06/20/2013 10:27 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Mike Hands and Inga Alley Cropping: A Frontline Defense Against Slash-and-Burn Farming and Rainforest Destruction

Contributing more carbon emissions than global transportation, slash-and-burn farming is one of the greatest forces in rainforest destruction.

Developed in the Neolithic's, this method of farming requires the logging and burning of trees to open up land for the practice of agriculture. Sadly, while we have been able to continually farm our land, farmers in the equatorial tropics have been faced with a rapid loss of soil fertility forcing them to abandon the land they clear and move onto fresh forest after only one or two years.

With an estimated 250 to 500 million farmers, clearing a hectare of forest each year, we are finding ourselves in a unique twist of mutual survival, as we become precariously dependent on the climatic protection offered by forests now being cleared for the planting of beans and maize as farmers seek to feed themselves for another year.

Fortunately thanks to the work of one man, there is hope to this seemingly hopeless situation...

Last month I had the chance to interview Mike Hands, a tropical ecologist from England, who for the last twenty years has stoically worked against all the odds to develop a sustainable agricultural system that can bring an end to the unnecessary damage now occurring within the heart of our planets remaining rainforests.

As Mike explains, his discovery centers around the rapid growing Inga genus -- a kind of 'miracle' tree which when planted in alleys produces a dense foliage which quickly suppresses the native grasses and weeds that eventually colonize the abandoned land.

Whats more, with nitrogen-fixing roots the Inga tree organically fertilizes the depleted soil, providing the farmer with a sustainable farming system, where the longer he remains on the land, the more fertile and productive it becomes.

No longer restricted to growing low-value subsistence crops, the Inga alley cropping system, allows the farmers to begin growing high-value cash crops, such as organic peppercorn and vanilla pods, a situation that rapidly improves their food security and can ultimately lift these farmers and their communities out of poverty.

To learn more about Mikes work, please visit the Inga Foundation. Mike's groundbreaking work has also been featured in the award-winning documentary Up In Smoke.