No. 22A Tropical Journey. A Visit to our Honduran Partners in 2010
By Charles Barber | Newsletter No. 22a January - February 2011

Last September I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to join our Secretary Tiiu on a visit to our two partners in Honduras, Dr Dodson and his wife Donita, who run the Christian environmental charity FunaVid, and Dr Guillermo Valle, the tropical agriculture expert at CURLA. CURLA is part of the Autonomous National University of Honduras. It is at the city of La Ceiba.

FunaVid premises and our Honduran partners

FunaVid garden and the house we stayed in, and Dr. Valle (on left), MaryAnn Hernandez from CURLA showing the size of tropical flowers, and Dr. Dodson. Photo by Tiiu Miller2010.

FunaVid owns about 160 hectares of land on the mountain. A lot of this is regenerating rainforest.  Tiiu and I stayed in the Dodsons' delightful garden in a spare house close to their own.  It could hardly have been a more delightful setting. From our front window we could gaze over the lush garden to the tranquil blue of the Caribbean, while behind the house there was a steep drop to one of the quebradas ((deep ravines that run through the Funavid land and contain narrow strips of primary rainforest). It would have been impossible to either build or farm on such steep slopes and so these small patches of land have been largely untouched and unaffected by Man.

Forest and monkey at FunaVid

Rainforest on top of the quebrada at the back of the FunaVid premises. Photo by Tiiu Miller2010.

Our other partner, Dr. Valle, visited us often and took us on wonderful trips to show us the fascinating grounds at the university, and also to see a different part of Honduras, bordering the Pico Bonito National Park. Although a fair amount of time was spent in discussing how to proceed with and budget various projects, we were also able to see a lot of the FunaVid land and surrounding areas.  We took two journeys by the Kawasaki Mule, a simple but powerful four wheel drive vehicle, up the mountain through the FunaVid land. We hope in time this will become a Rainforest Reserve. The first trip gave us an overall impression of the extent of the FunaVid land and how quickly most of it seemed to be regenerating into natural forest.

rainforest at FunaVid

Charles Barber in the rainforest on the FunaVid mountain.  Photo by Tiiu Miller2010.

On the same trip we also saw Dr Valle's trial Inga plots on different parts of the mountain, all at various stages of development but some growing pineapples between the alleys.

Inga alley with pineapples at FunaVid

Inga alleys on the FunaVid mountain, with pineapples. Photo by Tiiu Miller2010.

As we drove higher we could see the land above FunaVid's that had been slashed and burnt and grown sugar cane but which we now wished to purchase to set up a full size Inga Alley Cropping Demonstration Farm. It is pleasing to be able to tell you that this land has now been bought and it will be farmed with Inga alleys to become part of the major Inga demonstration plot at FunaVid. 

On the second trip we took a different road closer to one of the quebradas and I was astounded at the variety of fauna and flora. Rick, our driver would stop periodically to let us take photos and stretch our legs, and it seemed as though you only had to walk 10 yards down the road to come across at least 3 different species of butterflies.

Honduran butterflies

These are the butterflies and little creatures we managed to catch on camera. The rest flew away. Photo by Tiiu Miller2010.

There was also a variety and abundance of palms, ferns, yellow flowered heliconia, mangos and coconuts. Then, near the source of the spring high up the mountain we first heard and then, walking as carefully as possible, caught a glimpse of a group of Capuchin monkeys, harvesting fruit high up in the trees. It seemed to me that the biodiversity of the primary rainforest in the quebrada was swiftly re-colonising parts of the secondary rainforest above it.

Watching monkeys in the FunaVid forest

Charles and Rick (Richard Seal) watching monkeys in the forest at FunaVid.  Photo by Tiiu Miller2010.

Our trips to view some of the extensive grounds at CURLA were both fascinating and exciting. Although the dilapidated buildings and toilet facilities reflected the status of Honduras as a very poor country, its wealth of plants and its dedicated, enthusiastic lecturers provided a shining example of what could be achieved with limited means.

CURLA building and germ bank or fruit tree orchard

The building at CURLA (university) where Dr. Valle works, and the extensive tropical fruit tree plantation at CURLA.  Photo by Tiiu Miller2010.

On our first visit we were shown some of Dr Valle's trial plots, where he was growing various crops under Inga alleys. He was particularly proud of an Inga alley in which he was growing bananas as this was obtaining as good yields as a nearby plot funded by the agricultural industry, that was being grown using more conventional means which cost considerably more. Dr Valle was also

bananas grown conventionally and with Inga

On the left the conventionally grown banana plantation requiring expensive inputs, and on the right the equally productive but much cheaper Inga alley banana plantation. Photo by Tiiu Miller2010.

experimenting with other nitrogen fixing trees to see if they might be suitable to use in alley cropping. Although the species of Inga edulis has so far been shown to be the most effective plant for this form of agriculture, it is still a comparatively new method of growing crops so there is plenty of scope for further research.  We were also told about a plant called Jatropha which can grow on very poor soils and whose fruits can be turned into biofuel for cars etc without the need of refinement. On a second visit to CURLA, a very knowledgeable and enthusiastic student  gave us a fascinating guided tour of a wonderful tropical fruit arboretum.  I am pleased to report that it was also a tasting tour and we were able to sample an amazing variety of exotic fruits from numerous trees so that despite a minimal breakfast and an early start, none of us was really very hungry at lunch-time. As well as many delicious fruits here, there also seemed to be a fruit for every occasion.

 

Charles Barber and tropical fruits

Charles Barber on the left, and star fruit and ‘change taster' fruit (the red ones) on the right.  Photo by Tiiu Miller2010.

There was one that could be used as a natural deodorant, one that we were assured was a natural Viagra and even an amazing fruit called the ‘change taster' fruit, which could make anything you tasted afterwards taste sweet, (you wouldn't need to sweeten your home-made lemonade with sugar with this fruit around!).  The whole tour was a treasure chest of the diversity and richness of tropical fruits that grow naturally in rainforest regions. Honduras may not have that much to boast of in terms of its GDP but it can at least boast of 60 different varieties of mango.

Hooking for a mango in the FunaVid forest

Rick getting a mango down in the FunaVid forest.  Photo by Tiiu Miller2010.

On our last day Dr Valle took us on a trip along the Rio Cangrejal Valley, which was close to La Ceiba and bordered the Pico Bonito National Park.  We were even able to walk across a bridge over the fast flowing river to very briefly explore the wonder of primary tropical rainforest.  Dr Valle, though, was keener to show us the  destruction that continual slash and burn agriculture was causing to the valley. Time and time again we came across slopes that had been exhausted and denuded by this form of unsustainable agriculture and it was clear that local farmers desperately needed a more secure stable method of farming that Inga alley cropping could provide.

Pico Bonito park rainforest

The Pico Bonito Park, protected rainforest, and Charles crossing the Cangrejal river to the park on a narrow, shaky bridge. Photo by Tiiu Miller2010.

 

 

The devastation of slash and burn farming outside the park

Outside the Pico Bonito park the forest has been cut by slash and burn farmers, and the land left liable to erosion. Photo by Tiiu Miller2010.

I am pleased to report that since our return from Honduras there are now plans to try to set up a demonstration farm in this particular valley. As you are probably aware Dr Valle is also planning to set up demonstration Inga alley plots in the grounds of a number of Agriculture High Schools throughout the region. There is now a great opportunity to persuade farmers and their children to change from slash and burn agriculture, which merely re-enforces cycles of poverty and destroys the environment, to Inga alley cropping, which can both improve their livelihoods and help protect and preserve the land they depend upon.

 

Inga lesson and pineapples in Inga alley

Dr. Valle teaching about the Inga in one of the Inga alleys he has planted on the FunaVid mountain   (Copyright Tiiu Miller © 2010), and a good crop of pineapples ripening in an Inga alley. Photo by FUPNAPIB 2005.

If Tiiu had hoped that such a trip would revitalize my commitment and enthusiasm for Rainforest Saver, she need have no worries on that score. Not only was I impressed by the commitment and dedication of our partners, I was also intoxicated by the beauty and wonder of both the FunaVid land and CURLA grounds. My most abiding impression though, is of those bare slopes in the Rio Cangrejal Valley and the danger that these can only spread if no alternative is provided for slash and burn agriculture. Rainforest Saver can and hopefully will provide that alternative in the Rio Cangrejal Valley and in the area around FunaVid, but there are numerous denuded slopes within Honduras and other tropical rainforest countries and much more funding is needed to tackle this huge challenge. 

14JF2011

The ultimate devastation that can be caused by slash and burn farming. Photo by Trees for the Future (www.plant-trees.org).

 

With this in mind I have decided to try and set up an annual Rainforest Festival in London, to highlight the issues around Rainforest destruction, and to raise funds for Rainforest Saver, but also to celebrate the beauty, wonder and value of tropical rainforests.

Tropical flowers

The beauty of tropical flowers. Photo by Tiiu Miller2010.

I have decided the Festival will run from September 23-25th and intend to begin with a March with a Plant around the embassies of some tropical rainforest countries. This will not be a protest march, (indeed we will come bearing gifts!) but is intended more as a way of highlighting the issues of rainforest destruction, informing them of the value of Inga alley cropping and beginning a constructive dialogue. Embassy staff will also be invited to the various other events of the festival and I am also keen to get other rainforest conservation charities involved.  However, I will not be able to do this on my own and am very keen to hear from anyone who wants to know more and thinks they might be willing to help. It is a challenging task but inspired by my trip to Honduras, I am determined to bring a taste of the beauty and wonder of the rainforest to the streets of London.

Tropical flowers at CURLA

Tropical flowers at plantation at CURLA. Photo by Tiiu Miller2010.

Charles Barber - Chairman of Rainforest Saver

Email - charles,barber13@gmail,com