No. 86 The Inga Project in Ecuador: First pruning
By Dr. Guillermo Valle | Newsletter No. 86 january-February 2018

We started the Ecuador project with an Ecuadorian rural agricultural college, the Unidad Juan Jimenez in early 2016. Some of the plots were now ready for pruning so we arranged for Dr. Guillermo Valle, from CURLA University, Honduras, to visit there to supervise the pruning of these first plots, and provide general relevant education.  Many people from the surrounding area and colleges joined in.  Here is Dr. Valle’s own account of his trip to Ecuador.

REPORT ON TRIP TO ECUADOR TO SUPPORT GUAMA [Inga] AGROFORESTRY IN AMAZONIA

JANUARY 6th TO JANUARY 13th 2018

By Dr. Guillermo Valle

My recent trip to Ecuador was very rewarding and enlightening because I was able to share my experience with farmers and at the same time learn from how they are doing Inga agroforestry, specially with spacing of plants.

I arrived at Quito´s Mariscal Sucre International Airport at 10:05 PM on Saturday 6th and immediately took a taxi to Gran Hotel Quitumbe, conveniently located a few blocks from Terminal Terrestre Quitumbe (bus station).

After a good nights rest from the stress of travel, Antony Melville and myself took a bus for the 7 hour trip to Lago Agrio on an uphill, downhill, winding road. However, it is a good paved road and the changing landscapes from alpine (2860 masl [metres above sea level]) to sea level (Amazonia)  made it an interesting journey, considering we could see alpine forests and meadows, the cloud forest and finally the rain forest. When we were on the lowlands, we could see Inga edulis everywhere along the road.

Upon arrival at Lago Agrio, we checked in at our hotel and Antony contacted our counterparts in town who said we had to be at the Unidad Juan Jimenez at 8:00 AM on Monday for a meeting that was held at their auditorium. This was attended by local authorities or their representatives, local conservation organized groups, and teachers and students, which filled the auditorium with more than 100 persons.

At this meeting we were introduced, as was Antony and Nicola Peel [who has been working long term in the region and is our initial contact for Ecuador]. The week’s agenda was organised and the transportation arrangements agreed.  I gave two presentations on guama [Inga] agroforestry;  about what we have done, how we are doing it and some results. Afterwards, there were meetings with local media, radio and TV, and appointments were made to visit two radio stations later that week to talk about guama agroforestry (local name for guama is guaba de bejuco).

After lunch the same day, we visited the Unidad´s guama site which had four rows and three alleys of trees. These had not grown very well but sufficed for a demo of pruning. Afterward the students and teachers of the Unidad did their share of the same, under my supervision. At the end we did a recapitulation of how and why individual trees were pruned differently, and emphasized how to calculate the quantity of nutrients that a certain amount of mulch would deliver to the soil. This was the first group we worked with and they were mostly from the Unidad Juan Jimenez.

inga plot at the Unidad Juan Jimenez. Photo Antony Melville 2018.

 

The plot at Unidad Juan Jimenez after pruning. Photo Antony Melville 2018.

It is interesting that the high schools are very involved in this endeavor and  the Unidad Juan Jimenez is the flagship institution where the Rector (Director) is in charge of around 20 Juan Jimenez institutes across the province of Sucumbios. These are CAT (centro adiestramiento tutorial) or tutorial training centers, which is similar to SAT in Honduras. Also, Unidad Juan Jimenez teachers are very involved, to the point that Ermel Chavez (teacher) is the coordinator in charge of the guama project in all Sucumbios. He is the son of Don Claudio Chavez who at his 70 hectare farm is involved with guama agroforestry and is enthusiastic about it. The other two farms we visited are owned by Luz Prado and Daisy Vaca, also teachers at Unidad Juan Jimenez.

Another thing to highlight is that these farmers are not smallholders. Claudio Chavez has 70 hectares, Daisy Vaca owns 10 and only Luz Prado has 1 hectare, but this is the exception, not the norm. Of the 11 farmers for which we have figures the average is 40 Ha. The 50 Ha plots given by the government land reform in the 70s have been divided in time so the average is 23 ha, though some have bought their neighbour’s land and so have bigger farms.

Following the agenda, on Tuesday we visited the 70 hectare farm of Don Claudio Chavez, a half hour drive from Lago Agrio. He had 5 rows of guama which were 18 months old, with a 1 m within row spacing and 4 alleys spaced 8 meters apart, for a total of 250 plants in an area of 1/8th  hectare.

 

Chavez plot with notice saying it is Ingo farming. Photo Antony Melville 2018

The people attending were a different group from a different center or CAT. An introductory talk was held with an explanation on guama agroforestry and how it helps mitigate and adapt to climate change and why it produces higher crop yields than slash and burn at a very low cost. We also talked on how to prune and why there are differences from tree to tree and the importance of accurate calculations on nutrient deposition by guama leaf mulch.

Chavez plot. Dr. Guillermo Valle 1st right, Claudio Chavez 2nd from right, journalist from Radio Cuyabeno 3rd right, agronomist from Amazon University 5th from right Photo Antony Melville 2018

Then we proceeded to prune a representative sample of trees to weigh and determine average leaf mass weight per tree (which was 11 kg fresh leaves /plant). After having these data the rest of the trees were pruned and the leaf mulch deposited in the alleys.

Gathering up leaves for weighing. Photo Antony Melville 2018

Students stripping leaf of branches to weigh biomass. Claudio Chavez farm. Photo Guillermo Valle

The leaves were not cleared from the branches and were laid on the soil together as this lowers labor and the leaves fall from the branches in a few days and the branches can then be removed from the alleys.

Claudio Chavez plot after pruning. Photo Antony Melville 2018

After lunch, we were invited by Ermel Chavez, Don Claudio´s son, to visit his fish ponds in the farm where he is growing an endangered Amazonian fish that grows up to 250 pounds, but the ones he had where still growing and weighed around 50 pounds. After visiting the ponds we walked for 30 min to visit Ermel´s 1 hectare guama plot where he planted the guama seed directly in the ground avoiding the cost and time of a nursery. The germination was quite good and very few seeds had to be replaced.

Another thing to highlight is that they do not use fuelwood in Sucumbios province as it is the major petroleum producer in Ecuador and everyone has access to cheap cooking gas. This made it necessary to emphasize pruning at an earlier stage of growth (10 to 12 months) to shape the plant to produce more leaf and less wood.

On Wednesday, Luz Prado´s 1 hectare farm was visited and the same protocol was followed. It was also a very short drive. In this farm the trees were planted at a 1 m within row spacing and 4 m for the alleys. The area was very small with 4 rows of 30 trees each and a 4m spacing for alleys, which gave a total of 120.

Luz Prado’s plot. Photo Antony Melville 2018

Luz Prado’s plot, pruned. Photo Antony Melville 2018

The leaf biomass fresh weight was 10.6 kg per tree. Another group of people came to this plot and the job was done fast because of fewer trees so after lunch we were invited to visit Instituto Superior Tecnologico Crecer Mas (ISTEC), a 2.5 year higher education institution where high school graduates get a technical degree in agriculture. Here they had a guama plot planted at a 10 meter spacing between rows and and within row spacing of a least 5 m, which made me think how difficult it would be to have this scheme in slopes. However, all sites visited are on Amazonian flat land. We did not prune this plot because of time constraints, so I don´t know leaf biomass yield.

Inga plot at ISTEC with 10 m wide alleys and a row of plantain in the centre. Photo Antony Melville 2018.

The same Wednesday, in the evening, Antony, Ermel and I visited Radio Sucumbios and Radio Cuyabeno and talked about guama agroforestry and how RFS and myself are trying to help further this scheme to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Next day, on Thursday, Daisy Vaca´s farm at Cuyabeno was visited. It was an hour’s drive away. The trees there were planted at 4 m spacing between rows

Daisy Vaca’s plot. Photo Antony Melville 2018

Daisy Vaca’s plot, pruned. Photo Antony Melville 2018.

Pruning. Photo Guillermo Valle 2018

Again , the same protocol was followed with yet another group, this time from the Cuyabeno CAT. Here, the average weight of leaf biomass per tree was 12 kg. 

The following table summarizes fresh leaf biomass from the different farms.

Fresh leaf biomass from trees on 3 different farms (kg)

 

Farm size

Spacing within rows m

Alley width

m

Weight of leaves from

each measured  tree

Sum

Average

Claudio Chavez

70

1

8

12

7

14

11

44

11

Luz Prado

1

1

4

16.6

9.1

13.9

2.9

42.5

10.6

Daisy Baca

10

1

4

5

28

5

9

47

11.7

The data show that there are no differences in leaf biomass per tree between farms and spacings. However, since there are less trees per area, then a lower total leaf biomass is expected with wider spacings. If this works the same for Honduras, than we can cut down costs allowing more spacing between rows and intra row, but would have to plant pineapple or other like vetiver grass to stop erosion on slopes.  However, all these farms in Sucumbios province are on land that was covered with rain forest and on an alluvial plain, which can make soil more fertile for a longer period.

‘Family photo.’ Photo Guillermo Valle, 2018

On Friday, our last day in Lago Agrio, a forum was held at the Unidad auditorium where again at least 150 people came and Robinson, a chap from a conservation group in a province north of Quito spoke about their circumstances and how they work, and Nicola Peel spoke about her work and it was interesting for me to hear that there is a machine that converts plastic to petroleum. This apparatus costs $7,000 while larger more commercial machines can cost $200,000. I spoke on the importance of knowing how much nutrients are deposited in the soil from guama and how much money this saves on fertilizer plus the savings on pesticides and herbicides. I calculated and wrote the procedure on the board and left it for them to photograph.  

Final day meeting. Photo Guillermo Valle 2018

This trip to Ecuador has been highlighted by an exchange and merging of local knowledge with scientific knowledge, which is probably the most efficient way to work with farmers, and so has been very productive.

A typical two storey house made of wood from the farm. Photo Guillermo Valle 2018