Honduras and Kenya Projects
Educating the Next Generation to Farm Sustainably
Subsistence farmers farm on these very steep hillsides
Honduras is one of the poorest countries of Central America. Child malnutrition is common. 82% of Honduras is mountainous. It has been estimated that 300,000 families live on the slopes, nearly all subsisting in severe poverty using slash and burn farming. This destroys the rainforests, and can ultimately lead to desertification as the tropical rains wash away any fertile topsoil.
Above left is the end result of repeated slash and burn. Photo by Trees for the Future. Above right is a fertile field of Inga alley cropping. Photo by FUPNAPIB.
Dr. Guillermo Valle is teaching the technique of inga alley cropping in high schools. This tried and tested method provides the farmers with a sustainable livelihood without the need to keep destroying more rainforest. It reduces erosion substantially.
Disseminating this sustainable approach throughout the small farms on the steep slopes of Honduras can prevent the destruction of the remaining rainforest. It also helps to prevent erosion, where the soil is washed away into the sea, leaving the land infertile and the coral reef seriously damaged by the sediment. Preventing erosion is vital for farming. In addition both fishing and tourism depend on the coral reef.
View of coral reef from the FunaVid mountain, N. coast of Honduras. The reef is at risk of damage from sediment washed down from slash and burn farming in the mountains. Photo by Tiiu Miller.
Orange coloured river meandering across Honduras. Photo by Tiiu Miller.
The sediment brought down by the rivers after slash and burn turns the rivers orange. In addition to damaging the coral reef, the sediment is also damaging to the rivers. Sediment settles, making the river shallow and liable to flooding. It ceases to be a healthy environment for fish.
The river on the left is silted up with sediment washed down from deforested mountains, while the mountains behind the river on the right are still forested. Photos taken near FunaVid, Honduras by Tiiu Miller.
On the left it is easy to see that rain on the bare cleared slopes would wash the soil away. On the right is a row of Inga planted along the contours. It provides a permanent cover on the soil and greatly reduces erosion. Photo by Tiiu Miller.
It is important to recognize that subsistence farmers rely on slash and burn farming to make a living. Instead of solely asking them to stop, it is crucial to provide them with alternative methods. Inga alley farming is one such alternative, but it may be unfamiliar to farmers accustomed to traditional techniques. To introduce this method effectively, the project focuses on educating high school students from rural schools whose parents engage in slash and burn farming. By educating the youth, they will be more open to new ideas and will be able to share what they have learned with their parents. Additionally, the parents are also encouraged to visit the school and learn about Inga alley farming, with assistance provided to those who are willing to adopt the method.
Dr. Valle and his team at CURLA began by delivering a comprehensive curriculum of sustainable farming to students from two local schools. The curriculum covered a range of topics, including Inga alley farming, soil properties, plant growth, pest and disease control, river basin management, agroforestry with cattle, leadership and more. The goal is now to expand this program throughout Honduras by training teachers, rather than teaching the students directly. The initial group of teachers from six local schools have already been trained, with positive feedback and suggestions from them. However, as there have been changes in staff at these schools, it is now necessary to provide additional training to new teachers.
Dr. Valle teaching a class on Inga at FunaVid. Photo by Dr. M. Dodson.
A rough location map. Honduras is coloured/outlined in red and the mountainous area is roughly coloured in as brown on the second map.
The project was initially located along the N. coast of Honduras. The first 6 schools where Inga plots have been established are all near the N. coast. It is now being expanded further. 12 of the 18 departments of Honduras have rural high schools with a government-sponsored program of tutorial teaching. This program aims to include these schools. They are divided into 47 groups of 4 to 6 schools, with an average of 15 teachers per group. Obviously only a small proportion of these can be covered in any one year.
Training a group of teachers from schools in Esparta, Atlantida 2013.
Map of the schools. The 6 schools in the blue circle have all had Inga plots established. Some teaching has been done with the ones in green, but not yet with the ones in Western Honduras.
The implementation of this project has faced some disruptions. Following the establishment of Inga plots and training for teachers and students at the first 6 schools, the team, led by Dr. Valle, had planned to expand the program by training teachers at additional schools, specifically those marked in green on the map. However, this expansion was hindered by severe drought in western Honduras, which resulted in school closures and required emergency food aid from the government. It is worth noting that the Inga alley farming system has the potential to provide increased resistance to drought through the retention of water in the mulch, which can support crop growth in adverse conditions.
Additionally, there were difficulties in securing a qualified assistant for Dr. Valle, but we were able to temporarily secure the services of Ronald Ramos in 2019. During his tenure, Dr. Valle and Mr. Ramos visited 3 of the 6 schools to assess their needs. Some schools had already been growing vegetables in their Inga plots, while others had experienced damage to their plots, and in one instance, the Inga plots had been accidentally cut down. Despite these setbacks, all schools remained committed to the project. The team provided seedlings for replanting and distributed them to the schools, however additional seedlings are needed to replace those that were lost.
In October 2019, we were pleased to welcome Hector Tavalera to the team. Dr. Valle had made significant progress in making necessary contacts for further expansion of the program in Western Honduras, as well as continuing the training of teachers in the Atlantida region. However, the project experienced a delay due to the outbreak of coronavirus and the subsequent implementation of severe restrictions in Honduras. We will continue to monitor the situation and resume activities as soon as possible when schools re-open, and restrictions are lifted.
Dr. Valle of CURLA teaching Honduran agricultural students about Inga alley cropping within an Inga alley on the FunaVid mountain. Photo by Tiiu Miller 2009.
Follow up visit to Aguacate Linea school, Photo Ronald Ramos 2019
Inga seedlings to restock the schools. Photo Ronald Ramos, 2019
Experimental row of maize. Four varieties were planted at 20 day intervals to prevent cross pollination. Photo Dr. Valle 2019.
Dr. Valle is also engaged in research into possible alternative trees that might be used like the Inga, and experiments on finding the varieties of crops that do best under the new conditions of climate change.
Cangrejal River Valley
We are currently conducting a project in the Cangrejal River valley in northern Honduras. The terrain in this area is characterized by steep and heavily degraded slopes. To date, the implementation of Inga alley farming on these slopes has yielded uncharacteristically suboptimal results. Our team is actively working to identify the underlying issues and develop appropriate solutions. This is of particular importance as mountainous regions, such as much of Honduras, may encounter similar challenges, making it essential to address and understand these issues for the success of similar projects both within Honduras and in other regions.
Pastor Nsandah Premous Forzong, who had been trained in the Inga alley cropping technique in Cameroon, subsequently moved to Kenya and initiated efforts to establish an Inga alley cropping project in partnership with the Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI) and the Kenya Institute of Organic Farming (KIOF). He has successfully established projects in Maseno county, where he has worked with 10 farmers, and in Kakamega, where he has worked with an additional 5 farmers, to establish Inga plots. Additionally, he has taken advantage of his studies in organic farming at KIOF to educate others on the Inga system.
Happy farmers at Kakamega receiving their first Inga seedlings
Inga growing well at Maseno