Working in the world’s rainforests to eliminate ‘slash and burn’ agriculture.
Inga Foundation is pioneering a revolutionary agricultural system aimed at subsistence farmers in the humid tropics, offering a sustainable alternative to slash-and-burn. Our mission is to turn the tide of unsustainable rainforest destruction, addressing one of the world’s massive environmental problems and the food-insecurity that is its principal cause.
The environmental and social problem
Inga Foundation is dedicated to extending a new system of agroforestry which depends upon the soil-restorative qualities of fast-growing, nitrogen-fixing trees from the Amazon basin. The system has emerged from many years’ research, development and trial which was begun in the mid 1980’s by colleagues in the University of Cambridge, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and others in the region. Those same colleagues have now constituted Inga Foundation to extend and promote the ground-breaking discoveries of those R&D phases.
Slash-and-burn subsistence agriculture has fed millions of families over past centuries: today it maintains their descendents in poverty and its widespread failure is an underlying cause of rural-urban migration in the tropics. The consumptive process by which forest cover is converted to invasive grassland, over vast swathes of former tropical forest, is estimated to be contributing around 2 billion tonnes of carbon annually to the atmosphere; more than all global transport combined. Neither this process, nor the families’ attempts to feed themselves, is sustainable today
Our solution to the problem…
Inga Alley-cropping is a system of mulching using pruned green leaves from the trees which are contour-planted in hedgerows. It has proved itself capable of achieving food-security in basic-grains for the family, upon one permanent plot near their dwelling. It produces firewood for the kitchen and it virtually eliminates the need for weed-control. Additional plots enable the whole family to be involved in their own cash-crop economy, located for the first time on their own doorstep.
The system is not a ‘quick fix’ to such a deep-rooted problem; it requires effort from the family and their patience while the developing Inga trees gain dominance over the weed-infested site. The process can take over 2 years. Once it achieves site-recapture, the system requires minimal inputs of soil supplements or labour to maintain it.
We now have many case histories of farmers taking their first maize crops for many years from plots declared by them to have been “sterile” before recapture by the Inga trees. Food security in basic grains is the indispensible pre-condition for a complete and sustainable rural livelihood. Many cash-crop cultivars have been trialled successfully in the Inga Alley system. Once the inexorable and debilitating pressure of slash-and-burn has been removed from the equation, degraded land, which would have been slash/burned every 2nd or 3rd year, can now be restored to permanent tree-cover. Some combination of fruit and timber trees is likely to be the family’s choice.
These proven components integrate to provide the family with a soundly-based, productive, sustainable and debt-free rural livelihood.
The Guama Model
Assuming the average holding area of about 8 hectares of degraded hillslope land (in Honduras), then 2 hectares of contour-planted Inga Alleys for basic grains and cash-crops together with perhaps 1 hectare of low-input fruit trees will liberate 5 hectares for timber trees planted amidst a matrix of Inga “nurse” trees. This will take the family’s carbon budget from a 9-tonne deficit to increasing Carbon-sequestration within 4 years; to 40 tonnes, and rising fast, at the 10-year stage.
The steady reforestation of the entire landscape will have begun.