No. 97 Honduras: how Inga is coping with drought.
By Sally Marullo | Ultimas Noticias No. 97 October - November 2019

By Sally Marullo

 

While the world’s media has focused on this summer’s horrific rainforest fires in Amazonia, people living in much of the developing world face the dire direct effects of changing weather patterns on a daily basis. For example, serious drought hit Honduras this summer which burnt crops and disrupted planting schedules in projects supported by Rainforest Saver. In these conditions, farmers have to be constantly vigilant, creative and resilient in order to confront the worse effects of climate change. Inga alley cropping provides some protection against droughts caused/aggravated by climate change. Once the mulch from the Inga has built up it holds moisture enabling crops planted in the alleys to grow after the rain ends when other crops fail. 

 

In previous newsletters we reported on our work in Honduras with Dr Dodson of FunaVid, and with Dr Guillermo Valle, of CURLA (Centro Universitario Regional del Litoral Atlantico) which provide education in sustainable farming (including Inga alley cropping) to rural high school students and demonstrate the technique to local farmers. Guillermo has recently made a start on monitoring crop yields systematically, essential if Rainforest Saver is to show that Inga alley cropping produces – hopefully – higher crop yields, and can use this evidence to convince larger donors to support our work. (We are also initiating a monitoring programme in Cameroon, as well).

 

Progress in El Pital 

A smaller but key project we support in Honduras is headed by our colleague Marco, who has been introducing a number of rural farmers to the Inga technology. Unlike Inga alley cultivation in other locations, these farmers tend lands on steep slopes (of the Cangrejal river valley, flowing out near the port city of La Ceiba). Farmers plant out on larger plots, with wooden frames used to ensure Inga is planted in rows which follow hill contours, in order to reduce erosion. 

 

Marco engaged with our first associate farmer, Alejandrino Perez, in January 2012 to establish a demonstration plot in the village of El Pital. It is worth bearing in mind that it takes at least three years to nurture an Inga tree to maturity so results are not instantaneous nor is progress even. To date six Inga demonstration plots are installed and up and running. (Two plots fell by the wayside; one due to poor soil, and the other due to lack of interest by a new owner who took over the original plot.) Initial Inga seed plantings typically number in the hundreds and some maturing plots have, over a period, grown well over a thousand Inga seedlings altogether. The newest Inga plot initiated in September 2019 plans to plant out 1,000 seedlings from the outset. 

 

Due to lack of rains in August and September, the usual rainy season, together with an 

Macintosh HD:Users:tiiuimbimiller:Inga Project:Website_Newsletter:October 2019:scorched_Inga_leavelWeb.jpgInga leaves suffering from the heat and lack of rain. Photo Marco 2019, Honduras.

intense heat, farmers held back on planting both Inga seedlings destined for plots forming part of our project, as well as crops to be sown in the alleys between the Inga trees. This prevented the loss of the whole crop.

 

The final arrival of the rains, in late September, has allowed fully developed seedlings to be transplanted into newly established plots, and bean seeds to be sown between Inga trees on mature plots. 

 

In summary, establishing Inga alley plots is a highly labour intensive and lengthy process. It involves growing the seedlings, digging the holes and planting them out, and then weeding round the base of each tree to help it thrive. If weeding is neglected, then the plot is not as good. However, once the trees have grown, they close their canopies across the alleys and lack of light kills the weeds. This saves the farmer a lot of time, making the maintenance of an established Inga plot much less work than farming without it. Pruning is done annually and is not particularly onerous, especially compared to clearing fresh forest to get fertile land. It takes between 18 months and 3 years for the Inga to be ready for pruning, depending on initial soil fertility, rain, sun, and how well the trees were weeding to begin with. 

 

Where possible during pruning, wood from the more mature stems can be used as firewood. (Clearing land to garner firewood is a major reason for rainforest destruction in the Honduras region.) 

Macintosh HD:Users:tiiuimbimiller:Inga Project:Website_Newsletter:October 2019:pruned_plotWeb.jpg

A recently pruned Inga plot. Note all the leaves left on the ground to rot down to a fertile mulch, as well as protecting the soil from erosion. Photo Marco 2019, Honduras.

 

 

So the hard work comes in the first year. As plots last for many years, there is a considerable saving of time which is why we recommend that farmers build up Inga plots over several years. 

 

Sometimes troubleshooting tasks must be done. For example, on one plot in El Pital a new barbed wire fence had to be installed as a previous fence breach resulted in cattle trampling and eating crops on the plot. 

 

Macintosh HD:Users:tiiuimbimiller:Inga Project:Website_Newsletter:October 2019:AlejandrinoWeb.jpg

Alejandrino Perez with fence to keep cattle out of the Inga plot.  Photo Marco 2019, Honduras.

 

Rainforest Saver pays farmers to maintain the plots regularly, under Marco’s keen eye, with the eventual aim of self-sufficiency once the Inga plots mature and food crop yields increase. 

 

Some success was reported. Despite the drought, the plot maintenance programme around El Pital went ahead as planned, and plantations are doing well with the Inga plants proving far more resilient in water shortage conditions than predicted. Also three or four more farmers are eager to join the Inga scheme and this will largely depend on raising funds for that to happen. This brings me onto  ….

 

 

Christmas raffle

I would like to remind members and supporters that we shall again be holding our Christmas raffle, between mid November and New Year 2020. We have an interesting array of prizes. So I hope you will get selling. Since people are becoming more aware of climate change and environmental destruction, we really are pushing at an open door. And it is an important opportunity for us to explain how Rainforest Saver works – directly supporting farmers and their families on the ground. The main focus of this year’s fundraising is supplying farm tools and other forms of support to Cameroon farmers for whom we have no dedicated or regular funding and, thus, rely heavily on your generosity.

 

 

If you would like to contact the authors of any of the articles please click reply, indicating whether it is for publication or not.  We will be happy to publish your letter and/or forward it to the author, whichever you request. We hope to bring you a monthly or bimonthly newsletter with articles of interest on topics relevant not only to Inga alley cropping, but also some of more general interest, particularly articles relevant to  rainforests, agroforestry and sustainable farming in general.    

 

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