More and more permaculture projects are demonstrating that areas in rainforests, that were once biodiverse habitats for scores of species but have been logged for timber or destroyed by slash and burn agriculture, can be replanted for food, fibres and medicines. Not only will they provide resources for local people, they can also become richly biodiverse in varieties of plant and animal species. This is a win-win situation for people and the planet.
The current issue of Permaculture magazine 75 has two wonderful articles from the heart of the Amazonian rainforest. Phil Moore vists a permaculture research farm in Belize and discovers an agroforestry system more biodiverse than its neighbouring nature reserve. Meanwhile, Dave Boehnlein travels to a project which aims to become a model for sustainable production of food, fibre, fuel and medicines. Here we have a third amazing story to recount and a free film about it.
In 2011, in conjunction with the Crees Foundation (an organization who run agroforestry projects, community projects and conduct conservation research in the Manu region of Peru), journalist and filmmaker Nick Werber decided to make a series of films to help spread awareness of issues affecting the Manu Region of Peru.
Two of the major problems affecting the area are deforestation and malnutrition.
Local people habitually clear land to grow crops such as yucca and bananas for sale. They generally have a monoculture and use a piece of land (a hectare or more) for around 2 years before clearing some new land where the soil is nutrient rich. Though each farmer generally owns just a few hectares of land the 'slash and burn' faming culture has a major impact as almost every farmer does it.
One man can make a difference
Reynaldo Ochoa, a 54 year old resident of Manu was no different. Moving to the region in the early 1980's he cut and burned forest for farming like everyone else. But he soon found a better way. He learned about permaculture farming and began to adopt its method on his own land, with great results. He uses a multitude of crops in one place which work in a sustainable manner, replacing nutrients with nitrogen fixing plants and trees while having a multilayered crop yield; he grows fruit trees with yucca and a number of other fruits and vegetables. He also began planting soft and hardwood trees. He found that the shade the trees provided actually helped his crop yield as well as protecting the land from strong winds and the damaging effects of soil erosion.
People heard about his system and asked for advice. He first began on a small scale until the Crees Foundation (who had been working in the region since 2002) gave him the support and investment that he needed to branch out. He now advises people across the region about agroforestry supplying, seeds, saplings and labour to help plant the new agroforestry plots. Since he began he has planted over 30,000 trees.
The second problem for the people of Manu is malnutrition. The current inhabitants of towns like Salvacion are migrants from the high Andes. Their diet is low in fruit and vegetables which leads to malnutrition and illness, especially in the young.
Reynaldo and the Crees foundation begun a 'bio garden' program in 2008 helping teach local families how to grow their own vegetable gardens year round, giving them a chance at a better diet and a sustainable income through the sale of the excess. They get expert training, have the garden built and planted for them and then they are helped and monitored throughout the year. Crees and Reynaldo's vision is that in order to protect the forest and its diverse wildlife you need to engage the people in better practices which serve their needs and the forest alike.
You can help the work of the Cress Foundation, with by volunteering or making a donations. They want to raise $15,000, for further details visit: http://www.crees-manu.org/crees-foundation/support-us/support-us/
The film project
After 6 months of planning they flew to Peru in July and spent the next 3 months living in the rainforest, filming every day in searing heat and dense humidity. They filmed a range of wildlife including macaws, tapirs and monkeys and covered all areas of Crees work from scientific research to community projects. They filmed volunteers getting out of bed at 5am to check small mammal traps and survey the macaw activity at the clay lick, and helped plant trees with Reynaldo Ochoa, the star of this film.
Filming with a Canon 7D and 550D, Nick and Dan managed to create cinematic short films on a low budget. Returning to England in late 2011 They began the editing process, eventually cutting 4 films for Crees. This being the first in the series.
The filmmakers would love you to share this inspirational story within your social media network. And, as we say, for further Amazonian inspiration do pick-up a copy of Permaculture magazine Issue 75.
Reynaldo Ochoa is an inspiration to the people of Manu in the Peruvian Amazon rainforest. For the past 20 years he has dedicated his life to finding new ways of living in balance with his environment. By encouraging farmers to plant trees with their crops and enabling families to grow fresh organic produce he is helping to forge a sustainable future for the region, both protecting the environment and allowing local people to flourish.
It hasn't always been this way. When Reynaldo moved to the rainforest over 30 years ago he cleared the forest just like everyone else.. When the soil could no longer produce crops he moved to new land and started again. After years of working like this he realized that if people continued in this manner there would soon be no forest left.. And so he began learning about sustainable farming and started to experiment with his own land. He tried lots of different methods and eventually found a system that works.. Now he uses the waste from his chickens to feed pond algae which, in turn, feeds the fish.. The waste from his sheep he uses to fertilize the land for crops and he plants nitrogen fixing trees and vines to regenerate the soil.. The system is akin to permaculture and works much as nature would without the introduction of a monoculture.
Reynaldo helps farmers all across the region to plant trees with their crops as part of Crees agroforestry project. These trees enable the forest to regrow and also replenish the soil with nutrients, thus reducing the need to clear new land for farming. The trees absorb C02 from the air and can be used for carbon offsetting. Each tree is protected for between 15 and 40 years after which they can be used as a source of sustainable timber.
Reynaldo helps share his knowledge not just by working with commercial farmers but also by helping local people start gardens of their own where they can grow crops in an organic way. The aim is to help improve peoples nutrition and provide an income through the sale of any excess produce. Since he began,
Reynaldo has started over 350 gardens and planted over 30,000 trees. He does not drive a car and uses bio gas in his home (produced from his own families waste!). As a pioneer in organic farming he lives a truly sustainable existence.
Though he has been working in sustainable agriculture for more than 20 years, Reynaldo currently works with the Crees Foundation to help forge a sustainable future for the Manu region of Peru, in the heart of the Amazon rainforest.