.
Many schemes to help poor farmers in the less developed world help them to earn more by growing cash crops for sale, often for export. Inga alley cropping can do that, but it is also good for growing their basic food, and so also food to sell locally. This can give the farmer real food security (what has been called food sovereignty) as well as income, and therefore independence.
The animation demonstrates the cycles of Inga alley cropping. It shows the cross section of an alley and the cycle repeated over three years.
But is slash and burn farming really a big problem?
Yes. It is pretty well impossible to accurately count these farmers, or get up to date data, but it is estimated that there are now about 200 million of them (there were many more earlier). Here is a diagram of the main causes of rainforest destruction derived from figures published by Prince Charles’s Rainforest Project in 2009.
The picture has changed somewhat, with more commercial crops, particularly palm oil, taking the place of slash and burn farming and pushing already poor people off their land. But slash and burn is still important, particularly in Africa. In the places where we currently work, in Cameroon, Ecuador and Honduras, there is plenty of it.
Slash and burn as far as the eye can see in Honduras, near our partners of FunaVid.
Young maize in a fertile Inga alley and the devastating end result of repeated slash and burn farming (Photo Gaston Bityo and Trees for the Future www.treesforthefuture.org.
We cannot tell poor people to starve. Nor can we tell them to go to the city slums where there is no work for them. So unless we provide them with a better alternative they will slowly but surely destroy more and more of the rainforests.
The only viable solution is to enable these farmers to farm sustainably, and Inga alley cropping fits the bill just right.
We are working in Cameroon, Ecuador and Honduras.
The Cameroon Inga Project.
We are working with local people, at their invitation. In 2009 Gaston Delor Bityo, Director and founder of the small Cameroonian NGO Volunteers Serving Development (VSD), contacted us, and we have been working with him ever since.
Gaston Bityo deliberately started farmers in different locations so as to have nuclei from which to spread the Inga. Since then the project has expanded to include several NGO or community leaders who are spreading the Inga in their regions, but Gaston Bityo oversees all the work. There has been considerable interest in Cameroon, and there is much scope for expansion.
The above map shows roughly where the activities of the Cameroon Inga Project have been so far.
The Inga system is simple, but nonetheless we were finding that everyone did not understand how to do it. So Gaston has held two training meetings, each for about ten selected participants including community/NGO leaders, one at Kumba in February 2016 (people from inside the red line), one at Yaoundé at the end of May 2016 (from inside the yellow line), and one is planned at Akonolinga for those inside the blue line. Feedback from the Kumba training has been very positive, e.g.
‘Oh, Gaston did a wonderful training in Kumba. I thank you and him for the initiative.
The documents he distributed were very good. They will assist me during my trainings in communities.’
Breakfast at the Kumba training.
We have had feedback and good plans from several of the trainees, so this looks set to be a real success that will bring the Inga to many farmers in the rainforest NW region of Cameroon. Of course we will do further follow ups to ensure that the work is being done, and done well.
This is not cheap or easy work. We make no apology for using a gas guzzling truck. A car proved useless. Rather, we take our hats off to Gaston Bityo and Denis Amougou, who drive this vehicle to far off places on unimaginably terrible roads to help their countrymen and save their rainforests.
The sort of roads they have to travel to take the Inga where it is needed.
The aim is that in time all these people will become independent of us. The Inga technique is being embedded with local leaders, so that eventually, even if some time in the future help from the UK was no longer available, the project will continue. We will not consider it a success until the Inga technique has spread not only by our help, but from farmer to farmer, and by the help of the local Cameroonian NGOs.
But for now, and many more years to come, there is still a vast amount of work for Gaston Bityo and Rainforest Saver to do, and for that we need money. Fuel and repairs to the truck cost money, and many trips involve Gaston and Denis staying away for several nights. The hotels are inexpensive, but nothing is free.
We are doing an experiment of comparing crop yields from Inga plots to crop yields from adjacent comparison plots, both planted and harvested at the same time, with the same seed. It is not easy for these farmers to understand why we want them to waste good seed on the degraded land of the comparison plots, where they know right well they won’t get a decent crop. So Gaston himself supervises all the sowing and harvesting to ensure it is correctly done.
The first results show that when the Inga plot is properly tended (the Inga is not allowed to overgrow the crop, and the sowing is done when there is rain to come) the results are great. In all cases the Inga plot gave yields of at least 3 times those of the comparison plot, and the very best Inga plot gave 75 kg, against 5 from the comparison plot – a magnificent 15 fold increase! That was Denis Amougou’s own plot. He sure did take good care of it
Denis Amougou’s well kept Inga plot, with young Inga trees.
But it also shows that it is possible to get it all wrong. This highlights the need for trainings, and more experiments to determine just what can and cannot be done with the Inga.
Finally, we are supporting work at several Cameroon schools, where the students are being taught about Inga alley cropping and environmental issues, and Inga plots are provided. Much of this is done through the school nature clubs, which either are there already, or our partners set them up. Teaching the young can be very effective, and parents are also invited to see how the Inga works.
We need money to do the training at Akonolinga, follow up more farmers with comparison plots to get longer term data and truck maintenance, start more schools with Inga, and more. We are very grateful to the Guernsey Overseas Aid Commission and the Sheepdrove Trust for supporting the training projects, without which none of the training could have gone ahead.
People like to be told what things cost, but the costs are very variable. To give some idea, growing an Inga seedling in Gaston Bityo’s large nursery from picking the pod to having it ready to deliver to a farmer costs about 10p. So it would cost only £20 to grow the seedlings for one farmer’s 200 seedling starter plot. But delivering Inga costs a lot more. Inga seeds do not survive long, so transporting them is difficult. Unless there is a local nursery, seedlings must first be grown and then transported. A trip to Mundemba, where several groups have planted Inga, but are in need of support, even of basic tools, costs at least £1000 – hence the need to establish nurseries and knowledgeable supervisors in the region. A school nature club may be set up for as little as £150, which includes training and provision of tools.
For the training at Akonolinga, a night in a hotel costs about £30, but food is extra. So accommodation and catering for 10 people for a 3 day training will come to about £1350.
We have a very substantial shortfall for the continuation of this successful and important project, and anything that you can donate would be very much appreciated.
The Honduran Project
We support agroforestry and the wildlife reserve at FunaVid on the N. coast of Honduras. FunaVid (Fundación Agrícola Vid) is a Honduran non-governmental organization founded in 2004 by Dr. and Mrs. Dodson and established in La Ceiba, Atlantida, Honduras. It aims to help the Honduran people and preserve the environment. It’s board has both Honduran and American members.
Dr. Dodson, director of FunaVid, Mrs. Dodson, and Dr. Guillermo Valle of CURLA University, who works closely with FunaVid and oversees work with the schools.
The FunaVid rainforest reserve covers most of a mountainside of about 170 hectares. It includes a small amount of primary rainforest, but mostly it is secondary rainforest that has been allowed to regenerate where there was cattle pasture when FunaVid acquired it. It also contains some plantation of useful trees like mahogany, an eco-tourist trail, and Inga alley plots. Reforestation projects have sometimes run into trouble because slash and burn farmers cut them down. We hope to be able to avoid this by combining the restoration of nature with providing the local farmers with Inga alley cropping, so that they no longer need to destroy the rainforest. There has been much slash and burn destruction in the surrounding area, and it seems that much wildlife has sought refuge in this reserve. Even a black jaguar has been seen, but regrettably no one has managed to photograph it.
FunaVid is a well appointed centre, collaborating with CURLA (part of the University of Honduras) and with high schools. The school and CURLA students use the classroom facilities and restored wildlife environment for educational and research purposes. Dr. Guillermo Valle from CURLA has a research plot on the mountain to investigate the possibility of using certain other trees for agroforestry similar to how the Inga is used. Inga is wonderful, but we don’t want to depend on just one or two species. Rainforest Saver supports both the research and educational work with schools.
The schools project is managed by Dr. Guillermo Valle, of CURLA, aided by other professors there, in association with a rural schools’ tutorial teaching system that covers two-thirds of Honduras. Thus it is set to reach large numbers of students and teachers. Dr. Valle started off teaching some local senior high school students, but now the teaching is expanded to teaching the teachers so that they can pass on the knowledge.
Map of rural schools that are selected to have teaching in Inga alley cropping and other environmental issues and aspects of sustainable farming.
Educating the young in Inga alley cropping, and issues of sustainable farming and care of the environment appears to be a good approach. Not only will that give the knowledge to the next generation, but they can take it home to their parents, particularly as parents are invited to attend events like pruning or harvest at the Inga plots. Inga plots which are being created at the schools.
The map below shows what is done and planned. We have the funds to do the initial training at these schools, and establish some Inga plots, at least at the hub schools, but urgently need more funds for follow ups.
We are also supporting a small scale but very promising project with a few adult farmers on steep slopes.
Steep slope with row of Inga trees
We need money for proper follow up of the schools, and for spreading the Inga technology to more farmers on the steep slopes in Honduras. Please donate to support this valuable work. Thank you very much.
This is our newest project, started this year. We are working with an agricultural college. People have been trained there as extension workers, with farmers lined up to start using Inga, to be supervised by students from the college.
Our educational work in Ecuador.
We are very happy to say that this project is fully funded for this year by the Patsy Wood Trust, to whom we express our most sincere gratitude.
The implications of succeeding – or not – with spreading Inga alley cropping are huge, not just for the poor farmers, but for all of us. For if we don’t succeed, they will, out of necessity, go on burning the rainforests, and we all need these. So please donate generously.
If you do not wish to donate with a credit cards cheques can be sent to
The Rainforest Saver Foundation
33 Pentland View
THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR YOUR SUPPORT.
There is a lot more information in the rest of our website. Some of the most relevant sources are listed below.
if you are a farmer in the tropics, or work with farmers in the tropics, you will find lots of information about how to do Inga alley cropping in the several sections under the main heading 'How to'
There is more information about what Inga alley cropping is at