Tag Archives: Amazon rain forest

Where do Brazil nuts come from?


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Brazil nuts are the nutlets of a large canopy tree, Bertholletia exclesa found throughout much of the Amazon. These familiar seeds are all harvested from wild trees growing deep in the pristine forest and represent the major source of income for the communities who harvest them.

Brazil Nuts can be found in most supermarkets in Britain, in nut mixes, covered in chocolate, or as a traditional Christmas treat. Probably not so familiar is what kind of tree produces the nut or the extrordinary journey the nuts make before arriving in our supermarkets. Most of the Brazil Nuts in the UK are actually harvested in the Bolivian and not the Brazilian Amazon. The segment-lik nuts that we see are the seeds of a much larger and remarkable fruit produced by a towering canopy tree whose scientific name is Bertholettia excelsa. Continue reading Where do Brazil nuts come from?

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Evaluating the use of transplanted wild seedlings

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Seedlings of Inga edulis recently uprooted from a patch of secondary forest. Wild seedlings are important as they represent a broader genetic base than the domesticated form more widely available. Click on image for a clip of seedlings being dug up

There are several reasons why it might be necessary to use transplanted seedlings for the establishment of agroforest plots. The most obvious one is that it avoids the planning and serendipity of obtaining seed from trees whose fruiting time can be hard to predict and whose seeds cannot be stored, or where parrots and monkeys find the fruit first. Often if appropriate Inga species can be found nearby then the chances are there will be a bank of seedlings also. Fortunately there are few predators of the seeds so even when the fruit have been eaten, the seeds will normally make it to the forest floor where many will germinate. Continue reading Evaluating the use of transplanted wild seedlings

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.  Continue reading First cattle pasture plot planted

How to plant an Inga seedling

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Use a knife to cut open the bag open and so avoid damaging the roots. Click on the image to view a clip of planting

Although not rocket-science planting Inga seedlings in abandoned sites requires some basic preparation and thought. Transplanting a seedling can stress it significantly as both the roots and leaves will experience a significant change in water relations. In addition the roots are very fragile and can suffer significant mechanical damage, whilst the leaves can be badly damaged by the sudden exposure to bright and direct light. For both of these reasons it is advisable to only plant seedlings in the wet season, ideally at the beginning so that there remain a couple of months of cloudy wet conditions that will give the seedlings time to grow their roots and adapt their leaves. Continue reading How to plant an Inga seedling

First Inga agroforest plot in the Amazon planted

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Planting the first Inga agroforest plot at the Motacusal community. It took us two days to plant ca 1,300 seedlings. Click on the image to see a clip of the planting.
Over two days at the end of February,  together with Terry Pennington from Kew and Jaime Leon from Peru our team worked with the community of Motacusal to plant the first Inga agroforest plot in the Amazon.  We planted 1,300 seedlings in a mixed system, 0.23 ha for annual crops (rice, maize, beans etc) and 0.7 ha for fruit trees (acaí, Cacao, Annona, acerola, cupuaçu). Inga edulis seedlings were planted in rows 4 m apart. Within each row the spacing for the production of annual crops is 50 cm for the production of fruit trees , 4 m. 

Continue reading First Inga agroforest plot in the Amazon planted

Back in Cobija: flooding and still no vehicle

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Cattle trying to escape flooding in the Beni Department: in Amazonia Bolivia the flooding has been some of the worst in living memory. Image: David Mercado / Reuters

Projects always seem relatively straightforward when you plan them but of course the reality can be very different. We are working with two  hard to predict phenomena: the fruiting time of our seed trees and the weather, coupled with one inflexible one: the harvest season for brazil nuts, and one which with hindsight we should have predicted, but did’t: the difficulty of hiring a vehicle to access our sites.

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The flood defences for the seedlings at the Palacio nursery. The whole community is now underwater and the villagers have sought temporary accommodation. The seedlings are apparently fine though!

Continue reading Back in Cobija: flooding and still no vehicle

Using Inga to enrich cattle pasture

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Degraded cattle pasture in the Pando, Bolivia. There are probably millions of hectares of marginal cattle pasture in the Amazon. Improving their productivity could have a big impact on reducing the pressure on natural forests

Despite the impact cattle-ranching has had on the Amazon over the past 40 years many ranchers are not making money. Degradation of the soils and  quality of the pasture results in farms with very low densities of cattle spread over large areas that are expensive to maintain. There is also significant encroachment by inedible (to cattle) shrubs and grasses. This generates demand for fresh pasture which is in-turn leads to further deforestation. In addition, diversification away from beef to more profitable dairy relies on cattle breeds, such as Frisians,  that are not well adapted to the heat of the tropics and suffer from the lack of shade in the colossal fields.

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Click on the image to see Brahman cattle feeding enthusiastically on young branches and leaves of Inga and supporting the claims of its use as a fodder tree in Mexico

Continue reading Using Inga to enrich cattle pasture

Our project team in Bolivia and the UK

Rolman Velarde, our agroforest manager based at Herencia. Rolman has overall responsibility for overseeing the seedling nurseries and developing agroforest plots. Together with Jazmin he also plays an essential role in liaising and developing our relationships with each community
Rolman Velarde, our agroforest manager based at Herencia. Rolman has overall responsibility for overseeing the seedling nurseries and developing agroforest plots. Together with Jazmin he also plays an essential role in liaising and developing our relationships with each community

Our project aims to reduce pressure on natural forests in the Pando by supporting Inga-based agroforest systems, identifying non-timber products and raising awareness of the economic and biodiversity value of these forests. This requires a dedicated team of people in Bolivia but also in the UK where some of the technical expertise and the funds reside. Our team comprises people from the Bolivian NGO Herencia, the  Noel Kempf Mercado Natural History Museum in Santa Cruz, Bolivia and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Jazmín Daza, our community outreach and Bosque de los Niños coordinator. Jazmín is based with Herencia in Cobija, Bolivia and has helped set up the Bosque de los Ninos plots in the Pando
Jazmín Daza, our community outreach and Bosque de los Niños coordinator. Jazmín is based with Herencia in Cobija, Bolivia and has helped set up the Bosque de los Ninos plots in the Pando

Continue reading Our project team in Bolivia and the UK

Three months on: how our seedlings are developing

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Rolman Velarde at the Motacusal nursery with one the seedlings sown in October. Note the length of the roots!

It is now three months since we sowed our first seed and most of the seedlings are now 40  cm tall and ready for planting out. Together with Terry Pennington I am planning to travel to Bolivia in a couple of weeks where with Peruvian Jaime Leon  we will assist with establishing the first Inga agroforest plot in the Amazon. The only problem is that most of the community members are deep in the forest harvesting Brazil Nuts!

Continue reading Three months on: how our seedlings are developing

Monitoring our progress

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Jazmín Daza is a vital part of our team and engages with the four communities in a participative manner, collecting baseline data and facilitating the decision-making within each community needed to make sure that our agroforest plots are serving their purpose

As highlighted in an earlier post the use of Agroforests have not been widely adopted in Latin America. Whilst we don’t know why this is we intend to maximise its chance of success in the Amazon by ensuring that the communities who adopt it are fully engaged and in control of how it is delivered. This we hope will make it more likely to keep it going once our intervention is complete. This approach involves participative monitoring of progress and consultation over where plots are located and what crops are grown as well as the provision of training that will see them masters of the technology and potential teachers to other communities in the region. Continue reading Monitoring our progress