The Darwin InitiativeForest Futures project aims to mitigate threats to natural forest in the Bolivian Amazon by raising awareness of the value of these forests, supporting the diversification of non-timber forest products and adapting a soil-restoring agroforest technique to the Amazon. The project was launched in 2013 and this week we held a half-day conference in the capital of the Pando, Cobija. The aim of which was to disseminate our results and outputs to local decision makers who included the Vicegovernor of the Pando, Dra Paola Terrazas Justiniano, the Mayor of Cobija, Luis Gatty Ribeiro Roca, representatives of the Universidad Amazonica del Pando, the Autoridad Bosques y Tierra (Forest and Land Authority) several NGOs involved in rural development and journalists from five television stations and two radio stations. We had 73 people participate in the meeting which for us was a great success.
The aim of this was to highlight the value of natural forest, both as a source of ecosystem services on which the Pando and the region depend, but also as a source of potential products which can either be harvested directly (non timber forest products) or cultivated in agroforest systems. The idea being that the perceived value of forest increases making unsustainable alternatives such as pasture for cattle or as sites for slash-and-burn seem less economical. Juan-Fernando Reyes from Herencia presented his vision for an integrated forest-based economy and future for the Pando, Bente Klitgaard outlined how the relationships between Kew, Herencia and our rural partners had developed and Alejandro Araujo Murakami presented a summary of the plant diversity of the Pando, ca 3,000 species and how this translated into stored carbon. I presented an overview of how Inga based agroforestry could help restore the soils of abandoned slash-and-burn sites to productivity and support sustainable agriculture in the region. In addition, with 73 participants at the conference it was a good opportunity to launch our Inga agroforest manual and promote the forthcoming book on economically promising Amazonian fruit tree species.
Since the start of our Forest Futures project I had been thinking about the best way to support the production of agroforests once we have left. We had committed to produce a manual but my initial thoughts were that this is a little old-fashioned and that an electronic publication formatted for mobile phones would be a good option. The reality, however, is that Bolivia has very poor internet access. Even in Cobija, the capital of the Pando, internet acesss is sporadic and poor. Once in the field it is only available at a few points along the main road . We therefore decided to opt for a printed manual, of the size that it will fit on a narrow shelf or somebody’s day pack and on high quality paper that will resist the high humidity of the tropics.
The next decision was how to best communicate to the people we working with. I believe that a majority text-based format would not be of great interest or very accessible for the communities we work with. I decided on an image-rich poster-like format. This was because posters remain a major communication tool by Government and NGOs in the region and so local people will be familiar with them, secondly I assumed that Governments and NGOs know what they are doing! Following this I had to think quite hard about content. Whilst the mechanics of establishing a plot are relatively straightforward to explain what has struck me working with rural people is that communicating the underlying principles of agroforestry as we practice it is very challenging.
This is in part because a lot of their knowledge on soils and and nutrient cycling is based on temperate systems, either in Europe or the Andes where soils are replenished by the action of frost or weathering of rock. Amazonian soils have been leached over millions of years and hold few nutrients for plants but this is not obvious looking at the lush dense forest growing on them. So not only do we need to explain that the soils are very poor but then explain how such rich forest grows on them. Similarly, it is less challenging for people living away from the Amazon to accept that cutting forest is not sustainable, but quite a different thing when it is your livelihood that depends on slash-and-burn and when you have always been surrounded by forest for as far as the eye can see and that this has been the case for as long as anyone can remember. The upshot of these considerations are a substantial introduction that attempts to explain all of the background and context whilst assuming little prior knowledge.
I first went to the Pando in the Bolivian Amazon in 1988 as a young undergraduate. Returning in 2013 as a middle-aged botanist it was a pleasant surprise to find that although the capital Cobija had grown a lot much of the forest remained and that sustainable Brazil nut harvesting remained the major source of income for rural communities. It also remained one of the forests with the highest diversity of primates in the World. A single locality having up to thirteen species of monkey! That all looks about to change though as a triple whammy of semi-legal gold-mining, oil exploration and road building took off in 2015 and which by 2018 will have completely transformed the infrastructure, economy and likely the social fabric of one of the least deforested parts of the Amazon.
Asphalt roads are clearly of benefit to Amazonian communities, providing improved access to healthcare, education and markets and assist with the seasonal Brazil nut harvest. Roads also, however push back the frontiers of the forest and facilitate currently unsustainable agriculture, such as slash-and-burn, cattle-ranching or intensive soya / oil-palm production. Finding a balance between the opportunities and risks posed by asphalt roads is very difficult and rarely achieved. Oil extraction and transportation will also have an impact, changing the economy of the Pando and possibly replacing natural forest with its Brazil Nut and rubber trees as a major souce of employment and incomes. It also of course brings with it the risks of any large mining operations.
The rapid growth of semi-legal artesanal gold mining in the Pando could have a far greater impact. The mercury used to separate gold from the river sediment has profound health risks for those mining but also for the whole ecosystem downstream, and for decades to come. Artesanal gold mining also attracts people desperate for money, from all over South America, together with many other strands of the black economy leading to social and political instability.
We established our first Inga agroforest plot just over 17 months ago. Since then the seedlings have grown into 5 m tall trees, their crowns touching and shading out any potential weeds. They have captured the site meaning that it no longer needs any maintenance, allowing farmers to choose when to pollard (prune) at a time that best suits them. In the Bolivian Amazon the best time of year to sow plants is at the beginning of the wet season in October and so we are planning to return to complete this last step in the process.
Uno de los elementos más importante de nuestro proyecto es convencer a las comunidades rurales de que los sistemas agroforestales basados en Inga les ayudarán a utilizar sus tierras con mayor intensidad sin necesidad de talar el bosque. Esperamos lograr esto de dos maneras: 1) desarrollar parcelas agroforestales como demostración en una red de comunidades asociadas con el proyecto, y 2) tomar representantes de estas comunidades asociadas para visitar parcelas agroforestales ya productivas. Visitar estas parcelas es una buena manera de dejar que la gente vea por sí misma lo que sus sistemas agroforestales van a lograr en pocos años, y también de facilitar el intercambio de experiencias entre campesinos. Tal vez intercambios entre campesinos tiene más peso/fuerza que hablar con un científico, técnico o una ONG ya que tienen intereses y conocimientos similares/comunes.
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.
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.
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.
Siguiente es un listado preliminar de especies debajo consideración:
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.
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.
Below is the list of species currently under consideration
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.
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→
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.
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.