To incentivize sustainable land use and forest conservation, EcoLogic employs the agroforestry method “alley-cropping with Inga edulis.”
EcoLogic rejects an “off limits” approach to conservation because it understands that people need to use the land for food, water, and economic opportunity. EcoLogic employs an agroforestry method known as alley-cropping with Inga edulis. Alley-cropping has an array of well-documented advantages: it replenishes soil nutrients; reduces soil erosion; provides shades to help soil retain moisture; connects standing forests; limits pressure on standing forests; produces abundant amounts of leaves which fall and provide organic fertilizer and mulch; increases crop yields; decreases time spent weeding; and enhances overall environmental health and biodiversity.
EcoLogic began introducing alley-cropping with Inga edulis in the mid-2000s in and around Pico Bonito National Park, Honduras, based on research pioneered by Dr. Michael Hands of Cambridge University and the Inga Foundation. To date, EcoLogic has established just over 300 alley-cropping plots, averaging 1/5 hectare in size per plot. Currently, alley-cropping projects are underway in northwest Guatemala, Caribbean Guatemala, and in northern Honduras. In addition, we have begun initial trainings for alley-cropping around the Gulf of San Miguel, Panama.
To establish an alley-cropping parcel, Inga edulis trees are grown in nurseries that are managed by local farmers. Once mature, they are transplanted to cropland and crops can be planted in the rows between the Inga edulis trees. Inga’s deep roots fix nitrogen into the soil, and its fallen leaves organically mulch the soil. By maintaining the soil nutrients needed to grow food, cropland with Inga can be cultivated for an estimated 8-10 years continuously, compared to 2-3 years for conventional plots, and yields a higher quality and more abundant product on less land, thereby improving food security. The technique’s efficiency slows forest loss and soil erosion, thereby maintaining ecosystem structure and productivity.
What actions do you propose?
Based on our experience, research, and conversations with experts, we have developed a three-year vision to strengthen EcoLogic’s current initiative and replicate the program in additional regions. Our goals are briefly summarized below.
Component 1: Establish demonstration communities in several targeted regions.
The “demonstration community” approach means that farmers will be able to share new knowledge, test new approaches, and troubleshoot challenges; they can share responsibilities of nursery management, share inputs, share seed storage, and train new farmers together. This distributes the risk of taking up the new practice. It will also mean that non-participating farmers will have many opportunities to see how the technique works.
EcoLogic will identify groups of 5-10 farmers from each community, assuming a community averages 75 families. We believe this group would be large enough to facilitate the visibility of their actions, yet small enough to where EcoLogic investments could still be split between multiple communities within a given landscape. Within each community, EcoLogic would carry out the following:
- Establish a tree nursery, providing necessary inputs.
- Demonstrate to farmers the technique using previously established plots as models.
- Collect baseline data – soil quality, land use, economic data.
- Establish alley-cropping plots on land of each participating farmer.
- Establish 1 seed production orchard to allow for expansion.
- Give 15-20 trees to farmers to grow their own seed-bearing trees. Farmers can utilize these seeds to expand Inga edulis on their land and develop tree-production enterprise at their own will. EcoLogic will be able to monitor the ways in which farmer utilize these “farmer’s choice” trees to learn from local farmers and help inform future strategies.
Component 2: Expand local seed production orchards to enable local seed availability.
Local seed production allows us to reach more farmers within a given community and be a hub of seed production regionally. Currently, EcoLogic purchases seeds from nurseries managed by CURLA and the Inga Foundation in northern Honduras. Each year, seeds are purchased and transferred from northern Honduras to Sarstún, Guatemala and northwest Guatemala. This demands significant resources – money to purchase seeds and fund transport, time to arrange logistics and transport, etc.
World Agroforestry Centre notes that seed centralization is a major hurdle for widespread uptake of agroforestry systems. An Inga edulis orchard of 200 seed bearing trees will provide enough seeds for about 100 additional ¼ hectare plots after three years.
Component 3: Increase cash crop production and link participating farmers to networks (co-ops, other NGOs, businesses, etc.) that will ensure products get to market.
Thus far, EcoLogic has introduced alley-cropping systems on land with corn, a staple crop in both Guatemala and Honduras. Cash crop production would further incentivize uptake of alley-cropping, showing farmers that alley-cropping results in improved economic wellbeing. Currently, a small group of farmers participating in EcoLogic’s agroforestry program have begun experimenting with the production of cash crops such as cardamom and pepper.
Component 4: Introduce scaling mechanisms that facilitate expansion of adoption. This will require testing a variety of scaling strategies in accordance with local contexts to determine most cost effective and replicable way to expand voluntary adoption amongst farmers.
EcoLogic intends to establish mechanisms that will compel more farmers to take up agroforestry: EcoLogic, local partner, and participating farmers will conduct outreach and community education within communities to get farmers to attend demonstrations. Farmer-to-farmer education and hands-on demonstrations will be core elements. Particularly relevant events in the alley-cropping cycle – such as transplanting sapling from nurseries to the field, trimming the trees to open up the plot to sunlight, planting crop seeds, and the harvest – will be key demonstration opportunities. EcoLogic will also facilitate learning exchanges amongst participating farmers throughout a given landscape to share best practices and troubleshoot challenges. Given population increases and an ensuing increase in demand for food, there is a significant need to develop a generation of farmers committed to sustainability.
Who will take these actions?
EcoLogic’s field-based technical staff, with oversight from EcoLogic’s regional director, supply smallholder farmers in Mesoamerica (currently Guatemala, Panama and Honduras) with the tools and knowledge needed to apply agroforestry practices. EcoLogic provides inputs and training for local seed production; and puts into place – with considerable input from local farmers –incentives that compel farmers to promote agroforestry among their neighbors. Our anticipated result is that the farmers will apply agroforestry techniques at a sufficient scale to radically reduce pressure on tropical forest due to agricultural expansion. Ideally, after 4-6 years of EcoLogic support and accompaniment, participating farmers will have in place the necessary inputs, knowledge, incentives, and supporting institutions to make alley-cropping their preferred agricultural technique.
Where will these actions be taken?
EcoLogic can most readily deploy this methodology in Central America. We currently implement the methodology with smallholder farmers in four project sites: Quiché, Guatemala; Izabal, Guatemala, Yoro Honduras, and Atlántida Honduras and the Darien region in Panama. We foresee our expansion to focus on additional sites in this region because of the knowledge, relationships, and groundwork already established. However, given the climate and soil conditions required for cultivation of Inga edulis, the technology could be scaled and replicated in other degraded tropical rainforest regions. Additionally, alley-cropping as a concept is not limited to Inga edulis trees and the crops grown in our projects. It can accommodate a variety of tree species and crops based on local soil, weather conditions, and people’s needs. For example, although corn constitutes the principal crop produced, cash crops, such as cardamom, vanilla, and pepper can be incorporated within the system. Individual farmers in our projects have already successfully experimented with some of these cash crops within their plots.
Our primary target group consists of smallholder farmers and corresponding communities in impoverished and forested tropical regions practicing unsustainable agricultural methods. At the regional level, we seek to increase the number of farmers practicing the technology and those willing to promote and train others in its use. We believe that this will encourage more widespread adoption of alley-cropping as the preferred agricultural method for smallholder farmers across tropical Central and South America. Furthermore, we predict that this will allow the technology to become self-sustaining and scalable within communities independent of EcoLogic. More broadly, through a reduction in supply and labor costs and land required per farmer, we envision more opportunities for diversified land usage, as opposed to growing only subsistence crops.
How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?
Currently, EcoLogic supports a total of approximately 150 acres (61 ha) of agroforestry plots across four sites in Guatemala and Honduras. The average plot size per farmer is 0.5 acres (0.2 ha). Based on recent research and calculations conducted for EcoLogic by an agroforestry expert based at El Colegio Frontera del Sur in Mexicowww.ecosur.mxwe estimate that our plots absorb approximately 53.25 tons of carbon per hectare, or a total of approximately 3,195 tons of carbon within our 150 acres (60 ha) of plots. These totals equal the sum of 1) total avoided emissions, through use of more sustainable and efficient agriculture techniques; and 2) total carbon absorption by these plots.
Estimated annual carbon emissions per capita is 0.87 tons in Guatemala and 1.19 tons in Honduras (www.tradingeconomics.com). Therefore, the total carbon absorption by these plots can be seen as offsetting the annual carbon emissions of anywhere from 2,684 and 3,672 humans in this region.
What are other key benefits?
Alley cropping shows great promise in addressing the interrelated challenges of food and economic insecurity, soil quality, and deforestation so prevalent in the region. It increases crop yields; significantly decreases the use of chemical fertilizers—which damage health and are costly for small farmers; reduces manual labor and pressure on natural resources. A 2011 analysis of a similar EcoLogic project in Ixcán, Guatemala, shows that alley-cropping plots yield approximately 350 kg more corn per hectare compared to traditional plots. On the market, this has a value of approximately US $577/hectare per year. In addition, eliminating chemical inputs and reducing weeding saves farmers an average of US $193/hectare and US $217/hectare respectively. As the poverty linethe average monthly income in Guatemala is US $542, this technique can make a significant difference for rural farmers and their families in meeting basic needs.
What are the proposal’s costs?
The total projected cost per year of the three-year program is $178,163. At this phase of the program, the largest individual component cost is approximately $105,491 to support local project technicians, consultants and facilitators, and staff involved in the design and implementation of the program. An estimated $20,987 funds the purchase of Inga edulis seeds and supplies for tree nursery construction and maintenance. Approximately $18,250 supports the monitoring and evaluation of the program as well as indirect administration costs. An estimated $14,435 supports the convening of alley-cropping workshops and trainings for farmers, and learning exchanges between communities. Approximately $12,000 covers local, regional, and international travel to and from our project sites, and visits with prospective partners. Lastly, approximately $7,000 will support outreach efforts to scale and publicize the program, including online print materials, and radio and TV spots.
The alley-cropping technique we promote takes three years to complete its first cycle – 0.5 years to grow saplings, approximately 1.5 years to allow trees to grow on land to naturally replenish soils, and 1 year to grow corn and other crops. It also takes three years for trees to bears seeds suitable for local tree production. The technique can then be used annually and expanded.
The project will establish 120 new hectares of alley-cropping plots with 800 participating farmers. This program is currently in the first of three phases. Prize money would support the implementation of the four components outlined under the 6-12 month timeframe of Phase 1. These activities include: a) addressing remaining barriers to adopting this technology and exploring alternate scaling methods and additional agriculture techniques to complement alley-cropping, b) refining monitoring and evaluation, scaling, outreach, and publicity mechanisms, and clarifying indicators and milestones, c) increasing the supply of Inga edulis seeds to meet the current demand, and d) solidifying new partnerships for program guidance, scientific monitoring, and, potentially, execution. Additionally, timely and sufficient funding sources for Phase 1 will allow us to transition with proper momentum into Phase 2. Components of Phase 2 will include training EcoLogic field staff on adopted alley-cropping program strategies, determining new regions to apply the method, and gathering baseline data in new program regions. Ultimately, Phase 3 will involve continued program execution, monitoring and evaluation, and expansion.
The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment
Siemens Foundation Empowering People Award
Presbyterian Hunger Program
 Rockefeller Foundation’s Top 100 Next Century Innovator (http://centennial.rockefellerfoundation.org/innovators/profile/ecologic); and featured in a publication entitled, “Impact Innovations: Lessons from Small-scale Agriculture in Latin America and the Caribbean,” published by the International Institution for Cooperation in Agriculture (IICA), the International Development Bank and FONTAGRO. Our project is in Chapter 15 (p.195). http://www.fontagro.org/sites/default/files/Innovaciones_de_Impacto.pdf
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