Image credits: DihandraPinheiro/shutterstock.com
Escalating deforestation due to illegal logging and industrial practices are all factors placing the Amazon rainforest close to the “tipping point” of catastrophe according to prominent ecologist Monica De Bolle.
However, a “miracle tree” that helps keep soil fertile could provide a glimmer of hope in what is otherwise a very bleak scenario.
Scientists and researchers have developed a project that demonstrates the fact that the floor of the Amazon can be preserved and restored as well as generating an income from the land with the help of Inga Trees (also known as the ice-cream-bean tree due to its edible pulp resembling the taste of vanilla ice cream). The aim of the project is to prevent the sale of land owned by smallholders to larger agricultural production companies and thus prevent large swathes of the forest from being lost.
What’s more is that the tree can grow in the harsh conditions caused by slash and burn, fire-fallow cultivation and even improving the soil conditions so other tree species can return to the land.
It's very much a kind of 'miracle tree' or a super tree because some of the species can do some amazing things. They can grow really fast on very, very poor soils, even soils where a rainforest has been cut down and have become very degraded.
Toby Pennington, Professor of Tropical Plant Diversity and Biogeography, The University of Exeter
Part of the legume family, of which there are more than 300 species, inga trees fix nitrogen into the soil, a vital nutrient for plants. Inga trees have fast growth rates and as Pennington states, "These species have fruits that are edible and often have local markets right across Latin America." They can also provide food for cattle and are used for wood fuel which provides an extra incentive for investing in the cultivation of the trees.
They provide nutrient rich soil for other species to grow in, so the ecological system generated under the protection of the inga tree boosts ecological diversity and allows farmers to grow other profitable species of tree and plant. “If you had a cup of coffee this morning that came from Latin America, the odds are that it was growing underneath one of these inga trees,” Pennington says.
The project, of which Pennington has been working alongside, operates within Brazil’s “arc of destruction.”
These plantations would favor wildlife that could use them as habitats or as stepping-stones to move between forest remnants.
Dr Saulo de Souza, The Institute of Green Gold [Instituto Ouro Verde]
Thus, the project delivers other advantages by giving pastures coverage from trees, encouraging biodiversity, and mitigating the effects of climate change.
However, any attempts to re-green and prevent any catastrophe in the region must be done in parallel with efforts that stop continued destruction of the rainforest. According to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, fires in the region are up by 84 percent with over 2,000 new Amazon fires recorded.
De Souza told BBC News that the inga trees encouraged local communities as the project helps them rehabilitate the damaged forest floor and increase the fertility and viability of the land. “By showing that the land could be harvested sustainably and profitably, the landowners were less inclined to sell up to industrial cattle and soy producers,” said De Souza. This could enable local communities to prosper and slow the relenting deforestation in the Amazon.
Yet, the climate crisis is now and if the rate of deforestation continues to accelerate, then reaching the “tipping point” for the rainforest could happen as early as 2021. Consequently, the Amazon would fail to support or sustain itself and the knock-on-effect could mean grave repercussions for life across planet Earth. Hope itself is germinating in the inga trees versatility as it attempts to live up to its name as a “miracle tree”.