In addition to restoring soil fertility to abandoned slash-and-burn sites we are also working to use Inga to rehabilitate degraded pasture and severely degraded soils. Soils that have been heavily compacted by cattle over several years or by heavy machinery. Rehabilitating such sites, especially in the case of cattle pasture could have a significant impact in the region because adding value to such marginal land could help reduce the pressure on natural forest. With this aim we planted two such sites in March 2014. Revisiting the sites in July has shown mixed results with some of the seedlings doing very well (see image below) whilst others are clearly suffering (see image above). In comparison with slash-and-burn sites where we have lost very few seedlings, and most of those to overzealous weeding, Continue reading Inga establishment on heavily compacted degraded soils
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
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.
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.