Cloud forest project challenges deforestation

A practical alternative to deforestation

The cloud forest in the Chinchipe River basin, high up on the Peruvian and Ecuadorian border is typical of its kind.

The stunning landscape, widely recognised as the source of the mighty Amazon and home to around 31,000 subsistence farmers, is subject to the devastating consequences of slash and burn farming techniques.

It is not alone. South American cloud forests are among the 150,000 square kilometres of tropical rainforest - an area the size of England and Wales - destroyed every year.

According to a report released for REDD+ Policymakers in August 2012 entitled Drivers of Deforestation and Forest Degradation, agriculture is responsible for around 80 per cent of the world’s deforestation. Subsistence farming carried out by families living on the poverty line in South America remains one of the key components of rain forest destruction in that region.

But a new technique known as layer farming is being rolled out by development charity Practical Action and is giving thousands of poor farmers living in the Chinchipe River Basin vital training in sustainable farming and fresh hope for the long-term survival of the pristine cloud forest.

Already, Practical Action has trained 5,000 Peruvian and Ecuadorian farmers, safeguarding 100,000 hectares of forest, but the region is home to many others who need the skills to enable them to provide for their families without destroying their surroundings.

The technique enables farmers who currently live on less than £1 to feed their families from their crops in the first year, in addition to sowing the seeds for sustainable, long-term cash crops.

However, layer farming enables people to grow their crops under the tree canopy, restores and enriches the soil and ensuring that the rainforest will be there for generations for farmers in the introducing five crops which complement and support each other.

The first layer is a fast-growing crop such as cassava, which provides food and an income for the first few years. The second layer consists of coffee plants, which take four years to fruit, but then provide good quality coffee beans, which fetch a good price at market.

The third layer is banana plants or laurel, which has huge leaves to protect the coffee plants from the sun and can also provide fruit to sell or eat. Above that, is a layer of the native Inga tree which provides additional shade and also produce edible seeds, rich in minerals. These trees not only provide food, they also help enrich the soil and keep it fertile. They take four years to reach a height of ten metres.

Finally, Cedar trees are grown up to 40 metres tall. They are planted for the long-term and provide shade and protection in addition to a supply of timber for future generations.

Carlo Magno Chinchay Cruz is a 30-year-old father of four who lived hand-to-mouth before Practical Action gave him some training. In 2010, he only grew cassava, vituca (a tuber similar to a sweet potato) and his coffee crop was so limited he made no profit. The thought of growing trees was unimaginable.

His farm, in San Francisco de Asis, in the Cajamarca region of Peru looks very different now.  Carlo has planted more than a thousand seedlings on his plot, with the help of his wife Juana and three of his friends, who are paid 15 Soles (£3.60) a day.  Most of the trees are laurels, a species that produces timber in 12 years and which provides the shade required by coffee crops.

He said: “My life has changed a lot since I received training from the Practical Action engineers who came to see me.  They taught me how to plant trees, shared a formula for preparing organic preservatives and taught me how to plan ahead for the long term.

“We have been trained, which is why we know how to work in an organized manner.  We are applying irrigation techniques and preparing our own fertilizers.  More importantly, however, we are preserving the ecosystem by planting trees.”

Practical Action regional director for Peru, Alfonso Carrasco said: “There is nothing more tragic than seeing families suffer in swathes of wasted, burnt land.

“The farming communities we train do not have the skills or simple technology required to make a sustainable and productive living. Trees are slashed and burnt to make way for crops like corn and cocoa, robbing the soil of its nutrients and forcing families to abandon the land after each harvest.”

For all media enquiries, please contact Andy Heath or Abbie Wells, Practical Action Press & Media Officers.

UK office: + 44 (0) 1926 634 552
Mobile: +44 (0) 7880 671 315

UK office: + 44 (0) 1926 634 552
Mobile: +44 (0) 7714 205342

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