There are many threats to the world's remaining rainforests, for example: logging, cattle ranching, palm oil and soybean cultivation. Our focus is on one major threat, the practice of slash and burn farming. There used to be little that could be done about that, but now there is a solution. We are really excited about this, and hope you will be too when you have read about it.
At present at least 200 million of the world's poorest farmers are forced to eke out a living on some of the world's poorest soils by slashing and then burning tropical rainforests.
This form of farming is very destructive because farmers cannot cultivate the same plot of land long term. The soil loses its fertility in one to four years. The farmer then needs to cut down and burn more rainforest to get new fertile land. This produces large emissions of CO2, which some estimates have put as high as 8% of global emissions.
If farmers can cultivate the same plot year after year then this cycle of destruction is halted. Burning primary rainforests is replaced with farms that remain in place year after year. It helps to raise poor farming families out of poverty, without destroying more rainforest. Moreover, agroforestry systems are also generally carbon sinks.
Burning forest. Photo by FUPNAPIB Honduras2006
Farmers can usually sustain themselves for between two and four years on the same patch of soil. So they have to keep seeking new plots, further and further from their homes. They are then faced with either a daily walk of several miles to their new patch or uprooting their families and moving their home closer to it. Not only is this devastating the worlds remaining tropical forests but it is also forcing many farmers to abandon the land, and migrate to city slums in the hope of feeding their families. 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. But there is a solution: Inga alley cropping.
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, field trials and practice by farmers. 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. 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.
Honduran farmers Oscar and Victor showing the Inga seed is ripe. Photo by Antony Melville 2007
This amazing solution helps just about everyone involved: sustainable farming, regeneration of degraded land, better lives for the farmers, a manageable workload, no more exposure to debt and the possibility of growing cash crops. No more rainforest needs to be cut down.
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 growing in Inga alley. Photo by FUPNAPIB Honduras 2006