Up in Smoke: 5 Oxfam shorts

Josephine Whitaker

Blog post by Josephine Whitaker

Global Campaigner
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The GROW campaign is all about solutions for a sustainable future in which we all have enough to eat. This is why we at Oxfam supported the making of this series of short films about an agricultural technique pioneered in Honduras that promises to help small holder farmers escape the cycle of ‘slash and burn’ agriculture. This traditional practice involves farmers regularly moving the areas that they farm and ‘slashing and burning’ the vegetation to fertilize the soil. Although not inherently damaging, this practice has become increasingly unsustainable due to increasing resource pressures on land. Here, Adam Wakeling, the film’s director, explains the work happening in Honduras:

‘Bad news sells and it’s very easy to become despondent about the state of the environment. So upon coming face to face with an inspiring solution to the challenge of sustainable agriculture, it was clear that there was a story that had to be brought to life and into the wider world. Four years of production and 15 trips to Honduras resulted in the multi-award winning documentary, Up in Smoke. Unlike many environmental films, though bringing a devastating problem into the public gaze, its key message is one of an answer and one of hope.

These five short films demonstrate the power and simplicity of the new method – a form of alley cropping using a special tree known as Inga –  developed by British ecologist, Mike Hands. They touch on the lives of several farmers who were willing to take a chance on the method, to break the cycle of ‘slash and burn’ in which they were locked. A recent trip back to Honduras, almost two and half years after the final shoot for the film, proved that not only is this method working for the famers, but also that it is spreading fast.

Aladino Cabrera, one of the heroes of these films, has found that the new farming method he is employing doesn’t just restore his environment, but saves him money, time and resources. Instead of having to farm areas ever further away from home, on soils rendered infertile through repeated ‘slash and burn’ operations, he is now planting and harvesting just 10 minutes’ walk from his back door.  The new method limits erosion, naturally re-fertilizes the soils and encourages natural biological defenses. It has returned water to rivers, reduced pesticide use to virtually zero, and is now producing organic subsistence and cash crops.

This revolutionary method is real and it is working. If anything, the major lesson I learnedthrough the production of the film was that when it comes to the environmentapathy is no option. Had Mike Hands given up at any of the major hurdles he faced, Aladino and others like him would not have been able to change their lives for the better. And given the results, there is no reason why the growing success story in Honduras could not be replicated across Latin America and beyond.’

> Find out more about Up in Smoke and Mike’s work

> Join Oxfam's GROW Campaign to ensure we all have enough to eat, always.