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Land for Life: restoring ecosystems, saving rainforests, providing food security

The resilient Inga tree regenerates land/enriches depleted soil & dramatically transforms the lives of subsistence farmers in the tropics.

Photo of Lorraine Potter
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What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

When people are starving they have little to lose by becoming climate refugees--they risk their very lives to feed their families. Damas Nunez had reached a point of desperation and decided his only option was to flee north as an undocumented worker. But a visit to a friend in the Cuero Valley who had implemented Inga Alley Cropping astounded Dumas, who subsequently received training and seeds-debt-free from Inga’s team, showing him how to regenerate his degraded plot. Damas now has food security and cash crops to sell. The method dramatically changes lives and landscapes—improving entire communit Inga Alley Cropping brings change first to families as their behavior changes radically in 1-2 years, then to localities as region becomes more resilient, and ultimately it encompasses global priorities: the challenges of jobs and livelihoods for women, families, and smallholders, food security, rainforest preservation, land regeneration and thus reducing the planet’s carbon emissions which affect climate change.Their new way of planting enables farmers to transform their own livelihood from a precarious and food-insecure present condition which was dependent upon slash-and-burn practices to a sustainable and productive low-input permaculture located close to their family home. Change is wrought by the family itself which achieves as near self-reliance and autonomy as is possible in the modern world Inga alley cropping in Honduras has dramatically transformed the lives of hundreds of subsistence farming families, planted over 3 million trees, and effectively serves as a model for environmental sustainability and ecological resiliency. Led by the Honduran team of foresters, agronomists, and field staff, the program provides “land for life,” thus eliminating the need for farmers to slash-and-burn and ending this devastating cycle. No one else in the world is implementing this kind of proven, complete, and integrated ecosystem which can be scaled to the entire humid tropics.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

The program is concentrated in two river catchments (the Cangrejal & Cuero) which form the East & West boundaries of the Pico Bonito Nat. Park in Atlantida on the Honduran North coast. The operations are supported by our demonstration farm in at Las Flores in the Cuero valley.The program of Inga alley cropping gives families in the tropics a low input way to improve livelihoods, ensure food security, reduce climate shocks, and allows them to stay on one plot of land forever.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

Food security is the most significant impact of the project. ALL our families (100%) with established Inga alleys within 2 years have food security (and firewood to last a year from their alley pruning). When Inga seedlings are planted a crop may be planted with them with the addition of inexpensive rock phosphate as a side dressing--this allows family to plant and harvest a crop in the first year--if alleys are available to migrant families, there is a buffering effect and safely net for all.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

We use the plots/experiences of our 260+ established families & continue to add more families and expand to cash crops. Families are eager to participate, & with our own demonstration/teaching facilities we serve as models of sustainable best practice in rural livelihoods that protect the larger environment, avoid future habitat destruction & re-create forest & agroforest cover over vast landscapes.Our long waiting list of families who want to plant alleys speaks for the benefits of the program.The sustainable use of natural resources is essential for agriculture to become less consumptive, more environmentally protective and economically efficient. This is essential to achieve near-and long-term goals for food security, economic viability and quality of life. We have over 7 years of proof in the landscape which needs to be replicated to the entire tropics.Inga Alley cropping positively addresses 11 of the 17 United Nations SDGs with NO NEGATIVE IMPACTS WHATSOEVER ON THE REMAINING 6.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

The project forms part of a rural development strategy being implemented by Mosquitia Pawisa (MOPAWI); at a key location on the “Frontera Agricola” as it advances into the last wilderness of Cent. America. We have focused on the measurable field work of Inga trees planted, families committed/land regenerated. The Inga alley plots increase in fertility each year & only a small supplementary rock phosphate is used--no chemical fertilizers.The mulching system eliminates the need for chemical weed-control & greatly reduces erosion, thus protecting watersheds. Inga alley cropping regenerates steep,highly degraded land. Community-based innovation/local knowledge combined with science-based approaches are the best way to address problems of the rural poor--we have a long waitlist of families as they have seen for themselves that the model works in their situations--seeing alleys survive hurricanes while slash and burn farm land washes away & seeing a bean/corn crop taken with no rain at all.

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

The work of Mike Hands is the driving force of Inga alley cropping-- the model would not exist without his initial research into why families in the tropics are forced to abandon land & move on to fresh land every few years. Inga alley cropping gives families in the tropics a low input way to improve livelihoods, a way to eat/earn a living instead of migrating--without technology.The cropping of both staple nourishment/cash crops close to the family home leads to many positive outcomes: The involvement of the entire family in its own livelihood increases family cohesion. Ease of management. The easing of labor demands-(no weeding and no pesticides or herbicides), harvesting and processing. Food security/reduced stunting. Better quality of staple crops and higher nutrient content of basic grains (evidence from the Cambridge Inga projects 1989-96).This particularly applies to the quality of protein and the nutritional well-being of children. Inga Alleys resist climate shocks.

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

For generations, slash-and-burn agriculture has been a way of life for subsistence farming families in the tropics.Inga alley cropping is creating lasting global social and environmental change. Inga’s model has proven to be a regenerative system which respects rural populations, natural resources, and is environmentally and economically sound for achieving both short and long-term goals of climate resilience, food security, environmental protection, economic viability, and quality of life. Our goal is to continue to promote our bottom-up model family-by-family to the entire tropics with indigenous Inga or analog species. We show the promise of long-term success for the entire tropics.The Inga alley cropping system has ALWAYS been a bottom-up process which is low-input, organic, and available now. Inga alley cropping with nitrogen-fixing trees is a low-cost, regenerative system needing only a 2-year support system before resilient, sustainability food security is achieved.

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

Because a family now has food security, they are able to stay on their plot of land without GMO seeds, heavy equipment, chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. Inga alley cropping is implemented by the families.for the families, led by the Honduran team. We have large nursery capacity in Cent. America which provides Inga, hardwoods, avocado, Rambutan, pineapple & pepper. With our strong family networks, we have located native "criolle" maize varieties in higher mountainous farms to raise the ancient crops for seed corn. We germinate only native, non-GMO seeds to promote food sovereignty. The families determine what they will plant for nourishment crops/cash crops & if they wish to incorporate fruit and/or hardwood plantings.Without debt, the entire family is enabled to transform their own livelihoods. Other problems Inga alley cropping addresses: Erosion/mudslides ELIMINATED. Renewable firewood without harvesting forest trees. No chemical fertilizers/herbicides/pesticides

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. CURLA: Centro Universitaro Regional del Litoral Atlantico. 1 of 2 main demonstration facilities. Oldest Inga alleys in existence (Cambridge Project 1996-2002; Inga Foundation to the present day) MOPAWI: Mosquitia Pawisa. Honduran Conservation NGO. IUCN rep. in Central America PANTHERA (Hn.) Eden Project; University of Exeter. In 2012, The Inga Foundation worked with Special Horticulturalist Lucy Wenger of The Eden Project to create the largest indoor rainforest in the world with over 1,500 species of plants in their Rainforest Biome. By using stories of positive change from around the world, The Eden Project connects over a million visitors every year with the world’s tropical rainforests. Note--Inga system's introduction in 10 countries where we have facilitated its establishment & the model may be replicated and scaled to the entire humid tropics with indigenous Inga or analogous species.

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Other

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Systems design: Solutions that target changing larger system

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Early Adoption: We have completed a pilot and analyzed the impact of that pilot on the intended users of the idea. I have proof of user uptake (i.e. 16% to 49% of the target population or 1,000 to 50,000 users).

Group or Organization Name

The Inga Foundation

Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

Global loss of biodiversity, ecosystem destruction, and the accompanying loss of habitats and diversity are considered basic causes of global warming and environmental disasters. Alley cropping with nitrogen-fixing Inga species brings a new perspective of one tree solving many problems. For six years Inga’s locally-led team has helped families (now a core of 260 with 100% success) with the range of economic, social and environmental challenges that a new way of making a living encompasses. Their new way of planting enables farmers to transform their own livelihoods from a precarious and food-insecure condition which was dependent upon slash-and-burn practices to a sustainable and productive low-input permaculture located close to their family home. The critical mass of families in Honduras inspires agricultural production with new models of investment which move towards a more socially just, economically viable and environmentally sound agriculture.

Website URL:

Type of submitter

  • We are a registered Non-Profit Organization

Organization Headquarters: Country

USA-headquarters for the Inga Foundation 501c3--since 2016. The UK-headquarters for the Inga Foundation--a registered charity since 2007

Organization Headquarters: City / State

USA--based in Evington, Virginia. UK--based in Cornwall, UK.

Attachments (1)

OFIA Grand Prize.pdf

The Inga Foundation’s proven, simple, bottom-up and revolutionary Inga alley-cropping system stops tropical rainforest devastation. It regenerates land and dramatically transforms the lives of subsistence farmers by providing food security and organic cash crops. It significantly reduces global carbon emissions, protects wildlife and marine habitats, and preserves water sources.


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