Honduras is the third poorest country in Latin America, after Haiti and Nicaragua. There are about 7 million people. The official language is Spanish, but there are several ethnic groups and so other languages are also spoken.
Map of Central America
The maps are very rough sketches to show where Honduras is, and to indicate that about four-fifths of it is mountainous Over half the population is rural, and more than 60 % of the rural population lives in areas classified as slopes. The average annual per capita income is a bit under $2 per day, but among the 300,000 families living on the slopes there is greater poverty with over 90% earning less than $1.00 per day. Many of these practice slash and burn farming.
Map of Honduras
Education and soil fertility - or the lack of these - are the main factors affecting family income. It is therefore clear that promoting Inga alley cropping would be very beneficial both for the people and what still remains of the forests. Moreover, as described in the previous newsletter (From mountain top farmers to coral reefs: our Inga alley cropping project) curbing the erosion created by slash and burn by the use of Inga alley cropping will improve the coral reef and hence fishing and tourism as additional or alternative sources of income.
Part of the Mesoamerican coral reef runs past the Northern coast of Honduras. This is the second largest coral reef, after the Australian one. It is 225 million years old, covers some 115 million acres and 2 million people from four countries (Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico) depend on it. It is rich in wildlife. There are 500 species of fish. 65 species of stony coral, manatees, salt-water crocodiles, sea turtles, whale sharks, and much more. Coral reefs occupy less than one percent of the Earth's marine environment, but are home to more than a quarter of all known marine fish species and tens of thousands of other species found nowhere else on earth. It is thus easy to see how very important the reef is for fishing and tourism. It also protects the coastal areas from storm damage. (2,4,5)
View from the mountain, Honduras. The Cayos Cochinos islands are in the distance and waves are braking over the coral reef. Photo byTiiu Miller 2009.
As Honduras is so mountainous, and many farmers practice slash and burn farming on these mountains, it is estimated that about 80% of the sediment, and over half of the nitrogen and phosphorus, that is damaging the reef is being washed down from the watersheds in Honduras. Dr. Dodson moved to Honduras (see the previous newsletter cited above) eleven years ago. When he arrived he the fish was plentiful on the reef, but there has been a substantial decline since.
Deforestation, with forest burning. Photo by Tiiu Miller 2009.
So by introducing Inga alley cropping to this region there will be far reaching benefits. The farmers will make a better living, forest will no longer need to be cut and burned, and the erosion that is damaging the water supplies from the rivers and smothering the coral reef will be much reduced, with the added benefits of improved fishing and tourism.
The successful implementation of the Inga in the FunaVid region would serve as a model for many other areas. Failure to curb slash and burn farming will have devastating consequences for all concerned, eventually including ourselves. Much carbon is stored in tropical forests, and they affect the world's climate and supplies of fresh water. For a good account of their importance in this latter respect see the excellent Ecologist article by Peter Bunyard. Forget trees and carbon: trees and rain is the real problem (4).
Deforestation accounts for about 20% of the carbon being released into the atmosphere. We hear a great deal about forest destruction by logging or cattle ranching or large-scale soya cultivation, and much less about slash and burn. Yet about two fifths of the destruction of tropical forests the world over is due to the latter, accounting for a total of about 8% of total carbon being released. It is the biggest single cause of deforestation. Perhaps people don't want to be seen to be against the poor who have no other means of making a living, and it would surely be impossible to stop hundreds of millions of desperate people from eking out a living by that means - unless we can give them an alternative! Surely in this world of potential climate disaster, increasing population and concern over food supplies there can be no more important a project.
Inga alleys growing successfully on the mountain side. Note the mulch from previous prunings of the Inga which is forming a permanent ground cover, thus preventing erosion. (Photo by Tiiu Miller 2009.
We are supporting the detailed, well-designed project of FunaVid and CURLA . For more about it, see again the previous article ‘From mountain top farmers to coral reefs: our Inga alley cropping project'. It encompasses all the benefits described above: better living for the farmers, the saving of the forest and the improvement of the reef.
Below is the chart of where our fund raising is at this moment. Please, make a donation to-day of whatever you can afford. As you can see the immediate need is not so very great, so every little makes a noticeable difference. And many, many thanks to all of you who have already contributed.
Out of date chart no longer published.
References: Sources and further reading
1. The Stern Review. We recommend Ch. 25 for further reading.
2. Lauretta Burke and Zachary Sugg 2006 Hydrologic Modeling of Watersheds Discharging Adjacent to the Mesoamerican Reef
3. A. E. Lugo and M. Parsons Honduras Assessment report
4.Peter Bunyard 2009 Forget trees and carbon: trees and rain is the real problem
5. Mesoamerican ref.