Planting Inga trees in cattle pasture was undertaken as an experiment in order to evaluate its potential. It had not been done before in South America and although hopeful we did not know what to expect. As can be seen above, two months in, things are not looking so good for many of the seedlings which look stressed and not growing. This could be for several reasons: the ground is heavily compacted by cattle, they are in a very open site exposed to the sun or they have not had enough rain. Interestingly the slower-growing currently undescribed species of Inga that we trialled has fared significantly better and although it hasn’t grown appears to have settled in well. On seeing these images, Inga expert Terry Pennington remained quite optimistic and says that there is a good chance that they will recover and grow. Continue reading Enriched cattle pasture two months on….
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
Using densely planted rows of Inga we plan to harness the tree’s ability to colonize degraded acidic soils and use bacteria to generate the nutrients it needs. Together with this ability to increase nutrient levels necessary for plant growth, rapidly growing Inga trees also shade out invasive weeds and produce a rapidly degrading leaf litter that will kick-start the development of a productive soil Continue reading How we plan to restore and maintain soil fertility using Inga
Looking at 40 m high trees in the Amazon rain forest it must be counter-intuitive as a farmer to think that these are poor soils. If you can grow giant luxuriant trees then surely maize should be no problem? Well the thing is Amazonian soils are very poor and acidic and don’t support that wonderful forest. Continue reading Why does slash and burn not work?
A member of the community of San José inspecting the germinating seedlings that he helped plant and has been tending. They took two weeks to get this big, about 15 cm. Once they are 40 cm tall, they will be planted out in rows four metres apart where over the course of a year they will develop into small trees and start to enrich the soil and sustain agriculture. Well that’s the plan at least.
As part of a Darwin Initiative project awarded in March of this year http://www.nhm.ac.uk/natureplus/blogs/tropicalbotanyresearcher/2013/05/02/darwin-initiative-grant-to-work-in-the-bolivian-amazon a team comprising foresters from the Bolivian NGO Herencia http://www.herencia.org.bo/ and botanists from the Tropical America Team at Kew are seeking to reduce pressure on the tropical forests of the Bolivian Amazon.
We are aiming to do so by encouraging the establishment permanent agriculture (permaculture) on degraded cattle pasture and disused slash and burn (chaco) sites through a series of demonstration plots established in partnership with four rural communities. Our aim is to use trees of the Inga genus of the legume family (beans, pulses, tamarind) to capture and restore soil fertility over a period of 18 months and then pollard the trees so that crops can be grown between the rows. Inga is the ideal genus to do so as it thrives and grows quickly, up to 6 m in two years, in the very acidic, poor degraded soils of abandoned chaco and cattle pasture. It captures and rehabilitates sites by shading out weeds, enriching the soil with its specialized roots and abundant leaf litter and attracting a host of biological control agents to protect the crops.