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?
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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