Barely a year after planting we now have two agroforest plots that no longer need weeding and have effectively ‘captured’ their sites. These are Palacios and Motacusal. The next stage is to make these agroforest systems productive, that is to start growing crops in them. Whilst a straightforward process there are a couple of basic rules to follow depending on whether you are cultivating annual crops (maize, rice, yucca etc) or fruit trees. In both cases we need to prune or pollard the Inga trees to release the site and ensure that the crops get enough light.
Annual crops. In the case of annual crops it is important to: 1) pollard the Inga trees at the same time as the annual crops are planted. This is because once pollarded there is a six-month growing window before the branches grow back and once again capture the site. 2) to only pollard Inga trees once the branches of neighboring rows are touching, this is when they have developed to a sufficient size, above- and below-ground to support crops. Once the Inga trees are pollarded the pruned leaves, twigs and minor branches need to be left in the agroforest alleys where they will serve as a mulch. The larger branches can be taken as fuel wood.
Fruit crops. In the case of fruit trees the Inga trees do not need to be pollarded until either their crowns are touching, or they are casting excessive shade on the fruit trees. The latter depends on the nature of the fruit tree being planted and should be at the discretion of the farmer. In addition, it is not necessary to pollard all of the trees at the same time or even to remove all of the branches: trees can be pollarded as needed and to the extent necessary to generate the optimum shade for the fruit trees. As in the case of annuals when the Inga trees are pollarded the cut leaves, twigs and minor branches need to be left in the agroforest alleys where they will serve as a mulch. The larger branches can be taken as fuel wood.
We are keen to plant crops as soon as possible but it is important that the communities we work with select their fruit and annual crops well in order to best meet their nutritional / income needs. In order to help them do this we would like the communities to see an established system. This should make it easier for them to conceptualize how their plots could function. It will also give them the opportunity to exchange experiences with farmers who have been using agroforest for almost a decade. With this in mind we are planning a field visit to neighbouring Peru in April of this year (2015).