An interview with Dr Niall McCann

In this blog we speak with Dr Niall McCann, Explorer, Biologist and Director of Conservation for National Park Rescue on the Inga Model and its potential to enable farmers to move away from slash-and-burn agriculture and adopt a sustainable model of farming that requires a fraction of the land needed for traditional techniques. 

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Can you tell us more about your background and how you came to hear of the Inga Foundation?

I spent four years traveling to-and-from Honduras while working towards my PhD in conservation biology, during which time I developed a strong affinity for the country. 

After completing my PhD, I established a community ranger programme with the support of the Honduran Government. I was alerted to the Inga Foundation by a member of Government, who was deeply impressed by the impact the Inga Foundation was having on rural communities and on the environment, and by the potential for this project to scale up across the country and the region.

What is the problem with slash and burn agriculture? Why are farmers globally still using this destructive practice? 

Slash and burn agriculture is inherently destructive, socially unsustainable and environmentally catastrophic. Chopping down and burning forests for agriculture is releasing enormous amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, destroying the habitat of untold numbers of species, and removing the vital ecosystem services that intact forests provide for us all.

Some farmers still use the practice just because that’s what they’ve always done, and others because of a perceived lack of alternatives.  Slash and burn farmers are trapped in a cycle of destruction and poverty, unable to find food security for themselves because slash and burn is so inefficient, while simultaneously guaranteeing instability for future generations by destroying the land on which they live and farm.

The Inga Model is a sustainable alternative to slash and burn. What is it that excites you about this solution?

The Inga model excites me because it creates a win-win scenario: it enables farmers to achieve food security for themselves and their families, while massively reducing the amount of land needed for farming, leaving the forests intact and providing the ecosystem services we all need to survive. More produce from less land means better outcomes for people and for nature.

With the Inga Model we have a nature-based solution that delivers food security, reduces emissions and protects rainforests – the challenge is implementing this practice at the scale required to ultimately end slash and burn. What do you see as some of the steps needed to get us there?

People are inherently conservative, especially when it comes to food production, as if you try something new and it fails then we all go hungry. We now have proof that the Inga Model works, transforming the lives of those farmers who were brave enough to adopt the practice. What we need next is to scale this up, and that requires a huge amount of outreach, training, and support for farmers; effective fundraising to develop the infrastructure and capacity needed to support the shift in practices; and effective communications with government who can provide the regulatory and fiscal environment required to implement the Inga Model at a landscape scale.

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