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 Where do Brazil nuts come from?

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: http://www.kew.org/visit-wakehurst/plan/getting-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.

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Presentation to the Amazonian University of the Pando

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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!

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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 Evaluating the use of transplanted wild seedlings

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 First cattle pasture plot planted

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 How to inoculate Inga seeds prior to planting

How to plant an Inga seedling

Use a knife to cut open the bag open and so avoid damaging the roots. Click on the image to view a clip of planting

Although not rocket-science planting Inga seedlings in abandoned sites requires some basic preparation and thought. Transplanting a seedling can stress it significantly as both the roots and leaves will experience a significant change in water relations. In addition the roots are very fragile and can suffer significant mechanical damage, whilst the leaves can be badly damaged by the sudden exposure to bright and direct light. For both of these reasons it is advisable to only plant seedlings in the wet season, ideally at the beginning so that there remain a couple of months of cloudy wet conditions that will give the seedlings time to grow their roots and adapt their leaves. Continue reading How to plant an Inga seedling

First Inga agroforest plot in the Amazon planted

Planting the first Inga agroforest plot at the Motacusal community. It took us two days to plant ca 1,300 seedlings. Click on the image to see a clip of the planting.
Over two days at the end of February,  together with Terry Pennington from Kew and Jaime Leon from Peru our team worked with the community of Motacusal to plant the first Inga agroforest plot in the Amazon.  We planted 1,300 seedlings in a mixed system, 0.23 ha for annual crops (rice, maize, beans etc) and 0.7 ha for fruit trees (acaí, Cacao, Annona, acerola, cupuaçu). Inga edulis seedlings were planted in rows 4 m apart. Within each row the spacing for the production of annual crops is 50 cm for the production of fruit trees , 4 m. 

Continue reading First Inga agroforest plot in the Amazon planted