The Quesungual agroforestry farming system
When FAO's Lempira Sur project began, most of the farmers
in the area were using the age-old slash-and-burn method of
farming. They cleared a part of the forest by slashing the
vegetation and burning the debris. Crops were grown on this
cleared plot for one to three years until the yields fell,
due to declining moisture and fertility. Then farmers had to
move to new plots and clear, burn and plant all over
In Lempira Sur, most of the fields are situated on hillsides with a slope of up to 60 degrees, which are not suitable for slash-and-burn farming. "Unless there is permanent vegetation cover and unless there is up to 30% tree cover, we have serious problems with soil erosion and landslides," explains Ian Cherret, FAO's Chief Technical Advisor at the project. "The key to a change was to stop the burning."
Together the local farmers and the project's extension workers developed an agroforestry farming system, then validated by FAO experts. As it was developed in a village in Lempira Sur called Quesungual it was named the Quesungual system.
The system is used on plots between 200 and 900 meters above sea level and involves growing the maize, soghum and beans interspersed with trees. Instead of burning, farmers clear old vegetation by hand with a machete. The tallest trees, which earlier were cut or burned down, are now kept, as they are good as a source of, fruit, timber and wood for furniture, as well as providing shade for the crops underneath. A typical plot of one to three hectares consists of approximately 15-20 large timber and fruit trees and numerous smaller trees and shrubs.
Every year the trees and shrubs are pruned to a height of 1.5 to 2 meters in order to eliminate the branches so light can reach the crops. Larger branches are used for firewood; smaller ones are left on the ground to help revitalize the soil. This enhances soil fertility for the maize, beans, sorghum, coffee and other crops that are grown on the ground between the trees.
There are many advantages to the new farming system: The yields have almost doubled; less labour is required to establish and maintain the plots; the soil retains moisture better, enabling crops to withstand the regular drought that afflicts the area and minimizing the risk of erosion and landslides.
A report is now being prepared about the Quesungual agroforestry farming system. It will be available soon.
To see, hear and read about the activities and the people in the Lempira Sur project, click here.