What It's All About

There are many threats to the world's remaining rainforests, for example: logging, cattle ranching, palm oil and soybean cultivation, mining and dams.  Our focus is on one major threat, the practice of slash and burn farming by small farmers.  It is very destructive because the soil loses its fertility in as little as a year or two. The farmer then needs to cut down and burn more rainforest to get new fertile land.  This produces large emissions of CO2, destroys biodiversity and can reduce rainfall. Also after slash and burn farming there is little chance of regeneration of a plot of land. The tree seeds are lost, most nutrients have been washed out of the soil, and tough invasive grasses take over.

Sometimes the farmers migrate to the city slums in the hope of being able to find work and feed their families. However, there is rarely enough work for them there.

 

This landscape in Honduras was once forest, but has been turned to desert by repeated slash and burn farming. Photo by Trees for the Future, https://trees.org.

This problem has not had a lot of attention, maybe because there was little that could be done about it. You could not tell farmers to just stop doing it and starve.  Also, other large scale destructive projects like huge palm oil plantations are more noticeable, and have been steadily increasing in importance.

 

But slash and burn farming is practiced by probably over 200 million farmers worldwide, and recent research (https://news.mongabay.com/2018/09/whats-causing-deforestation-new-study-reveals-global-drivers/)) suggests that this shifting agriculture accounts for 24% of forest loss worldwide, and is by far the biggest cause in Africa. Even if the destruction is slower than from the creation of a large palm oil plantations it will eventually destroy the remaining rainforests if nothing is done about it. We are therefore very happy to say there is a solution: Inga alley cropping.

With this method farmers can cultivate the same plot year after year and the destruction is halted. It also gives good crop yields and so helps to raise poor farming families out of poverty. 

Smoke of burning forest

Burning forest. Photo by FUPNAPIB Honduras2006

The Solution: Inga Alley Cropping

Inga alley cropping is a sustainable alternative form of farming, suited to the acid degraded rainforest, or former rainforest, soils. It is a system based on two decades of laboratory research and field trials by farmers (see www.rainforestsaver.org/research). The farmers can cultivate the same plot year after year after year without the need for expensive chemical inputs such as weed killer or fertilizer. At most they may need a little inexpensive rock phosphate to start off with.

Inga alleys

Inga Alleys. Photo by FUPNAPIB, Honduras 2006

Alley cropping involves growing crops between rows of trees. It has been widely used in Africa but until recently it didn't work in Central and South America. Certain native species of Inga have now been found to be very suitable for alley cropping.  This system has been found to be effective not only in maintaining the soil fertility of a plot, but in restoring fertility to previously degraded and unusable land.

Showing the Inga seed is ripe

Honduran farmers Oscar and Victor showing the Inga seed is ripe. Photo by Antony Melville 2007

Inga alley cropping is a win-win solution all round. It helps just about everyone involved: sustainable long term use of the plot, regeneration of degraded land, better lives for the farmers, a manageable workload, no more exposure to debt and the possibility of growing both food for the family and cash crops. No more rainforest needs to be cut down.

Crops grown with and without Inga

Crops growing well with Inga in the background, few struggling maize plants without Inga in the foreground. Photo by Antony Melville 2007

We are truly excited by this prospect. Here on the website you will find a wealth of information about the technique, how and why it works, how to do it and how to explain it to farmers. There are many ways you can get involved. The research has been done, but this new and exciting discovery is not yet well known throughout the region. Hence our purpose at Rainforest Saver Foundation. We aim to spread the idea far and wide for the benefit for all, and provide support for people wanting to implement it.

Pineapples.in Inga alley

Pineapples growing in Inga alley. Photo by FUPNAPIB Honduras 2006

Young maize growing in a weed free Inga alley, Cameroon. Photo by Gaston Bityo, 2012

 

 

A few thousand Inga seedlings growing in a communal village nursery in Cameroon, protected by palm leaf shade. Photo by Linus Arong 2019.