The Ecuadorian Amazon project was launched in 2016. Dr Guillermo Valle from Honduras, who has been working with Inga alley cropping for many years, was contacted to conduct a training. Nicola Peel, who has worked in the area since 2000, connected the project with a local agricultural college Colegio Juan Jimenez. A nursery was built which grew 4000 seedlings and the first training of farmers was conducted.
Nursery being demonstrated.
Training by Dr. Guillermo Valle
Now in 2022 there are over 50 farmers working with established plots. They are the first in the Ecuadorian Amazon to show how this incredible technique can regenerate old infertile cattle fields and prevent further deforestation. We have been conducting comparison tests inside and outside of the alleys and been having remarkable results. We have shown a huge increase in yield of whatever is grown between the alleys (e.g. corn, beans, cucumber, rice, cacao, coffee) and discovered that pineapples are juicier and fruit 2 or 3 times compared to the normal single fruiting, yuca or cassava root (the staple food) is softer and cooks quicker and timber trees also grow quicker and straighter.
Could Inga Save Chocolate ?
The above cocoa plants are the same age. The young plant on the left is grown outside of the Inga alley is smaller and has yet to flower. The image on the right is healthy and is producing fruit.
Cacao comes from the shady forest but now due to demand it is grown as a monoculture. Fungal pod rot is a major issue. When farmers can no longer afford chemical fungicides they abandon their plantations. We accidentally discovered that some of our farmers who grow cacao (chocolate) right next to their Inga alleys were not experiencing pod rot. They also noted the trees were greener, healthier and flowered earlier.
We contacted Reading University who has a cacao research department and they were keen to study our findings. Is this just a coincidence or can this system of agroforestry help with this critical situation?
Not only are we interested in studying the effects on cacao but also the changes in soil: the improvement in soil biodiversity, the nutrient values, the use of biochar from the pollarded wood and carbon sequestration. Reading are about to send a student to complete a masters on the project and are currently looking for a Phd student (2022).
The pollarding produces a lot of wood which can be used for biochar in Ecuador where there is cheap gas for cooking. Otherwise it is for the cook stove.
As our findings come in more people are learning and starting to put in alleys. We have expanded into the next province and are looking at partnering with some local organisations who are keen to get involved.
So much of the Amazon has already been cut down and turned into grazing land. The top soil gets washed away, the cattle compact the land and it is no longer possible to grow food. We are showing that this system of Inga alley cropping can regenerate the soil so farmers can once again grow nutritious food without the need for agrochemicals whilst at the same time sequestering carbon and therefore assisting with climate change.