If Inga alley cropping is to fulfill its promise of making a substantialcontribution to transforming tropical farming then we have to forge ahead, and expand and bring more people and places into the project. We have been very fortunate in getting grants to do this. The grants are for starting a new project in Ecuador, and for enabling our Cameroon partner, Gaston Bityo, to train many more people in Cameroon to become experts in Inga alley cropping so that they in turn will teach others..
Antony Melville is just back from visiting Ecuador to assist in setting up the new project there.
Ecuador is on the Equator, on the West coast of South America, with a population of about 15 million.
The Andes Mountains run through Ecuador, so, like Honduras, a lot of it is sloped and high ground. The land to the East of the Andes Mountains includes part of the Amazon rainforest, and the rivers there run from the Andes into the Amazon river. It contains places with some of the greatest biodiversity anywhere on earth.
Oil and agricultural products are the most important exports, with oil accounting for about half of all Ecuador’s exports.
In all of the Amazon basin people have practiced slash and burn farming. In olden days when the population density was small plots could be left fallow for 20 to 30 years. Now that is no longer possible, so the problems of soil erosion and loss of fertility arise, aggravated when there is farming on the mountain slopes. So when we found a contact, Nicola Peel, with much experience and local knowledge willing to introduce us and find us good contacts to work with, we were only too glad to take Inga alley cropping to Ecuador.
Rough map of Ecuador, showing the provinces where Inga alley cropping might be introduced.
The Ecuador Project.
By Antony Melville
Inga Edulis originates in the wild from the Western Amazon, in Peru and Ecuador, so we were keen to take the alley-cropping technique to its homeland. I met Nicola Peel a couple of years ago, when she showed her film ‘Blood of the Amazon’ about the oil waste left by Texaco in the Ecuadorian Amazon in one of the biggest cases of contamination in the world. She spends 3 months of every year there, trying to remediate (for example using fungi to clean up the mess) and provide clean water to some of the affected families. I asked her if there was a problem with slash and burn farming, and could people there use Inga alley cropping? Her answer was a firm yes, and we applied for and received funding from the Patsy Wood Trust, a family fund set up in memory of a professional forester and artist called Patsy Wood.
Nicola found us a partner, a college in Lago Agrio. Lago Agrio (Spanish for Bitter Lake) is the capital of Sucumbios province and the centre of the Ecuadorian oil fields. The college has branches distributed round the province, which all offer part time courses to young adults aged 14 and up (to at least mid 20s), who are working, mostly on family farms. Many of the older students are in charge of considerable parts of the farms, and able to take decisions such as to start an Inga alley.
Students at one of the presentations being given to start off the Inga alley cropping project.
Everyone down there grows Inga; they call it Guaba, and once we had established that I. edulis is locally known as Guaba de bejuco, as opposed to the other popular species, Guaba de machete (I. spectabilis), it was very easy to find seed, and we quickly had 4000 seedlings in a nursery at the college, when we had been expecting 200.
The college nursery with 4000 Inga edulis seedlings.
The funding was (among other things) to pay for Dr. Guillermo Valle to come from Honduras and teach the technique. At an advanced stage (just before Christmas, with the training being planned for late January) a bureaucratic blockage meant he had to delay confirming his travel, and with less than 3 weeks to go in late January Eduardo Orellana stepped in to take his place, and the training took place in mid-February. Eduardo delivered a talk that was largely scripted by Dr Valle. He had previously worked as Dr. Valle’s assistant for six months, and is currently employed by FunaVid.
Demonstrating the A-frame to enable contour planting on slopes. Eduardo is explaining something at the back.
Practical demonstration of planting. Note the rew of sticks marking the correct planting line in the second photo.
The week of teaching at the College was impressively organised. There were four days of training. The first day was for younger students with their parents. The second and third days were with older students. This in fact meant we were talking to young farmers. We did three presentations at the college, and then a fourth day at a forum in town at the nice large hall of the Sucumbios Women’s Federation, co-hosted with the Frente para la defensa de la Amazonia.
The College had already carried out a valuable survey of the students’ farms, from which candidates are being selected to find the 20 farms which can each receive 200 seedlings from the nursery. The farmers will be interviewed in the course of March and at the end of March or early April the seedlings will be distributed and the alleys planted on the farms under supervision from Patricio Chavez, one of the staff from the college.
Patricio Chavez addressing the group, and Antony Melville explaining the Inga system with a photo of school children planting a row of Inga.
Antony Melville giving a presentation on Inga alley cropping showing good Inga alley with rows of maize.
Nicola Peel giving a presentation.
Patricio will then co-ordinate monthly reports on progress at each of the farms. The information and photographs will probably be collected by fellow students. We are providing a monthly contribution to the college’s costs (with extra payments for the first 2 months of selection and planting), which will continue until the trees are ready for pruning. A likely date for a second training covering pruning and crop sowing is January 2018, so we will need to apply for funds for the next phase in summer 2017.
Looking ahead there is much scope for expansion. There are other satellite colleges in other provinces so that these could take the Inga into the other Eastern provinces, and there has been other interest in this work as well. In all we have made a very promising start in Ecuador.
With best wishes,
Tiiu-Imbi Miller, Mrs., PhD.
The Rainforest Saver Foundation
Scottish registered charity no. SC039007
+44 (0) 131 477 6970
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