Agroforestry a solution to rehabilitate exhausted soils?
Already several weeks (months?) we have not written articles. We were working in parallel on different topics in different countries (fair trade, agroforestry, old seeds) and we were waiting to finish them to write the corresponding articles.
We left you in Central America, a testing part of our trip because of the heat and many episodes of illness. After a short break on our trip going on boat by the San Blas Islands – a true paradise – to cross from Panama to Colombia (impossible by land), we arrive in South America on May 22, 2019, the second chapter of our “Americas” crossing.
It’s right here in Colombia, and more precisely in the colonial city that we met Anna, Project Manager at PUR Project, who makes us discover agroforestry. She will make us meet for a week convincing producers through environmentally respectful agricultural practices and indigenous culture.
Conventional farming leaves exhausted soils behind after years of monoculture with infusion of chemical inputs. Like agro-ecology, agro-forestry takes example from nature, combining crops or livestock with trees in the plot. It appears as a viable alternative to rehabilitate soils.
The benefits of agroforestry are numerous. The tree has his place in our cultures and allows us to recreate humus, protect the crops from the sun and from diseases and enrich the natural soils. This reforestation also has the advantage of affording a habitat for many species and thus reduces biodiversity.
PUR Projet, a French company, is carrying out reforestation projects around the world, almost in Latin America, where its first projects have come into being.
In Colombia, we discover the project “Coffee for Peace”, an agroforestry program in coffee plots, which has two major objectives: the reforestation of coffee plots and facilitate inter-community dialogue following peace agreements with the FARC in 2016
We first meet Nora who attests her personal story:
“At the beginning when I received my plot 16 years ago, we wanted to plant coffee, to live. As we did not have a lot of land, we cut down all the trees and made a lot of damage to nature. The rust (from coffee) ended up exterminating all the coffee crops because they were in full sun, without protection.
At some point I cut all the trees and now I regret it…
Thanks to the support of “PUR Projet” and its determination, Nora is now gradually reforesting all her plantation. She begins to enjoy the benefits of trees in her coffee plots. The coffee cherry no longer burns in the sun and there is no longer a rust problem. She has replanted native trees of the region as well as fruit trees which bring her a complement for her daily food.
We discovered that all her farm is now managed in an agro-ecological and self-sufficient way – she only buys oil and salt. She even makes her own gas for cooking, from the fermentation of sugarcane and coffee waste and from the excrement of her pigs.
A beautiful source of inspiration for all of us!
We then visited Norverto’s farm, leader of the indigenous community and fervent defender of the principles of agro-ecology.
“We came here because that’s where we find all the information. We came one day to this forest and wondered why is it so green? Why are there so many plants around us? Who cultivates them? If here nobody put fertilizer, herbicide, insecticide or fungicide what is happening?
These spaces are the source of the farmer’s education. That is why we say that a farm that has no water, no trees, no forest, is going to disappear.”
In this small forest, he is currently experimenting old varieties of coffee to see how he can grow them later, intervening to a minimum. According to him, the coffee tree belongs to the ecosystem of the forest and must be cultivated in symbiosis with the surrounding plant cover.
He has himself renamed “bad” herbs (weeds) to “good” herbs by discovering their essential role for soils and coffee by protecting the roots and microorganisms found in the earth. He has his own “bio-factory” where he grows micro-organisms from the soils of his forest, which he will then spread in his coffee plantations.
Thanks to the presence of trees in his coffee plantations, he finds that he no longer needs to control invasive diseases, fumigate, pull out the “bad” herbs (weeds) and that the coffee cherry is protected from direct sunlight. In the end, he is happy to have to work less while harvesting a better quality coffee.
Agroforestry provides concrete solutions for these coffee producers and can be extended to many crops such as cocoa.
So we then go to Peru where “PUR Project” accompanies cocoa farmers in the reforestation of their plots. The project is called “Jubilacion Segura” (retirement assured) because in this country the retirement for producers does not exist. This time tree plantations are mostly on the outskirts of cocoa because the main objective is ultimately to exploit the wood. Producers thus ensure a new source of income when they will be too old to work and for their children.
In fact, according to a study by researcher Thomas Crowther, by planting an additional 1000 billion trees, these trees could then capture 205 gigatons of CO2 in the next decades, five times the quantity emitted in 2018 in the world and 2/3 of all that man has generated since the industrial revolution. An agriculture that puts the tree back into its practices could make it much easier to achieve this goal, especially if it is accompanied by more effective protection and management of existing forests, as well as a decrease in use of fossil fuels.
An additional challenge in our journey … that will bring us to our next subject!