Back in the ’70s or so I saw an article. I’ve forgotten where and I’ve forgotten “about whom”. (Frankly, I don’t think I ever caught the name. It was an Indian (as in India) name, and they tend to ‘runtogetherforme’ into some long hypnotic rampathrathimatripiaticrythm kind of thing that just doesn’t “click”, nor “stick” for me.) I think the article might have been in Mother Earth News, or perhaps something more technical. Again, “Title” is not one of the things I used to notice.
The basic thrust of the article was about a place in India where there was a lot of “Desertification” happening. They had photographs of a Dr. Rmamumblemumblemumble who had ‘fixed it’. What “stuck in my brain” were the method, and a strong visual of the location. They had “before” and “after” pictures of the same location with The Good Doctor seated in the same place. Just “night and day”.
Every so often I try doing a bit of a search to see if I can find that original “connection”, but it doesn’t show up. Buried under too much recent stuff, I fear. But “someday” I’d like to give proper attribution to Dr. WhoDunIt for his work.
The agronomy system is simple, and very strait forward. By present methods and understandings, nearly quaint. At the time it was more of a ‘big deal’.
The First Word Photo:
Seated in the foreground is The Doctor with nothing but nearly barren red dirt behind him shading into a rutted red dirt hillside as the backdrop. Perhaps 10 hectares (25 acres) of area? A few tufts of scrub, maybe the size of a gallon of milk, with yards ( meters ) between them. LOTS of bare red dirt. Dry. Uninviting. Somewhere in the back / side IIRC was a small child herding one scrawny goat.
The problem starkly visible. Nothing much for the goat to eat, so little for the child to get from the goat.
The Second Word Photo:
Taken about 15 years alter. The Doctor seated in what looks like a rain forest. Trees making a canopy overhead. Can’t hardly see the hill in the background, but bits of distant green are there, too. Lush, green, edible foliage.
It is the same spot, and the same camera perspective.
What changed? Simple, really.
Before, the goats ran free and ate and and all things that tried to grow. Nothing got very far. Women would spend hours / day walking the hills looking for wood to use in cooking. Children were poorly fed, and both women and children had a variety of eye and lung ailments from being inside poor huts while cooking over dung (there being not much wood…).
Several negative feedback loops were at work here. The System reversed them into positive feedback loops.
Burning dung means it is not available to fertilize the ground. Nitrogen compounds burned up, instead of turned to fertilizers. Smoky fires causing blindness and pneumonia (among other things). Goats mowing down any ambitious plant before it could grow to size, leaving the ground bare to overheat and dry out. No water from the ground to transpire into the air, so even less rain. All leading to less food, worse health, more intensive grazing of goats, and ever more desperation trying to find fuel wood.
The Doctor started with the goats. Pen the goats.
Now plants could grow without destruction. This can then shade the dirt so rains soak in rather than evaporate. The wet cycle starts toward the positive.
Goat Poo is collected and, instead of burning it, fermented in an anaerobic digester (made of local materials – bricks in a hole in the ground, IIRC) and the resultant methane gas piped to the huts to a “stove”. The stove was made of dried mud. Little more than shaped mud where the methane from fermentation, “Gobar Gas”, was mixed with air in a very low pressure ‘jet’ and burned under a pot, that sat in a hole in the dried mud. There was a “clay” (dried mud) chimney that took the exhaust gasses out of the hut. The stove was maybe the size of a can of stew and the chimney about the diameter of your wrist.
Now the “sludge” from the fermenter is GREAT fertilizer. It gets spread on a garden area. Any excess gets spread on the “field” (still a bit like a desert). From the garden, the family gets consistent food that can be dried and used in off seasons, or eaten fresh. Everyone is having much better health.
Now, in that open desert area, a special tree was planted. Leucaena leucocephala. A “bean tree” from Mexico. It is a Mimosoideae:
The same sub-family or tribe (depending on which classification system you use) has many similar members. Acacia, for one. Since “back then” several other members of this tribe have also been drafted for this duty…
This plant, Leucaena, is rather “special” in several ways. First off, it grows incredibly fast. Second, is a nitrogen fixer. Third, it’s from a warm place where it can grow in areas with a lot of water, or not all that much. Finally, the pods and leaves are (marginally) edible. There is a toxic amino acid in the seeds that can cause “issues” for some animals. In Mexico, very young pods and shoots are cooked (which breaks down some of the toxins) and eaten. More importantly, as long as you give them time to have their gut flora adapt (i.e. don’t just swap feed suddenly. That’s a “no-no” for many ruminants as their gut flora need time to adapt to changes of feed. This occasionally causes problems in rabbits, for example, which is why folks are advised not to rapidly change what they feed their bunny.) goats can eat the leaves.
Oh, and they “coppice” well. That means if you chop of the main trunk, it resprouts many more trunks from that stump. Nice “poles”.
Now we just “tie it together”. The children, instead of chasing goats, collect small twigs and leaves and take them to the goats in the pens. (Dad can cut larger limbs). The larger limbs provide fuel wood. Except… we are using Gobar gas, remember? Initially there may not be enough, so some wood may be used as the goat herd builds up; but eventually that wood becomes a salable product. It can also be used in ‘light manufactures’, so folks can start businesses making things of it.
As the tree fixes nitrogen, soil improves. More grasses can grow under the trees. As the “fermented poo” makes for a great garden, and the goats are getting ever more ‘bean tree leaves’ and grasses, the village develops a surplus of vegetables, meat, and milk. As the women are no longer hunting for fuel, they turn these materials into more salable products. Cheeses, soaps, and fresh produce. Even jerky and fresh meat. A cycle of prosperity where before had been only desperation.
But it’s not done yet…
The canopy of the ‘been tree’ shades the ground. Rains that fall do not evaporate. They act as a wind break. The soils do not blow away. The roots hold hillsides in place. Erosion is halted. Now the rains don’t run off, they soak in. Evapotranspiration from the trees leads to even more rains (water cycling). The “desert” turns first to “savanna” and eventually to “tropical forest” or “agroforest”.
At that point, the cycle is complete. A desert eroding to barren rocky dry wasteland reverts to lush forest and grasslands. Poverty becomes prosperity. It really can be that simple.
Everything has downsides. The “trick” is to choose the solutions where the downsides are not much bother. For Leucaena the major downside is just that it grows too well. It can become something of an ‘invasive weed’. (Hawaii has many such foreign invaders, but this is one of them…)
Frankly, when dealing with a choice of “invasive forest that builds the land” vs “eroding desert”, I’ll take “invasive plant” and work to stay ahead of it.
The plant IS marginally toxic to some kinds of animals. You can’t just feed this stuff to cows, sheep, and pigs.
It is a tropical plant, so fine even into ‘sub-tropical’ places like California (where it does grow at present), but not for places that are very cold.
Yet the same “system” can work with other plants.
That is why, in the years since the ’70s, many folks have worked out other Agronomy Systems with other “bean trees” and other ruminants. (And even some non-legume trees).
Now, some 40 years later, some folks “talk dirt” about Leucaena due to the ‘invasive weed’ aspect. Forgetting that it was and is a miracle tree given where we were 40 years ago. So in some parts of India, it is the cause for complaints as the skinny volunteers growing under larger established trees in parks ‘blow over’ in major storms. But think just a minute. They HAVE parks that HAVE large trees now…
Yet, too, “times change”. We now have a much larger catalog of trees and agronomy systems to choose from. In many places, some other combination will be much better and “miracle tree” isn’t an accurate description there, now, for this tree. In my opinion, that is a statement of success, not “problem”.
So, with all that in mind, I’m going to accumulate some “links” here to various Leucaena pages that I’ve run into.
Perhaps some day I’ll even find a copy of those two photos and find the name of Dr. Who-Ha to give proper homage.
But, for now, the links. In no particular order and no particular structure.
Purdue overview page (that says it makes excellent cattle fodder
Leadtree is valued as an excellent protein source for cattle fodder, consumed browsed or harvested, mature or immature, green or dry. The nutritive value is equal to or superior to alfalfa. Leadtree has gained a favorable reputation in land reclamation, erosion control, water conservation, reforestation and soil improvement programs, and is a good cover and green manure crop. The leaves, used as a mulch around other crops, are said to significantly increase their yields. It is said to possess the power of extracting selenium from the soil and concentrating selenium in the seed. This could be used to ameliorate seleniferous soils if the feed were discarded or used for some purpose other than feed. Seeds yield about 25 percent gum worthy of commercial investigation. Seeds after softening are strung as beans into various items of jewelry for tourists in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. In the Philippine Islands, young pods are cooked as a vegetable and seeds are used as a substitute for coffee. Ripe seeds are sometimes eaten parched like popcorn. Wood is hard and heavy (sp. gr. 0.7), the sapwood light yellow, the heartwood yellow-brown to dark brown, used for fuel or charcoal. Plants are used in some countries for shade for black pepper, coffee, cocoa, quinine, and vanilla and for hedges. In many places, however, renegade seedlings have created a noxious weed situation. The dipilatory chemical mimosine has been used, experimentally at least, to shear sheep.
The seeds can get a high level of “mimosine” when mature. It causes some animals, like sheep, but not goats, to have their hair fall out… No idea if it works on people. It is broken down in cooking, so cook those young pods, don’t eat the old dry seeds…
An interesting site, dedicated to “Tropical Forages”. Has an insight into how far spread this plant is these days:
guage (Mexico); wild tamarind (Corozal, Belize); lead tree (Florida); lamtoro (Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea); ipil ipil (Philippines); jumby bean (Bahamas); false koa, koa haole (Hawaii); tangantangan, tangan tangan, talantayan (Guam, Marshall Islands); talntangan, ganitnityuwan tangantan (Yap); tuhngantuhngan, rohbohtin (Kosrae); telentund (Palau); lopa samoa (American Samoa); fua pepe (American Samoa and Samoa); lusina (Samoa); pepe (Niue and Samoa); nito (Cook Islands); siale mohemohe (Tonga); subabul (India); vaivai (Fiji); cassis (Vanuatu); te kaitetua (Kiribati); kay keo dâu (Vietnam).
Shrub or tree up to 18 m tall, forked when shrubby and branching strongly after coppicing, with greyish bark and prominent lenticels.
Yes, 18 meters tall. Over 50 feet. It grows big if you don’t coppice it.
A tree with it’s own network. Who knew?
Leucaena is a high quality, long-lived leguminous forage tree. First introduced by CSIRO in the 1950s for extensive grazed systems for tropical Australia . Today it is also being used by livestock producers in cooler climates.
It produces very palatable, nutritious, high protein leaf for cattle giving liveweight gains of 250-300 kg/HD/yr, or 125 – 150kg per hectare at a stocking rate of 1hd:2ha. This is twice that of grass only pastures
Not the same plant, but a similar idea. Very touching story of folks being hungry and goats “having issues” during 2 months of the year when forage was scarce. A “weed” that was often being rogued out had the answer. Pick and store the pods, feed them during those two months. Cycle of virtue begins…
Researchers from the BAIF Foundation working with goat herders in the villages of Bhilwara began to look for ways to keep the animals healthy through the dry months of April, May and June. The poor herders could not afford to buy feed, so the researchers and villagers together settled on a new use for an alien tree introduced here by a British colonial forester in 1876.
The villagers of Rajasthan knew the tree, Prosopis juliflora – known locally as `English tree’ – as a pernicious thorny weed that they ripped up when it invaded their fields. But dangling from the tree’s branches are giant pods 15-25 centimetres long, that are packed with protein and sugar. In its native Central America, these pods are widely used for animal fodder. So the researchers suggested that the villagers pick the pods in the spring and store them for feeding to hungry kidless female goats in May and June, in the hope that they would become pregnant.
The villagers tested the idea during 1998 and 1999, in a project led by the NRI’s Czech Conroy. The result was fatter, healthier female goats that produced almost 30% more kids. A typical goat keeper with 10 breeding females got three extra kids, worth 900 rupees at market in October. That meant more cash from sales of the young kids. “I had eight kids from my goats this year,” said a delighted Dapu.
Yes, there’s a wiki. But it’s not very good.
As they “play games” with what you can see, I’m quoting the entire “tease” just in case it isn’t there next time
Someone has found some anti-cancer properties in some of the extracts:
Antiproliferative and cancer-chemopreventive properties of sulfated glycosylated extract derived from Leucaena leucocephala.(Research Paper)(Report)
Indian Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences
November 1, 2007 | Gamal-Eldeen, Amira; Amer, H.; Helmy, W.; Ragab, H.; Talaat, Roba
Byline: Amira. Gamal-Eldeen, H. Amer, W. Helmy, H. Ragab, Roba. Talaat
This work aimed to prove that simple chemical modification could provide new cancer chemopreventive and/or anticancer properties to the inactive extracted polysaccharide derived from Leucaena leucocephala . Polysaccharides were extracted from Leucaena leucocephala seeds and its 2,4-pentanedione-treated derivative (glycosylated form) was prepared, which is further sulphated to give sulphated glycosylated form. Estimation of their anti-initiation activity, modulation of carcinogen metabolism, was indicated by the inhibition cytochrome P450 1A (CYP1A) and the induction of glutathione-S-transferases (GSTs). Anti-proliferation activity was investigated by MTT assay against human hepatocarcinoma (HepG2), breast carcinoma (MCF-7) and lymphoblastic leukemia (1301). Apoptosis/necrosis and cell cycle were analyzed by flow cytometry. The results revealed that glycosylated form inhibited both CYP1A and GSTs, while sulphated glycosylated form not only inhibited CYP1A, but also induced the GSTs. Unlike GE, sulphated glycosylated form possessed a significant anti-proliferative activity against different cell lines. Analysis of HepG2 cell cycle phases demonstrated that glycosylated form led to a delay of G2/M-phase, while sulphated glycosylated form led to a concomitant arrest in S- and G2/M-phases. Investigation of apoptosis/necrosis ratio demonstrated that both of glycosylated form and sulphated glycosylated form induced HepG2 cell death by necrosis, but not apoptosis. Unmodified crude extract was neither active as cancer chemopreventive nor as anti-proliferative. In conclusion, chemical modification of Leucaena gum induced its cancer chemopreventive and anti-proliferative activities.
Leucaena leucocephala is a tropical plant belongs to Leguminosae and provides a useful source for fuel, protein, oil and commercial gum[sup] ,, . They have a total carbohydrate content of approximately 35% to 45%, with reducing sugars constituting 5.2% and an average degree of polymerization of 150[sup]  . The highly viscous solutions of seed gum have the potential to be used as a laxative, in vegetable soups and in other food commercial products. L. leucocephala is reported to have few medicinal properties in contraception and abortion[sup]  .
Galactomannans constitute the second most abundant storage polysaccharide in Leucaena sp. They are mainly also found in the endosperm cell wall of seeds from the other Leguminosae family[sup]  . The structure of these neutral polymers is relatively simple, consisting of a linear (1→4)- [sz]- linked D -mannan backbone with single unit (1→6)-linked- a – D -galactopyranosyl side chains[sup]  . Galactomannans are relatively highly galactose substituted, where the mannose to galactose ratio [man/gal] between 1.1 and 3.5, which is varying with different species, crops, portions or fractions. Galactomannans properties depend on their chemical structure, such as chain length, availability of cis -OH groups, steric hindrance, substituents and degree of polymerization. In addition to these variations, hydrophilic properties, solubility; gelling and functional characteristics represent the basis of their different biological activities and numerous industrial applications such as pharmaceuticals, food processing and cosmetics[sup] , . Galactomannans have multiple side-chain galactose units that should readily interact with galactose-specific receptors (such as galectins on the tumor cell surface), modulate the tumor surface physiology and potentially affect delivery of drugs and functional molecules to the tumor[sup]  . They have biological activities including cancer-chemopreventive, anticancer[sup]  , immunostimmulation[sup]  , antiviral[sup]  , anticoagulant and antithrombotic[sup]  activities. Sulphated polysaccharides were also reported to have in vitro antiviral and anticoagulant activity, which was attributed to the negatively charged sulphate groups[sup]  .
A short reference, but has some interesting numbers in it.
”This is about ipil-ipil (Leucaena leucocephala), for the ipil tree, see Intsia bijuga.
Leucaena , Lead tree , Jumbay , or White popinac ( Leucaena leucocephala or Leucaena glauca ) is a small Mimosoid tropical tree native to Mexico. It is used for a variety of purposes, such as firewood, fiber and livestock feed.
It has been considered for biomass production, as its reported yield of foliage corresponds to a dried mass of 2000-20000 kg/ha/year, and that of wood 30-40 m³/ha/year, with up to twice those amounts in favourable climates. It is also efficient in nitrogen fixation, at more than 500 kg/ha/year.
During the 1970s and 1980s it was promoted as a “miracle tree” for its multiple uses. It has also been described as a “conflict tree” in that it is both promoted for forage production and spreads like a weed in some places.
One of the drawbacks of this species is its susceptibility to insect infestations. In the 1980s, there was widespread loss in South East Asia due to pest attack by psyllids.
Leucaena leucocephala is highly invasive in arid parts of Taiwan, the Hawaiian islands and Fiji. It grows quickly, and forms dense thickets which crowd out any native vegetation.
Names in other languages
Hawaiian: haole koa or koa haole (after the similarity of its leaves to those of the endemic koa)
Indonesian: petai cina
Javanese: lamtoro or lamotorogung
Thai: krathin (กระถิน);
Tagalog: ipil-ipil , santa-elena , santaelena
They say “spreads like a weed” like it was a bad thing… ;-)
I know, it can be a very bad thing. Yet one of my pet projects is to collect seeds for crops that can be “farmed like weeds”. Just left to do their own thing, and harvested. (And then every so often a flame thrower and armored vehicle run around the perimeter to fight any that try to escape. ;-)
And a whole lot more:
In one of those odd twists of fate, I’m stuck in one of those highly urban, highly advanced, and highly well off places; California. When I’d really like to be stuck in some God Forsaken Poverty Stricken place helping the locals start a virtuous cycle of prosperity by small changes of their agronomy system and household cooking methods. Oh, for a grant and a hut somewhere…
Instead, I play with it in my backyard “toy farm” and watch the progress of the world from afar.
Maybe “someday” I’ll get an email asking me to hop a flight to Stinking Desert In The Making and bring some seeds with me.
Until then, take a visit to the local nursery and look at the “bean trees” with just those kinds of leaves. There are many. We had one, a silk tree, in my backyard when I was about 7. By the time I was 12 it was MUCH bigger. Leaves an impression. Sometimes, a life long impression.
There are whole tribes of ‘bean trees’. We have barely scratched the surface of what all can be done with them. They fix nitrogen. They grow fast and make dense strong wood. (No nitrogen limit ;-) Some are edible. Some make toxins (that might become medicines, cures, or let you ‘shear’ sheep with a light snack …) Some are giants, some are small and dainty. Some grow very very fast. Some make very attractive flowers. This has been but one of them.