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Golden urine September 16th, 2018 by

Cities are throwing away a fortune in urine, I learned the other day while visiting Dr. Noemi Stadler-Kaulich, a German agro-forester and long-time resident of Bolivia. The urine from an average person contains $85 dollars´ worth of phosphorous in one year, Noemi explained. Urine is rich in phosphorous, nitrogen and potassium, the main elements of fertilizer (chemical or organic). A metropolitan area like Cochabamba, with 1,200,000 people, flushes away over $100 million worth every year, Naomi explained, just in the phosphorous from urine, turning the valley’s main river, the Río Rocha, into an open sewer.

Noemi has dry latrines on her farm near the town of Vinto, on the edge of the Cochabamba metropolitan area. If you have never sat a dry latrine it can take some getting used to. There is a large hole for feces and a smaller one, up front, to collect the urine, which can be used right away as fertilizer. After defecating, one walks around to the back of the latrine and adds a handful of wood ash to the deposit, which is composted once the container is full. Dried, composted human feces are an excellent, dry fertilizer with little or no smell.

I used to have a nice dry latrine in Honduras. It used no water and made little odor. But dry latrines do take a little management. At the time I was worried about pathogens and had samples from dry latrines analyzed at a laboratory in Tegucigalpa. The samples were free of the most common parasites and pathogens. Dry latrines compost the night soil for at least six months, which helps to kill pathogens. Still, this demands some competent management.

At our home in Cochabamba, we began recycling urine about a year ago. Urine is easy to collect in a jar or bottle or while sitting on a chamber pot. You can mix urine with water or apply it straight to the soil, near plants. We put most of our urine on the compost pile, where the pee helps to speed up the decomposition of paper and dry plants. Urine in a compost heap has no smell at all; perhaps in part because the nitrogen in urine quickly breaks down into ammonia.

I have not yet been able to confirm Noemi’s estimate of the value of phosphorous in urine, not to mention the potassium and nitrogen, but urine is certainly worth something as fertilizer. Recycling urine also helps to save water. Conventional toilets waste up to six liters of precious water to flush 300 ml of urine.

As it is now, modern conventional agriculture applies nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium (NPK) to crops, and (at least some of) the nutrients become part of the living plants, which are eaten by people and later discarded as human waste. No doubt in the future clever people will find other clean, convenient ways to recycle this NPK, without wasting water. In the meantime, saving urine as fertilizer is a golden opportunity.

Related video

Human urine as fertilizer

Further reading

Andersson, E. (2015). Turning waste into value: using human urine to enrich soils for sustainable food production in Uganda. Journal of Cleaner Production, 96, 290-298.

The intricacies of mulching September 9th, 2018 by

Everybody working in agriculture knows something about mulching, which can lead us to think that we know all about it. But mulching is a surprisingly complex topic, as I recently realised while following a video from start to finish. For example, different crops may require different types of mulch, and some mulches are better avoided under certain conditions. As with other farming techniques, to make a video on mulch, manuals are often inadequate; one needs to rely on the experience of farmers.

We started preparing for the video on mulch during a workshop in Pune, India, in February 2017, where Jeff and I had trained a number of local partners to write fact sheets and video scripts for farmers (read an account on this workshop in: Nourishing a fertile imagination). One of the scripts was on mulch. When I revisit the first draft of that script it is striking how generic our early ideas were.

Among other things, the script mentioned: “Mulch allows more earthworms and other living things to grow by providing shade. The earthworms make the soil fertile and dig small tunnels that allow the water to go more easily into the soil.” That is all well and good, but that first script was a little light on how to go about mulching, although it had an idea of using dry straw.

More than a year (and 10 versions of the script) later, cameraman Atul Pagar from Pune, India, finished his video “Mulch for a better soil and crop”. For the past two years, Atul has been steadily producing quality farmer-to-farmer training videos, such as on the use of herbal medicine in animal health. Each of the videos is a testimony of the richness of local knowledge and practices.

For instance, the final version of the video mentions that fruits and vegetables like cauliflower, watermelon and others that grow close to the ground are best mulched with dry straw and sugarcane trash or other crop residue in between every row.

Commonly available wheat husks are not suitable for such crops, as Ravindra Thokal, one of the farmers featuring in the video, explains. “After harvest, we used to burn the crop residue. Now we do not burn it, but I use it as mulch in my cauliflowers. I do not mulch with wheat husks because they are easily washed away by rain. And when blown away by the wind, the husks can settle on the cauliflowers, which may damage them.”

In less than 12 minutes, the nicely crafted video also explains what to consider when mulching fruit trees, how to fertilise your mulched crop with liquid organic fertiliser, how to control rats that may hide in mulch, and what the pitfalls are of using plastic mulch. None of these ideas were in the first draft of the video script. The script had been improved over the intervening months by discussing the ideas with farmers and other experts. Although I had read quite a bit about mulching, a lot of the information in the video was new to me.

Farming is intricate. To produce good training videos for farmers requires people who have a keen eye, an open mind and the patience to learn from farmers. Atul has all of these. You can find his videos on the Access Agriculture video platform.

Related blogs

We have written many blog stories on soil fertility management, such as:

Inspiration from Bangladesh to Bolivia

What do earthworms want?

Nurturing ideas, and seed

Chemical attitude adjustment

The bokashi factory

Smelling is believing

The big mucuna

Crop with an attitude

Related videos

Mulch for a better soil and crop

Making a vermicompost bed

The wonder of earthworms

Reviving soils with mucuna

A healthier way to eat groundnuts June 3rd, 2018 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

Rosario Cadima is an enterprising farmer who spends two days a week buying and selling potatoes at the fair in Colomi, Cochabamba. Juan Almanza, the talented extensionist we met in last week’s blog (Videos for added inspiration), had given her a DVD with a series of agricultural learning videos aimed at farmers like her. The DVD included seven videos in Spanish, Quechua and Aymara on caring for the soil. One of the videos was about peanuts (groundnuts), which like other legumes, fixes nitrogen for the soil. Rosario recently watched the DVD with her parents, grandfather and other family members. They watched all of the videos over three nights, and she recalled them vividly.

Juan was surprised when Rosario mentioned the video on groundnuts. “But you don’t grow groundnuts here,” he said.

“No, but we buy them and eat them,” Rosario said. Then she explained that she and her family sometimes bought peanuts that had a thick mold on them; they would simply wipe it off and eat the apparently clean nuts.

“So did we,” Juan admitted.

The mold is a fungus, and it releases a poison called aflatoxin into peanuts and other stored foods. The video showed all of this, and explained that people should bury moldy food, instead of eating it.

Rosario’s family is now careful to avoid eating moldy peanuts. Farmers are also consumers and a video can help them to make better food choices. Smallholder farmers don’t always have opportunities to learn about public health matters related to the food that they produce and eat. The farmer learning videos hosted on Access Agriculture are now carrying many more messages than we first imagined. And the videos are rich enough that viewers can interpret them to learn unexpected lessons.  As we have said in our earlier blog (Potato marmalade), eating is the last step in a process that usually starts with planting a seed, so it makes sense that videos for farmers can also benefit consumers.

Watch the video

The video Managing aflatoxins in groundnuts during drying and storage is available to watch or freely download in English, Spanish and a dozen other languages.

For more videos about preparing nutritious food, please see:

Enriching porridge, baby food

Tomato concentrate and juice

Making rennet

Making fresh cheese

Pure milk is good milk

Making a condiment from soya beans

Making soya cheese

COMER MANÍ MÁS SANO

Por Jeff Bentley, 3 de junio del 2018

Rosario Cadima es una AGRICULTORA emprendedora que pasa dos días a la semana comprando y vendiendo papas en la feria de Colomi, Cochabamba. Juan Almanza, el extensionista talentoso que conocimos en el blog de la semana pasada (Videos para un poco más de inspiración), le había dado un DVD con una serie de videos de aprendizaje agrícola dirigidos a agricultores como ella. El DVD incluyó siete videos en español, quechua y aymara sobre el cuidado del suelo. Uno de los videos era sobre cacahuates (maníes), que al igual que otras leguminosas, fija nitrógeno para el suelo. Rosario recientemente vio el DVD con sus papás, abuelo y otros miembros de la familia. Miraron todos los videos durante tres noches, y ella los recordó vívidamente.

Juan se sorprendió cuando Rosario mencionó el video sobre maní. “Pero aquí no se produce maní”, dijo.

“No, pero los compramos y los comemos”, dijo Rosario. Luego explicó que ella y su familia a veces compraban maníes que tenían un molde grueso; simplemente lo limpiaban y comían los granos, que parecían limpios.

“Nosotros también”, admitió Juan.

El moho es un hongo y libera un veneno llamado aflatoxina en los maníes y otros alimentos almacenados. El video mostró todo esto, y explicó que las personas deben enterrar el maní con moho, en vez de comerlo.

La familia de Rosario ahora tiene cuidado de no comer maníes con moho. Los agricultores también son consumidores y un video puede ayudarlos a tomar mejores decisiones para con su comida. Los pequeños agricultores no siempre tienen la oportunidad de aprender sobre asuntos de salud pública relacionados con los alimentos que producen y comen. Los videos de aprendizaje agrícola ubicados en Access Agriculture ahora llevan muchos más mensajes de lo que imaginábamos al inicio. Y los videos son lo suficientemente ricos como para que el público pueda interpretarlos para aprender lecciones inesperadas. Como hemos dicho en nuestro blog anterior (Mermelada de papa), comer es el último paso en un proceso que generalmente comienza con la siembra de una semilla, por lo que tiene sentido que los videos para agricultores también puedan beneficiar a los consumidores.

Vea el video

El video El manejo de aflatoxinas en maní está disponible para ver o bajar gratis en inglés, español y una docena de otros idiomas.

Para más videos sobre la preparación de comida nutritiva, favor de ver:

Enriching porridge, alimento para bebés

Tomato concentrate and juice

Making rennet

Making fresh cheese

Pure milk is good milk

Making a condiment from soya beans

Making soya cheese

Innovating in the homeland of lupins May 20th, 2018 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

Rhimer Gonzales is an agronomist who has worked in Morochata, in the Bolivian Andes, for three years, introducing new, sweet varieties of lupin: the beans can be eaten directly without soaking them to remove the natural toxins. Rhimer has also been trying, without success, to encourage folks to grow lupins in rows, just like other crops.

Farmers have been growing lupins here for a long time. Wild lupins are common in the canyons of Morochata, an area close to the center of origin for this crop with the gorgeous flowers and edible beans. It seems unlikely that local farmers could learn new ways to grow lupins, yet the use of a farmer learning video has triggered innovations.

I accompanied Rhimer during a recent visit, when we met Serafina Córdoba. She was busy washing dishes under a tree in front of her house, hurrying to finish so she get her kids started on their homework. She explained that the family got a DVD on soil conservation at a meeting of the sindicato (local village organization). Afterwards she watched the videos again with her husband and children. She remembered several of the videos, especially one on lupins and another on earthworms.

When we asked if the family had done anything new after watching the videos, at first she demurred. She wasn’t sure if the changes they had made in selecting lupin seed were important enough. Before, they would just take a handful of seeds and plant them. After seeing the video she picked out the big, healthy seeds, and the family planted those. The crop is flowering in the field now and doña Sefarina said it looks better than in previous years.

The family also noticed in the video that people planted in rows, in furrows made with oxen. So doña Serafina and her husband Jorge planted a whole field with oxen. She was pleased that this was a fast way to plant—clearly saving time is important for busy families. Rhimer confirmed that planting with oxen was a major innovation. Before, people planted just one row of lupins around the field.

The video emphasized seed selection. But it also showed row planting with oxen, because that is a routine practice in Anzaldo, where most of the video was filmed. Lupins are a more important crop in Anzaldo than in Morochata, even though both municipalities are in Cochabamba.

The value of filming farmers at work is that other farmers watching the video can learn all sorts of unexpected things. Conventional practice in one area can be an interesting innovation for another.

Rhimer explained that he selected the lupin video to show in Morochata because he thought it would be convincing. He was pleased to learn about doña Serafina’s experience, because the video succeeded in convincing her family to not only select seed, but also to plant in rows.

Each farmer responds to a video in his or her own way. Later we met don Darío, who had also seen the videos at the meeting at the sindicato, and had later watched the DVD again with his family. Then he planted a whole field of lupins in rows. Unlike doña Serafina, who said that planting in rows was easier, don Darío said it was more work. But that’s because he planted a whole field by hand with a pick, on a canyon side. Don Darío planted his lupins in straight lines up the hillside, and parallel to the slope as well, forming a grid pattern.

Rhimer explained that this lupin was a new, sweet variety and the plants were smaller than those of the bitter lupin that was previously planted in Morochata, so farmer had planted the new, shorter variety too far apart. Rhimer was also frustrated that the farmers were not watering the lupin enough. “Irrigating it one more time would have done it good.” There is plenty of water here. But folks are still not treating lupins like a major crop, worth irrigating.

Change takes time, even when a community has a good extensionist like Rhimer. I thought he was doing well, successfully encouraging people to plant a new variety, and with a little help from the lupin video, inducing people to select healthy seed and plant in lines. As farmers grow familiar with the new variety they might learn to plant it closer together and water it a bit more, especially if a market develops for it.

Rhimer was modest about his own contribution to changing farmer practices. I suggested that the farmers’ responses to the videos were closely related to his work in the community. But Rhimer said that even though he had shared ideas with people of Morochata for a long time, it was the video that finally convinced the farmers to try row planting and seed selection.

Rhimer’s hard earned standing with farmers meant they were receptive to new ideas. But the videos provided additional, concrete evidence that that the new practices actually worked.

Related blog stories

United women of Morochata

Crop with an attitude

Watch the video on lupins

Growing lupin without disease: Available in English, Spanish, Quechua, Aymara, and French

Acknowledgements

Our work in Bolivia is funded by the McKnight Foundation’s CCRP (Collaborative Crop Research Program). Rhimer Gonzales works for the Proinpa Foundation.

INNOVANDO EN LA CUNA DEL TARWI

Por Jeff Bentley, 20 de mayo del 2018

Rhimer Gonzales es un agrónomo que ha trabajado en Morochata, en los Andes bolivianos, durante tres años, introduciendo nuevas variedades dulces de tarwi (también conocido como lupino, chocho, y altramuz). Sus granos se pueden comer directamente sin remojarlos para eliminar las toxinas naturales. Rhimer también ha intentado, sin éxito, alentar a las personas a cultivar tarwi en hileras, al igual que otros cultivos.

Los agricultores han estado cultivando tarwi aquí durante mucho tiempo. Los tarwis silvestres son comunes en los cañones de Morochata, un área cercana al centro de origen de este cultivo, con hermosas flores y frijoles comestibles. Parece poco probable que se podría enseñar algo nuevo a agricultores con tanta experiencia con el tarwi, sin embargo, el uso de un video de aprendizaje ha desencadenado algunas innovaciones.

Acompañé a Rhimer durante una visita reciente, cuando conocimos a Serafina Córdoba. Estaba ocupada lavando los platos debajo de un árbol en frente de su casa, apurada a terminar para poder ayudar a sus hijos con sus tareas. Ella explicó que la familia recibió un DVD sobre la conservación del suelo en una reunión del sindicato (organización local del pueblo). Luego ella miró los videos nuevamente con su esposo e hijos. Ella recordó los videos, especialmente uno sobre tarwi y otro sobre lombrices.

Cuando le preguntamos si la familia había hecho algo nuevo después de ver los videos, al principio ella se negó. No estaba segura que los cambios que habían hecho en la selección de semillas de lupino eran lo suficientemente importantes. Antes, simplemente tomaban un puñado de semillas y las sembraban. Después de ver el video, ella seleccionó las semillas grandes y saludables, y la familia las sembró. Ahora el cultivo está en flor y doña Sefarina dice que se ve mejor que en años anteriores.

La familia también notó en el video que la gente sembraba en hileras, en surcos hechos con bueyes. Entonces doña Serafina y su esposo Jorge plantaron una parcela entera con bueyes. Estaba contenta de que era rápido sembrar así; para una familia ocupada es imprescindible ahorrar tiempo. Rhimer confirmó que sembrar con bueyes fue una gran innovación. Antes, la gente sembraba solo una fila de tarwis alrededor de la parcela.

El video enfatizó la selección de semilla. Pero también mostró la siembra en surcos con bueyes, porque esa es una práctica convencional en Anzaldo, donde se filmó la mayor parte del video. El tarwi es más importante en Anzaldo que en Morochata, aunque ambos municipios están en Cochabamba.

El valor de filmar a los agricultores mientras trabajan es que otros agricultores que miran el video pueden aprender todo tipo de cosas inesperadas. La práctica convencional en una zona puede ser una innovación interesante para otra.

Rhimer explicó que seleccionó el video de tarwi para mostrar en Morochata porque pensó que sería convincente. Le agradó conocer la experiencia de doña Serafina, porque el video logró convencer a su familia no solo de seleccionar semillas, sino también de plantar en filas.

Cada agricultor responde a un video a su manera. Más tarde nos encontramos con don Darío, quien también había visto los videos en la reunión en el sindicato, y luego había visto el DVD otra vez con su familia. Luego plantó una parcela entera de tarwi en fila. A diferencia de Doña Serafina, quien dijo que plantar en hileras era más fácil, don Darío dijo que era más trabajo. Pero eso es porque sembró un campo entero a mano con una picota, en ladera del cañón. Don Darío sembró su tarwi en línea recta hacia arriba, y de lado a lado, como cuadrícula.

Rhimer explicó que este tarwi era una variedad nueva y dulce y que las plantas eran más pequeñas que las del tarwi amargo que ya se conocía en Morochata, por lo que los agricultores habían sembrado la variedad nueva muy distanciada. Rhimer también estaba frustrado porque los campesinos no estaban regando lo suficiente al lupino. “Regarlo una vez más lo hubiera hecho bien”. Aquí hay mucha agua. Pero la gente todavía no está tratando al tarwi como un cultivo importante, que vale la pena regar.

El cambio lleva tiempo, incluso cuando una comunidad tiene un buen extensionista como Rhimer. Yo admiraba su trabajo, animando la gente a sembrar una nueva variedad y con un poco de ayuda del video de tarwi, induciendo a los agricultores a seleccionar semilla y sembrar en línea. A medida que los agricultores se familiarizan con la nueva variedad, podrían aprender a sembrarla más cerca y regarla un poco más, especialmente si se desarrolla un mercado para el tarwi.

Rhimer modestamente atribuía mucho del cambio en prácticas a los videos. Sugerí que el cambio estaba estrechamente relacionado con su trabajo en la comunidad. Pero Rhimer dijo que aunque había compartido ideas con la gente de Morochata durante mucho tiempo, fue el video que finalmente convenció a los agricultores a probar la siembra en líneas y la selección de semilla.

Por su trabajo constante, Rhimer ha ganado la confianza de los agricultores para que reciban a las nuevas ideas. Pero los videos dieron evidencia adicional y concreta de que las nuevas prácticas realmente funcionaran.

Historias previas del blog

Mujeres unidas de Morochata

Cultivo con carácter fuerte

Vea el video sobre tarwi

Producir tarwi sin enfermedad: Disponible en español, inglés, quechua, aymara, y francés

Agradecimiento

Nuestro trabajo en Bolivia es auspiciado por el CCRP (Programa Colaborativo para la Investigación de los Cultivos) de la Fundación McKnight. Rhimer Gonzales trabaja para la Fundación Proinpa.

Inspiration from Bangladesh to Bolivia May 13th, 2018 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

For years I have thought of farmer experiments as fundamentally different from scientific trials. Smallholders live from their harvest and after trying an innovation for a while can decide qualitatively if it is useful or not. For the scientists it’s the other way around; the data are the precious material they need to write their papers, while the harvested crop is irrelevant. The scientists need replicable results to show that an innovation will work in different places. But the farmers are less concerned if their results are replicable over a large area; they only want to know if an innovation is helpful in their own fields.

That’s what I thought, anyway, but this past week in La Paz, Bolivia I saw how farmers who work together may become more concerned about doing experiments with replicable results. I was with Prosuco, a small NGO that promotes farmer research. Agronomist Sonia Laura, their research coordinator, introduced me to eight farmer-experimenters from all over the northern Bolivian Altiplano. They had travelled for three or four hours from different points across this cold, arid landscape to meet us in El Alto, the sprawling new city growing on the high plains just above La Paz.

These farmer experimenters call themselves “yapuchiris”, an Aymara word that means master farmer. A network of 70 yapuchiris meets irregularly, exchanging information, conducting experiments and teaching their neighbors new ideas (such as making organic fertilizers, natural pesticides and soil conservation).

The day we met in El Alto we discussed future experiments the yapuchiris could do. The president of the group, Miguel Ortega, suggested working on earthworms. He had raised earthworms and used their humus for years to fertilize his greenhouse vegetables. The other yapuchiris were mildly interested, especially because some of them already raised earthworms. They talked about carrying out an experiment on earthworm humus, but were a little vague on what this would be.

Then Sonia played an Aymara-language version of a video on earthworms, filmed in Bangladesh. A year earlier, Sonia had given the yapuchiris a DVD with this and six other videos in Aymara, Spanish, and Quechua. Some yapuchiris had watched the videos and some had not. At home, don Miguel had watched the one on earthworms four times.

After watching the video together the group came alive, defining more clearly what they would do in their earthworm experiment. With don Miguel taking the lead, they first agreed to standardize the types and amounts of food they would give their earthworms, so that the results would be replicable. In the video, Bangladeshi women had measured their materials in small baskets. On the Altiplano, most people have a 12-liter bucket, which Miguel suggested that they use instead of the basket.

Miguel said that the objective of the experiment was to get humus in one month. In his own, previous experience, it could take four months to get humus, and he wanted to speed up the process.

The video suggested mixing cow dung with chopped up banana stems, which are unavailable on the frigid Altiplano. The group kind of got stuck there. Sometimes a little outside facilitation can be useful. I helped them make a quick list of the plant materials they did have, including potato tops—stems and leaves normally discarded after harvest—and various kinds of straw.

That was enough to set the group thinking about how to adapt Bangladeshi techniques to Bolivian conditions. Don Miguel seized the lead again and asked each member of the group if they had potato tops. Only two others did, so he then asked how many had green barley straw. They all did, so they decided that each yapuchiri would make his or her earthworm trial at home with two layers of dung and two layers of barley straw.

The video shows making a home for worms in a cement ring, with a floor of sand, broken brick and earth. Even though the yapuchiris had just seen the video, they couldn’t quite recall all of the materials, their order and thickness of each layer. So we watched parts of the video again.

Again, the yapuchiris adapted. They didn’t have broken brick, so they decided to use small stones instead, to make an earthworm habitat of sand, with a layer of rock on top, followed by earth, straw, manure, a second layer of straw and a final top layer of manure. One advantage of a video is that farmer-experimenters can review it to recall specific details.

One yapuchiri, don Constantino, offered to bring a starter supply of earthworms to their next meeting, so they could all set up their experiments.

These yapuchiris have had a lot of contact with researchers. They were essentially organizing themselves so that each one of them would conduct a replica of a standardized experiment. They all live far from each other and they understand that each yapuchiri lives in a different environment, so they decided to take that into account. They agreed to measure the pH of the water (they have pH paper to do that) and the temperature, which will help later in understanding any differences that could be due to these independent experimental variables.

The yapuchiris need replicable results if they are going to share innovations with others. By collaborating with researches, the yapuchiris are learning the advantages of the scientific method.

The Bangladeshi earthworm video was filmed at sea level, about as far away as one can get from the Bolivian Altiplano (at about 4000 meters). Yet these yapuchiris found inspiration in what they saw and they said that the worm techniques in the video were simpler and more practical than others that they had been taught. This is a direct benefit of sharing knowledge and experience from farmer-to-farmer. Farmers who use an innovation for a few years will simplify it, validate it, and make it practical for other farmers to try, even if those farmers live on other continents.

Further viewing

You can watch the earthworm video in Aymara, English and several other languages at www.accessagriculture.org.

Acknowledgements

Our work in Bolivia is funded by the McKnight Foundation’s CCRP (Collaborative Crop Research Program). Thanks to Sonia Laura, of Prosuco, for sharing various insights with me.

INSPIRACIÓN DE BANGLADESH A BOLIVIA

Por Jeff Bentley, 13 de mayo del 2018

Por años he pensado que los experimentos de los agricultores eran fundamentalmente diferentes de los ensayos científicos. Los campesinos viven de su cosecha y al probar una innovación por un tiempo pueden decidir cualitativamente si sirve o no. Para los científicos es al revés; los datos son el material precioso que necesitan para escribir sus publicaciones, mientras que el cultivo cosechado es irrelevante. Los científicos necesitan resultados replicables para mostrar que una innovación funcionará en diferentes lugares. Pero a los campesinos les importa menos si sus resultados son replicables en un área grande; solo quieren saber si una innovación es útil en sus propias parcelas.

Por lo menos así pensaba yo, pero esta semana pasada en La Paz, Bolivia, vi cómo los agricultores que trabajan juntos pueden interesarse más por hacer experimentos con resultados replicables. Estuve con Prosuco, una pequeña ONG que promueve la investigación de agricultores. La Ing. Sonia Laura, su coordinadora de investigación, me presentó a ocho agricultores experimentadores de todo el Altiplano boliviano. Habían viajado durante tres o cuatro horas desde distintos puntos a través de este frío y árido paisaje para encontrarse con nosotros en El Alto, la nueva ciudad dinámica que crece en las llanuras arriba de La Paz.

Estos agricultores experimentadores se llaman “yapuchiris”, una palabra aymara que significa agricultor experto. Una red de 70 yapuchiris se reúne irregularmente, intercambiando información, realizando experimentos y enseñando a sus vecinos nuevas ideas (como hacer fertilizantes orgánicos, plaguicidas naturales y la conservación del suelo).

El día que nos encontramos en El Alto discutimos algunos experimentos futuros que los yapuchiris podrían hacer. El presidente del grupo, Miguel Ortega, sugirió trabajar con las lombrices de tierra. Él había criado lombrices de tierra, usando su humus durante años para fertilizar sus hortalizas de carpa solar (invernadero). Los otros yapuchiris estaban algo interesados, especialmente porque algunos de ellos ya habían criado lombrices. Hablaron de llevar a cabo un experimento sobre eñ lombrihumus, sin especificar mucho cómo hacerlo.

Luego Sonia tocó una versión en idioma aymara de un video sobre lombrices de tierra, filmado en Bangladesh. El año anterior, Sonia les había dado a los yapuchiris un DVD con este y otros seis videos en aymara, español y quechua. Algunos yapuchiris habían visto los videos y otros no. En casa, don Miguel había visto el de las lombrices cuatro veces.

Después de ver el video juntos, el grupo cobró vida, definiendo más claramente lo que harían en su experimento con las lombrices. Con don Miguel tomando la iniciativa, primero acordaron estandarizar los tipos y cantidades de alimentos que darían a sus lombrices, para que los resultados fueran replicables. En el video, las mujeres bangladesíes habían medido sus materiales en pequeñas canastas. En el Altiplano, la gente tiene un balde de 12 litros, que Miguel sugirió usar en lugar de la canasta.

Don Miguel dijo que el objetivo del experimento era obtener humus en un mes. En su propia experiencia previa, podría tomar cuatro meses obtener humus, y quería acelerar el proceso.

El video sugirió mezclar bosta (estiércol) de vaca con tallos de banana picados, que no están disponibles en el frígido Altiplano. El grupo se estancó allí. A veces, un poquito de facilitación externa puede ser útil. Los ayudé a hacer una lista rápida de los materiales vegetales que tenían, incluidas las hojas y tallos de las papas, y varios tipos de paja.

Eso fue suficiente para que el grupo pensara en cómo adaptar las técnicas de Bangladesh a las condiciones bolivianas. Don Miguel volvió a tomar la iniciativa y preguntó a cada miembro del grupo si tenían hojas de papa. Solo otros dos las tenían, entonces él preguntó cuántos tenían paja verde de cebada. Todos la tenían, por lo que decidieron que cada yapuchiri haría su prueba de lombriz en casa con dos capas de estiércol y dos capas de paja de cebada.

El video muestra cómo hacer un hogar para las lombrices en una argolla de cemento, con un piso de arena, ladrillo quebrado y tierra. Aunque los yapuchiris acababan de ver el video, no podían recordar todos los materiales, el orden y el grosor de cada capa. Así que vimos partes del video nuevamente.

De nuevo, los yapuchiris se adaptaron. No tenían ladrillos quebrados, entonces decidieron usar piedras pequeñas para crear un hábitat de arena, con una capa de piedritas, seguida de tierra, paja, estiércol, una segunda capa de paja y una capa superior de estiércol. Una ventaja de un video es que los agricultores-experimentadores pueden revisarlo para acordarse de detalles específicos.

Uno de los yapuchiris, don Constantino, se ofreció a traer algunas lombrices para la próxima reunión, para que todos pudieran empezar sus experimentos.

Estos yapuchiris han tenido mucho contacto con los investigadores. Se organizaban esencialmente para que cada uno de ellos llevara a cabo una réplica de un experimento estandarizado. Todos viven lejos el uno del otro y entienden que cada yapuchiri vive en un ambiente diferente, por lo que decidieron tomar eso en cuenta. Acordaron medir el pH del agua (tienen papel de pH para hacer eso) y la temperatura, lo que ayudará luego a comprender las diferencias que son como variables experimentales independientes.

Los yapuchiris necesitan resultados replicables si van a compartir innovaciones con otros. Al colaborar con las investigaciones, los yapuchiris están aprendiendo las ventajas del método científico.

El video de la lombriz de tierra de Bangladesh fue filmado a nivel del mar, lo más lejos que se puede llegar desde el Altiplano boliviano (a unos 4000 metros sobre el nivel de mar). Sin embargo, estos yapuchiris encontraron inspiración en lo que vieron y dijeron que las técnicas de lombricultura en el video eran más simples y más prácticas que otras que les habían enseñado. Este es un beneficio directo de compartir conocimiento y experiencia de agricultor a agricultor. Los campesinos que usan una innovación durante algunos años lo simplifican, lo validan y lo vuelven práctico para que otros agricultores lo prueben, incluso si esos agricultores viven en otros continentes.

Para ver más

Se puede ver los videos sobre la lombriz de tierra en aymara, español y varios otros idiomas en www.accessagriculture.org.

Agradecimientos

Nuestro trabajo en Bolivia es auspiciado por el CCRP (Programa Colaborativo para la Investigación de los Cultivos) de la Fundación McKnight. Gracias a Sonia Laura por compartir varias percepciones conmigo.

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