Land For Life: transforming lives and landscapes with organic food security with the Inga Tree Model for the tropics

Inga alley-cropping: sequestering carbon, saving rainforests, changing lives & regenerating land with a truly sustainable farming model.

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Eligibility Criteria

  • I confirm that I am fully aware of the eligibility criteria and terms of the Act for Biodiversity Challenge and that I am eligible to apply.
  • I am 18 years old or older.

Initiative's representative name

Mike Hands

Initiative's representative date of birth

March 15, 1945

Initiative's representative gender

  • Man

Headquarters location: country

  • United Kingdom

Headquarters location: city


Where are you making a difference?

Valle de Cuero, Atlántida, Cuero and Capapan river catchments in northern Honduras

Website or social media url(s) Twitter @ingatreesusa Instagram ingatrees

Date Started


Project Stage

  • Scaling (expanding impact to many new places or in many new ways)

Yearly Budget : What is your current yearly budget for the initiative?

  • €100k - €250k

Organization Type

  • Nonprofit/NGO

1. Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this project to succeed.

Mike Hands’ career began as a surveyor where he witnessed mountainsides burning year after with many out of control wildfires from slash and burn agriculture just to provide bare plot of land for families to grow their basic food crops. Stopping that devastation then became his life goal and he spent the next twenty years researching tropical ecology soil-science, conducting trials with RBGK & Cambridge Univ. & developing trial farms. He cracked the unresolved question as to why slash and burn yields a harvest, then fails so quickly, (phosphorous was the key) and developed the system of Inga Alley-Cropping to replace unsustainable slash and burn. The Inga Tree Model addresses the root of the problem and provides a sustainable alternative.

2. The problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Slash-and-burn is a subsistence farming method that millions of families in the tropics depend on that contributes more than 2 billion tons of carbon to the atmosphere every year. A family cuts down/burns a patch of rainforest to have a plot of arable land to grow their basic food crops; the soil fertility, however, does not last. Once cleared/exposed to the harsh tropical climate, the soil erodes & is rapidly stripped of nutrients. This crop failure forces families to keep clearing fresh areas.

3. Your solution: How are you working to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

The problem is that slash and burn agriculture is environmentally devastating & it destroys communities & makes them more vulnerable to natural disasters.It is currently used by 200 million people in the tropics as they have had no alternatives. The Inga Tree Model is proven scientifically as well as 9 years of proof in the landscape.The Model uses nitrogen-fixing tree species from the genus Inga planted in hedgerows--20 inches apart with 4 meters between the rows. Inga trees maintain soil fertility/good harvests annually, thus breaking the slash-and-burn cycle/allowing families to gain long-term food security on one piece of land--no debt and all organic.The model in HN shows truly sustainable/regenerative smallholder agriculture--providing resilient & organic food & cash crops with 100% food security for families with established alleys (1-2 yr. old alleys)-climate shocks withstood/watershed protection/renewable firewood.After training/site preparation,alleys are planted & basic grain crops sown in between the alleys.Crops are harvested; the trees have recovered;& the cycle repeats.As an integrated system it favorably addresses all SDG goals with no negative impacts whatsoever.

4. Innovation: How are you innovating or using unique approaches to solve the problem?

The Inga model does not just reforest an area of degraded land--it improves it, stabilizes it against rains and wind, and recreates the natural forest floor conditions. Our 1st families (planted in 2012) experienced both drought and floods--and while their yields were reduced--they had nourishment crops at time when slash/burn farming families had none. The families bring about the change as they are the ones determining where/what they will plant. The model is flexible to allow interplanting for wide varieties of permaculture/fruit trees and hardwoods in the alley a family plants for their cash crops. We have trained all other groups who are planting Inga alleys and have a waiting list of over 200 families who want to plant alleys.

5. Collaboration: How does your initiative seek to bring key players together to preserve biodiversity?

Scaling is facilitated by agricultural policies that include smallholders with government agencies supporting regeneration to fulfill UN commitments. IF is working with MiAmbiente and IUCN for the proposed Recover Honduras Project. This is the first project of its kind that would reconnect isolated forest reserves in the Central American Biological Corridor. Other collaborations include: 1. MiAmbiente: trained 20 Honduran technicians 2. Instituto de Conservación Forestál (ICF Forest Authority): holds ongoing meetings with advisors 3. Centro Universitaro Regional del Litoral Atlantico (CURLA): has oldest Inga alleys (Cambridge Project 1996-2002). MOU, 1998 4. PANTHERA: Honduran partner to monitor the return of wildlife to restored land. MOU, 2017. 5. Parliamento Centroamericano (MOPAWI): educational and agricultural programs for reforestation. MOU, 1998. 6. In the UK, IF facilitated the rainforest installation at The Eden Project, which hosts over 1 million visitors per year.

6. Impact: how has your project made a difference so far — in terms of both business outputs and social impact? How do you plan on measuring progress?

100% of families with established Inga alleys (1-2 years old) have achieved total food security. As soon as a family plants their Inga alleys, slash-and-burn stops. To date, IF has 300 families in Honduras with no debt and many with a second alley for cash crops, thus reducing the need to migrate. Since 2012, the program has sequestered 180,000 tons of carbon and regenerated 2,500 acres. Other benefits include renewable firewood from annual pruning and improved diets with the entire family working together. By eliminating herbicides, pesticides, and chemical fertilizers and Inga alley-cropping is accessible to all. Climate shocks are withstood - families have grown food crops with no irrigation or a drop of rain - Inga trees survive 7 months of drought. Nutrition and livelihoods are improved, erosion and mudslides are eliminated and watershed protection includes-rivers, ocean & reefs. The program positively addresses 11 of the 17 UN SDGs with NO NEGATIVE IMPACT on the remaining 6.

7. Growth strategies: what are your main strategies for scaling your impact?

Our farm has 2500 pounds of turmeric root in the ground, & families growing 70,000 black pepper plants & 250,000 cacao.Our all-in cost of $.50 per Inga tree will decrease as we replicate, establish more nurseries, & create more training hubs.We understand different countries have different land tenure & community needs, yet there are many similarities that will make scaling more efficient. We have addressed barriers--& refined & perfected our model as a systematic, low-input project with a team that is committed to seeing it replicated widely, with the goal of the demonstration farm being a full-time teaching center. The Honduran team has facilitated Inga alleys in 15 countries--providing training at no cost & native seeds for many groups.

8. Creating shared value: How does your initiative create value for society? Or different stakeholders?

As a nature-based solution, we are not dependent on technology.Our model could be adopted by large corporations if there was the commitment to move away from heavy equipment/industrial chemicals, but have the advantage of local labor & organic certification.There is vast potential for scaling as there are over 300 species of Inga. (with edulis & oerstedian most widely used) --wide-ranging to all of Central America & most of S.Amer.Our Land for Life program finishes in 2 years & we have two long term plans--1st, a family-owned co-op for organic crop drop-off/processing/quality control for their collective bargaining power.We have already set up Inga Corporation, so we will be a contact point.

9. Financial sustainability plan: can you tell us about your plan to fund your project and how that plan will be sustainable in the short, medium, and long term?

IF’s nurseries have already distributed over 250,000 cacao saplings and 75,000 black pepper plants. IF’s farm has 2,500 lbs. of organic turmeric root in the ground as a short-term financial asset. Some families bring organic green peppercorns to the farm for processing. A corporation (the Inga Sociedad de Responsabilidad Limitada) has been set up to work with families to handle the logistics of harvesting, processing, storing, and selling cash crops. IF takes no portion of the profits yet, but when this cooperation proceeds to the next level, we will receive a commission from sales, which would go back into the farm budget (as a medium-term strategy). IF is also seeking long-term government reforestation contracts through MiAmbiente.

10. Team: what is the current composition of your current team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?

The current Honduran team (16 full-time and 20-30 part-time) has all worked together since 2012 when the project began--several since 2002 & 2006. Their commitment to the program is unmatched. They have long-term, trusted relationships with families as most are their friends and neighbors and they work with them throughout the training, planting, and pruning phases.We show that improving livelihoods with training/seeds/support for a year can achieve life-changing results for the rural poor.

11. How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Social media

12. Connection to Biodiversity: How does your project directly contributes to preserving and/or restoring biodiversity? Please share data to support your answer.

Because Inga alleys simulate the conditions of the forest floor, flora and fauna soon return to the area. What was once degraded land, becomes a forest full of life. IF’s solution addresses the root of the problem: food security. For when a family achieves “land for life,” they no longer need slash-and-burn. As a fully integrated ecosystem, Inga alley-cropping also has many other benefits. In November 2019, Director of Operations Abraham Martinez presented IF’s Project to MiAmbiente and IUCN on Inga alley-cropping in the buffer zone of the Pico Bonito National Park for the proposed Recover Honduras Project, a government-funded reforestation project that would reconnect currently disjointed blocks of rainforest and create a contiguous trail stretching over 100km. In 2019, Tony Nello et. al. in IUCN’s article “Economic Analysis of Actions for Productive Landscape Restoration in Honduras” ranks Inga alley-cropping “top in net benefits; both in 10-year and 30-year figures” (p. 93).

13. Example: Please walk us through one or two concrete examples that show how your solution will solve the problem you’re trying to address.

The Nuñez family, a former slash-and-burn family in the rural and mountainous region of Los Limpios, is a prime example of an Inga alley-cropping “success story.” In 2015, a total crop failure forced Damas, the father, to consider fleeing Honduras, hoping to provide for his family as an undocumented worker. Before he left, Damas visited his friend and neighbor Eli Cruz, who had implemented Inga alley-cropping. Damas was astounded by the tall and healthy stalks of corn growing in Eli’s alleys. After visiting IF’s demo farm, the Nuñez family planted their own Inga alleys and food crops. Since then, they have achieved total food security. Their story of desperation turned regeneration is the same as any one of 300 families currently reaping the benefits of Inga alley-cropping, which stops slash-and-burn by providing families a sustainable alternative to an unsustainable model, anchoring them to their homeland and community, saving rainforests, preserving habitats, and transforming lives.

14. Marketplace: Who else is addressing this problem in your environment? How does your proposed project differ from these other approaches?

Whereas other nature-based projects combat deforestation through reforestation, this does not address the root of the problem. Slash-and-burn has been a way of life for subsistence farming families in the humid tropics for generations. They do not just need trees—they need a solution. Inga alley-cropping is unique because it is a fully-integrated ecosystem that gives families an alternative to slash-and-burn. By planting nitrogen-fixing Inga edulis trees along the contours of degraded land, families repair the damages of slash-and-burn and achieve total food security. Inga alley-cropping is based on over 25 years of proven scientific and field research. IF has trained all other organizations who are currently implementing Inga alley-cropping, but none are doing it at IF’s scale. IF has also received two independent evaluations of “excellent.” IF manages the oldest Inga alleys in existence, and with its 30-acre demo farm, serve as living examples to the success of Inga alley-cropping.

15. Awards & Recognitions: What awards or recognitions, if any, has the project received so far?

Ray C. Anderson NextGen Comm. Sustainability Award-2020-$100,000 grant, 2018-Top 100 Finalists for Katerva Award, Energy Globe Awards in Earth Category (1 of 3)-'16 & '19, IFOAM Grand Prize winner 2017, Finalist in 2018 WAFA (Water Air Food Award) competition (1 of 5, Special, consultative status from the UN to attend meetings of the Economic and Social Council, See attachment for 2 MIT awards--2017 & '18, PARLACEN-Resolución AP/3/3-CCLXXV

16. Financial Sustainability – funding breakdown: Please list a quick breakdown of your funding, indicating an estimated percentage that comes from each source.

individual donations: 35% NGO grants: 65% bequests: 0% corporate: 0% earned income: 0% It currently costs IF $.50 per tree from seed-gathering to alley-planting. As long-term financial goals are met, that cost will decrease as more revenue will allow IF to expand nurseries/seed banks and establish more alleys. IF seeks to increase families' collective bargaining power by marketing and exporting the co-op's organic products, use the Inga Corporation as a contact point for the local and regional organic produce marketing/sales, and invest future profits back into the organization. Carbon credits and partner planting with organizations committed to reforestation like Ecosia are also other possible revenue sources. Lancet emphasizes scaling integrated solutions like IF: “The need to develop and use sustainable food production practices that safeguard Earth system processes, on which food production/human well-being depend, has become widely recognised.” (Vol. 393, Issue 10170)

17. How do you plan to influence your field of work if you are a winner of the Act for Biodiversity Challenge? How would you invest the prize money to leverage your work?

Inga alley-cropping is the organic, sustainable food-production model at the core of The Inga Foundation’s (IF) “Land for Life” Project. IF would invest prize money into further expansion of its proven model. Families will always be IF’s top priority, and the Project currently has a 100% success rate with 300 families, nearly 2,500 people, and there are 200 more on the waitlist to receive training and seedlings. This is landscape-level change. IF’s second priority is education. Delegates from 15 countries have visited IF’s demo farm and learned how to establish the Model themselves (training and seeds provided at no-cost). IF has exceeded field objectives and would use additional funds to build a teaching center to accommodate expansion and create regional hubs. Many have also used IF’s online teaching video manual (available on YouTube), and there is vast potential to scale this nature-based solution with over 300 species of Inga wide-ranging to all of Central and South Americas.

Attachments (1)

MIT Meet a Solver & OFIA Grand Prize.pdf

Mike Hands received the IFOAM world organic award in 2017 for the Inga Tree Model of sustainability. The Inga Foundation was recognized by MIT in 2017 for carbon sequestration/avoidance-receiving SOLVER status (1 of 6 in the world).


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