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The Inga Tree Model for 100% Food Security, Carbon Capture, Land Regeneration, & Withstanding Climate Shocks--but there's more-SDGs galore!

Inga Foundation pioneers a revolutionary, organic, agricultural system for subsistence farmers in the humid tropics with 100% success.

Photo of Lorraine Potter
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

The Inga Foundation

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 3-10 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?


Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United Kingdom

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

The Cuero & Cangrejal River Valleys flow into the Caribbean & cover 63,000 hectares in the watersheds.

What country is your selected Place located in?


Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Inga’s operations are in the Cuero & Capapan river catchments with 300 families (2500 people) having at least one Inga alley. The Cuero operation was established on Vanderbilt Family Fdn. funds originally managed by the HN NGO Fundación Parque Nacional Pico Bonito, but is now funded/operated by Inga Foundation. The original Cuero Inga alleys are the oldest in existence--showing their remarkable resilience by having survived Hurricane Mitch in 1999 & all other climate shocks since.The Capapan & surrounding communities are located in a sub-catchment of the Rio Patuca which is the major river system of the Mosquitia. The project forms part of a rural development strategy being implemented by one of our partners--NGO Mosquitia Pawisa (MOPAWI), at a key location on the “Frontera Agricola” as it advances into the last wilderness of Central America.With little technology, infrastructure, & thousands of acres of highly degraded land--this area is the perfect proving ground for the Inga Tree Model.And for 8 years, the Model has performed flawlessly here with 100% success for food security for the families with 1 to 2 year-old Inga alleys. By succeeding here, it can succeed ANYWHERE in the tropics.Young people have opportunities to grow cash crops rather than migrate to cities.Inga alley cropping regenerates even steep, degraded plots, maintains soil fertility/good harvests annually; thus breaking the slash-and-burn cycle. Inga alleys survive both drought & deluges as our first families who planted in 2012 experienced both--and while their yields were reduced--there were nourishment crops at time when slash and burn farming families experienced washing-away of crops. The mulching system eliminates the need for chemical weed-control & provides the biological conditions for reliable cash-crop production.Families are producing organic grain and cash-crops (pineapples, Rambutan, citrus, cacao, black pepper, vanilla, Allspice, turmeric, and avocado) with no debt or loans.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

At first glance, the Inga Foundation Demonstration farm may not look like a showcase--but it is. And not just because it is green, and lush, and able to produce a million Inga seeds. Several months ago, we were able to show the UTSAN Head-of-unit and his regional director beautiful maize plants in weed-free alleys on our lower terrace. The plants of this old and rare "creole" variety were very tall & forming big mazurkas. The neighboring alleys on the terrace are now filled with masses of Maracuyá (Passiflora edulis - Passion Fruit) so walking near them is a heady experience. Passion Fruit is a valuable cash-crop for families in remote locations as the fruit is tough enough to remain undamaged by a long mule journey. This planned cropping of tough fruits, spices, and vegetables means the families have a permaculture of many types and varieties (vanilla, cacao, black pepper) for a secure income. While we are in the center of of a valley getting ever greener, most rural, subsistence families in Honduras farm on degraded land which is steep and erodes quickly. Corporations have bought the flat, premium land leaving smallholders the hillsides. The Inga alleys are planted on steep slopes which anchor, stabilize, and replenish the soil, preventing erosion and stopping mudslides. This watershed protection aids local water sources, wildlife, and marine habitats. Visitors to the farm don't just see the agroforestry system known as Inga Alley-cropping, they see a system--of, by, and for the families surrounding it.

It is one thing to talk about a low-input, debt-free and scientifically-proven model of agriculture and quite another to be immersed in the training at the farm to implement the model. The whole family works together and you talk with families & visit their alleys and see their yields, you hear about a new way of life--lives with food security in basic grains, together with a reliable income from cash-crops--all accomplished with much less labor than slash and burn, with no pesticides, herbicides or chemical fertilizers. The Inga Tree Model provides a new way to live so there is money for the children to attend school and savings; generating a secure and sustainable livelihood that is resilient to threats from climate change or economic instability. 1-2 hectares of Inga Alley Cropping is enough to deliver 100% food security in 1 to 2 years.The next elements included in the Model are:

 – Inga alleys for production of cash crops –successfully and organically using Inga alley cropping, for black pepper vanilla, yams, plantains, chili, cardamon, and many others. Our nurseries have provided 250,000 cacao plants and 75,000 pepper plants (for cash crops).

 – Low maintenance fruit trees –citrus, avocado, and others the family chooses help to diversify their farm, and all the families plant Inga seed trees and fine hardwood species.We have facilitated Inga alley replication in 15 countries with farmer/NGO/government groups by providing training (we also have a training film we share widely) and indigenous seeds at no cost.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

The problem is slash and burn agriculture-not only environmentally devastating, it destroys communities and makes them more vulnerable to natural disasters.It is currently used by 200 million people in the tropics. For generations, it has been a way of life for subsistence farming families around the world. Families clear cut and burn patches of rainforest to create plots of fertile soil on which to grow their basic food crops; the soil fertility, however, does not last. Crop failure and subsequent erosion forces families who depend on slash-and-burn to keep clearing new patches of rainforest every few years just to survive. More than 200,000 acres of rainforest are destroyed every day, with two billion tons of carbon released annually.
The current climate crisis exacerbates the problems of poverty, drought and heat so it is not just malnutrition for millions in the global south (over 20% of the children in Honduras have poor diets which cause stunting)--but possible starvation with no other options than to become climate refugees.
The Inga Tree Model is a solution to this environmental devastation, and the food insecurity that is its principal cause.This revolutionary agroforestry system uses nitrogen-fixing tree species from the genus Inga to regenerate land depleted by slash-and-burn, sequester/avoid carbon, and transform the lives of subsistence farming families. Inga Alley Cropping is a fully integrated ecosystem that naturally recreates conditions of the forest floor which stabilizes and replenishes the soil. By allowing families to stay on one plot of land forever, it stops the socially destructive rural-urban migration that results from slash-and-burn’s failure to sustain subsistence agriculture. 

Current policies do not favor smallholders--it is the opposite--corporations receive huge benefits, especially fossil fuel subsidies. Influencing agricultural policy is a politically-charged, difficult proposition. There is always pressure to continue the status quo from those who are profiting. With the average rural income in Honduras of $1.38 per day per person, farming families have no clout and a very limited voice in determining policies that will affect their futures.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

The Inga Foundation program is based upon the findings of long-term studies run by Inga’s founder Mike Hands for Cambridge University into subsistence slash-and-burn farming. The program was independently evaluated as “excellent.” There were no negative features then and now in year 9 of the 10-year Land For Life program, there are none. Inga families plant a hectare of around 2000 seedlings their first year, and follow up the 2nd year until they reach around 5000 total seedlings planted (around 5 feet apart). All are able to secure firewood from the first pruning after 1 1/2 to 2 years and with a side dressing of inexpensive rock phosphate the first year, they obtain grain crops from their formerly degraded plots.
For a nature-based solution, the Inga Tree Model is remarkably fast--the land re-greened and 100% food security within 2 years. This is especially significant considering that for 2 of our program’s past 9 years, Central America has endured dramatic El Ninos with both unprecedented heat and rainfall. The climate crisis is disproportionately disrupting the global south, yet solutions like the Inga Tree Model are a way that farming and families can not just survive, but thrive.
Slash-and-burn agriculture is ecologically devastating but it has been a way of life for subsistence farming families in the tropics for many generations. There have been no alternatives. Inga alley-cropping is unique because it is a fully integrated ecosystem--providing sustainable agriculture, biodiversity, & improving rural livelihoods We are now overwhelmed by demand for Inga tree alleys as our 300 families with alleys are our biggest advocates. Inga Alley Cropping is implemented by the families and for the families, led by the Honduran team of foresters, & agronomists. Without debt, the entire family is enabled to transform their own livelihood from the precarious & food-insecure present condition in dependence upon slash-and-burn practices to a sustainable & productive low-input permaculture, raising the crops they choose on regenerated land.
Cash-crop cultivars have already been successfully proven in the alleys. A locally-controlled marketing co-operative is underway to channel organic products such as black pepper to regional or wider markets.  Our 10 ha. farm will be used increasingly as a teaching resource for interested groups from all humid tropical regions of Central and South America. We serve as a model of sustainable best practice in rural livelihoods that protects the wider environment, avoids future habitat destruction, and re-creatse agroforest cover/permaculture over entire landscapes.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Our first group of 40 families in 2012 who planted Inga alleys experienced both the most intense rain & a 6 month drought--and while their yields were reduced--there were nourishment crops when slash and burn farming families experienced erosion & washing-away of crops. Many of our original families planted 1/2 of their land with Inga seeds that first year & seeing this side-by-side difference made them eager to plant the rest of their land in Inga alleys. After our first year (2012) we no longer had to recruit families: they came to us requesting alleys so that now we have a long waiting list of families (> 200).

The families bring about the change as they are the ones determining what they will plant (nourishment crops & interplanting of fruit/and hardwood trees for future income). We use the plots and experiences of families eager to participate, together with our own demonstration and teaching facilities as models of sustainable best practice in rural livelihoods that protect the wider environment, avoid future habitat destruction and re-create forest and agroforest cover over entire landscapes. This harmony with the land and the sustainable use of natural resources is essential for agriculture to become a less consumptive, more environmentally protective & economically efficient. As more families plant and harvest their cash crops, the community has the opportunity to integrate the small-scale producers into agricultural and forestry value chains. Every family that has implemented Inga-alley cropping has achieved 100% food security within two years. This solution creates lasting social and environmental change that respects rural populations, natural resources, and tropical habitats while also being environmentally and economically sound for the goals of climate resilience and environmental protection, and economic viability. We were recognized by the Central American Parliament in 2016 and cited in the WCO in 2012 for food security.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Systems thinking is the only way to approach problems like hunger and poverty, with the SDGs as a powerful, overarching goal. The world is poised to reconsider the future of feeding the world as the climate crisis worsens. International leaders like Sir David Attenborough have called for drastic changes to environmental policies and Pope Francis recently delivered a powerful message in his encyclical Laudato Si:  “We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.”
The Inga Tree Model is a path for the mainstreaming of climate stewardship into the future.
A large commercial fruit/vegetable farming operation (such as Dole) could easily convert to Inga alley cropping if they made the decision to move away from heavy equipment and industrial chemicals. There are neither the incentives nor the policies in place to encourage world-wide sustainable farming practices--but it could happen quickly if there is the political will. According to MPN News, “Farmers in the world’s top 21 food-producing countries, responsible for nearly 80 percent of global agricultural markets, received about $486 billion in public support in 2012, the most recent year for which data is available.”
Greta Thunberg recently reminded the world that nature-based solutions to our climate crisis receive less than two percent of public funding.According to the World Bank, “Over the past decades, agricultural policy and international institutions, as well as private and public agricultural research have often considered small-scale and subsistence farmers as backward “phase-out models” of a pre-industrial form of production. Our model is decidedly low-tech, low-input and low-cost, but we know these traits. Far from being a weakness, are all strengths for rural smallholders. Lancet emphasizes the importance of scaling integrated solutions like ours: “The need to develop and use sustainable food production practices that safeguard Earth system processes, on which food production and human well-being depend, has become widely recognised.” Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT–Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems, Volume 393, ISSUE 10170, P447-492, Feb. 02, 2019.

Improving diets through sustainable agroforestry provides vital health, livelihood, and cultural benefits.The families bring about the change as they are the ones determining what they will plant (nourishment crops and interplanting of fruit/and hardwood trees for future income).  Based on 25 years of Cambridge University research and trials, we use the plots and experiences of families eager to participate, together with our own demonstration and teaching facilities as models of sustainable best practice in rural livelihoods that protect the wider environment, avoid future habitat destruction and re-create forest and agroforest cover over entire landscapes. This harmony with the land and the sustainable use of natural resources is essential for agriculture to become a less consumptive, more environmentally protective and economically efficient. We promote a flexible, family-centered program with over 8 years of proof in the landscape, which can be replicated to the entire tropics (with over 300 Inga species or analogous, indigenous trees).
The “Land for Life” Project serves as a model for sustainable agriculture in the tropics worldwide to stop slash-and-burn.We are a pioneer organization which has developed and executed a strategy and operating model for adoption. Our program is shared widely and family networks are in place to save/share seeds, and we have many opportunities for leadership development so our team and family members who wish to have an advocate role may apply/share their knowledge and make presentations to farming and government groups.The local Land for Life team has effectively established the project in Honduras as well as facilitated Inga alley-cropping in 15 countries by providing indigenous seeds and extensive training to over 200 families/farmer groups/ NGOs. Inga alley-cropping can be easily replicated and scaled to the entire tropics by using any one of 300 possible indigenous Inga or analog species. Inga alley-cropping delivers lasting benefits as a truly sustainable and regenerative model for success and with additional funding we plan a stepped-up training/ education program to establish hubs using our expertise/seasoned staff and seed banks. Our nurseries have already distributed over 250,000 top-quality grafted or hybrid Cacao saplings. 70,000 Magnolia yoroconte (listed as highly vulnerable), and 75,000 pepper plants. We have had 20 families bring their organic green peppercorns to the farm for processing (solar drying) and selling. We were able to get them much more than they were expecting. While we are not at the point of marketing, we have set up a corporation (the Inga Sociedad de Responsabilidad Limitada) to work with families to handle the logistics of harvesting, processing. storing, and selling cash crops. We accomplish 2 mutual missions--first, to maximize the income that the farmers get from their harvest, and second, to offer the end customers organically produced, high quality spices/produce through a cooperative network of farmers while enabling the members to achieve their social, cultural and economic aspirations. Families have reached modest cash crop production  levels and will be increasing their yields, so we have established  basis for the production, quality-control, grading and local/regional marketing and sale of organic cash crops, improving/establish logistics and the collective bargaining power of crops for the  300+ families. Our HN corporation will create supply chains and this is the point when we believe there will be interest from large, corporate buyers. We have a basic business plan for the Honduran Inga Corporation to work with regional then national corporations seeking to increase their commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility to help/support by:
Developing distribution channels for produce
Purchase of processing equipment(large solar dryer, small electric dryer, grinder/filter, containers)
Leveraging for financial assistance and management-we anticipate taking a small % of the sale price for maintaining/reinvesting in the Corporation
Warehousing/processing/sales/marketing the produce
Engage in educational activities that build capability and expertise in the farmers/community members
Certification of the Crop (eventual plan for organic export)

We are the most experienced professionals working with the Inga alley-cropping system in the world, we have trained all others who are starting Inga alleys, and the Inga Foundation’s  Honduran team is best-equipped to scale it. The huge socio-economic benefits of a stable, resilient, and affordable Inga Tree model (now in year 9 of the 10-year program) are listed below.
Inga alley cropping addresses:

  1. Food Insecurity-100% of the families with established Inga alleys (1 ½ to 2 year old) achieve food security

  2. Slash and burn agriculture unsustainability stopped & unintended escaped fires prevented

  3. Carbon capture/carbon sequestration & avoidance (180,000 tons from 2012-2019)

  4. Regeneration of degraded land--steep, sterile, abandoned land greened in 1 ½ years--2500 acres from 2012-2019)

  5. Nutrition-improved and stunting reduced-all organic grains/crops (black pepper, turmeric, pineapple, allspice, Rambutan, citrus, cacao, vanilla)

  6. Watershed protection-rivers, ocean and reefs

  7. Improving rural livelihoods-cash crops-no debt or loans for the families 

  8. Erosion and mudslides ELIMINATED-alleys and crops survive 8 inches of rain falling in 18 hours

  9. Renewable firewood from yearly pruning without harvesting forest trees

  10. Reducing migration to cities and reduces climate refugees

  11. Eliminating herbicides and pesticides

  12. Eliminating  chemical fertilizers and high-inputs, no GMO seeds/ no heavy equipment

  13. The entire family works together-close to home-300 families with alleys from 2012-2019 with no technology needed-only GPS used for mapping

  14. Climate shocks withstood—families have grown bean and corn crops with no irrigation or a drop of rain—the thick mulch keeps the ground cool and retains water and alleys survive 7-months of drought

  15. Positively addresses 11 of the 17 United Nations SDGs with NO NEGATIVE IMPACT whatsoever on the remaining 6.

Dr. Vandana Shiva shares a powerful philosophy for our future, "Food is the place where you begin. It is only with local [agriculture] that we can manage the complexity and care that sustainability requires. In the seed and the soil, we find the answers to every one of the crises we face. The crises of violence and war/hunger and disease.The crisis of the destruction of democracy."

Healthy forests are key to the planet’s survival and Inga alley cropping can protect and preserve rainforests while providing sustainable food and income to millions of people around the world. Inga alley cropping enriches the dignity, knowledge, and the capacities of all involved. We achieved proof of science with 20 years of research beginning with the original Cambridge trials, proof of concept at the field and demonstration level--and now 100% success for the families achieving food security and cash crops in 2-2 1/2 years, we have over 8 years of proof in the landscape which needs to be replicated to the entire humid tropics. We have demonstrated, at scale, and for the first time in the humid zones of Central America, a practical and sustainable alternative to slash-and-burn by developing the system, and with the family structure at the core--its successful implementation.

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Attachments (3)

Ray C. Anderson-1 page Press Release.docx

Inga Foundation received the 2020 Sustainability Award from the Ray C. Anderson Foundation NextGen Committee.

MIT Meet a Solver & OFIA Grand Prize.pdf

IFOAM Grand Prize winner 2017-The OFIA Grand Prize was awarded to Mike Hands, the Founder and Director of the Inga Foundation for Inga Alley Cropping for organic food security. MIT recognized Inga Alley Cropping in 2017 for Carbon Reduction in SOLVE and for sustainability in “Exploring Synergistic Solutions for Sustainable Development 2018.”

1 comment

Join the conversation:

Photo of Itika Gupta

Hi Lorraine Potter  Great to see you joining the Prize!

We noticed your submission is currently unpublished. Was this your intention? We'd love to have your submission included in the Prize. Even if you've not started populating your Vision just yet, by publishing your submission you can make it public for other teams in your region to see, get in touch and possibly even collaborate with you.

You can publish it by hitting the "Publish" button at the top of your post. You can also update your Vision at any time before 31 January 2020 by clicking on the "Edit Contribution" on top. If you need inspiration or guidance, take a look at the Food Vision Prize Toolkit.
Here is the link to the Prize Toolkit:

Look forward to seeing your Vision evolve through the coming weeks.