The Chaillu Massif, Congo

After the Amazon, the Congo Basin is the largest remaining expanse of tropical wilderness in the world. It is also one of the most threatened. We are currently in the process of setting up a new project working to combat slash and burn farming in the Chailllu Massif in Congo (Brazzavile).

Our work at the Inga Foundation is based on Inga Alley Cropping, a scientifically-proven agroforestry technique that provides farmers with a viable, sustainable alternative to slash-and-burn farming.

As there are no Inga species native to the Congo, we have our project there by identifying a local species that can play the same role for us in the Congo Basin as Inga does in Central and South America. This is essential as, however good our intentions were, it would be highly irresponsible to introduce Inga as an exotic.

We are collaborating with the African Legume Group of the Kew Botanic Gardens in our search for a Congolese ‘Inga’. Once identified, the hope is that the species will function across Central Africa, giving us the possibility of expanding our work across the region.

In Congo we are currently working with MPD Congo, an iron-ore mining company, who is seeking to lessen the expected impact to the rainforest of potentially thousands of families moving into the area looking for work once their mining operation gets underway. Once we have identified an appropriate tree species, we will be able to work to support these families to develop secure and sustainable livelihoods using alley cropping and thereby protect the area’s rainforest from the damaging impact this huge influx of families could otherwise have.

The combined expertise of our Director Mike Hands, Dr. Martin Cheek of Kew and Congolese botanist Teva Kami enabled us to compile a list of 21 potential tree species. This has now been narrowed down to leave 9 very promising candidates.

MPD have now constructed a new tree nursery capable of holding several hundred thousand seedlings and are beginning trials to investigate how each of these shortlisted species will perform in an alley cropping system. We already have mulch trails in progress to test which of the candidate species are able to match Inga’s impressive weed-suppressing abilities. In addition, alleys using some of the candidate species have now been planted, with the rest of the species to be planted out in the near future. These trials will allow us to put each candidate species to the test in order to select the very best species for the job.

This project is still at an early stage but we feel it has huge potential and are really excited to see how it develops, so keep an eye on our website and Facebook to find out how the project is going as we continue our search for the ‘Inga’ of the Congo.