Inga alley cropping systems – the sustainable alternative to traditional slash-and-burn farming

June 19, 2017

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Belize

Inga alley cropping systems - the sustainable alternative to traditional slash-and-burn farming

About the Implementing organization

Name: Ya'axche Conservation Trust

Country: Belize

Year of establishment: 1997

Type of organization: Community-based association or organization / Legally recognized non-profit status

Description

The Inga alley cropping system is intended as an alternative to the traditional slash-and-burn technique that results in degraded soils and deforestation and is being pioneered in Belize by Ya’axche. This system simulates tropical forest through the accumulation, incorporation and utilization of nutrients by an effective recycling process of mulch (organic matter). This generation of a mulch layer helps prevent the desiccation of the soil in dry conditions, and this system is often used in degraded areas to help rehabilitate degraded land. Inga trees are planted in rows (on flat) or contour lines (on slopes). After 18 months of initial growth, the trees are pruned, and thereafter the trees are pruned on an annual basis. This allows for the planting of the annual crop (corn, pineapples, banana, coco yam, etc), allowing the Inga trees to re-grow after the harvest of the crop. In every pruning, the Inga trees are generating mulch which contributes to soil protection, they are releasing nitrogen into the soil and producing sustainable firewood for domestic use. The Inga alley cropping plot increases in fertility year by year, allowing the farmer to use a small area of land every planting season without having to leave the plot to rehabilitate or clear forest in the search of fertile soils.

Nature Element

Forests

Type of Action

Protection / Sustainable use

Sustainable Development Element

Jobs and livelihoods / Food security / Climate action

Related Sustainable Development Goal(s)

    

Environmental Impacts

Inga alley cropping allows farmers to retain soil fertility, moisture, and productivity, hence providing an opportunity for them to become more socially and ecologically resilient, especially to the impacts of climate change. Through the adoption of inga alley cropping, farmers will minimize deforestation and by doing so will protect key ecosystem services such as water provision and flood risk reduction on a landscape level. From 1998 to 2015, escaped agricultural fires from slash-and-burn practices burned 45,428 acres in Toledo (Ya’axche 2015). The number of escaped wildfires and acreage of land destroyed will substantially decrease once there is widespread adoption and implementation of this system, which negates the need to use fire, while still producing traditional subsistence crops. Additionally, this system has nitrogen fixing bacteria in the roots of the trees that help regenerate degraded soils which can have a small area of land be productive for approximately 15 years.

Sustainable Development Impacts

Jobs and livelihoods
Five Medina Bank families (approximately 25 individuals) adopted this system which will supplement their income and provide them with a sustainable livelihood. Through this system, farmers can count on a reliable harvest every year on a single piece of land providing them with enough crops to sustain their families and sell to their community.
Food security
Inga alley cropping can maintain soil fertility and good harvests for at least 15 years allowing families to gain long term food security and minimize the need to rotate and clear more land.
Climate action
Inga alley cropping increases climate change resilience by promoting conservation of forest, soil and water by rural farmers. The adoption of this system reduces the level of deforestation brought about by traditional agricultural practices allowing the land to maintain its fertility, reducing erosion and protecting watersheds.

Scalability

The inga alley cropping system can be expanded based on the needs of individual farmers and their families by increasing the number of seeds to the size of the land they want to develop. It is recommended that an ideal size to start up this system is 1 acre of land with 2000 inga seeds to be able to have ideal rows of leaf litter for productive planting. Although annual crops like corn, beans and root crops are subsistence crops for rural farmers, they are also in demand all over Belize. Therefore, the adoption of this system nationwide to supply these crops is possible especially since this system can be productive and successful in practically any type of soil and is best used on degraded soil due to its rehabilitative abilities. Furthermore, this system can be incorporated as a part of an agroforestry system to provide annual crops. And since this system can be grown on flat land or on slopes, the number of locations where it can be adopted increases.

Replicability

Inga alley cropping was developed by the Inga Foundation in Honduras and is already being adopted in several Central American and African countries such as Honduras, Guatemala and Cameroon. NGOs within these countries, such as the Inga Foundation and Rainforest Saver, are working to convince farmers on the advantages of adopting the inga alley cropping system based on long term research by Mike Hands, the founder of the Inga Foundation. Farmers in Honduras achieved harvest that are four times greater than when they used slash and burn methods. It has been introduced and is being pioneered in Belize, specifically the Toledo District, by Ya'axche. This system is highly replicable due to the inga's ability to grow on flat land, on slopes, in most types of soil (except water-logged soil) and to rehabilitate degraded lands.

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