Impoverished farmers turn to "slash and burn agriculture" when they desperately need fertile land for their crops.
Trees are cut down and the foliage burned so that the ashes can provide nutrients to the newly cleared plot of land. When the fires cool, farmers sow their crops for a few seasons — until the nutrients dissipate and they move on to the next plot of forest to start the cycle over again.
Humans have been using this method for subsistence farming for the past 12,000 years, and it’s still a popular practice in remote areas of South America, Africa and Southeast Asia. It’s estimated that as many as 500 million people — or 7 percent of the world’s population — depend on slash and burn agriculture.
But the ecological fallout of the antiquated practice is growing worse, especially with the loss of rain forests that are major providers of Earth’s oxygen. Slash and burn can create widespread deforestation and lead to erosion that is so extensive the soil can not recover. The resulting land is not good for crops or reforestation.
There are hundreds of initiatives to mitigate the problem, including finding better farming methods and other sources of income for subsistence farmers.
The Inga Foundation has a solution that is both simple and effective: It provides farmers with free saplings of a species of tree known as the Inga.
Watch the video to see how this remarkable plant can enrich soil with nutrients that nourish crops year after year, so that farmers don’t have to pick up and move. The Inga trees, planted in rows alongside food crops, also provide shade that helps, not hinders, plant growth. Coffee in particular flourishes when partially shaded and nourished by the Inga.
As an added bonus, farmers can harvest mature Inga trees for firewood or lumber and sell the Inga’s fruit sweet-tasting seed pods — or eat it themselves.