EcoLogic trains subsistence farmers in these techniques to reduce slash-and-burn agriculture and improve food security. Integrating trees within agricultural lands has remarkable ecological and economic advantages. Agroforestry systems can replenish soil nutrients and help retain moisture; reduce erosion; increase crop yields; decrease production inputs, such as fertilizer and pesticides; reduce weeding time; and create habitat buffers and limit pressure on standing forests, thus helping other species and promoting biodiversity. Agroforestry systems also provide a source of fuelwood. Agroforestry practices are considered one of the key strategies for the development of climate-smart agriculture.
At its simplest, agroforestry means growing crops with trees so farming is easier and less damaging to the soil and ecosystem and so crops can be replanted in the same place year after year. When done correctly, crop yields are as robust as those found in typical open fields, there is no loss of soil (thanks to the protection of the tree root systems, even in times of heavy rains) and soil fertility can even improve because of the leaf litter and the nitrogen fixing properties of some tree species. Inga (Inga edulis)—known in Spanish by a variety of names, including guama, pacay, or cuaniquil—is one such beneficial tree. Another is andean alder (Alnus acuminate), a species that grows well at higher altitudes and so is particularly suited for communities in mountainous areas.
EcoLogic promotes an agroforestry approach called alley-cropping: planting what can be thought of as strips of “green manure” trees alongside field crops. EcoLogic first introduced alley-cropping with inga to our partners in northern Honduras, in the early-2000s, after consultation with Dr. Michael Hands of Cambridge University and the Inga Foundation.
EcoLogic has achieved significant success working with rural communities in four locations in Guatemala and Honduras to facilitate the adoption of agroforestry practices that are a sustainable alternative to slash and burn agriculture.
How does agroforestry benefit people & the environment?
Growing trees alongside crops has remarkable advantages for communities and ecosystems compared to slash-and-burn agriculture.
It replenishes soil nutrients and helps retain moisture
Increases crop yields
Decreases production inputs, such as fertilizer and pesticides
Reduces time spent weeding
Creates habitat buffers and limits pressure on standing forests, thus helping other species and promoting biodiversity.
Alley-cropping also provides a source of fuel wood, as the farmers heavily prune the trees just before planting their food crops. The trees grow back with new healthy branches, just in time for the next year. Cropland using inga trees can also be cultivated for at least eight to ten years continuously—yielding a higher-quality and more-abundant product—compared to two to three years for slash and burn plots. We believe that if carefully managed, with the occasional off-year to rest the trees and soil, cropland using the alley-cropping technique could potentially be cultivated indefinitely.
Our alley-cropping approach differs from other organizations in that we implement the technology in new areas by collaborating with local farmers as early adopters. Thus rather than perfecting the approach on EcoLogic-owned pilot plots or in some other research setting, we enable smallholder farmers to apply and refine the methodology on their own land, with EcoLogic’s support and guidance. As a result, farmers become local experts and advocates for an affordable, practical, and sustainable way to grow food.