On-Farm Agroforestry Demonstrations in Ecuadorian Amazon

In the lowland humid forest of western Amazon, petroleum exploitation and its road construction has sparked colonization in the Napo Province of Ecuador that has attracted some 10,000 families during the past 20 years. Setting on approximately 50 has. of forested land colonists are drawn to the area with the illusion of planting robusta coffee as their principal cash crop, which accounts for 84% of the cash sales in the region.

In a base-line study conducted in 1986 with six national and international institutions characterizing existing farming systems after 15 years of colonization, total land cleared per family amounted to only 15.7 Ha. Those lands were planted in coffee (5.2 Ha.), corn (0.5 Ha), subsistence food crops of mainly plantain and cassava (0.7 Ha.), pasture (6.6 Ha), and fallow forest (2.7 Ha). Further farm expansion is limited by availability of labor Family labor contributes an average of 335 working days/year or 1.3 persons per family, only providing 55% of the required labor, the rest classified as occasional hired labor. The study showed that all existing farming systems associated trees with their crops, averaging 20 commercial timber trees per Ha., classifying the systems developed as traditional agroforestry systems.

The National Forestry Director with financial and technical assistance from USAID, developed an on-farm Agroforestry Demonstration project with the Provincial Ministry of Agriculture for working with farmers in promoting agroforestry practices.

After five years of on-farm demonstrations on more than 250 individual farms the result have been encouraging.

Farmers have learned to recognize valued secondary tree species from other non-commercial species, selectively clearing and protecting them within their existing farming systems, often rearranging the spacing by transplanting favored species within their farms.Cordia alliodora predominates on alluvial soils, whereas Jacaranda copaia grows well on the red clay hills. By focusing on wind born and mechanically distributed secondary tree species, cleared areas are seldom more than 100 meters from a seed source. Revegetation of some 15-20 species depends on seed availability and the timing of a particular cleaning.

Roadside bill-boards prepared in both Spanish and Quechua indicating commercial species and appropriate spacing (10x10ms) has helped multiply the effects of on-farm demonstrations with both colonists and native communities. Bilingual posters and management guidelines in the form of pamphlets and animated slide shows have been developed by locally recruited project staff for promotion with organized groups.

The economic potential of these fast growing secondary tree species is encouraging. Within a 100 Km. radius of "coca", the Project Administrative Center, located on the Napo River, there exist a network of 500 Km. of roads subsidized by the petroleum industry with 4,000 colonists having roadside frontage. Each farm is capable of producing 10-15 m3/ha year equivalent to 125.000 m3/year if only the first 500 meters are managed on only 1 in 4 farms.

Based on a 15 year cutting cycle, timber is already available in the form of chain saw planks. If managed this potential timber volume could produce more than Ecuador's actual national consumption (production) of precessed timber, even given the low recovery rate of 35%.

Other notable practices that have been developed with on-farm demonstration include:

  • Development and adoption by farmers of slash-and-mulch management of Desmodium ovalifolium (CIAT 3500), a ground cover for reducing weeding costs and improving soil fertility with robusts coffee production.

  • Recognition and adoption by colonists of the traditional indigenous (Low Land Quechuas) slash-and-mulch farming system, that benefits from the slow release of nutrients from decaying organic material and initial delayed weed competition. This system has been developed for traditional crops of corn, plantains and Xanthosoma, not to mention tree crops such as chonta (peach palm) and white cacao. The system of slashing the under story, planting (broad cast planting of corn) and immediately felling the forest, has been adapted for planting coffee and pastures.

  • Selection and adoption of promising arboreal Legume species for soil restoration. After trying more than 15 native species and 5 exotics, the traditional indigenous species Inga edulis, direct seeded at 5x5 ms. spacing, associated with an under cover of Desmodium ovalifolium was most successful. In three years Inga edulis grows 15 meters tall, and due to competition for crown space the crowns start disintegrating which increases nutrient cycling.

  • Development of management techniques for intensifying robusta coffee production has to be able to co-exist with the dreaded insect pest Broca. The best practices were based mainly on pruning of the coffee plants as well as promoting the harvesting of all the formed beans every 20-25 days to break the biological life cycle of Broca.

    As the project completes its initial six years (1984-90) of demonstrating the adaption and transfer of appropriate technology, it leaves a blue print for future development projects for small farmers in similar ecological situations. The Ecuadorian Forestry Directorate recognizes the need to promote development of local small-scale forestry industries that would make the management of high value secondary forest species a sustainable land use alternative, based entirely on private sector initiative both on-farm and a parallel industrial base.

    For more information:

    Robert Peck
    Carrera 56 #1A-10
    Cali, Colombia


    Ing. Juan Salinas
    Direcciøn Nacional Forestal
    8vo. piso, of. 814
    Quito, Ecuador