Up in Smoke the film has proved to be touching the hearts and minds of a great many people. Yet while it may also be used to inspire the hope and drive for change on the ground, it is but a film and will not help farmers in any meaningful or practical sense. As the film shows, it is obvious that farmers need to feel the trunks of the trees and cool soils, and see the real changes that Mike’s work can bring about.
In order to best promote and expand the use of alley-cropping with Inga, Mike Hands and four other Trustees formed The Inga Foundation, a UK charity (reg no 1124688). The Inga Foundation is specifically geared with the scientific expertise, the infrastructure and contacts to help the establishment of further growth of the system in Honduras and beyond.
In harnessing the inherent natural recycling system of the rainforest, the work of the Inga Foundation demonstrates a natural logic that is surprising in it’s simplicity and astounding in its results. Depending on the conditions of soils that have been leached by years or even decades or repeated slash and burn operations, the fledgling trees take between 2 and four years to recapture the site, forming a dense canopy over the alleys that starves all invading weeds of light.
Once the site is fully captured and the soils recovering their fertiltiy, the trees are pruned back, the leaves are laid down as a thick organic mulch and the crops are planted into the soil beneath the mulch. This stifles the regrowth of weeds, eliminating the need to herbicides, but the stronger crop seedling are able push through the carpet of leaves. Whilst protecting the soils from the beating tropical sun, the leaves also decompose to provide nutrients for the crops, eliminating the need for fertilisers. The resulting crops have proven to be surprisingly resistant to pests, naturally organic, and have thus far ranged from subsistence crops such as maize or beans, to cash crops in demand worldwide, including black pepper, vanilla and pineapples, to name but very few.
Surplus large stems from the pruning are harvested, dried and used as firewood for the kitchen. Not only does this allow for a far simpler task than heading into forested areas, but as it only releases the carbon sequestered by the trees when growing, it makes the system carbon neutral. Yet better still, once the pressure is taken off other land which would have otherwise been repeatedly burned, the Inga Foundation has developed a system whereby natural forest will be replanted, using Inga species as nursery trees. The potential for carbon sequestration on an absolutely vast scale if this model is replicated is entirely plausible, and has not even begun to be tapped into.
The Inga Foundation is in urgent need to funding in order to implement large scale projects, which then have the potential to be replicated. The logistical complexities of doing this require manpower, vehicles, administrative support and much more – yet with the exceptionally limited resources that the Foundation has been working with to date, the results have been proportionately spectacular. With further funding, the sky is literally the limit.