82% of Honduras is mountainous. It has been estimated that 300,000 families live on the slopes, nearly all in severe poverty, subsisting by slash and burn farming. This destroys the rainforests, and can ultimately lead to desertification as the tropical rains wash away any fertile topsoil. The farmers remain poor. Honduras is one of the poorest countries of Central America. Child malnutrition is common.
Dr. Guillermo Valle is promoting inga alley cropping as a tried and tested alternative through teaching in high schools. This provides the farmers with a better sustainable livelihood without the need to keep destroying more rainforest. It reduces erosion substantially. Unless such a sustainable approach is disseminated throughout the small farms on the steep slopes of Honduras slash and burn farming will destroy any remaining rainforest. Then the soil will be washed away into the sea, leaving the land infertile and the coral reef seriously damaged by the washed down sediment. The farmers cannot grow crops to feed their families without the soil. Both fishing and tourism depend on the coral reef. Then how will the people live?
Besides damaging the coral reef the sediment is also damaging the rivers. It settles and makes the river shallow and liable to flooding and no longer a healthy environment for fish. The sediment brought down by the rivers after slash and burn turns the rivers orange.
We cannot tell these subsistence farmers to just stop slash and burn farming. They have no other way to make a living. They need to be provided with an alternative. Inga alley farming is such an alternative, but it is a very different way of farming from anything that they know. The young are more willing to accept and adopt new ideas. Also adult farmers have all sorts of other responsibilities and so are harder to gather together to be taught a new farming method. So this project concentrates on teaching this new method to high school students. These are from rural schools, where the students’ parents are the slash and burn farmers, and the parents are encouraged to come to the school and see this new farming method for themselves. They will be helped to adopt it if they are willing.
Initially Dr. Valle and his colleagues from CURLA were teaching a comprehensive curriculum of sustainable farming to students from 2 local schools. Besides Inga alley farming this included topics like properties of soil, plant growth, propagation, pests and diseases, river basin management, agroforestry with cattle, leadership, and more. We now are rolling out as much of this program as possible over much of Honduras, but instead of teaching the students directly the teachers are being taught. The first group of teachers from six local schools have already been taught, with considerable interest and suggestions from them. However, as time has passed and some teachers have left and new ones have come it is necessary to do more teaching even at these schools.
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. But it is being expanded much 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.
There has been some disruption to this project. After the first 6 schools were established with Inga plots and some training for the teachers and students Dr. Valle proceeded with teaching a group of teachers from the schools marked in green on the map. He also contacted schools in Western Honduras and was set to go there, but severe drought prevented that. The schools were closed and the government had to provide emergency food aid to the region. Very sad, when one considers that had the Inga system been there it would have provided some resistance to drought, as the mulch holds the water and can make it possible for crops to grow in conditions where other farming no longer works.
Subsequently there were difficulties with getting a suitable assistant for Dr. Valle, but earlier in 2019 for a short time we had Ronald Ramos. He was very well qualified and he and Dr. Valle made visits to 3 of the 6 schools, and he assessed the needs of all of them.
Some had been growing vegetables in their Inga plots, but the Inga in some others had been damaged, with one school’s Inga having been inadvertently cut down altogether. But all were eager to continue with the project. Inga seedlings were planted and some were distributed to them to replace those that were lost, but more are needed.
In October 2019 we welcomed Hector Tavalera to the team. Dr. Valle was getting on well with making the necessary contacts to visit Western Honduras, as well as for continuing to train more teachers in the Atlantida region. All was set to go – and then the coronavirus struck. Like other countries Honduras has severe restrictions, and we have to wait till these are lifted and the schools re-open to be able to proceed.
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.
Pastor Nsandah Premous Forzong was trained in Inga alley cropping in Cameroon but moved to Kenya and promptly set out to find an Inga edulis tree and start an Inga alley cropping project. He has done that in association with KEFRI (Kenya Forestry Research Institute) and KIOF (Kenya Institute of Organic Farming), where he studied organic farming and also taught about the Inga system. In association with KEFRI he has started 10 farmers in Maseno county, and another 5 in Kakamega with Inga plots.
Happy farmers at Kakamega receiving their first Inga seedlings
Inga growing well at Maseno