Dos años después de plantar nuestra primera parcela en Motacusal, la comunidad acaba de terminar la primera poda de los árboles. El denso follaje de los árboles de Pacay (Inga) se ha reducido a una capa vegetal y los tallos sacado para servir de leña, dejando aproximadamente 1/3 hectárea de terreno fértil para cultivos anuales como maíz, arroz o frijoles. Es la culminación de más de dos años de trabajo y testimonio del esfuerzo de nuestro equipo de campo, dirigido por Ingeniero Forestal, Rolman Velarde.
Dejaremos la hojarasca pudrirse un mes antes de sembrar las primeras cosechas. Gestión de la parcela de Motacusal está siendo supervisado por los niños de la comunidad a través del programa ‘Bosque de los Niños‘ lo que significa que pueden elegir lo que van a sembrar. Esto es importante para la participación de los niños, y también para la comunidad, uniendo nuestras parcelas con su recurso más valioso y llevarlo a buen término es un poderoso símbolo. Los niños han experimentando con diversas semillas para plantar como parte de su currículo productivo y estoy entusiasta de saber lo que han sembrado en siguiente mes. Sin embargo quedan algunos desafíos, por ejemplo el tiempo anómala asociada con El Niño podría dañar las cosechas o al Inga.
Se utilizó la oportunidad de que sea la primera parcela que se podado para invitar a representantes de las otras comunidades participantes: Palacios, San José, Jerico y Monte Sinaí. Esto nos permitió formarlos en la poda, también para ellos era una oportunidad para tener una idea de como sus parcelas agroforestales se verá en más o menos un año.
Two years after planting our first plot at Motacusal, the community has just completed the first pollarding. The dense canopy of Inga trees has been reduced to a green mulch and the main stems taken away to be stored for fuel wood leaving about 1/3 ha of fertile ground for growing annual crops such as maize, rice or beans. The pollarding is the culmination of over two years work and testimony to the skills and hard work of our field team, lead by Forest Engineer, Rolman Velarde. We will leave the mulch to rot down a little and in a month the first crops will be sown.
Management of the Motacusal plot is being overseen by the communitie’s children through the ‘Bosque de los Ninos‘ programme which means that they get to choose what will be sown. This is not just important for the engagement of children but also for the community as a whole, linking our demonstration / trial plots with their most valued resource and bringing it to fruition is a powerful symbol. The children have been experimenting with growing various seeds for planting as part of the ‘productive’ part of their school curriculum and I am keen to see what has been planted in a month’s time. There stil remain some challenges though. The anomalous weather associated with El Niño could lead to the crops failing or to the pollarded Inga not recovering as planned.
We used the opportunity of this being the first plot to be pollarded to invite representatives from the other particpating communities: Palacios, San José, Jerico and Monte Sinai. This enabled us to train them in pollarding but also for them to get an idea as to what their agroforest plots will look like in a year or so.
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→
After much hard work by members of the San José and Palacio communities helped by Rolman Velarde and Rodrigo Flores we planted another two agroforest plots this April 2014. The seedlings were four months old and this entails a risk that they could be root-bound. They were also planted right at the end of the wet season and so will not benefit from a couple of months of rain to become established. We will be observing their progress with a lot of interest as due to poor weather earlier in the year and flooding at Palacio these plots have been plotted in suboptimal conditions. Their success or failure will provide us with important information on maximum seedling size for sowing and whether or not the dry season should be considered a barrier to planting out young plants.
As highlighted in previous posts we are aiming to engage with cattle ranchers and non-subsistence farmers as well as rural communities. The reason for doing so is that these larger-scale enterprises arguably have just as big an impact on natural forest as small scale slash-and-burn farmers. In March we planted our first Inga trial to enrich degraded cattle pasture at San Antonio cattle ranch and this April we have planted 2 ha of Inga on abandoned land at the Las Palmas farm. We also have another interested rancher, Ruben Burgos, and look forwards to planting on his ranch as soon as we have sufficient seedlings to do so. With respect to engagement we are using a different strategy with cattle ranchers and farmers than that which we developed to work with rural communities. Continue reading Additional cattle ranches and farms join our project→
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→
We are using Inga to restore soils to productivity because of its ability to grow rapidly in, and improve the fertility of compacted, acidic and nutrient poor soils. This is depends on its ability to form an association with Rhizobia bacteria in the soil which, in return for shelter and some sugar, convert nitrogen in the air to a form which promotes plant growth in the soil. This association takes the form of small nodules on the roots (see image below) which act as mega bacteria colonies. If our seedlings are to restore soils to productivity then it is essential that we help them form these associations. In the pod the seeds are not in contact with Rhizobia bacteria and in the wild inoculation would occur only when the seed falls to the ground and comes into contact with the soil. Continue reading How to inoculate Inga seeds prior to 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→
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.