Category Archives: Darwin Initiative Bolivia agroforest

Selección de posibles frutales para cultivar en parcelas agroforestal

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Uno de varios especies de Garcinia, posiblemente macrophylla conocido como Achachairú, aquí en venta en el mercado de Cobija

Ahora que las primeras de nuestras parcelas agroforestales están listos para apoyar la producción de frutales tenemos que ayudar a nuestros comunidades socios a seleccionar las especies / variedades a cultivar. Este es un negocio complicado, ya que tendrá que equilibrar a corto plazo frente a los beneficios a largo plazo con la toma de riesgos con la actualidad de alto valor y cultivos de moda que podría no conservar su demanda o precio en el futuro. Además hemos tenido la suerte de conseguir el apoyo de la fundación innocent para ayudar a nuestras comunidades con la producción de plántulas a través de la construcción de viveros robustos y la oferta de formación experto de Kew y horticultores locales.

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Cedrillo o Spondias mombin, una fruta muy popular en toda América Latina, pero tal-vez  con limitado potencial como cultivo comercial

Nuestra estrategia es hablar con expertos locales, consumidores potenciales y buscar en los mercados locales para identificar a una lista de una docena o más especies potenciales. A continuación vamos a preparar una lista de las ventajas y los riesgos asociados a cada especie, localizar las fuentes de semilla y comenzar a crecer un par de cientos de plántines de cada uno. Una vez que tenemos un “stock” de trabajo de plántines, luego presentaremos cada especie a las comunidades en una reunión comunitaria. Esto nos permitirá ayudar a decidir qué especies les gustaría cultivar en función de sus necesidades y deseos.

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Variedades silvestres de cacao (Theobroma cacao) como éste con provinencia del río Tauhumanu podrían tener potencial si el comercio de Cacao silvestre cosechada aumenta

Siguiente es un listado preliminar de especies debajo consideración:

Scientific name Local name
Malpighia punicifolia Acerola
Annona muricata Sinini
Garcinia macrophylla Achachairu
Theobroma cacao Cacao
Theobroma cacao Cacao silvestre
Eugenia stipitata Arazaboy
Euterpe oleracea Acai
Myrciaria dubia Camu camu
Spondias mombin Cedrillo
Anacardium occidentale Caju
Spondias tuberosa? Cacharana
Paullinia cupana? Guarana
Rollinea mucosa Biriba
Pouteria macrophylla Lucuma
Pouteria lucuma Lúcuma
Theobroma grandiflorum Cupuacu

Selecting potential fruit trees to grow in agroforest

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One of several Garcinia sp, possibly macrophylla known as Achachairu for sale in Cobija market

Now that the first of our agroforest plots are ready to support food and fruit production we need to start helping our community partners select what species / varieties to grow. This is a tricky business as they will need to balance short-term vs long-term benefits with taking risks with currently high value and fashionable crops which might not retain their demand or price in the future. In addition we have been very fortunate to get support from the innocent foundation to help our communities with the production of seedlings through the construction of robust nurseries and the provision of expert training from Kew and local horticulturalists.

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Cedrillo or Spondias mombin, a very popular fruit throughout Latin America but with limited potential as a cash crop

Our strategy is to speak to local experts, potential consumers and look in local markets to identify a long list of a dozen or more species. Next we will prepare a list of the advantages and risks associated with each species, locate sources of seed and start growing a couple of hundred seedlings of each. Once we have a working ‘stock’ of seedlings we will then present each species to the communities at a community meeting. This will enable us to help them decide which species they would like to cultivate based on their needs and desires.

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Wild varieties of Cacao (Theobroma cacao) such as this one from the Tauhumanu River could have potential as trade in wild harvested Cacao increases

Below is the list of species currently under consideration

Scientific name Local name
Malpighia punicifolia Acerola
Annona muricata Sinini
Garcinia macrophylla Achachairu
Theobroma cacao Cacao
Theobroma cacao Cacao silvestre
Eugenia stipitata Arazaboy
Euterpe oleracea Acai
Myrciaria dubia Camu camu
Spondias mombin Cedrillo
Anacardium occidentale Caju
Spondias tuberosa? Cacharana
Paullinia cupana? Guarana
Rollinea mucosa Biriba
Pouteria macrophylla Lucuma
Pouteria lucuma Lúcuma
Theobroma grandiflorum Cupuacu

Planificación de los primeros cultivos

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La parcela agroforestal de Motacusal. Los plantines fueron plantado el 27 de febrero 2014 y ya han crecido en arboles listo para podar. Foto tomado el 18 de marzo 2015. Empuje para ver a Rolman Velarde hablando de la parcela

Apenas un año después de la plantación tenemos dos parcelas agroforestales que ya no necesitan ser limpiado. Han efectivamente  ‘capturados’ sus sitios. Estos sitios son por los comunidades de Palacios y Motacusal. La siguiente etapa es convertir las en sistemas productivas, es decir iniciar a cultivar anuales y frutales en ellos. Mientras que es un proceso sencillo, hay un par de reglas básicas a seguir en función de si se están cultivando cultivos anuales (maíz, arroz, yuca, etc.) o árboles frutales. En ambos casos tenemos que podar los árboles de Inga para liberar el sitio y asegurar que los cultivos reciben suficiente luz.

Cultivos anuales. En el caso de los cultivos anuales es importante: 1) Podar los árboles de Inga, al mismo tiempo quese planta los cultivos anuales. Esto es porque una vez podado hay una ventana de crecimiento de cultivos de seis meses antes de que las ramas crecen de nuevo y una vez más capturan el sitio. 2) Sólamente se puede podar los árboles de Inga una vez que las ramas de callejones vecinos se tocan, en este momento se han desarrollado a un tamaño suficiente, por encima y por debajo del suelo, para apoyar los cultivos. Una vez los árboles de Inga podado es necesario dejar las hojas, ramitas y ramas menores cortado en los callejones agroforestales donde van a servir como mantillo / materia orgánico por el suelo. Las ramas más grandes se pueden tomar como leña.

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Arboles de Inga plantado para apoyar al cultivo de frutales. Igualmente son de un ano de edad y ya estan listo para la plantacion de plantines de frutales

Cultivos de frutales. En el caso de los árboles frutales no necesita podar a los árboles de Inga  hasta que sus copas se tocan, o que están echando sombra excesiva a los frutales. Este último depende de la especie de frutal plantado y deben estar a la discreción del agricultor. Además, no es necesario podar a todos los árboles de Inga al mismo tiempo o eliminar todas las ramas: los árboles pueden ser podado  según la necesidad para generar la sombra óptima para los frutales vecinos. Igual que en el caso de plantas anuales cuando se poda a los árboles de Inga las hojas cortadas, ramitas y ramas menores deben ser dejados en los callejones donde van a servir como mantillo. Las ramas más grandes se pueden tomar como leña. Continue reading Planificación de los primeros cultivos

Planning the planting of our first crops!

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Rolman Velarde in the Motacusal plot, one year after planting. The plot is now ready for crops! Click on the image to see me giving an intoiduction to the plot.

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.

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Rolman Velarde in the fruit tree part of our agroforest plot. The Inga trees at the wider 4 m spacing are growing well despite a slower start.

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.

Continue reading Planning the planting of our first crops!

The future climate of Amazonia

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The cover of Antonio Nobre’s report, a copy of which in English, Spanish or Portuguese can be obtained by clicking on the image above

 

At the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) conference in Lima this December, Brazilian researcher, Antonio Donato Nobre published a synthesis on the most recent scientific data about the Amazon’s climate accompanied by an explanation of the the profound impact that the Amazon has on South America and how this is changing as a consequence of climate change and deforestation. Antonio Donato Nobre, a well-respected Brazilian scientist and brilliant science communicator (click here to see his Ted Talk) has been researching the Amazon’s climate for decades.

The synthesis introduces two concepts that were new to me: the first was the notion of the Amazon as a ‘Green Ocean’, the second that the Amazon functions as a biotic pump pushing ca 20 million tonnes of water into the atmosphere every day and in doing so drawing water vapour in from the Atlantic Ocean. The first idea of the Amazon as a Green Ocean is an important one as it gives a scale to the impact the Amazon has on the global climate, equivalent to one of the World’s Oceans. Conversely it also suggests the enormity of what we are doing to an ecosystem that is probably critical for our welfare. The second concept, not proven but for which there is mounting evidence, presents the Amazon as a vast community of ca 385 billion trees mutually interdependent with trillions of micro-organisms, insects and vertebrates functioning in concert as a water pump, extracting water from the ground, catalyzing its conversion to rain in the lower atmosphere and in doing so drawing water vapour in from the Atlantic Ocean and sending moisture to the grain belt of South America creating one of the most productive agricultural landscapes in the World.

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Diagram from Makarieva et al.’s article in the Journal of Hydrometeorology, 15, 411-426 (2014) summarizing the biotic pump, the product of the action of ca 385 billion trees. Precipitation in the lower atmosphere catalysed by volatile secondary plant chemicals released by leaves results in a drying of the air above which when rehydrated over the moist ocean carries water inland

 

The main points of Antonio’s report are that 1) the Amazon generates a climate that supports agriculture to its south, 2) deforestation will result in a climate that does no longer supports agriculture in southern South America, 3) that the nature of the Amazon’s impact on climate means that there is a point of no-return with respect to deforestation which once passed will lead irreversibly to desertification for much of southern South America, 4) that deforestation in the Amazon is already having an impact on the regions climate and that this could accelerate the impact of climate change on the Amazon, and lastly 5) it is not too late to reverse these impacts and that muscular actions to outlaw forest fires and deforestation coupled with a popularization of the scientific research on the Amazon cold avert the destruction of the Green Ocean. I can not recommend reading the report enough, it is engagingly and precisely written and will make you amazed at the impact forest have on our World.

Challenges of working with vulnerable rural communities

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Some of the Children of Pimpollo keen to show me their new school building. The Government of Bolivia provides all rural communities with a primary school and a teacher, no matter how remote they are. Click to see a clip of me introducing the project to the community

We have been working with the Pimpollo community for just over a year. It has been a real challenge for us, as well as for them. The community is formed of a group of ca 25 families  settled in the Amazon for less than two years and from three different parts of the Bolivian Andes. Life is very difficult for these communities. For a start they do not know each other very well and yet will depend on each other for their survival. This creates a number of tensions and in the last year of contact with Pimpollo we have seen an almost complete change in family composition with only three of the original families remaining. Secondly, Pimpollo is located over a 100 km, on dirt-track, from the nearest town, the last 30 km or so of which is semi-passable during the wet season. This makes access to medical care, schooling and security intermittent at best, especially considering that there is no phone coverage and all communication occurs through VHF radio. Thirdly, they are very poor and farming some of the World’s poorest soils. Having recently come from the relatively fertile Andes, this poses real challenges. It also makes it much harder for us to maintain contact.

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In answer to question from community members, Roman Velarde from Herencia explains some of the detail of the agroforest plot layout

Continue reading Challenges of working with vulnerable rural communities

Flooded forest agroforest plot five months after planting

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Forest Engineer Rolman Velarde standing between two rows of Inga saplings planted in the middle of May at our Palacios site. The site is on wha would be flooded or ‘varzea’ forest had it not been cut to grow rice. Click to see a clip of the site (in English)

Our plot at Palacios is located in seasonally flooded forest on the banks of the Tahumanu river. This meant that we had to plant our seedlings after the flood had receded as they would probably not have survived if completely immersed. The up-side of flooding though is that the soils are rich and the seedlings, although planted late, have grown well. When the next floods occur in February they will be tall enough not to be completely submersed and so should survive. It might seem strange that a slash-and-burn site on such rich alluvial soils should be abandoned and this was something I was keen to find out from the community. They explained that after a year or more weeds invade the site very aggressively and are very difficult to remove. We are hoping that Inga‘s rapid growth, spreading crown and large leaves should act as an effective weed-suppressant. It may be that weed control could be one of the main uses of Inga in the Amazon.

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The Palacios plot five months after planting. This plot is aimed at supporting the cultivation of annual crops, fruit trees and mahogany as timber. Growth has been strong but the plot needs weeding soon. Click to see Rolman Velarde talking about the site in Spanish.

The trees at Palacios have grown well, on average over 11 cm per month. Currently they range from 1.0-1.5 m in height at six months since planting. With the most intense rains to come they should increase this rate significantly over the next few months. They still need weeding, probably until after the next floods,. The community seem pleased with progress too and are planning another plot for after the next floods.

 

Agroforest plot on compacted bull-dozed site eight months after planting

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Eight-month old seedlings at our San José site planted on heavily compacted bulldozed land. Whilst over 3/4 have survived the site has suffered higher mortality and significantly lower growth rates than at other sites. Click on link to see clip.

Although the seedlings we planted at our San José site are growing poorly and about 1/4 of them have not survived, this is a strategically important site for us. This is because it represents a worst-case scenario in terms of land-use: top-soil removal combined with heavy compaction by a bulldozer. Compaction causes severe and long-lasting damage to soils that can take decades to recover from. The community of San José, by electing to establish an agroforest plot on this site, have given us an opportunity to gauge growth and mortality rates Inga edulis on such areas and so evaluate their potential with respect to restoring them to productivity.

Continue reading Agroforest plot on compacted bull-dozed site eight months after planting

Our first Inga agroforest plot nine months on

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Our first row of seedlings planted on February 27 2014. See the next image below to see how they have grown. It is of the very same row.

We established our first Inga agroforest plot on an abandoned slash-and-burn site in a community called Motacusal just over nine months ago. Since then the seedlings have grown into small trees, most of which are over 2m high.  In another six months their crowns will be touching and they will have captured the site, that is to say, they will prevent any other plants from growing. This will enable the local farmers to plant what they want when they want and not have to worry about weeds. They will of course need to pollard the trees before they do so.

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Rolman Velarde, Forest Engineer for our project and Vitalia our outreach communicator standing between two rows of Inga seedlings that were planted nine months ago (see image above)

Continue reading Our first Inga agroforest plot nine months on

How tapping wild rubber can help protect the forests of the western Amazon

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Pastora Bismark de Gónzalez, spent much of her working life as a rubber tapper in Porbenir. Her parents came to Porbenir from Peru to tap rubber for the infanous Suárez rubber company in 1899

One of the most effective ways to conserve natural forest is to maximize the income local communities get from it in a sustainable manner. Even if they are not the official owners of the land they will likely resist any deforestation if it impacts on their income.  The forests of the Pando are fortunate in having two important non-timber forest products: brazil nuts and wild rubber. Both of which have wrought the history of this part of the Amazon.  In recent years, with the drop in the price of wild rubber associated with the rise of plantation rubber in Asia, there has been a decline in the tapping of wild rubber. If done correctly the tapping of wild rubber does little lasting damage to the trees and produces a high quality rubber that is currently sold for 14 BOB a kilo, about £1.40 / $2 / €1.60. If that price could be increased then rural communities would be much keener to tap the wild rubber trees in their forests. By how much could be the focus of a fascinating research project.

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Mural in the centre of Cobija depicting the role of rubber in the Pando’s history. Image Alex Monro

Continue reading How tapping wild rubber can help protect the forests of the western Amazon