Rainforest Saver SCIO, SC 050373
Slash and burn farming destroys the rainforest. Yet the farmers remain on the poverty line, generally just about able to eek out a living with staple crops. They have little chance of growing good cash crops to earn money. Child malnutrition is common.
Read on to learn how farmers can benefit by adopting Inga alley cropping.
All a farmer needs is Inga seeds and a little knowledge how to work the Inga system. Farmers already have good knowledge of plants, so learning the Inga system is easy. They need to learn how far apart to plant the Inga trees; when to cut them; how to cover the ground with the cuttings, etc.
Unlike many agribusiness ‘solutions’ that require expensive pesticides to control weeds; fertiliser to enhance and replace soil nutrients; and machines to harvest crops – Inga alley cropping relies only on basic farming ability.
The only additional input that may be required is an initial application of inexpensive rock phosphate. (In all our work in Cameroon and Ecuador we have not used even that and have many farmers using the Inga system very successfully.)
The farmer gets total independence from large corporations or unscrupulous moneylenders.
Usually the land close to a farmer’s home has been over used so that it can no longer be cultivated. Inga can re-fertilise degraded land so that the farmer can again cultivate land close to his home. This has many benefits.
Many of the world’s tropical forests are lawless frontiers. Possession is the law, with evidence of land cultivation is taken as evidence of ownership. The problem with many slash and burn plots is that the farmers don’t live anywhere near the plots they are tending, making ownership of those plots virtually impossible to prove. Not only is it easier to lay claim to a plot outside their own back door, but also when a farmer can point to a neat row of Inga trees it is hard to dispute that they planted these and thus have a legitimate claim on the land.
Crop security is of primary concern for a farmer needing to feed his family. Theft of his ripening food crop can be a real issue. Inga alley cropping means that the farmer and his family can watch over their crop as it’s outside their door. This becomes even more important for valuable cash crops (essential to breaking the cycle of poverty). These can not generally be grown in plots that are far from the farmer’s home. But they can now be grown with Inga alley cropping.
For many of these farmers their priority is providing enough food for their families. However, a 1-hectare Inga plot could provide more than enough food for a family of 8, with spare capacity to grow a few cash crops such as vanilla or peppers.
For example Victor Coronado, one of the first farmers to adopt the Inga alley cropping system in Honduras, left his wife to the running of the pepper crop. After harvesting and grinding, she mixed it with cumin (a local custom) and sold it in the town square. ‘She has made $900 for the family selling pepper,’ Coronado beamed. For these farmers this is a substantial sum, perhaps the equivalent of a couple of months wages.
As Inga alley cropping mimics the natural rainforest ecosystem, the soil is protected and nurtured by the cyclical pruning of the Inga trees. With Inga, no chemical inputs are required. Not only does this eliminate a financial burden on the farmer but also it means his family and the ecosystem is not exposed to highly toxic chemicals.
Further down the line, should the farmer wish to sell any of his produce on the open market – possibly through a Fairtrade co-operative – he should get a premium for organically grown produce.
For many slash and burn farmers it’s a long and lonely trek from their home to their plot, with the added burden of having to walk home burdened with wood for fuel and/or harvested crops. Living next to his crop, the farmer can get help from his family when it comes to tending the plants, harvesting and guarding the crops and collecting fuel.
Not only are the Inga trees an essential part of protecting and feeding the crops, they are an invaluable (and sustainable) supply of firewood. According to one Inga farmer, he was getting the equivalent of three month’s fuel for the kitchen stove from his 1/10th hectare plot. Bigger plots can provide all the family’s needs, plus a surplus to sell.
According to the farmers we have worked with, once Inga alley cropping is set up, it requires less time and effort to maintain than slash-and-burn farming. From the second year of harvesting onwards, farmers estimate they save over 40 days work a year on a one hectare plot. This is largely because there are no more weeds to deal with.
Slash and burn farmers have large families as a form of insurance. All the family work together to put food on the table, whether that’s on the land or for an industrial plantation company, etc. Evidence suggests that greater food and land security enables them to make choices. The can choose to have smaller families if they desire. On the other hand if they want to have a larger family, getting better crops will obviously help them to feed everyone well.
The farmers themselves also need forest products, such as fruit, medicine, and wood. The forest also maintains local rainfall, clean streams, and reduces floods, all of which are obviously important for the farmers.