One of the most important elements of our Forest Futures project is to get rural communities to believe that Inga-based agroforest systems will help them use their land more intensively without the need for regular land-clearance. We hope to achieve this in two ways: 1) develop demonstration agroforest plots in a network of partner communities, and 2) take representatives of partner communities to see established working systems. Visiting established communities is a powerful way of letting people see for themselves what their agroforests will like in a few years but also, as importantly, it facilitates the sharing of experiences, farmer to farmer. Speaking to somebody from the same profession who is using agroforest is likely more convincing than speaking to a scientist, technician or NGO whose livelihoods are not on the line.
We decided to take representatives of the communities that we work with and of the Campesino Federation of the Pando to visit established agroforest farmers in Chanchamyo, Peru. These farmers have been using agroforest for up to 9 years through a project between the La Molina University in Peru and Inga expert Terry Pennington. The visit was organized by our forest engineer Rolman Velarde together with La Molina forest engineer Jaime León. It required three days of travel to get to Chanchamayo from the Pando and for several of the participants it was the first time that they had seen the sea (or escalators).
Amongst the experiences shared, participants saw the cultivation of maize following the pruning of the Inga trees, the amount of firewood that is generated by a plot (below) and the production of compost (above). Amazonian soils are usually very poor and the production of compost could represent a significant resource for farmers. Farmers in the Bolivian Amazon do not usually produce compost and we had assumed that this was by choice, however, the production of compost was one of the things which most interested the community represents. It may therefore be just a matter of experience and knowing how to produce it which is lacking. Our inter, Lucy Dablin made filmed the trip and will post an edited film online accompanied by post-trip interviews. Our gut reaction is that this trip made a big impact on those who participated and so we are hoping to run a similar trip in a year’s time with additional communities.