Using Inga to enrich cattle pasture

Degraded cattle pasture in the Pando, Bolivia
Degraded cattle pasture in the Pando, Bolivia. There are probably millions of hectares of marginal cattle pasture in the Amazon. Improving their productivity could have a big impact on reducing the pressure on natural forests

Despite the impact cattle-ranching has had on the Amazon over the past 40 years many ranchers are not making money. Degradation of the soils and  quality of the pasture results in farms with very low densities of cattle spread over large areas that are expensive to maintain. There is also significant encroachment by inedible (to cattle) shrubs and grasses. This generates demand for fresh pasture which is in-turn leads to further deforestation. In addition, diversification away from beef to more profitable dairy relies on cattle breeds, such as Frisians,  that are not well adapted to the heat of the tropics and suffer from the lack of shade in the colossal fields.

brahman cattle
Click on the image to see Brahman cattle feeding enthusiastically on young branches and leaves of Inga and supporting the claims of its use as a fodder tree in Mexico

Discussing the challenges of cattle-ranching with farmer Itamar Sutil , mayor of the municipality of Bella Flor, he asked whether Inga could be of any help in rendering his small ranch  (250 ha)  more productive, or at least if it could provide shade for his dairy cows. We discussed the fact that Inga has been used as a fodder crop in Mexico with unknown result and that it would be very interesting to see whether its nitrogen-fixing associations could also improve pasture productivity as well as some shade for his dairy cows.

As a consequence he is fencing off 5 ha of pasture for us that we will plant with Inga trees in March. In one or two year’s time we will let the cattle back into the field and evaluate the impact that it has had on the pasture and the cows. If it has improved pasture quality and cattle productivity then this technique could have a very big impact across the Amazon.

Active cattle pasture near the community of San Jose. Because pasture is created by felling forest and the burning it to clear the land for planting grass many of the larger stumps and even intact trees remain

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