A plant has a personality and, like people and countries, some have stronger characters than others. Take the lupin bean (Lupinus mutabilis), for example. It is an oddly erect legume that forms a sort of cone shape, and its glorious flowers make the plant wildly popular with gardeners in many countries. In Bolivia it is called âtarwiâ, from Quechua, the language of the Incas.
While making a video in Bolivia, my colleagues and I asked doĂ±a Eleuteria in the village of Phinkina to tell us what she planted after harvesting tarwi. She surprised me by saying that sometimes she followed tarwi with potatoes. Thatâs astounding, because potatoes are such a demanding crop that Andean farmers often rest the soil for years before planting a field to potatoes. Otherwise the soil may be improved by adding tons of chicken manure. Bolivian farmers in the Andes donât buy manure for other crops, just the fussy and valuable potato.
I followed up by asking Reynaldo Herbas, from the village of Tijraska, if he had ever planted potatoes right after tarwi. âYes, and it does very well. Planting tarwi is like fallowing your soil, or like using chicken manure,â he explained.
Tarwi seeds are also rich in oils and proteins and doĂ±a Eleuteria regularly feeds lupin beans to her children. Like some other Bolivians doĂ±a Eleuteria make a nutritious snack by boiling the seeds, but itâs a lot of work. The grains need to be soaked in water for three days before boiling, then left in the running water of the river for several days to wash out the bitter alkaloids.
Agronomist Juan Vallejos from Proinpa (a research institute) confirmed that tarwi takes a lot of water to process. This is ironic, because tarwi is recommended for dry areas with impoverished soils. Sweet varieties without the bitter alkaloids do exist, but in Bolivia the search for these sweet lupins is only just starting.
While visiting doĂ±a Eleuteria to learn about processing seed, she showed us how to pick out the bad grains of tarwi, to ensure that the crop planted from them would be healthy. (The main disease is anthracnose, caused by the fungus Colletotrichum gloeosporioides). We asked doĂ±a Eleuteria what she did with the diseased grains. We thought that she might say that she buried them to keep the disease from spreading. But no, she buries the discarded grains because raw lupin beans are toxic, whether they are healthy or diseased.
âI do bury them,â she explained, âbecause they are so bitter that if the chickens eat them they will die.â
Agronomist Vallejos explained that tarwi plants are so packed with alkaloids that sheep and cattle will not touch a crop growing in the field. However, the lupin plant is drought resistant and even withstands hail, which often mows down other food crops in the Andes. Local governments in Bolivia are starting to promote tarwi as a way of adapting to climate change.
A plant may have a complex personality, with sterling qualities as well as some tragic defects. Tarwi or lupin is in many ways a perfect crop: well-suited to the punishing climate of the High Andes while nutritious for people and good for the soil. The downside is that you need lots of water to process the beans and to leach out the poisons that can kill your unsuspecting chickens.
For this story in Cochabamba, Bolivia, I was fortunate enough to be accompanied by Paul Van Mele and Marcella Vrolijks of Agro-Insight and Juan Vallejos and Maura Lazarte and others from Proinpa. The visit was funded by the McKnight Foundation.
Calisaya, J.J., Â M. Lazarte, R. Oros, P. Mamani 2016 âDesarrollo Participativo de Innovaciones TecnolĂłgicas para Incrementar la Productividad de los Suelos AgrĂcolas en Regiones Andinas Deprimidas de Bolivia.â Read at the Community of Practice meeting, McKnight Foundation, Ibarra, Ecuador 11-16 July. See the paper here.
The farmer training video âGrowing a good lupine cropâ will be hosted on the Access Agriculture website shortly in English, Spanish, Quechua and Aymara.
CULTIVO CON CARĂCTER FUERTE
Por Jeff Bentley
29 de enero del 2017
Una planta tiene una personalidad, y como la gente y los paĂses, algunos tienen mĂĄs carĂĄcter que otros. Considere el lupino (Lupinus mutabilis), por ejemplo. Es una leguminosa que crece casi en forma de cono, y gracias a sus flores gloriosas la planta es querida por jardineros en muchos paĂses. En Bolivia se llama âtarwiâ, del quechua, el idioma de los Incas.
Mientas mis colegas y yo filmĂĄbamos un video en Bolivia, pedimos que doĂ±a Eleuteria en la comunidad de Phinquina nos contara quĂ© sembraba despuĂ©s de cosechar el tarwi. Ella nos sorprendiĂł cuando dijo que a veces sembraba papa despuĂ©s del tarwi. Es increĂble, porque las papas son tan exigentes que muchos agricultores andinos descansan el suelo durante aĂ±os antes de sembrar papas. Si no, el suelo tendrĂĄ que mejorarse agregando toneladas de gallinaza. Los agricultores en los Andes bolivianos no compran gallinaza para otros cultivos, solo la mimada y valiosa papa.
Luego le preguntĂ© a Reynaldo Herbas de la comunidad de Tijraska, si Ă©l jamĂĄs habĂa sembrado papas despuĂ©s del tarwi. âSĂ, y produce muy bien. El sembrar tarwi es como descansar sus suelo, o como usar gallinaza,â explicĂł.
Los granos de tarwi son ricos en aceites y proteĂnas y doĂ±a Eleuteria a menudo los da de comer a sus hijos. Igual que algunas otras bolivianas, doĂ±a Eleuteria hace una merienda nutritiva con los granos cocidos, pero cuesta mucho trabajo. Los granos tienen que remojarse en agua durante tres dĂas antes de cocerse, para despuĂ©s dejarlos en el chorro del rĂo durante varios dĂas mĂĄs para expulsar los amargos alcaloides.
El Ing. AgrĂłnomo Juan Vallejos de Proinpa (un instituto de investigaciĂłn) confirmĂł que el tarwi toma mucha agua para procesarse. Es irĂłnico, porque el tarwi se recomienda para zonas secas con suelos empobrecidos. Existen variedades dulces, sin los alcaloides amargos, pero en Bolivia reciĂ©n empieza la bĂșsqueda por esos lupinos dulces.
Cuando visitamos a doĂ±a Eleuteria para aprender cĂłmo ella procesa la semilla, nos mostrĂł cĂłmo quitar los granos malos de tarwi, para asegurarse que el cultivo que siembra serĂĄ sano. (La enfermedad principal es la antracnosis, causada por el hongo Colletotrichum gloeosporioides). Preguntamos a doĂ±a Eleuteria quĂ© hacĂa con los granos enfermos. PensĂĄbamos que dirĂa que los enterraba para que las enfermedades no se diseminaran. Pero no, ella entierra a los granos descartados porque los granos crudos de tarwi son tĂłxicos, bien sea sanos o enfermos.
El Ing. Vallejos explicĂł que las plantas de tarwi estĂĄn tan cargadas de alcaloides que las ovejas y vacas no tocan al cultivo en la parcela. Sin embargo, la planta de tarwi es resistente a la sequĂa y hasta aguanta a la granizada, que a menudo arrasa con otros cultivos en los Andes. Los gobiernos locales en Bolivia empiezan a promover el tarwi como una adaptaciĂłn al cambio climĂĄtico.
Una planta puede tener una personalidad compleja, con cualidades de oro igual que algunos defectos trĂĄgicos. El tarwi o lupino en muchas maneras en el cultivo perfecto: bien adaptado a los desafĂos del clima altoandino, mientras es nutritivo para la gente y bueno para el suelo. Su lado oscuro es que requiere de mucha agua para lavar los venenos que pueden matar a tus gallinas inocentes.
Para escribir este cuento en Cochabamba, Bolivia, tuve la buena suerte de estar acompaĂ±ado de Paul Van Mele y Marcella Vrolijks de Agro-Insight y Juan Vallejos y Maura Lazarte y otros de Proinpa. La visita se financiĂł por la McKnight Foundation.
Para leer mĂĄs
Calisaya, J.J., Â M. Lazarte, R. Oros, P. Mamani 2016 âDesarrollo Participativo de Innovaciones TecnolĂłgicas para Incrementar la Productividad de los Suelos AgrĂcolas en Regiones Andinas Deprimidas de Bolivia.â Trabajo presentado en la reuniĂłn de la Comunidad de PrĂĄctica, McKnight Foundation, Ibarra, Ecuador 11-16 de julio. Ver la presentaciĂłn aquĂ.
Para ver mĂĄs
El video educativo para agricultores âProducir tarwi sin enfermedadâ se colocarĂĄ pronto en el sitio web de Agriculture en inglĂ©s, espaĂ±ol, quechua y aymara.
About 10% of greenhouse emissions are from agriculture, especially from wet rice cultivation. Rice plants need a lot of nitrogen which is often provided as urea, a chemical fertilizer which is usually broadcast by hand into the irrigation water: this is easy, but wasteful. Some 60% of the nitrogen fertilizer is lost as it is transformed into gases and enters the atmosphere. Some nitrogen is washed away by irrigation water. A practical alternative known as âurea deep placementâ makes much better use of nitrogen.
Urea usually comes in round grains, the size of fine gravel. For deep placement, the small grains are pressed into larger, oval pellets, about the size of your thumbnail. The farmer pushes these âsuper granulesâ of urea into the soft soil, between four rice plants. This deep placement puts the urea underground, near the plantsâ roots, so less nitrogen escapes into the air and water. The rice crop yields more and the farmers save money because they only need to use half as much fertilizer.
The efficiency of urea deep placement was demonstrated by 1980. The practice has not been adopted more widely because of the lack of supply of the super granules, the additional labor required and the difficulty of correctly placing the super granules in the field. Â But by the early 2000s, urea deep placement re-emerged in parts of Asia. The manufacture of small briquetting machines meant that the super granules could be made at the village level, and has led to a dramatic increase in their use, e.g. in Bangladesh (Giller et al. 2004).
There are two types of innovations: some you can try alone and others need to be adopted by a network. A solitary person can plant a new crop variety, for example, but it takes many people to start using super granules. Â A manufacturer has to build the briquetting machines. A second manufacturer has to buy a briquetting machine, make the super granules and sell them. Extensionists have to teach farmers how to place the super granules in the rice field. Then the farmers have to use the super granules, and make the idea their own.
It is kind of a chicken and egg problem. Farmers can’t use the super granules until someone makes them. Nobody will make them if there are no customers.
A step in the right direction is to show farmers the value of the super granules. The IFDC (International Fertilizer Development Center) commissioned Agro-Insight to make a farmer learning video on how to use urea deep placement. The video was filmed in West Africa, but the concepts also apply to Asia or even Latin America.
Of the 80 million hectares of irrigated rice worldwide, two million are in Latin America and the Caribbean, where 800,000 smallholders make their livings growing rice: 59% of which is irrigated (i.e. appropriate for urea super granules). And the region has the most potential of any to expand irrigated rice production. Rice is a popular food; tropical Latin Americans eat an average of 37 kilos of milled rice every ear, equivalent to a generous portion of 1.3 cups of cooked rice per day. As incomes increase, Latin Americans eat (and import) more rice.
As Latin America and the Caribbean grow more rice, it will help to make better use of nitrogen. So the urea deep placement video was recently translated to Spanish (there was already a Portuguese version). The video is a start, as it can teach farmers and extensionists about the importance of using fertilizer more efficiently, so that farmers can start to demand super granules and encourage companies to make and stock them. Even without super granules, growers of any crop will harvest more and save money if they grasp the idea that urea goes further if it is buried in the soil. This innovation makes a small contribution towards solving the problem of global warming.
Bent, Elizabeth 2015 The ground exhales: reducing agricultureâs greenhouse gas emissions http://theconversation.com/the-ground-exhales-reducing-agricultures-greenhouse-gas-emissions-40795
Giller, Ken E., Phil Chalk, Achim Dobermann, Larry Hammond, Patrick Heffer, Jagdish K. Ladha, Phibion Nyamudeza, Luc Maene, Henry Ssali, and John Freney 2004 âEmerging Technologies to Increase the Efficiency of Use of Fertilizer Nitrogen,” pp. 35-51. In Arvin R. Mosier, J. Keith syers and John r. Freney (Eds.) Agriculture and the Nitrogen Cycle: Assessing the Impacts of Fertilizer Use in Food Production and the Environment. Washington: Island Press.
Pulver, Eduard 2010 âManejo EstratĂ©gico y ProducciĂłn Competetiva del Arroz bajo Riego en AmĂ©rica Latina,â pp. 350-362. In VĂctor Degiovanni B., CĂ©sar P. MartĂnez R., & Francisco Motta O. ProducciĂłn Eco-Eficiente del Arroz en AmĂ©rica Latina. Volume 1. Cali, Colombia: CIAT. http://ciat-library.ciat.cgiar.org/Articulos_Ciat/2010_Degiovanni-Produccion_eco-eficiente_del_arroz.pdf
Savant, N. K. and P. J. Stangel 1990 âDeep Placement of Urea Supergranules in Transplanted Rice: Principles and Practices.â Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems 25(1):1-83
Some techniques in agricultural extension are like âwaiter music,â explains Eric Boa. This is when waiters put on their favorite music, regardless of whether the diners like it or not. Extensionists do something similar when they promote techniques that are impractical or farmers donât need them.
For me, the classic example of waiter music is bokashi, an organic fertilizer invented in Japan in the late 1800s. Bokashi is made of many ingredients, including rice husks and animal manure.
In Latin America, extensionists have been promoting bokashi since the early 1990s, if not before. The extensionists eagerly gather the ingredients, including some like molasses that have to be store-bought, and mix them together into 100 kilos or so of dough. Farmers are told that if they stir the bokashi every few days the mixture will be composted within three weeks.
Like any organic fertilizer, bokashi is bulky, and 100 kilos of it is only enough for a very small garden. As far as I know, no farmers in Latin America have ever adopted bokashi on their own, I suspect because it is a lot of work to make, and because some of the ingredients are store-bought. Despite these major drawbacks, extensionists continue to promote bokashi.
So this week, when in Nepal, I was delighted to meet Amrit Narayan Shristha, who told me that he owned a bokashi factory. We met in Hemja, a small town in the hills, where Mr. Shristha was visiting agro-dealers to sell them neat, 5 kg bags of bokashi.
As luck would haveÂ it, my travels would later take me to the distant town across the country, where Mr. Shristha has a factory producing bokashi.
Even after 15 years of running his factory, Mr. Shristrha was breathless with excitement about the fertilizer. He gave us a pamphlet which expounded on the virtues of bokashi for soil health and clearly listed its chemical components, including the relatively low amounts of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous compared to inorganic fertilizers. However, like any organic fertilizer, bokashi has all of the types of nutrients a plant needs, including the minor ones like zinc and boron.
With my Nepali colleague, Abhishek Sharma, we were warmly received. I was hoping to see machinery turning out large volumes of bokashi, because, if it could be made in large enough amounts, and cheap enough, it might be a viable option for smallholders.
A large mechanical grinder is used to reduce the rice hulls to dust, and another grinder for the other ingredients. The rice hulls go into a large machine that mixes them with chicken manure, cow dung, wood ash, mustard oil cake, sawdust and âeffective microorganismsâ These may be one of the most important ingredients, because they are beneficial bacteria and yeasts.
Later we talked to an extensionist and a group of farmers, who were using bokashi to improve their soil. They add a bit less than a ton of bokashi to a hectare of rice, along with chemical fertilizer, and they are pleased with the increases in yield that they get from the combination.
We were surprised to see four workers on hands and knees on the factory floor, picking sticks and debris out of risks husks from a rice mill. There is still a lot of manual work even in a mechanized factory. Workers stir the bokashi on the shop floor, every few days, using a hoe. Labor and space limitations keep the factory from making more than 20 or 40 tons a month. However, as Paul and I saw during our study of African Seed Enterprises, if a company can stay in business for several years, this alone is a good sign of success.
The factory receives a government subsidy, but it is producing a product that farmers are using, if not as a bulk fertilizer, then as an amendment to improve their soil with organic matter, micro-nutrients, and beneficial microorganisms.
Farmers may not want to make their own bokashi, or need to. If someone else makes it for them, at an affordable price, farmers will use the stuff. As with many agricultural innovations, the trick is not to get farmers to make all of their own inputs, but to encourage entrepreneurs to make products that they want. Manufacturing a product that farmers will buy and use is like a waiter who plays the music his customers enjoy.
People usually have a good reason for ignoring free advice.
So when Tumpale Pindani, my Malawian colleague, asked me âHow long will it take before the people in Malawi accept conservation agriculture,â I could tell that it had already been a long slog, even though I couldnât answer her question. After all, conservation agriculture has worthy aims, such as improving soil fertility and halting erosion. Conservation agriculture includes many practices, such as minimum tillage, cover crops, and straw mulch. Most of these are old practices, widely used somewhere in the world, although none are used on farms worldwide. Some farmers have competing goals, besides soil conservation.
Tumpale and I were visiting a field in Malingunde, in Central Malawi where Alefa had harvested groundnuts and was about to plant maize. So Alefa was rotating crops, which is one component of conservation agriculture. Alefa asked us how she could improve soil fertility, and Tumpale recommended composted manure, another component. Alefa listened with interest.
On the way back to the car Tumpale stopped and asked me to look at a boy sitting on the ground in a dry field. Most of the ground was bare, except for some spots where the few remaining maize stalks had been piled up, ready to burn. âDo you know what he is doing?â Tumpale asked.
âHeâs waiting for rats,â Tumpale explained.
The dry season is driest right at the end. And that is when older children look for rat holes. The kids pile up maize stalks where the rats like to hide, and burn the stalks, creating a clear, wide open field of bare earth and ash. There is nowhere for a rodent to hide.
Then the boys dig up the rat holes, and when the rats run out, the boys club them with the hoe, and take their prey home to eat.
Itâs not as terrible as it sounds. Iâve had rat three times this year so far, twice in Uganda and once in Nigeria. Rat is a treat, especially if grilled on an open fire.
One conservation agriculture practice is to leave crop stubble in the field, where it slowly decomposes, protecting and enriching the soil. Itâs a sensible recommendation. But people arenât following this suggestion, at least not in Malingunde. During the scorching dry season there is not much else for cattle to eat, so after harvesting the maize, people take the corn stalks home, and feed the leaves to their animals. Women burn the bare stalks as fuel, for cooking. In this part of Malawi crop residues are more valuable at home than in the field.
Stalks that are not gleaned during the dry season may eventually be burned to clear the ground for gourmet rat hunting. Conservation agriculture is marketed as a package, or a brand, but that doesnât mean that all recommended practices will be adopted. Some will have to take second place to existing needs, like the search for tasty rats.
In the 1980s desertification was a cause for alarm. The basic idea was that smallholders in the Sahel were grazing too many animals and cutting down too many trees. As a result, the Sahara was creeping into the Sahel, turning fields and pastures into desert. The reality turned out to be more complex than that.
By the 1990s, academics had debunked the idea that peasants caused desertification. In Gourma, Mali for example, there was no relationship between deforestation and domestic firewood consumption, because smallholders gathered deadwood as fuel, and did not down cut live trees (Benjaminsen 1993). In fact, the boundary line between the desert and the Sahel had not changed in the 16 years between 1986 and 1998. Rather, the boundary ebbed and flowed with changes in annual rainfall (Nicholson et al. 1998). The number of individual trees in West Africa did decline in the second half of the twentieth century, but this was largely because of the droughts of the 1970s and 1980s.
Remarkably, smallholder farmers in the Sahel were actually encouraging the natural regeneration of trees. In a hiking survey of 135 villages in Senegal, Patrick Gonzalez noted that when a tree sprouted, people would protect it, and when it was large enough prune it (Gonzalez 2001). This may strike some readers as wishful thinking, but William Critchley and colleagues at the University of Amsterdam have also documented farmers in the Sahel protecting small trees. Critchley et al. have made several videos on how farmers in the Sahel use various simple techniques to encourage trees. Farmers dig small pits that collect rain runoff. By applying manure in these pits the soil is improved and when a tree seedling germinates, farmers keep livestock from nibbling it away.
As an added bonus, many of the trees that seemed to have died in the 1970s and 1980s still had life left in the roots. As the branches began to grow back from these âunderground forestsâ farmers protected them as well.
In his video Managed regeneration, Critchley uses aerial photos of the village of Galma, Niger to show that dramatic recovery of vegetation between 1975 and 2002.
During the drought decades, international projects funded nurseries of eucalyptus and other exotic trees in the Sahel, but most of these died (Gonzalez 2001). One might be forgiven for assuming that foreign trees are simply inferior to native species, but itâs not quite that simple. Eric Boa points out that in the Sahel the single most important tree across the transition zone from arid to semi-arid is not actually a native species, but the leafy neem, a native of South Asia which was introduced to Africa about 100 years ago.
Neem now grows from Mali to Sudan. Neem trees are fairly drought-tolerant, but even they declined in the early 1990s, probably because of the long dry spell. Some activists prefer indigenous species, such as Balanites aegyptiaca, but neem grows much faster, which is why people like it (E. Boa, email). In the past few years I have been impressed by the sight of great neem trees around farmsteads in Mali.
Rural people know as well as anyone that trees provide fuel, timber, shade for livestock, fruit and other services. No doubt future generations in the Sahel will encourage native trees, and continue to plant naturalized foreigners like neem, adapting to the slow rhythms of moister and dryer decades.
Benjaminsen, Tor A. 1993 Fuelwood and Desertification: Sahel Orthodoxiesâ Discussed on the Basis of Field Data from the Gourma Region in Mali. Geoforum 24(4): 397-409.
Gonzalez, Patrick 2001 Desertification and a Shift of Forest Species in the West African Sahel. Climate Research 17:217â228.