Dear friends and supporters,
The Amazon is still on fire. As you have seen in the news, tens of thousands of forest fires are raging across the Amazon rainforest, and continue to spread through the region at an alarming pace. The fires have devastated immense areas in Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay.
While some fires are attributed to increased drought (unnatural in its occurrence and directly linked to a changing climate) most are deliberately set by humans seeking to clear the forest to expand business. In Brazil in particular, agri-business interests and cattle ranchers continue to set fires across vast swaths of forest in order to clear land for soy monocultures and cattle farms, fueled by the predatory right wing policies of president Bolsonaro.
With your support, we at the Chaikuni Institute promote an alternative to harmful slash-and-burn agriculture – the method which is largely responsible for these fires. At Chaikuni we promote a regenerative and diverse agro-forestry system called the chacra integral. One of the main characteristics of the chacra integral is a technique which involves letting chopped vegetation remain on the ground, which maintains nutrients in the bio-mass and mimicks the natural cycles of the rainforest ecosystem. The chacra integral system is a sure way to avoid fires in the region, because no burning is included in this process. An intact tropical rainforest is so humid that it is far more resilient to the spread of fires. A chacra integral promises a healthy and intact piece of rainforest, producing food, medicine and timber, providing myriad ecological and economic benefits to local communities as well as the global community.
Since we held our Permaculture Design Course (PDC) in May for local farmers from the surrounding communities of our permaculture center, we’ve continued to work on bringing these chacras integrales to their homes. By the end of the year, we set the goal to have installed 8 hectares of these rich agroforestry plots with participating communities.
The pioneers of this program are the local participants of the PDC, who we are working with to install these systems on their properties. We’ve started to visit them in their homes and on their land, collecting socio-economic data to build a solid baseline, which will later allow us to monitor the progress of this project. Just last week, we held a day-long course at our center to refresh the insights and techniques we learned from the PDC, focusing on the design of their properties, and in particular analyzing the best location for their agroforestry plots. In the case of one of the participants, we have already started implementing his chacra integral.
The work is done through so-called mingas. A minga refers to a day of communal work, and is very common for our region of the Peruvian Amazon. The owner mobilizes her or his family and neighbors to lend a hand in the field and offers them food in return. Our qualified staff accompanies and guides the work, and we also chip in with some of the food offered for the working crowd. From here onwards, we will assist in many more mingas to help establish the chacras integrales in the communities.
We are as committed as ever to keep creating a movement to regenerate the Amazon, spreading awareness and know-how that will also contribute to prevent future fires. Any donation will help us to take our project a step further.
Thank you so much for your support to local communities in the Peruvian Amazon and for being part of our movement.
The Chaikuni Institute Team
Text by Adam Andros
Photography by Sophie Pinchetti
In order to inspire and empower our neighbors to diversify their income and sustenance opportunities, the Chaikuni Institute recently collaborated with the prestigious Instituto de Investigaciones de la Amazonia Peruana (IIAP) to facilitate a workshop focused on rural fish farming. Fish farming is an important economic activity for low-income rural caserios and villages of the Peruvian Amazon, as a complement for or an alternative to the ubiquitous and soil depleting monocultures of yucca or plantain upon which most communities depend.
The main objective of our workshop was to provide a solid grounding in both the theory and practice of rural fish farming, guided by academic experts on the field. It was aimed at both beginning and experienced fish farmers, providing a space where difficulties and challenges could be addressed in a pragmatic way by the experts, while also promoting group cohesion and strengthening the bonds between the villages and The Chaikuni Institute.
The workshop took place in the community of Tres Unidos, a mestizo caserio just outside of the Temple of the Way of Light, with the participation of 13 people from the surrounding villages, two facilitators from the Chaikuni institute (including our wonderful forest engineer Silvia) and 1 principal instructor from the IIAP, the biologist Manuel Soplin.
The main points discussed during the workshop centered around notions of self-sufficiency and income diversity. Fish farms were presented as opportunities to secure a steady source of quality, clean and delicious protein that also provides income opportunities by channeling surplus into the local market. Furthermore, we dedicated time to the presentation of good practices and troubleshooting, anticipating the difficulties new farmers may encounter.
In order to do so, we examined and outlined the desired characteristics of the terrains allocated for the construction of new fish-farms, we established standards for fish density, fish nutrition, hygiene and care and provided solutions to protect the fish from predatory animals. Our intention always is to strike a balance between sustainability, ecology, viability and production.
Our friend Manuel Soplin, biologist for the IIAP, also arranged for our community members to have free access to gamitana (Colossoma macropomum) fish fry, in order to help the new entrepreneurs kick start their enterprises with the right foot. We want to extend our gratitude and appreciation to Manuel and the whole team at the IIAP for their generosity and dedication.
After a fascinating and engaging theoretical presentation by Manuel and Silvia, and a simple and delicious lunch, we went on an excursion to visit the land that had been designated for the construction of our neighbor Mr. Marcelo Tenazoa’s new fish farm. It was an opportunity for Silvia and Manuel to assess the location of the pool, provide insights into the building process and offer some guidelines and recommendations to secure the success of this new project.
After answering questions and clearing doubts, we also visited the fish farms of another neighbor, Mr. Eder Baneo. Our friend Eder has been farming fish for a while, and is currently facing difficulties getting rid of a parasitic plague that appears to be hindering the development of his prized fish. Our friend from the IIAP, Manuel Soplin, kindly collected samples from the pools in order to have the analyzed in the laboratories of the institution.
We are extremely happy for the dedication and commitment of our neighbors in Tres Unidos to sustainable development and abundant living systems. We are looking forward to see how these new projects develop, and are happy, as always, to have our team of trained and willing workers at the disposition of the village in order to implement novel community projects in order to further and strengthen the reciprocal relationships between Chaikuni , the Temple of the Way of Light, and our wider Amazonian family and community.
Photography Michal Chochol & Text Sophie Pinchetti
Cacao might be grown worldwide nowadays, but it is likely here in the lowland rainforests of the Amazon River basins of South America that the cacao tree (Theobroma cacao) first originated. Prized amongst Amazonian peoples since time immemorial for its richness in nutrients and deep flavour, it is no wonder that in Latin, cacao translates to “food of the gods”. While cacao became a key export during Colonial times, in recent times, local, community-managed and sustainable cacao production initiatives are showing promise as a source of income and, when combined with other enterprises, part of an alternative to extractive projects.
With this in mind, we recently led our first-ever Cacao Fermentation Workshop in the community of Tres Unidos in the Nanay River, located a stone’s throw away from our Permaculture site. Led by British artisanal chocolate expert Rory Wilkinson, who has been traveling around Latin America giving cacao fermentation technique workshops based upon his work experience with artisanal chocolate factories in Europe, the workshop took place over one week. It was attended by both our permaculture staff and five local people, including two local ladies, Viviana Tenazoa and Griselda Canayo, who run the local stores in Tres Unidos and make cacao delicacies (combining cacao, mani and honey) which are then sold to the guests of our sister organization, The Temple of The Way of Light.
This workshop aimed to test which fermentation techniques would give the best results for the quality of taste of their confections. Typically, Viviana Tenazoa and Griselda Canayo have been fermenting the cacao seeds with the juice, a fairly quick process. During this workshop, Rory presented the classic fermentation technique used by artisanal chocolate makers. This fermentation technique, which involves using a box with holes, allows the juice from the seeds to drain out and promotes the presence of a special type of bacteria which is essential for the cacao to then release a richer taste.
After placing the cacao seeds into the fermentation box, the box was then visited each day in order to monitor the fermentation process and to ensure that the temperature raises to the proper level. In this instance, and perhaps owing to the warm Amazonian climate, the process happened naturally after six days. “It was interesting to learn a new technique to ferment cacao…it seems like something innovative. But I’d like to do some modifications to the technique so that the process lasts 3 days instead of 6”, comments Viviana.
After roasting and grinding the seeds and eventually making small samples, we then led a tasting session with cacao made using Rory’s fermentation process and cacao made using the ladies’ usual fermentation process. Opinions were 50/50 though it was noted that Rory’s fermentation process resulted in a fuller-bodied taste: “The cacao has a better color, flavor and aroma”, affirms Viviana.
In the past, numerous collectives stimulated cacao production around the Nanay River. But today, many of these cacao farms are little used, and many cacao fields are overgrown. By speaking with locals of Tres Unidos, the potential to revive cacao production has become clear, as is the opportunity to find a market for cacao made using the fermentation technique shown during the workshop. Unexpectedly, and as a result of learning the fermentation technique, the idea then arose for two new potential products using the fermentation juice: a unique cacao vinegar and cacao liquor. These special and unusual creations could then be marketed to guests of The Temple of The Way of Light, offering a further economic opportunity to the community.
Text by Alan Chumbe
The Amazon rainforest is a great example of symbiosis, where every part plays an important role in the functioning of this living system. This happens at all ecological levels of the forest in a natural way. But what happens when the “natural” is not the optimal, when this symbiosis can be improved without altering the landscape? This can be achieved by enriching the forest or chacras (“food gardens”) with species of significant ecological, social and economic value for Amazonian rural populations.
The Chaikuni Institute’s Permaculture team was delighted to recently donate twelve baby pineapples or “mashquis” (a local word using to designate young plants) to families in the community of Tres Unidos as part of our outreach work with local communities. In accordance with nature’s processes, introducing species to new environments must take into consideration the qualities and potentialities of the land and the species. The good drainage qualities of the nutrient-poor sandy soils in the area from the community of Tres Unidos create good conditions for the growth of pineapples which enjoy well drained soils.
Considered the third most consumed tropical fruit in the world, the pineapple represents an opportunity to generate economic income for rural families, and to continue with the process of diversifying their crops as part of their chacras, a process which Chaikuni’s Permaculture team is closely accompanying with expert advice, monitoring as well as workshops.
As part of revaluing the beliefs and customs of local inhabitants, most of the pineapples were sown in accordance to a particular time of the lunar cycle – the fifth day after a full moon.
Stay connected to The Chaikuni Institute’s social media channels and check the blog for more regular updates on our Permaculture program’s work in the Peruvian Amazon rainforest.
Through the lens of young Amazonian biologist and photographer Jorge Salvador Pizarro García, Amazonian flora and fauna are not only magnified but celebrated. From brightly colored frogs and snakes to the blooming flowers of medicinal plants and trees, Jorge documents the astonishing diversity of natural life in Peru’s Amazon. The Chaikuni Institute was delighted to recently invite Jorge to photograph a unique portrait series of medicinal Amazonian trees and plants growing at our Permaculture project in the Peruvian Amazon rainforest on land shared with our sister organization, The Temple of The Way of Light. In this exclusive interview, we speak with Jorge on his photographic work and the importance of the Amazon.
Text and Portrait by Sophie Pinchetti
CHAIKUNI: Where does your fascination for flora and fauna come from?
JORGE SALVADOR PIZARRO GARCIA: When I was a kid, I always liked to go fishing with my mother. That motivated me to study a degree in biological sciences, it connects me to my family and the forest, which I have always identified with. I specialize in the subject of herpetology, which is the study of amphibians and reptiles such as frogs, toads, snakes, lizards. Culture and religion have made us repudiate these animals. I’ve always asked myself why that is. I have always held a passion towards these animals and so I decided to investigate them. I hope that my work can be a tool to generate information so that our society can get to know their resources. I come from a very small community called Requena in Loreto, and in a certain way, it makes you value many things from the natural world. It is a type of worldview that an Amazonian has.
CHAIKUNI: You recently exhibited your photographic work in Iquitos at the DDC-Loreto. Can you tell me about how your work crosses between science and art?
JORGE: I realize that the scientific world is a very specialized and somewhat closed world. So to make subjects visible in a simple, more didactic way, I thought about photography. I feel that all types of art are based on reality. To me, art is nature. Nature inspires many artists and in many different ways. With ayahuasca, for example, you can enter a world that many consider spiritual, and that is through the means of a vine, through nature. So many artists are inspired by reality and reality is nature. Here in the Amazon, nature is above all the forests, it is an ecosystem. When I take a photograph of a landscape, I am not only seeing a panorama, but also birds, there are amphibians, reptiles, there are myths and legends – there are many things and I try to capture that.
CHAIKUNI: Can you share some of your impressions from working on the medicinal plants project with us at Chaikuni?
JORGE: It was a beautiful project. It really puts the spotlight on the diversity of plants that you can have in a forest. It’s incredible that a certain piece of land or area can have so many medicinal plants. I was in wonder. With nature, one gives what one receives – and I felt that Chaikuni Institute has always given good energies to the area, you can feel that there are strong energies with regards to the plants.
“Plants represent a very important energy that we have to take care of.”
CHAIKUNI: Yes, reciprocity with nature.
JORGE: It’s good. Happiness comes more from a state of mind, a state of energy. Our bodies are made of energy and nature is the same. So if you transmit positive energies, nature will return it and transmit it to you, she will offer you tranquility in a certain way.
CHAIKUNI: More and more scientific studies are being made on the sentience of plants.
JORGE: Yes. There are studies showing that plants are interconnected and related through their roots, and this generates a harmony in the forest. The plants are also part of the food chain, they are the primary producer at the base of the food chain. So plants represent a very important energy that we have to take care of.
CHAIKUNI: What do you think of the threats which the Amazon faces today, and the damage being done to Amazonian biodiversity through extractive activities?
JORGE: The issue of deforestation is a very complex issue. The best tool to combat that is education. It implies a culture of reading, informing oneself about what is happening in the Amazon. Loreto is one of the regions with the highest rate of illiteracy, so from that point of view, I think we should improve on that. A new era, a new change must be made now.
CHAIKUNI: Why is the Amazon so important?
JORGE: It’s one of the most diverse places in the world with an incredibly important biodiversity. It has important resources like water, which is the main source of life for all living beings. Without water, there is no life. We have to conserve, preserve and in a certain way manage our resources in the Amazon. There are particular ways of life here too, for example the ways of life of indigenous peoples – a civilization in contact with nature. They have a valuable way of life, as well as valuable traditions and cosmovisions. And above all, they understand how important it is to manage natural resources responsibly.
Coming Soon: The full series of over 100 Amazonian Medicinal Plants & Trees By Jorge Salvador Pizarra Garcia, photographed at The Chaikuni’s Institute Permaculture site in the Peruvian Amazon will soon be viewable from a dedicated web page. Stay tuned!
Photography Adam Andros
We were recently honoured with a fructiferous visit from our friends of “Association Civil Puente de la Amistad” (ACELPA), a Peruvian non-profit organization focused on helping the residents of Tamshiyacu, Loreto district, to protect and diversify their income opportunities.
Guided by our Forest Engineer Silvia and our Permaculture Coordinator Michal, the participants had a lovely time sampling the fruits of our chacras, learning from our experience and sharing their own knowledge with us. ACELPA is beginning to implement their own permaculture/chacras integrales project, with the assessment, support and empowerment provided by Silvia and all the Chaikuni team.
We wish our friends in Tamshiyacu the best of luck in their endeavours, and we look forward to more collaborative efforts with like minded organizations.
Valuing and using local resources is one of the key steps to sustainability. Through this practice ‒ applicable to plants, animals, building materials and even human beings ‒ we can save a lot of money and energy, and ensure that our systems are resilient and can easily withstand necessary changes. It was in the name of this principle that we spent years looking for local permaculture enthusiasts who could take on responsibility for coordinating our permaculture project. To that end, we are now delighted to announce that from the beginning of April we officially welcomed on board Silvia del Aguila Reyna.
Silvia was born and raised in Iquitos, but her parents are native to the upper Huallaga river, a region of the Amazon whose people are known for their sophisticated agricultural practices. She spent her childhood in La Independencia, a small rural community just outside of Iquitos, helping her mother to cultivate their land. It was her mother who planted the seeds of environmental awareness and the connection between human activity and the health of the land in a young Silvia’s consciousness.
Moving to the city, she enrolled with the National University of the Amazon (UNAP) to pursue a forestry engineer career. Later, she completed her master’s degree in Aquatic Resources with a major in Aquaculture at the Universidad Mayor de San Marcos. Over the years of her professional life, Silvia has contributed to many different projects, both with NGOs and state-owned organizations. Silvia says she gained some of her most influencial experiences while working in the production and organizational arm of the Rural and Indigenous Agroforestry Coordination office, in which she became a director, as well as while collaborating with the well-respected Peruvian Amazon Research Institute on its Management and Conservation of the Biodiversity of the Nanay River Basin project.
For the two-plus years before joining Chaikuni, Silvia coordinated the Reforestation and Comprehensive Gardens project for the French-Peruvian NGO, Latitude Sur.
Although the word “permaculture” is a new one for Silvia, her understanding of the relationship between people and the Earth completely resonates with Chaikuni’s vision. In her first few months of work, Silvia dedicated herself to learning about our land and comprehensive master-plan, and contributing her ideas to how we could improve Chaikuni’s existing projects. With her academic approach, Silvia has already been an immense help in systemizing the data and incorporating proper evaluation techniques into our work.
With many years in her field of expertise, Silvia has many professional connections and she is very happy to act as a bridge between the Chaikuni Institute and other organizations of a similar focus. We also forsee that her experience working with many rural comunities will allow her to make a major contribution to the partnership with the local village, Tres Unidos.
Tres Unidos village is the closest neighbor to the land shared by the Chaikuni Institute. We have already made significant contributions in the many years of our partnership with Tres Unidos, including but not limited to:
• Implementing a water system and recycling center
• Training of 7 local farmers in sustainable agriculture practices
• Paying school teachers’ salaries
• Employing a significant amount of villagers to stimulate the local economy
Silvia is very keen to further support Tres Unidos with her experience. So far we have had a meeting with local authorities and a general meeting with neighboring farmers to identify major areas of common interest so we know where to focus our energy. We learned that the majority of people who attended have an interest in producing fish and nine of them have already established fish farms that require some conservation work. We are currently in a process of visiting those fish farms to obtain more information and advise owners on the best strategies for their development.
You will be able to read more about our work with Tres Unidos in an upcoming blog. In the meantime, Silivia is bringing her wealth of experience to our work at Chaikuni. We are blessed to have her as part of the team.
Last year was one of evolution and growth for the Chaikuni Institute’s permaculture project. It was filled with diverse challenges requiring innovative solutions that have led to many beneficial lessons and positive changes being carried forward to the new season of early 2016.
The Chaikuni Permaculture Team
May 2015 marked the conclusion of Project Coordinator and dear friend Nick Boyce’s contribution to the permaculture project. For the past two years, the project was fortunate to benefit from Nick’s immense passion for plants, global sustainable community development, and holistic permaculture design. Fueled by Nick’s contagious enthusiasm and bold vision, the project team built a strong foundation for the ‘chakra’ garden that now serves as a unique alternative model to the highly popular slash-and-burn technique used in tropical rainforest environments.
The team also successfully incorporated the first ayahuasca vines into our agroforestry systems and planted many additional trees. The team extends their deep gratitude to Nick for his significant contributions to the project and remains inspired by the deep heart and dedication he poured into his work.
We have also been blessed with the presence of Michal Chochol as a founding member of the Chaikuni Institute since we first took root in January 2013. Michal has also been part of the team at the traditional Amazonian healing center and our sister organization, the Temple of the Way of Light since 2011. And for the last four years, Michal has combined his great passion for tropical rainforest ecosystems and sustainable design with a spirit of vibrant courage and determination. Michal has led the revision, refinement and improved functionality of many existing projects over the years. He has been working closely with our team of seven ‘biologos’ – local plant experts and farmers who we are both learning from and who are also receiving training in permaculture through the implementation and maintenance of a wide variety of projects across our grounds.
This season the team also incorporated our first-ever foreign interns into the permaculture project. It proved to be a challenging initiative and led the team to question the true sustainability of our program. While working through this challenge, we found ourselves motivated to redirect our focus into using local resources, and dedicated a large portion of our time to establishing contacts with Iquitos-based organizations including: IIAP (the Peruvian Amazon Research Institute) and the Agricultural Department of UNAP (Peruvian Amazon National University).
We also began recruiting local engineers. At the beginning of 2016, we welcomed Silvia del Aguila Reyna in the role of Forestry Engineer. Silvia brings a wealth of past experience implementing social projects. She derives her interest in sustainable development from the ancient agricultural wisdom of her ancestors that was passed on to her at a young age by her mother. You can read more about Silvia in our official welcome blog here, or on the biography page.
In January 2016, the team was also fortunate to welcome Colombian civil engineer Daniel Londoño, who stayed with us as part of a work exchange for several months. Daniel’s life passion is working with one of the most highly functional plants available in the tropics, vetiver grass (Chrysopogon zizanioides). Daniel helped us incorporate vetiver into our ecosystems and established a nursery for its future propagation. It was an extremely inspiring opportunity to host Daniel and witness his work. He’s provided significant motivation and encouragement to our team to honor the magic and versatility of this significant and fascinating plant.
Learning from Nature
During the 2015 season, we became aware that we needed to transition from the method we had been using to work with our land. In 2016, we implemented a new system, scheduling our working activities in relation to the moon cycle calendar. The relationship between the moon, water and nutrient flow within plants was initially discovered by indigenous people from all over the world and used as agricultural knowledge for millennia. Although this knowledge is not as commonly recognized in today’s society, this ancient wisdom maintains its own enthusiasts amongst local Peruvian farmers. The permaculture team remains deeply grateful to all those who have continued to pass down and share this knowledge through numerous generations and also through our projects.
A fundamental principle of permaculture is to “observe and interact”. Working in accordance with this, our projects are constantly evolving and responding to the feedback nature provides on a daily basis. One of the biggest changes we faced last year was to incorporate chickens onto our land. Apart from providing a nourishing source of protein (meat and eggs), chickens are also incredibly hard workers. By continually digging through dirt in search of any edible creatures and by eliminating weeds and pests, they lighten the soil and contribute copious amounts of extremely fertile manure.
With the addition of chickens on site, we were further inspired to review and improve our strategy related to staple crop production. Crops are now planted on a monthly basis in plots of land previously prepared by the chickens, utilizing the method commonly known as ‘chicken tractor’. We were able to incorporate this strategy with support from our nitrogen-fixing plants and a generous layer of mulch (a type of material spread over the surface of soil as a covering to help retain moisture, suppress weeds and improve the soil’s fertility). Thus, we are preventing nutrient loss from the soil and creating an alternative to the commonly used, although non-sustainable, slash-and-burn technique. We look forward to these improvements producing a monthly stable harvest beginning this October.
The chickens also play a role in contributing to our agroforestry systems. In addition to the food they provide, they also help to fertilize the forest floor and clean it from weeds, while simultaneously preparing it for planting perennial peanut (Arachis pintoi). This nitrogen-fixing ground cover creates a dense carpet underneath our fruit trees, supporting them with nutrients and suppressing all unnecessary weeds. This plant doesn’t grow very high and so requires almost no maintenance, thus enhancing the efficiency and exemplary nature of our agroforestry model.
The end of the year marked the purchase of our first beehive. While cleaning the forest for their yuca (manihot esculenta), locals and farmers often find wild beehives in the trunks of the trees that they cut. In the past, they would have most commonly harvested the honey, causing irreversible damage to the hive. As a team, our goal is to inspire our neighboring farmers to switch to employing a more sustainable beekeeping practice that would not only save the life of this insect, which is integral to the functionality of the ecosystem, but also provide a regular source of income to the beekeepers.
As we continue to incorporate the use of animals into our projects, we are happy to announce the expansion of our churro (Pomacea maculata) breeding areas with two new ponds. This large aquatic snail provides a great source of protein and is relatively easy to produce. It propagates in broad quantities and the only food it requires are the leaves taken from a few particular plant species, which are easily and readily available in abundant quantities. The breading of churro showcases an accessible and creative example for dynamic use of aquatic areas, commonly found as part of local farmland property.
Sustainable Ayahuasca Production
Due to increasing consumption of the ayahuasca brew, the use of its two main ingredients –the ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) and chacruna leaf (Psychotria viridis) – has grown significantly over the past few years. One of the core projects of the Chaikuni Institute is to identify and implement a sustainable method to produce these two plants locally as part of our agroforestry ecosystem. During last season in 2015, we planted 80 new chacruna plants and improved conditions for our ayahuasca plants so they could grow in a more supportive environment. Since 2014, we have planted over 1 000 ayahuasca vines. Our mission is to continue to invest time and energy to develop a model of sustainable ayahuasca and chacruna production with the belief that it could significantly contribute to reforestation of degraded areas while also acting as a source of revenue for local farmers.
Since the inception of the permaculture team and our projects, and after four years of much trial and error, we feel more and more confident to mindfully share our experiences and lessons with a wider and diverse audience. For example, as part of our medicinal plants mini-pilot project, we encouraged a few farmers from three villages bordering our land to grow the plants required for floral bath rituals to be purchased from the Temple by the Way of Light. We invited them to our nursery to share plant propagation techniques, provided a few plant samplings to facilitate and initiate growing their own plant crops, and visited the participants’ crops to share our experiences in the cultivation of medicinal plants.
This project successfully resulted in two participants, Don Marcelo and Doña Inez, establishing themselves as permanent floral-bath plant suppliers to the Temple, providing them the opportunity to increase their monthly income and become active contributors to their community. It is truly inspiring to offer and exchange experiences and sustainable farming techniques and best practices with locals from the surrounding communities. Our continual focus, as we move forward, is to build, strengthen, enrich and grow these relationships through the work of our projects.
Using a sustainable alley-cropping agroforestry solution for local needs in the Amazon
We recently took ownership of a large piece of land (approx. 1 hectare) that 6 months earlier had been cleared of all its forest vegetation leaving a short piece of re-growth that was mainly sandy sub-soil which had been washed out of its topsoil. We decided this would be an ideal site to put into practice our knowledge of land regeneration on a grand scale, demonstrating how to get many of our food needs met whilst improving soils and yields over the years. Eventually to use this piece of land as a training site to show how anyone can replicate this model of regenerating the rainforest and to meet their needs for food, fuel, and fibre.
Typically in this region, people clear large tracts of rainforest like this to produce 1 or 2 rotations of annual crops until all the soil is washed out, they then move onto another piece to do the same. With the increase in population in this area there is no longer enough land for everyone to do this, this is one reason why 9 million hectares of rainforest have lost there original tree cover in Peru, of which 5.5 million is considered degraded/abandoned and 261000 more hectares gets added every year (See page 21 of Rehabilitación de áreas degradadas en la Amazonia peruana). By sharing the agroforestry techniques discussed here that allow the same piece of land to be sustainably harvested from continuously, we can help alleviate pressures on the rainforest.
First we analysed the situation; observing and interacting so that we could fully appreciate all the energy coming in and out of the land. This land had been cleared just prior to the dry season (June-September) and so we quickly decided to plant a recovery crop to protect and build soils. Resilient beans, yucca and corn were chosen and quickly planted. Luckily, in the forest above we found two springs that continued to give water throughout the dry weather and so we used these to water the recovery crop when needed.
For the rest of the year in our location, situated within the humid tropics of the Amazon rainforest basin, we frequently receive very heavy downpours of rain and so we needed any system designed to manage this heavy flow of water. As you can see from this picture, the landscape is relatively sloped surrounded by 10-15 year re-growth forest, containing two small valleys that form into one towards the bottom of the clearing. This gave us opportunities to redirect and spread this water flow throughout the landscape.
We did this by placing 6 dams in suitable places and then connecting these with swale systems. To make these swales, which are dug ditches and mounds on contour, we used the excess woody material from the cleared forest to give them a base structure and then layered soil and organic matter to build a healthy bed. We then planted these beds with more beans to protect and build the soil. In this system the ditch will be used as the main access pathway to the land.
On the downslope of the swales we planted a mix of nitrogen fixing trees, such as ice cream bean, leucaena and sesbania, to be used in an alley cropping format by being continuously chopped and dropped back to mulch the soils, eventually breaking down into healthy soil. On the upslope of the swales we planted vetiver, this bushy clump grass with its deep roots will heed erosion whilst accessing nutrients locked deep in the sub-soils, which can then be added to the top soil by chopping and mulching its grass stems.
The beauty of this system is that it will moderate the flow of water in the landscape just like the forest would; in a heavy downpour it slows and spreads the flow across the contour of the swale allowing it to percolate deeply into the soil causing little to no erosion. In a dry period the flow of water will continue within the soils so that the vegetation can always access water until the next rain comes to fill up the water stored in the soil. This animated video gives you a good idea of this process and the function of a swale in the landscape. Therefore, it will soon grow into the poly-culture system designed with many layers of vegetation all interacting to benefit each other and so produce a huge amount of diverse yield whilst building soil.
With the designed landscape now moderating the water flow we could now think about how to best plant the site. The upper most part of this land is heavily sloped and so we decided to plant a mix of cacao, macambo and ice cream bean trees so that we could get nutritious food without disturbing the soils here, this would also drop down nutrients into our more intensive systems below. In the rest of the land once the rotation of our cover crop is over and the rains return we will plant a highly diverse mix of mainly perennial crops with some annuals rotating with the wet and dry seasons. The main goal being to always produce healthy soil, as well fresh nutritious food.
In the dam systems we also saw opportunities to add aquatic plants for food and green mulches for the land. We are experimenting with 5 local varieties of rice in these areas and will soon see how they can be fully incorporated in the system, but more on that and the next rotation of crops in the next blog on this land.
Here’s some more before (27/07/2013) and after (20/09/2013) shots of the landscape showing how you can turn a degrading landscape into a productive one in under two months by replicating nature.
By Nick Boyce