Our Ecuadorian Amazon project was launched in 2016. To begin with a nursery was built which grew 4000 seedlings and the first training of farmers was conducted. This was set up with the help of Dr Guillermo Valle from Honduras, who has deep experience working with Inga alley cropping. Nicola Peel, who has worked in the area since 2000, connected the project with a local agricultural college Colegio Juan Jimenez.
Nursery being demonstrated.
Training by Dr. Guillermo Valle
There are now over 50 farmers working with established plots. These are the first farmers 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 seeing remarkable results. We have shown a huge increase in yield from a wide variety of crops grow in the alleys, including corn, beans, cucumber, rice, cacao and coffee. Pineapples fruit 2 or 3 times per year as opposed to a single fruiting and the fruit tastes better, too! Yuca or cassava root (the staple food) is softer and cooks quicker. Timber trees grow quicker and straighter.
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.
Could Inga Save Chocolate?
Cacao comes from the shady forest. 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 tend to 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? We will share more findings when we have them.
We are also interested the changes in soil within the Inga alleys, particularly the improvement in soil biodiversity and nutrient values. We are also interested in the use of biochar from the pollarded wood and its potential for carbon sequestration. Reading University have sent a student to complete a masters on the project and are currently looking for a Phd student to study this further.
The pollarding produces wood which can be used for biochar in Ecuador where there is cheap gas for cooking
As our findings come in more people are learning and starting to put in alleys. We have expanded into a second province and are looking at partnering with more 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 further forest destruction or agrochemicals.