Alley-cropping with Inga edulis trees

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Alley-cropping with Inga edulis trees

Cambridge, GuatemalaCambridge, United States
Year Founded:
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Project Stage:
$1 million - $5 million
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

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

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Central America’s annual deforestation over the past decade was 1.19% compared to the global average of 0.13%. Impoverished 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, soil erosion, water contamination, and food insecurity. Furthermore, limited soil fertility drives deforestation as farmers continually expand the agricultural frontier seeking fertile land. This creates a cycle of deforestation and degradation of productive land. Meeting future demand for food production requires a balance between immediate consumption needs and long-term stewardship of natural resources. Alley-cropping offers an approach that meets consumption needs and preserves forest ecosystems.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

The incorporation of trees that are efficient in nitrogen-fixation and the recycling of nutrients, capable of producing significant volumes of high quality foliage is a sustainable way to recuperate land suitable for agriculture. 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.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

The story of José Salvador Toc, an Ixcán farmer who has been an active community collaborator with EcoLogic and local partner, Mancomunidad Frontera Norte (MFN), serves as a testament to the impact of agroforestry in this municipality. In 2008, EcoLogic provided Salvador with technical training in agroforestry and gave him Inga edulis seeds to start his own plot. Two years later, he was harvesting 40% more corn from his Inga plots, and the Inga leaves were suppressing weeds and mulching the soil so that no extra fertilizer was needed. Eager to share his knowledge, he invited farmers to visit his parcel. Salvador now provides training to those who ask for help and frequently donates seeds to his neighbors. In 2011, Heifer International granted him the Golden Talent Award for "visionary leadership" in his community. Three other stories offer examples of the opportunities and incentives created for farmers through uptake of this technique. First, groups of farmers have begun producing cash crops, such as cardamom and pepper, using Inga trees. Second, similar groups of farmers have discussed organizing into co-ops to more effectively market their crops. Lastly, a number of farmers from Ixcán, Guatemala with mature alley-cropping plots now participate in the Guatemalan Forest Institute’s Forest Incentives Program for Owners of Small Forests and Agroforestry Lands (PINPEP). This program provides cash payments to members of the Guatemalan population who may not have ownership of forest lands, but whose activities support reforestation or sustainable management of forests.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

EcoLogic supports over 300 alley-cropping plots across four sites in Guatemala and Honduras and has helped train approximately 500 farmers. 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. The extreme poverty line in Guatemala, or that needed for an individual to meet their basic nutritional needs, is approximately US $569 per year. Consequently, this technique can significantly improve the ability for rural communities to meet their basic nutrition needs. 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.

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

EcoLogic has raised $100,000 in funding for the program’s growth stage. Financial sustainability hinges on: 1) establishing farmer networks and community organizations capable of providing training; 2) establishing local seed production centers; and 3) securing diversified funding for continued program expansion and replication. These strategies will ensure that costs stay stable as the number of participating communities and farmers increase.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Sustainable Harvest International also introduces and trains smallholder farmers in the region in agroforestry techniques, including alley-cropping with Inga edulis. Additionally, Hunger Relief International tackles the cycle of poverty and lack of access to basic needs in rural Guatemala by training communities in sustainable agricultural techniques. EcoLogic’s innovation is its incorporation of agroforestry as a complimentary component of its broader community-led conservation and sustainable development projects. Furthermore, our project-based ‘tecnicos’ (project technicians) provide a source of support for our community beneficiaries and a link between our local partner organization, and EcoLogic. Lastly, our ‘train the trainer approach,' helps farmers learn to train their peers.

Founding Story

In 2002, EcoLogic’s Regional Director visited alley-cropping plots using Inga designed by Dr. Michael Hands, at the Centro Universitario Regional del Litoral Atlántico 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 Honduran project partner, the Pico Bonito National Park Foundation (FUPNAPIB), was a passionate advocate for Inga’s benefits. Our regional director believed the technique would complement our forest conservation and community development work. EcoLogic’s founder encouraged our Regional Director to incorporate alley-cropping as a program component, seeing high potential for Inga with the rural poor. Starting in 2008, we began to expand the program into Guatemala and the north coast of Honduras. Currently, alley-cropping projects are underway in northwest and Caribbean Guatemala, and the PIBOTEX Corridor in northern Honduras.
About You
EcoLogic Development Fund
About You
First Name


Last Name


About Your Organization
Organization Name

EcoLogic Development Fund

Organization Country

, MA, Cambridge, Middlesex County

Country where this project is creating social impact
Has the organization received awards or honors? Please tell us about them

EcoLogic recently became one of the Rockefeller Foundation’s top 100 Next Century Innovators for our agroforestry program being presented in this application. Our sustainable agroforestry work was also recently featured in a publication entitled, “Impact Innovations: Lessons from Small-scale Agriculture in Latin America and the Caribbean,” put out by the International Institution for Cooperation in Agriculture (IICA), the International Development Bank (IDB) and El Fondo Regional de Tecnología Agropecuaria (FONTAGRO). (PDF can be viewed here:

In June 2012, at the Rio +20 Conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, our Honduran partner organization, AJAASSPIB, was honored as one of 25 recipients of the UN Equator Prize. This earned them prestigious recognition out of 800 nominees from 113 countries, “as an outstanding local initiative that works to recognize and advance local sustainable development solutions for people, nature and resilient communities.” EcoLogic nominated AJAASSPIB for this award.

Additionally, EcoLogic was named Runner-Up in June 2011 for the Swiss Re ReSource Award for Sustainable Watershed Management, an internationally recognized prize for leadership in community‐based watershed management. This award honored our work in northern Honduras. Finally, EcoLogic was awarded the 2007 Energy Globe National Award for Honduras in recognition of its launching of Pico Bonito Forests LLC.

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.


Florence Reed's picture

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.