Additional cattle ranches and farms join our project

Rolman Velarde measuring out rows to plant Inga at the latest site to participate in our project, Las Palmas, close to Porbenir. We are working with the owner to rehabilitate 2 ha of abandoned agricultural land with the aim of producing one hectare of rubber and one of fruit trees. Image: Rolman Velarded, Herencia.

As highlighted in previous posts we are aiming to engage with cattle ranchers and non-subsistence farmers as well as rural communities. The reason for doing so is that these larger-scale enterprises arguably have just as big an impact on natural forest as small scale slash-and-burn farmers. In March we planted our first Inga trial to enrich degraded cattle pasture at San Antonio cattle ranch and this April we have planted 2 ha of Inga on abandoned land at the Las Palmas farm. We also have another interested rancher, Ruben Burgos, and look forwards to planting on his ranch as soon as we have sufficient seedlings to do so.  With respect to engagement we are using a different strategy with cattle ranchers and farmers than that which we developed to work with rural communities. Continue reading

One month after planting…

Our first agroforest plot at the Motacusal community a month after planting. On our follow-up visit we were pleasantly surprised to see that not a single of more than a 1000 sown had died. Image: Rolman Velarde, Herencia

It is now a month since sowing our first agroforest plot during the last days of February. A month later Rolman Velarde and Rodrigo Flores returned to assess how the seedlings were doing: how many had died, what evidence of pest damage there was and how they had grown. As you can see in the image above progress has been good. Whilst they may not have grown very quickly, none had died and only a few had suffered what looks like cricket damage despite most having aquired the protection of ants attracted to the nectary glands on their leaves. We were also reassured to see that ‘weeds’ have not grown up faster than anticipated which means that our plan to weed every two months should be effective. The wet-season is now starting to abate and in three months the driest time of year will test their establishment. Continue reading

Seminar at Kew by Mike Rowley: tropical tree converts atmospheric CO2 into mineralized carbonate

Calcium carbonate (limestone) deposits believed to originate from Brosimum alicastrum (Maya Nut) root-microbe interactions. If confirmed this would be the first tree that has been shown to do so.

At 3 pm on April 24 at the Royal Botanic Gardens, in the Jodrell Seminar Room, Mike Rowley, postgraduate student at Bournemouth University will be giving a seminar in which he proposes that the tropical tree Brosimum alicastrum could be one of the first tree species demonstrated to convert atmospheric CO2 into mineralized carbonate that is deposited in the soil. This could be an exciting discovery as such mineralized carbon in the form of carbonate remains stored inertly  for ca. x 1000 longer than organically sequestered carbon and so could represent a novel approach to carbon sequestration. Mike will present the evidence and mechanisms for this biomineralization to occur. The seminar will take place in the Jodrell Seminar Room at 3 pm. Entry is free but please contact Alex Monro via this post beforehand. See directions below:



Using Youtube to capture botanical expertise

Henk van der Werff, World expert in the laurel familiy, one of the most common and hardest to identify families of trees in the lowland tropics. He is surrounded by some of Kew’s best botanists keen for tips on how to identify this difficult group. Click for a clip of Henk introducing the family.

There are about 350,000 species of vascular plants, most of which are found in the Tropics. These are divided amongst about 500 families of varying sizes, from a single species to 35,000 species (orchids). Plants provide most of our food, clothes, building materials and are the source of most medicines. Ironically they are also the source of fossil fuels. The current changing climate and massive destruction of natural habitats makes our ability to manage and use this resource sustainably critical for the maintenance of our current lifestyles and quality of life. Key to this is the ability to document that diversity, for similar reasons to the need for a stock-check in a supermarket. One family of plants that many tropical botanists live in fear of identifying is the laurel (bay) family Lauraceae. Continue reading

Where do Brazil nuts come from?

Brazil nuts are the nutlets of a large canopy tree, Bertholletia exclesa found throughout much of the Amazon. These familiar seeds are all harvested from wild trees growing deep in the pristine forest and represent the major source of income for the communities who harvest them.

Brazil Nuts can be found in most supermarkets in Britain, in nut mixes, covered in chocolate, or as a traditional Christmas treat. Probably not so familiar is what kind of tree produces the nut or the extrordinary journey the nuts make before arriving in our supermarkets. Most of the Brazil Nuts in the UK are actually harvested in the Bolivian and not the Brazilian Amazon. The segment-lik nuts that we see are the seeds of a much larger and remarkable fruit produced by a towering canopy tree whose scientific name is Bertholettia excelsa. Continue reading

Seminar Announcement: Livelihood and conservation value of Maya Nut in Central America

The Millennium Seed Bank, Wakehurst Place, Sussez
The Seminar will be held in the Millennium Seed Bank Seminar Room. Directions to the Seed Bank can be found here:

On April 25 2014, at 11 am in the Millennium Seed Bank Seminar Room Wakehurst Place,  Erika Vohman of the Maya Nut Institute will give a seminar entitled ‘Livelihood and conservation value of Maya Nut (Brosimum alicastrum) in Central America’, Erika Vohman. Erika has been working with Brosimum alicastrum for over a decade and is founder of the US NGO, the May Nut Institute whose mission is to find a balance between people, food and forests by teaching rural communities about the value of Maya Nut for food, fodder, ecosystem services and income. Directions to the Seed Bank can be found by clicking on this link.

Brosimum alicastrum fruits, known as Maya Nuts in the US

Brosimum alicastrum is one of the most widespread and common species in evergreen and semi-evergreen tropical forests in Mexico and northern Central America. It is recognized as a famine food, fodder crop, timber and fuelwood. Also as a key species for reforestation in Central America. Examples of ongoing reforestation include the ‘Healthy Kids, Healthy Forests’ program in Guatemala and Nicaragua (150,000 trees respectively), the ‘Programa Reverdecer’ (Re-greening) in Guatemala (50,000 trees) and the Ecological Ranching Program in Guatemala (300,000 trees) and Restoration of Lake Peten-Itza Watershed (600 ha of trees planted).

In Honduras Maya Nut harvest can generate $650 per ha per annum compared to $326 for a combined maize and beans production system. Erika has been working with Alex Monro (The Natural History Museum / RBG Kew) on a Darwin Initiative funded project ‘Tools for the sustainable harvesting of Maya Nut (Mesoamerica) 18-010’ which finished in March 2014. Erika will talk about her work and in particular her strategy for market-driven community based conservation, improving women’s participation in conservation and Maya Nut restoration and reforestation in the Neotropics. Erika’s talk should last for 30-45 minutes.

Continue reading

Presentation to the Amazonian University of the Pando

DSC01693sm -edited
The audience at my presentation about our work with Inga and an overview of our

Forest Futures projectOn March 11 I gave a presentation to the Universidad Amazónica de Pando (UAP, Amazonian University of  Pando) about our work whose aim is to return degraded land to productivity using Inga agroforest. Also the broader aims of our Forest Futures project too. I was very fortunate in having a good audience and several good questions. We hope to collaborate with the University’s Agroforestry module and involve students in undertaking some of the research on the mpacts of Inga agroforest that we do not have the resources to undertake. In addition the University is keen to establish a demonstration plot, so a very rewarding morning!

Continue reading

Evaluating the use of transplanted wild seedlings

Seedlings of Inga edulis recently uprooted from a patch of secondary forest. Wild seedlings are important as they represent a broader genetic base than the domesticated form more widely available. Click on image for a clip of seedlings being dug up

There are several reasons why it might be necessary to use transplanted seedlings for the establishment of agroforest plots. The most obvious one is that it avoids the planning and serendipity of obtaining seed from trees whose fruiting time can be hard to predict and whose seeds cannot be stored, or where parrots and monkeys find the fruit first. Often if appropriate Inga species can be found nearby then the chances are there will be a bank of seedlings also. Fortunately there are few predators of the seeds so even when the fruit have been eaten, the seeds will normally make it to the forest floor where many will germinate. Continue reading

First cattle pasture plot planted

Undomesticated Inga edulis planted in cattle pasture. This will be the first time in South America that Inga has been planted as a means of restoring pasture productivity. Click on the image to see a clip of us working in pasture

Our aim is to develop Inga as a tool for restoring abandoned agricultral land to productivity. To date we have worked with rural communities to restore abandoned slash-and-burn sites. Following a chance meeting with a cattle rancher in October 2013 and another in March 2014 we now have two ranchers keen  to see whether planting Inga could increase pasture productivity and reduce pressure on natural forest. Because individual ranchers manage large areas of deforested landscape and are well-connected socially and politically, we can also leverage significant impact working with them. Because they are not subsistence farmers they can afford to take greater risks and be more experimental than subsistence farmers who risk going hungry if they try something new.  Continue reading

How to inoculate Inga seeds prior to planting

Inga edulis seeds freshly shelled from their pod. Inga  seeds are viviparous, that is they germinate directly without passing through a dormant or quiescent phase as in the case of most seeds

We are using Inga to restore soils to productivity because of its ability to grow rapidly in, and improve the fertility of compacted, acidic and nutrient poor soils.  This is depends on its ability to form an association with  Rhizobia bacteria in the soil which, in return for shelter and some sugar, convert nitrogen in the air to a form which promotes plant growth in the soil. This association takes the form of small nodules on the roots (see image below) which act as mega bacteria colonies. If our seedlings are to restore soils to productivity then it is essential that we help them form these associations. In the pod the seeds are not in contact with Rhizobia bacteria and in the wild inoculation would occur only when the seed falls to the ground and comes into contact with the soil. Continue reading


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 230 other followers