Could a miracle plant help stem the problem of slash and burn agriculture in the developing world?

According to British surveyor Dr. Mike Hands, the answer may be “yes.” The plant he says fits this bill is called the Inga. The reason why the Inga is so good for the environment is because it has properties that both fight soil erosion and help replenish nitrogen in the ground necessary for crop production.

When place in “alleys” alongside regular crops, Inga plants help keep the thin, fertile soil of the rainforests from washing away. This helps farmers reuse the same ground to plant crops the following year, instead of clearcutting more swaths of tropical forest in search of new, nutrient rich farmland.

But Inga also has other eco-benefits. As reported in the Good News Network:

Inga can grow up to 25 feet in the first year of its life, and is tolerant of poor soil conditions, heat and drought, and flooding. Its broad leaves partly shadow the ground below—enough to prevent crops from overheating and weeds from taking over, but not enough to block out the sunlight from reaching the crops.

Being a member of the legume family, Inga is a nitrogen fixer.  This means it pulls nitrogen out of the air, and stores it in its roots, where a family of bacteria add a hydrogen atom and convert it to ammonia, allowing plants to consume it. All plants need nitrogen. It’s why fertilizer is made, and nitrogen fixers are a necessary part of any permaculture or regenerative agricultural model.

At about 16-18 months of life, the Inga trees in the alley are cut to chest height, giving families all the firewood they need, and covering the ground in the leaves, which decompose and re-energize the soil below.

Dr. Hands started testing his “Inga alley” idea on 40 families in Honduras. He directed 20 families to start using the plants and the others to continue utilizing their traditional slash and burn techniques. He reports that when a gully washer of a rainstorm wreaked havoc on the slash and burn crops, but didn’t harm the ones protected with Ingas, soon everyone wanted to get in on the act. Now some 300 families are employing his technique.

To read more, visit Good News Network here.


  • Craig Rucker

    Craig Rucker is a co-founder of CFACT and currently serves as its president.