When the Nicaforest reforestation program had planted the trees on the plantations, they invited local families to grow vegetables between the rows of trees. The result was 70 tons of protein-rich beans.
The beautiful Chontales region of Nicaragua is a typical cattle farming region. Many small and large landowners farm cattle to produce beef, which has contributed to major challenges with deforestation. There is also a high level of poverty. Many residents are landless, live in typical slum areas called favelas and have a low level of education.
“For some, access to food can be difficult at times,” says Øyvind Berg, the manager of Across Nature and one of the founders of the Nicaforest reforestation program.
A constant need for more grazing land
In the area where the Nicaforest reforestation program has established its plantations, 1.38 million acres (558,000 hectares) has been deforested, based on the UN’s definition of deforestation. One of the main reasons for this is cattle farming, which requires large areas for grazing.
“Nicaragua has a commodity-based economy. The main export commodity is beef and the authorities have motivated the population to practice widespread cattle farming. In the Chontales region and Región Autónoma del Atlántico Sur, owning a lot of cattle is a social status. This puts a lot of pressure on land because landowners constantly need more land to have enough grazing areas for their cattle. This is the main cause of deforestation,” says Berg.
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Invited families to grow food
The Nicaforest reforestation program was created in 2010. This involved local landowners establishing sustainable teak plantations on deforested and over-grazed land. A total of 360,000 trees were planted at intervals of 3-4 meters. The landowners then invited the local families to grow vegetables on the ground between the rows of trees.
“When you plant new trees, it is possible to grow agricultural crops between the trees for the first three years, before the trees get so big that it prevents the light from penetrating to the ground. We assessed what was possible to grow in these areas and concluded that it was suitable for maize and beans. We then invited local families to grow food on the plantations,” says Berg.
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Adding value to the local community
For the Nicaforest reforestation program, cooperation with local landowners and the local community is a key part of the work to establish environmentally friendly teak plantations that capture carbon dioxide from the air. The four plantations provide a combined basis for selling 78,000 carbon credits certified by Gold Standard. However, this certification necessitates that the program generates significant local wider economic impacts.
“We wish to add value to the local community and build trust in the Nicaforest reforestation program through a social commitment that has a positive effect on the local population. It is good to know that we create jobs, contribute to food production, increase local value creation, and pay taxes. People smile when we visit. They know about the Nicaforest reforestation program and our staff wish to do even more,” says Berg.
Positive effect on the trees
By letting local families grow food, more than 70 tons of beans were produced on the four plantations. A proportion of the beans were sold at local markets. Food production also had a positive effect on the trees.
“Bean plants add nitrogen to the soil, which gives better fertilization. In addition, the families kept weeds away from their crops, which is an ecological way of controlling weeds,” says Berg before adding:
“There was a lot of interest in the bean program. A total of around 30 families took part. Each family was registered, given a plot of land, and given relevant training. The families brought their own seeds, planted them and tended their crops until the beans were ready to harvest.”
Significant food source
The founder of the Nicaforest reforestation program now sees opportunities to increase food production as part of the forestry in Nicaragua.
“We could plant several new plantations every year, providing we had the capital to expand. In this way, the food production program would become a significant food source for the local community. The bean production enables us to produce more food in a region with high poverty where many people are struggling. There is a potential to systemize this even better,” concludes Berg.
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