Expanding Agroforestry Across Ixcan, Guatemala

Antonio Chipel, an EcoLogic field technician in Guatemala, shows how the natural compost of decaying Inga leaves helps retain moisture in the soil.

Antonio Chipel, an EcoLogic field technician in Guatemala, shows how the natural compost of decaying Inga leaves helps retain moisture in the soil.

Farmers in the municipality of Ixcán in Northwest Guatemala are working with EcoLogic to measure the success of their agroforestry parcels. In November 2012, local farmers worked with an EcoLogic team to collect data from over 130 EcoLogic-supported agroforestry plots and establish a baseline to measure and monitor how the land is adapting.

Agroforestry—specifically alley-cropping or planting food crops with trees, in this case—is a farming approach that prevents soil erosion, enhances soil fertility, reduces pesticide use, and increases crop yields. EcoLogic has been working with local partners in Guatemala and Honduras for several years, promoting agroforestry as a solution to traditional slash and burn agriculture which destroys forest and habitat, releases greenhouse gases, and renders the newly claimed farmland unusable in just a few years time.

Recognition has grown throughout the region for the important role agroforestry can play in addressing the interrelated challenges of deforestation and lack of food security—however it is still underutilized. Based on nearly 10 years of experience with this approach, EcoLogic has been ramping up its agroforestry program. Ixcán is just one of three regions in Central America where we are collaborating with local partners to develop and expand this agricultural practice.

The team that collected the data consisted of EcoLogic regional staff, field technicians, a US-based volunteer, Ixcán community members, and local university students who joined the group. They received training from EcoLogic in the techniques and instruments to be used for each plot.

At each site, team members collected data on the size and location of the plots, the height, diameter and health of the Inga trees, and the type of crops grown both on the plot and adjacent farmland. Geographical and environmental characteristics including altitude, land gradient, soil quality, water sources, and types of vegetation present were also gathered.

All the plots surveyed are using the Inga tree (Inga edulis), and support the production of corn. EcoLogic hopes to encourage crop diversification as the program expands. The current approach on the plots is to heavily prune the Inga trees before corn planting season to provide ample sunlight for the corn crop, and a source of firewood for the home.

One exciting development confirmed is that farmers have taken to growing Inga trees to seed-bearing age, and are planting Inga with shade-loving cardamom at a small scale. Sale of the spice provides an important source of income for these subsistence farmers. This interplanting with Inga further proves there is rising demand for new agroforestry plots.

EcoLogic is in a strategic position to work hand-in-hand with farmers to identify and then take advantage of the enabling conditions that will allow alley-cropping to become more widely available to and desirable among smallholder farmers. Later this year, EcoLogic plans to collect similar data at our third site slated for agroforestry expansion in Northern Honduras.