Improving food production and resource protection in Mesoamerica

Improving food production and resource protection in Mesoamerica

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Last Update: July 23, 2013

Approximately 45% of Guatemala and Honduras’population is food-insecure. EcoLogic combats this, and saves forest, using ‘alley-cropping with Inga edulis.’ Farmers increase staple food production, improve soil quality, and use less land, preserving forest resources and ecosystem services.

Founded: 2002 Type: citizen sector

The Problem

Central America’s annual deforestation over the past decade was 1.19%. The global average is 0.17%. Impoverished and indigenous communities struggle to survive by relying heavily on the region’s most degraded and at-risk ecosystems. They often use slash and burn agriculture, causing deforestation and soil erosion, water contamination, and food insecurity. It is a vicious cycle that requires the adoption of new agricultural techniques.

The Solution

Alley-cropping, the planting of rows of trees with agricultural crops planted in between, is a sustainable alternative to slash-and-burn. Using the tree species Inga edulis strengthens the nutrient value chain in several ways. Inga’s deep roots effectively 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.

Example

In 2008, EcoLogic provided José Salvador Toc, a farmer from Ixcán, Guatemala, with training and Inga seeds to start his own alley-cropping plot. Two years later, his Inga plots harvested 40% more corn compared to his conventional plot and the Inga leaves had suppressed weeds and mulched the soil without extra fertilizer. Within months, hundreds of fellow farmers requested training and seeds to begin alley-cropping plots. Now, Ixcán’s alley-cropping program includes 400 farmers, who see the technique as critical for community food security, health, and resource supply. Farmers are also experimenting with the production of cash crops, such as cardamom and pepper, and organizing into co-ops to more effectively market their crops.

Impact

EcoLogic supports over 300 alley-cropping plots across four sites in Guatemala and Honduras and has helped train approximately 500 farmers in the technique. A 2011 analysis by researchers from CIPAV in Ixcán, Guatemala showed that alley-cropping plots yield approximately 350 kg more corn per hectare than traditional plots, a value of approximately US $558 per harvest. As the poverty line in Guatemala is US $542, this technique can significantly improve economic and food security for rural communities. We foresee future impact as: 1) increasing and diversifying crop production through alley-cropping in current communities, and 2) introducing alley-cropping to farmers in EcoLogic projects in Chiapas, Mexico and Darién, Panama. These sites will serve as hubs to promote alley-cropping as a solution for meeting local food demand while preserving forest resources.

Budget: More than $1 million

Sustainability Plan

EcoLogic has raised $100,000 as seed funding for the program’s growth stage. Financial sustainability hinges on two strategies: 1) establishing farmer networks and community organizations capable of providing alley cropping training; and 2) establishing local seed production centers. These strategies will ensure that costs stay stable as EcoLogic expands the number of communities and farmers supported in the adoption of this technique.

Marketplace

This specific technique was developed by Dr. Michael Hands of Honduras’ Inga Foundation. Other groups, such as Sustainable Harvest International, also introduce agroforestry techniques to isolated communities and smallholder farmers. EcoLogic’s innovation is that it teaches the technique to farmers on plots within their own communities, rather than in a controlled research setting. This allows farmers to test the approaches in a familiar environment, making them local experts in balancing immediate consumption needs with long-term stewardship of forest resources.

Founding Story

In 2002, EcoLogic’s Regional Director visited alley-cropping demonstration plots using Inga designed by Dr. Michael Hands, at the Centro Universitario Regional del Litoral Atlántico (CURLA) in northern Honduras. Farmers in our nearby project in Pico Bonito National Park had voiced interest in methods to improve food production and reduce deforestation. The director of EcoLogic’s project partner, the Pico Bonito National Park Foundation (FUPNAPIB), was a passionate advocate for the multitude of Inga benefits. Our regional director believed the technique would complement our project’s forest conservation and community development work. Our founder encouraged him to move forward, seeing high potential for Inga with the rural poor.

Team Members

Connections:

Challenges

Nutrients for All: Vitality for People and the Planet

Nutrients For All

Where do you ensure the availability of nutrients?

Healthy environments., Nutrient-rich farming.

If you had greater capacity, which additional sectors would you like your solution to target - either through expansion, partnership, or thought exchange?

Full nourishment foods, Human wellness and vitality.

How specifically would this added capacity help you improve the quality, efficiency, or sustainability of your existing product or service?

Added financial capacity will allow us to: 1) meet demand for training and seeds; 2) increase crop production and food security; 3) strengthen evidence needed for scaling uptake throughout the region; 4) strengthen the establishment of nodes for training and promotion of further uptake; 5) test complementary techniques that may more effectively produce cash or high-nutrient crops; 6) refine monitoring and evaluation, scaling, and outreach mechanisms; and 7) support the creation of more local seed production enterprises and the creation of more local seed production enterprises and co-ops.

Comments & Activity

Comments

Florence Reed profile img
Wed, 05/15/2013 - 15:47

In case anyone misinterprets the Marketplace piece, I want to clarify that Sustainable Harvest international teaches a variety of agro-forestry and other sustainable farming practices to farmers on their own farms. Thanks and best of luck to EcoLogic.