Growing Pepper as a Cash Crop
Victor and Rosa Coronado and their family live in the buffer-zone of Pico Bonito National Park, high up near the crest of one of the Park’s mountain ridges. In 1998 Victor decided to plant a trial area of Inga alleys. Shortly after he expanded this area but rather than plant more basic grains he chose to use the Inga alley system to grow pepper as a cash crop. He planted the pepper together with the necessary living support trees (Gliricidia sepium) in the knowledge that he could not expect any return for perhaps four years.
The pepper vines began a light production of pepper, a little prematurely, in 2002. Victor and his wife Rosa took in the crop. Rosa then carried out the processing. She washed, hot-dipped and sun-dried the crop, eventually producing dried black peppercorns. Instead of selling directly to a local buyer, she borrowed a grinder and ground the pepper. To this, she added about 25% by volume of ground cumin (which is local custom) and packed the resulting mixture into small plastic packs. She sold these small packs individually to households and restaurants in La Ceiba. The product created was both very fresh and completely organic. In this first venture into “value-added” production, she made around $200. At the second cropping, she repeated the process and made around $900.
Victor and Rosa’s story illustrates one of the key concepts behind the Inga Foundation; our efforts to enable families like this to grow and process their crops ‘on their own doorstep’. It would have been impossible for the family to contemplate the risks and logistics of attempting to plant, nurture and guard cash-crops of this kind in a plot located 2 hours’ walk from their home, as any slash and burn plots would have been. Rosa could not have take the youngest children with her, nor could she have left them alone for hours at a time.
For the first time Inga alley cropping has allowed this family, formerly forced to rely on shifting slash and burn cultivation and illegal charcoal-burning, to grow enough to meet their needs near to their home, meaning the whole family can work together to raise and process the crops.
Victor is currently expanding his Inga alleys; and has put in another plot near the house for maize production.
(Note: The Inga plots described above survived, at an early stage of their development, complete defoliation during hurricane Mitch (Oct. 1998). All the trees recovered and went on to “capture” their respective sites.)
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