First cattle pasture plot planted

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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. 

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It took us 1 day to plant 2 ha of pasture. It was hot, tiring and unpleasant work for someone not used to manual labour! This field was sown in 2005, three years after logging and the planting of annual crops. It is already considered degraded pasture.

In consultation with Terry Pennington author of The genus Inga utilization we planted seedlings at a spacing of 10 x 10 m and anticipate thinning them out after two years to 20 x 20 m. We planted seedlings of between 20 and 50 cm in size. Whilst we know that Inga has been used as a forage crop in Mexico our aim with pasture sites is to increase soil fertility and provide some shade for cattle. This should increase pasture quality and improving animal husbandry. This is an experiment and we are not sure whether it will have the desired result or not. For this reason we have decided to start with a relatively high planting density and are trialing three different varieties.

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Our first pasture study site, Finca San Antonio

Both ranchers have agreed to set aside four to five ha. On March 7th we travelled to our first pasture site, Finca San Antonio, taking with us 400 seedlings, a mixture of 200 domesticated Inga edulis and 150 undomesticated Inga edulis seedlings transplanted from forest and grown up in our nursery and 50 Inga aff. punctata seedlings that we harvested in October. Once we had the seedlings in place it took six people one day to locate and dig holes and plant 2ha of pasture with Inga seedlings. Crucial to planting is the weather, bright sunshine at the time of planting can severely stress, if not kill seedlings as they have been cultivated in shade for several months. This is why we are planting in the wet-season, when the skies are predominantly cloudy and the ground wet, enabling our seedlings to adapt to their new microclimate in time for the dry (and sunny) season.

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An Inga edulis seedling on the day of planting. Whilst it may look lost and vulnerable now, it should be 5-6 m tall in two years and capable of shading out the pasture which is why we aim to thin or at least pollard the trees at that time

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