No.64 Inga Alley Cropping and Permaculture
By Antony Melville | Newsletter No. 64 September 2015

I recently attended the International Permaculture Conference and Convergence, The 2-day Conference was in Central London at Friends House in the Euston Road.  The Convergence followed on with 5 days of events, all under canvas at the Scout headquarters, Gilwell Park, on the North East edge of London at Chingford. I was very pleased to have my offer of a talk on Inga accepted as a workshop at the Convergence, and all the more so to have 30 people attend it on the 4th day of the event, when I expected people to be suffering information overload.

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Camp site of Permaculture Convergence.

 

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RFS stall in the “market place”

 

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Cameroon presentation; Joshua Konkankoh (from Better World Cameroon) on the left, Kevin Mascarenhas speaking. RFS  has introduced Inga alley cropping to Better World Cameroon.

Handover to Argentina (wearing the crown) who will host the International convergence in 2020 – after India in 2017.

 

Everything Rainforest Saver does accords with the central ethics of Permaculture: Earth care, People Care, Fair shares. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, Permaculture has been around since the mid 70s when two Australians in Tasmania worked out the key concepts – Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. They created a design system for enabling humans to live off the land while increasing rather than destroying fertility – working with nature to enhance natural energy flows, and facilitate the re-weaving of the web of life.  It  is a tool for combining traditional local knowledge with modern science.

 

This Convergence, with around 600 practitioners from 72 countries told a very strong story of just that: Permaculture has enabled thousands of farmers in countries like Vietnam, Cambodia, and East Timor, to rebuild their agriculture. It has also enabled them to recover some of their lost local knowledge and apply Permaculture principles to listen to the needs of their land rather than impose industrial farming. The results are most impressive.   Graham Bell’s Forest Garden on the Scottish border achieves yields of 10 tonnes per acre, and Christopher Nesbitt’s Food Forest in Belize – the Maya Mountain research farm (see below) produces a huge range of foods from what was degraded land, a former citrus farm in the rainforest in Belize – the Maya heartland.

 

The Maya Mountain Research Farm (www.mmrfbz.org ) includes an Inga alley plot, specifically to grow maize, as it is such a key crop in Mayan culture. The plot was planted and developed with advice from Mike Hands. It was exciting to hear how the farm has used the Inga system together with other “pioneer” species that do well in degraded soil and help to improve it, such as bananas.  

 

The third Permaculture Principle after “observe and interact” (i.e., study the land and work from its characteristics), is “obtain a yield”. The first yield for a farmer planting an Inga plot is the firewood obtained when the trees are pruned after 18 months or so; she must then wait another 4 or 5 months to get a food harvest. Christopher Nesbitt said “I planted Cassava between the rows of seedlings; there was plenty of time for a harvest before the trees shaded the site, and it helps to break up compacted soil.” 

 

There are probably many more tips we can bring from tropical Permaculture experience, to help farmers to whom we bring Inga.  I am keen to reach Permaculture teachers where we are working, to add Inga alley cropping to their tool box. I don’t know of any in Honduras, and in Cameroon I believe Joshua Konkankoh at Ndanifor eco-village is still the only one; but the day we get funding for Ecuador I will get in touch with the Permaculture network that exists in that country.