Basic Agroforestry

Status: 
current

Growing crops with trees—and growing trees as crops

Every year, Camino Verde plants over 1000 trees with farmers in our area.  Our partners come from three communities along the Tambopata River and choose the tree species to be planted on their own farms.  Fruit cash crops like citrus and cacao share fields with old growth hardwoods like mahogany and brazil nut.  Some of our partners have even opted to plant medicinal trees such as sangre de grado.  In the project’s first four growing seasons (2009-2012) an estimated 50 acres (20 hectares) were reforested.

Providing trees to Amazonian farmers makes sense—in so many ways.  The more income that’s provided by perennial tree crops, the fewer acres of wild forest will be cleared each year for slash-and-burn.  Our neighbors cite an improved quality of life as well—working in the shade is more pleasant than sweating under tropical sun in an exposed corn or rice field.  And workload is reduced as trees begin to shade out the weeds.  Growing trees is basic—hence the name of our project.

Support

Special thanks to our donors for making the Basic Agroforestry projects possible.  Additional funding was provided by grants from Social Action Grants of First Parish in Concord, Massachusetts, and the Marjorie Grant Whiting Center.

Background

Amazonian agricultural roots extend so deep into the past as to stretch the imagination.  Sculptures like those at Chavín de Huantar dating to thousands of years before Christ depict staple crops including cassava and peanut, presumably already long domesticated even then.  Ever since, farming has been one of the most important sources of income to Amazonian people.  Then as now, agriculture for staple crops was complimented by hunting of wild animals and gathering edible fruits and nuts.  Human food in the Amazon has always been sourced from landscapes both wild and cultivated.

In the past century, agricultural styles and techniques have changed more quickly and dramatically than ever before.  Age-old practices like slash-and-burn have become untenable with an expansion of scale.  Other more sustainable practices have vanished with the arrival of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.   
Since 2009, Camino Verde’s Basic Agroforestry project has sought to provide alternatives to widespread slash-and-burn agricultural for annual crops.  Agroforestry—which at simplest means, “farming with trees”—covers the bases of economic sustenance and ecological sustainability.  The United Nations has called agroforestry perhaps the only valid approach to tropical farming.

What does agroforestry look like?

Imagine a field where your three- or six-month cash crops (annual grains like corn and rice) are planted among mid-term bearers such as bananas and cassava that will give harvests in about a year.  Scattered throughout this mixed field, seedlings of fruit trees and hardwoods alike are planted that will start to bear in 2-5 years, just as the mid-term bearers lose productivity.  Meanwhile many wild, volunteer tree seeds are allowed to sprout and thrive—the technical name for this is “natural regeneration.”

In a few short years, during which a farmer has eaten and marketed much from this diversity, the farm looks more like a forest than a field.  Soils are protected by tree canopies of trees that will produce fruit for dozens or even hundreds of years.

At Camino Verde, we’re excited to be a part of the agroforestry revolution that is sweeping the tropics.  Conventional agricultural as developed for temperate climates and soils is inappropriate for the realities of most, if not all, of the world’s small-scale farmers.  Growing crops with trees—and growing trees as crops—is a sane solution in a world that needs more trees every day.