No. 87 Update on the Ecuador Inga Project
By Antony Melville | Newsletter No. 87 March-April 2018

Update on the Ecuador Inga Project

By Antony Melville

Guillermo Valle reported in the last newsletter (http://www.rainforestsaver.org/news/no-86-inga-project-ecuador-first-pruning) his experience of the January training when we pruned 4 Inga plots. I would like to add that Dr Valle’s teaching was invaluable; he established an excellent relationship with both the project leaders and all the participants, so that the whole week was an enjoyable experience and very promising, though we still await detail on the work that has been done on the plots since January.

A key feature of Guillermo’s teaching was collecting the leaf matter of the first two trees pruned (from two separate parts of the plot), bagging it up and weighing the result. From this he calculated the average leaf matter across a hectare, and compared the nitrogen content of the leaves to the recommended nitrogen application for growing 1 ha of maize with artificial fertilisers; a rough average across the 3 farm plots was 150Kg of N per Ha, almost double the recommended application of 80Kg. This really brought home the value of the Inga technique as an organic process. Here is Guillermo with his equation!

 

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 Dr. Guillermo Valle calculating the nitrogen content of leaf mass of pruned Inga trees.

Here is a picture of the last farm outing with the participants gathered in front of the pruned plot at Daisy Vaca’s farm, on a wet day – but this is rainforest, so that won’t stop us! 3rd from right is Dr Valle, 2nd from right Ermel Chavez, the project leader, and on the far right is the man from the Environment Ministry, who was an enthusiastic participant (and very helpful). Early days to know what the Ministry may do to support us, but it is good to start getting them educated.

 

Last farm outing. See above for who is who.

In the course of the week 2 other useful institutional contacts were established: with ISTEC (Istituto Tecnico Educativo Crecer Mas -  the “Grow More” Technical Education Inst), which runs agricultural research projects at a location very close to Luz Prado’s Inga plot, the 2nd farm we pruned. We visited their site, and they have, interestingly, planted Inga alleys 10m wide with trees approx. 4 m apart, so they are big trees; they have 3 crops planted in the alleys: Cassava, Pineapple and Plantain, planted this year. It will be interesting to see what results they get and what conclusions they reach from an approach that does not use leaf mulch as the growing medium/compost. Two people from ISTEC joined the training at Luz Prado’s and one of them was keen to start a plot immediately on her land in Cuyabeno.

The second contact was with the recently established Universidad Estatal Amazónica – State University of the Amazon; Nicola Peel (who has been working in the region for many years) got us introduced to the Rector, Dr Vargas. One of their agronomists came to the pruning at the plot on Ermel Chavez’ farm (in the centre in the photo below, with crest on his T shirt – the man to his left is the journalist from Radio Cuyabeno).

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At Ermel Chavez's farm. See above for who is who.

 

The University is keen to support the project, and a first outcome has been that they have checked the soil tests which have just come in from INIAP in Coca (100 miles South in Orellana province); INIAP is the National agricultural testing Institute. The University has additional bases in Tena and Puyo, the Southern Amazonian provinces, so could provide starting points for establishing the Inga technique in those areas in due course (see the map below).

 

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 Rough map of Ecuador

The first soil samples were taken on Feb 26th from 4 plots, two samples from different parts of each plot. These are the Unidad, the Chavez farm, and Luz Prado’s, all of which we pruned in January; and perhaps most significant, Tania Carrera’s plot, where the trees have grown very slowly (less than half the height of the pruned plots), and the site shows very high levels of Aluminium and Sulphur contamination (presumably from gas flaring from the oil well nearby). It will be interesting to see if the Inga trees on Tania’s plot can grow to a useful height, and then to see if the system can achieve some remediation, (most likely to be at the mycorrhizal fungus level).

Agreement was reached at the end of the week’s training in January to employ an assistant for the project; the funding can just be made to cover it for 2 years at the current exchange rate. It has been a slow process setting up an agreement in 2 languages to settle the criteria and job specification, but that is now in place and recruitment is promised rapidly. Having an assistant focused on the job should massively improve the flow of information; hitherto the whole project has been run by Ermel and Patricio on top of full-time teaching work, and in Ermel’s case also being Director of the local farmer’s group, the Frente de Defensa de Amazonia, an important partner in the Inga Project.

New seed is expected on the trees any moment, and at least 50 farmers in 3 areas are waiting to start Inga plots, so the assistant will be pretty busy. We hope to see a lot of action over the next 2 years for which we have funding, so I hope to have plenty to report!