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Spontaneous generation January 28th, 2018 by

A few days ago, I sat at my desk in Cochabamba, Bolivia, giving a talk over the Internet to graduate students who were taking a class in IPM (integrated pest management) at the University of Kentucky and the University of Arkansas. One professor, Rob Wiedenmann, was listening in from New Zealand, where he was on sabbatical, but still in touch.

I reviewed some ideas for the students about studying local knowledge of insects and plant diseases, and recent efforts to share ideas on pest control with smallholders via videos. I said that anthropologists have great respect for local knowledge, but those anthropologists had been looking at local knowledge of relatively large plants and animals, not pest control, insect ecology or plant disease. When I was in Central America in the late 1980s and early 1990s I was surprised to realize that Honduran smallholders didn’t understand how insects reproduced. The farmers didn’t know that male and female insects mated to produce fertile eggs which hatched into larvae. This gap in knowledge led to the farmers’ misperception that caterpillars that were eating the maize field had come out of nowhere, the result of spontaneous generation.

That caught Prof. Wiedenmann’s attention. “What can you say about US farmers?” he asked. He wondered what entomologists could do to help North American farmers monitor their insect pests. US farmers often don’t realize that pests are causing damage until it is too late to do anything about them. North American farmers don’t believe in spontaneous generation, but they might as well.

I thought I knew what Prof. Wiedenmann was talking about. I’d been reading Ted Genoways’ book This Blessed Earth, an intimate account of a year in the life of a Nebraska farm family, the Hammonds. These thoughtful, professional farmers were using state of the art technology, including harvesters that gathered in a dozen rows of soybeans at once while measuring the moisture content of the beans and following the furrows by using a GPS. But at harvest time the farmers were shocked to find out that stem borers had caused losses worth thousands of dollars.

I could see that sitting high up in the combine harvester could leave farmers with fewer opportunities to observe their plants. I wasn’t sure what to suggest as a remedy, but I said it is always good to spend more time with the farmers, whether in Arkansas or in Kenya, before jumping to conclusions about what they knew and understood, particularly when it came to pests and diseases..

“Yes, agricultural researchers are often leapfrogging over the lack of information,” Wiedemann quipped. Researchers rush to make recommendations for farmers, but without really understanding their perception or their production constraints.

Different styles of farming influence the ways one sees the world. US farmers have taken biology classes at school and understand that insects don’t come out of nowhere, but lack day-to-day contact with their crops. Tropical smallholders are often out in their fields, and are more likely to spot a pest before the crop is ready to harvest. Even so, most farmers the world over are busy and don’t have enough time to observe their crop regularly and systematically. This can lead to devastating crop losses. Whether farming on a large or a small scale, helping farmers to observe their crops better requires solid interaction with growers to develop and test possible solutions that work in the local context.

Acknowledgement

Thanks to Prof. John Obrycki for inviting me to give this virtual seminar.

Further reading

Bentley, Jeffery W. & Gonzalo Rodríguez 2001 “Honduran Folk Entomology.” Current Anthropology 42(2):285-301. http://www.jefferybentley.com/Honduran%20Folk%20Entomology.pdf

Wyckhuys, Kris, Jeffery Bentley, Rico Lie, Marjon Fredrix and Le Phuong Nghiem 2017 “Maximizing Farm-Level Uptake and Diffusion of Biological Control Innovations in Today’s Digital Era.” BioControl.

Related videos

Access Agriculture has over 30 videos on IPM, which you can watch here.

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No land, no water, no problem December 17th, 2017 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación.

A hot, parched gravel patch on the edge of the city of Cochabamba, Bolivia may seem like a poor place to grow high value vegetables, but a group of agricultural students and a local entrepreneur are making it happen.

The entrepreneur, René Cabezas, is an agronomist who gives training courses in hydroponics, where vegetables are produced in tubes of water. Mr. Cabezas also produces hydroponic vegetables himself, and he recently bought in three metal frame houses—each about the size of a modest suburban home, about 7 by 15 meters—at a cost of 45,000 Bolivianos ($6400) each. Aldo Chipana and Arturo Siles, two thesis students, were showing Ana and I how the vegetables are grown. The metal frames were covered in a fine, plastic mesh, a fabric which keeps out insects, such as aphids and whiteflies. The structures were a big investment, and making them pay off will depend on using them carefully for a long time. Several agronomy students are working in the vegetable houses, writing their theses on the experience, and keeping some of the profits from the produce.

One house was full of tomatoes watered with drip irrigation three times a day, carefully regulated by an electronic timer and a humidity-measuring device. Mineral fertilizer had been dissolved in the water, feeding the plants with every drop. The tomatoes had no obvious health problems: which is astounding for the tropics, where the plants grow year round, and so do the pests and diseases. I thought of some of the commercial farms I had seen in Bolivia and elsewhere, where the tomatoes were under constant attack by pests and diseases and dripping with pesticides.

These tomatoes are planted in small pots of soil with lots of organic matter. The dry climate of the Southern Andes helps to avoid disease, but Aldo and his colleagues also prune off any unhealthy leaves. The fine mesh covering will limit the fungal spores that blow in, though in this sprawling neighborhood, houses are more common than fields, so there are few other vegetables in the vicinity to act as sources of infections. Ana and I were lucky to visit; Aldo and colleagues allow few visitors, who might carry pathogens on their shoes or clothing.

Like much of peri-urban Cochabamba, this south-side lot has no city water. People have to buy expensive water from tank trucks, from 7 Bs. to 15 Bs. ($1 – $2) for a 200 liter barrel. It seems like madness to irrigate vegetables with water at this price, but these tomatoes only use about 200 liters of water a day, for some 800 plants, thanks to the carefully controlled drip irrigation, which makes the most of every drop.

In another metal frame house, Aldo showed us the lettuce growing in plastic (PVC) tubes filled with water, laced with mineral fertilizer. Unlike the tomatoes, which are growing in pots, the lettuce was growing only in water, with no soil. Like the tomato plants, the lettuce was free of disease and of pesticides, producing the kind of vegetables that demanding consumers really want.

There was one unforeseen problem: the sun. There was simply too much light for the lettuce. Even with the roots sitting in water, the little plants were wilting. Aldo and his colleagues had found that a thick, black net provided the best shade while still allowing the lettuce to thrive.

I had seen hydroponics before, but usually at universities, research centers (and once even at an amusement park), so until seeing these vegetables I doubted that plants could be grown for a profit in tubes of water. Now I was starting to change my mind, seeing these young people invest their time and energy to make it work, raising a commercial crop on a stony lot that was unfit for conventional gardening. They were saving so much water that they could afford to irrigate even when water is expensive.

My dad was a hydrologist and used to be fond of saying that agriculture could never compete with a city for water. City dwellers could always outbid farmers for water. But dad was thinking of old-fashioned ditch irrigation. As irrigation technology improves and becomes more efficient in using water, agriculture can afford to buy water at high prices.

As climate change continues to make for a warmer, thirstier planet it is good to see creative solutions providing healthy produce, and doing so without pesticides.

Watch some related training videos

Drip irrigation for tomato

Hydroponic fodder

Related blog

To drip or not to drip

SIN TIERRA, SIN AGUA, NO HAY PROBLEMA

Por Jeff Bentley

Una parcela pedregosa, caliente y reseca en las afueras de la ciudad de Cochabamba, Bolivia, puede parecer un lugar equivocado para cultivar verduras de alto valor, pero un grupo de estudiantes de agronomía y un empresario local lo están logrando.

El empresario, René Cabezas, es un agrónomo que imparte cursos de formación en hidroponía, donde las verduras se producen en tubos de agua. El Sr. Cabezas también es productor de verduras hidropónicas, y hace poco compró tres casas de marcos de metal, cada una del tamaño de una modesta casa suburbana, de aproximadamente 7 por 15 metros, a un costo de 45,000 bolivianos ($ 6400) cada una. Aldo Chipana y Arturo Siles, dos tesistas, nos estaban mostrando a Ana y a mí cómo se cultivan las hortalizas. Los marcos metálicos estaban cubiertos por una fina malla de plástico, una tela que impide la entrada de insectos, como los áfidos y las moscas blancas. Las estructuras fueron una gran inversión y para rescatarlo hay que hacer un uso cuidadoso durante mucho tiempo. Varios estudiantes de agronomía están trabajando en las casas de malla, escribiendo sus tesis sobre la experiencia y manteniendo algunas de las ganancias del producto.

Una casa estaba llena de tomates regados con riego por goteo tres veces al día, cuidadosamente regulados por un control electrónico y un medidor de la humedad. Se había disuelto fertilizante mineral en el agua, alimentando a las plantas con cada gota. Por lo visto, los tomates no tenían ningún problema de salud: lo cual es asombroso en los trópicos, donde las plantas crecen durante todo el año, igual que las plagas y enfermedades. Me acordé de algunas parcelas comerciales que había visto en Bolivia y en otros lugares, donde los tomates estaban bajo constante ataque de plagas y enfermedades y la fruta chorreaba plaguicidas.

Estos tomates se habían plantado en macetitas con suelo rico en materia orgánica. El clima seco de los Andes sureños ayuda a prevenir las enfermedades, pero Aldo y sus colegas también podan las hojas enfermas. Lo cobertura de malla fina limitará la entrada de las esporas de hongos por aire, aunque en este vecindario en expansión, las casas son más comunes que los campos, por lo que hay pocas otras verduras en la zona que serían fuentes de infección. Ana y yo tuvimos la suerte de visitar; Aldo y sus colegas permiten pocos visitantes, que pueden llevar patógenos en sus zapatos o en su ropa.

Al igual que gran parte de la parte peri-urbana de Cochabamba, este lote de la zona sur no tiene agua potable. La gente tiene que comprar agua cara de camiones cisternas, desde 7 Bs. a 15 Bs. ($ 1 – $ 2) por un barril de 200 litros. Parece una locura regar las verduras con agua a este precio, pero estos tomates solo usan unos 200 litros de agua al día, para unas 800 plantas, gracias al riego por goteo cuidadosamente controlada, que aprovecha al máximo cada gota.

En otra casa metálica, Aldo nos mostró la lechuga creciendo en tubos de plástico (PVC) llenos de agua mezclada con fertilizante mineral. A diferencia de los tomates, que crecen en macetas, la lechuga crece solo en agua, sin tierra. Al igual que los tomates, la lechuga estaba libre de enfermedades y de plaguicidas, produciendo el tipo de verduras que los consumidores exigentes realmente quieren.

Hubo un problema inesperado: el sol. Simplemente había demasiada luz para la lechuga. Incluso con las raíces en el agua, las pequeñas plantas se marchitaban. Aldo y sus colegas descubrieron que una gruesa red negra proporcionaba la mejor sombra y permitía que la lechuga prosperara.

Yo había visto hidroponía antes, pero generalmente en universidades, centros de investigación (y una vez incluso en un parque de diversiones), así que hasta ver estas verduras, yo dudaba que las plantas en tubos de agua fueran rentables. Ahora estaba empezando a cambiarme de opinión, viendo a estos jóvenes invertir su tiempo y energía para hacerlo funcionar, sacando un producto comercial en un terreno pedregoso que no era apto para la horticultura convencional. Estaban ahorrando tanta agua que podían regar incluso cuando el agua es cara.

Mi papá era hidrólogo y solía decir que la agricultura nunca podría competir con una ciudad por el agua. Los citadinos siempre podrían pagar más que los agricultores por el agua. Pero mi papá estaba pensando en las zanjas de tierra, al estilo viejo. A medida que la tecnología de riego mejora y se vuelve más eficiente en el uso del agua, la agricultura sí puede comprar agua a precios altos.

A medida que el cambio climático continúa generando un planeta más cálido y sediento, es bueno ver soluciones creativas que proporcionen productos saludables y sin plaguicidas.

Aprender más de los videos

Riego de goteo para tomate

Hydroponic fodder

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Sorghum and millets on the rise December 10th, 2017 by

For decades, various international aid agencies have pushed Africa towards adopting maize as the hunger-saving technical solution, with traditional crops such as sorghum and pearl millet only receiving a fraction of the support. But climate change is forcing donors and governments to re-think their food security strategies. Recent research in Mali highlights the importance of research and communication to help improve traditional crops and to support farmers as they cope with climate change.

While maize was first domesticated some 7,000 years ago in Mexico, sorghum and pearl millet have their origin in Africa. Sorghum domestication started in Ethiopia and sub-saharan Africa some 5,000 to 6,000 years ago. Through farmer selection numerous improved sorghum types were developed, which then spread via trade routes into other regions of Africa and India. Domestication of pearl millet started only around 2500 BC, in eastern Mali, and spread rapidly to other countries through pastoralists, spurred by the increasing desiccation of the Sahara desert at the time.

The rich genetic diversity of these traditional African crops and the wealth of farmers’ knowledge have formed the basis of recent crop improvement programmes. In West Africa, a handful of devoted sorghum and millet breeders, Drs Eva and Fred Weltzien-Rattunde, Bettina Haussmann and Kirsten vom Brocke, in close collaboration with partners, were able to develop improved sorghum and millet varieties by improving local germplasm. The new varieties cope better with pests and diseases, as well as with rainy seasons that are becoming shorter and more unpredictable.

But these breeders, then working for ICRISAT, did not limit their efforts to participatory plant breeding alone: they also invested heavily in supporting farmer cooperatives to become seed producers and sellers. Some of these examples were captured in a chapter written by Daniel Dalohoun as part of the book African Seed Enterprises that Jeff and I edited with Robert Guei from FAO.

Farmers across Africa are keen to learn how to better conserve, produce and market seed of their traditional crops. While making a video on Farmers’ rights to seed a few months ago at a seed fair in Malawi, farmers eagerly exchanged traditional sorghum and millet varieties with each other. As the government had so far focused on maize only as a food security crop, some communities lost certain traditional sorghum and millet varieties , but seed fairs and community seed banks helped them to again access these varieties. In addition to seed, farmers also want new knowledge about farming practices. Mr. Lovemore Tachokera, a farmer from the south who attended a seed fair in the north, told me: “The one thing I will make sure to tell my fellow farmers back home regarding conservation of indigenous crops is that we should also practice new farming technologies even on the indigenous crops.”

And right he was. Treasuring and improving traditional crops is important, but alone is insufficient to cope with climate change; good agricultural adaptation strategies also matter. Gérard Zoundji, a Beninese PhD student, investigated how a series of farmer training videos on weed and soil management helped farmers in Mali to use climate-smart technologies.

The differences he found between video-villages (where farmers had watched the videos) versus non-video-villages were very significant:

  • crop rotation combined with  intercropping (99% in video villages vs 57% in other villages)
  • compost or microdosing fertiliser application (99% in video villages vs 0%)
  • crop diversification (94% vs 52%)
  • use of improved short-cycle seed varieties (78% vs 17%)
  • use of zaï pits (51% vs 0%)

Zoundji also found that after watching the videos on Fighting striga and improving soil fertility (see the related blog: Killing the vampire flower), farmers started demanding improved cereal seed. And as a result some women’s groups in the villages of Daga and Sirakélé became seed dealers in their village. Sorghum, millet and maize yields in the video-villages increased by 14%, 30% and 15% respectively when compared to non-video villages.

While maize crops are increasingly failing in parts of Africa due to climate change, the robustness of traditional African cereal crops contributes to to their renewed appeal to African farmers. The improved cultivation of traditional, drought-resistant crops, benefiting from research and training on improved cropping practices, will enable farmers to adapt to a harsher and more variable climate.

Watch the videos

Farmers’ rights to seed

Succeed with seeds

Various farmer training videos on Sorghum & Millets

Further reading

Dalohoun, Daniel, Van Mele, P., Weltzien, E., Diallo, D., Guindo, H. and vom Brocke, K. (2010) Mali: When governments give entrepreneurs room to grow. In P. Van Mele, J. Bentley and R. Guei (eds.) African Seed Enterprises (pp. 65-88). Wallingfrod: CABI. Download chapter from: http://agroinsight.com/books.php

Dillon, Sally L.. Frances M. Shapter, Robert J. Henry, Giovanni Cordeiro, Liz Izquierdo, and L. Slade Lee 2007. Domestication to Crop Improvement: Genetic Resources for Sorghum and Saccharum (Andropogoneae). Annals of Botany, 100(5): 975–989. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2759214/

Hirst, K. Kris 2017. Pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum) – Domestication and History. https://www.thoughtco.com/pearl-millet-domestication-170647

Zoundji, Gérard, Okry, F., Vodouhê, S.D., Bentley, J.W. and Tossou, R.C. 2018. Beyond Striga management: Learning videos enhanced farmers’ knowledge on climate-smart agriculture beyond Striga management. Sustainable Agriculture Research 7(1), 80-91. Download article from: https://www.accessagriculture.org/publications

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Farewell coca, hello cocoa November 26th, 2017 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación.

Enrique Arévalo is the general coordinator at the Instituto de Cultivos Tropicales (ICT) or Tropical Crops Institute, based in Tarapoto, the capital of San Martín department in northern Peru. I met my old colleague last week at an international symposium on cocoa in Lima, before visiting ICT and learning more about the rise in importance of cocoa in Peru – and the challenges in supporting farmers.

Cocoa is ICT’s most important crop and increasingly popular with farmers in San Martín, one of the main production areas. But, as Enrique explained in his introduction to ICT, San Martín is also a major coca producer. Coca is the plant from which cocaine is made. Although it is illegal to make cocaine, coca is a legal crop in Peru and Bolivia, where the partially dried leaves are chewed to ward off altitude sickness, dampen hunger and produce a soothing tea known as mate de coca.

In its early days, ICT, a private institute, did research on coca yields but that has faded away. Although cocoa is one of the key crops promoted as an alternative to coca in Peru (and elsewhere), support for cocoa research and development is far from guaranteed, as Enrique explained.

Enrique outlined what ICT did. “We offer technical support to farmers, in soil testing and diagnosis of pests and diseases, for example. We organise training for extension agents who work for the many cooperatives that buy and process cocoa.” ICT also works with tropical fruits, including banana, and popular medicinal crops such as noni and sacha inchi (Plukenetia volubilis). Despite responding directly to farmers’ needs, Enrique said it was difficult to sustain existing services while, as he put it, ”doing research for the future”, such as a new cocoa grafting technique that ICT had developed.

ICT relies on project funding plus some support from farmer associations, cocoa buyers and local government. The reduction in US funding has been particularly steep. As funds have dried up so staff numbers have declined. It was sad to hear Enrique tell me that ICTused to have over 60 staff. “Now there are only six of us to provide support to farmers while maintaining laboratory equipment and germplasm collections.” The germplasm collections are particularly important, a vital resource for understanding and exploiting the full genetic potential of of cocoa and other ICT crops.

Crippling an institute takes an instant while re-establishing staff capacity can take years. The best staff find jobs elsewhere and won’t return. Experience fades quickly when one is no longer working on a particular crop. Building up the next generation of knowledgeable scientists is a lengthy task. Rehabilitating neglected germplasm collections takes years, assuming that they can be resurrected from overgrown plots.

Cocoa production is on the up in Peru, with over 100,000 tonnes produced in 2016. The work of Enrique and his fellow scientists has done much to develop cocoa as a viable crop. The cocoa germplasm collections at ICT (one next to the laboratories and another in a separate plot) contain an invaluable store of both local varieties – Peru has the largest cocoa diversity in the world – and those introduced from other major collections, particularly Trinidad and Tobago. ICT ensures that trees are regularly pruned and plots are kept clean and free from disease. It was good to see how well the collections were being maintained through the dedication of ICT staff. But, as Enrique explained, “we need to do more to safeguard cocoa genetic resources for Peruvian farmers.”

I was part of a group of scientists and representatives from leading chocolate companies, such as Mars and Mondelēz, that visited ICT. The companies already support a lot of cocoa research and development and though more funding is always welcome it is governments that are responsible for their farmers. A swelling influx of tourists has helped promote fine flavour and aroma chocolate made in Peru. The national and international profile of Peruvian cocoa is growing and needs to be matched by reliable funding that allows dedicated scientists such as Enrique and his colleagues at ICT to stay on top of existing technical challenges while innovating for the future.

Eating chocolate is a fleeting indulgence for consumers; cocoa income is an everyday lifeline for 90,000 families in Peru, paying for food, schooling, healthcare and other essentials. You can’t sustain cocoa production without sustaining cocoa science. Identifying new funding streams is the key challenge for maintaining innovation and development of the cocoa sector in Peru.

Without the necessary support, farmers may not be able to earn enough from cocoa to support their families, and return to coca.

Other blogs on cocoa:

Out of the shade (Ecuador)

Congo cocoa  

On the road (DR Congo)

Related blogs on chocolate:

Chocolate evolution

ADIOS COCA, HOLA CACAO

Enrique Arévalo es el coordinador general del Instituto de Cultivos Tropicales (ICT), con sede en Tarapoto, capital del departamento de San Martín situado en el norte del Perú. Me encontré con mi viejo colega la semana pasada en un simposio internacional sobre el cacao en Lima, antes de visitar el ICT y aprender más sobre el aumento de la importancia del cacao en Perú, y los desafíos en el apoyo a los agricultores.

El cacao es el cultivo más importante del ICT y cada vez es más popular entre los agricultores de San Martín, una de las principales áreas de producción. Pero, como Enrique explicó en su introducción al ICT, San Martín también es un importante productor de coca. La coca es la planta a partir de la cual se produce la cocaína. Aunque es ilegal producirla, la coca es un cultivo legal en Perú y Bolivia, donde las hojas parcialmente secas se mastican para evitar el mal de altura, reducir el hambre y producir un té relajante llamado mate de coca.

En sus inicios, el ICT, un instituto privado, investigaba sobre el rendimiento de la coca pero eso se ha desvanecido. Aunque el cacao es uno de los principales cultivos promovidos como alternativa a la coca en Perú (y en otros lugares), el apoyo para la investigación y el desarrollo del cacao está lejos de estar garantizado, como Enrique explicó.

Enrique describió lo que el ICT hizo: “Ofrecemos soporte técnico a los agricultores, en pruebas de suelo y diagnóstico de plagas y enfermedades, por ejemplo. Organizamos cursos de formación para los agentes de extensión que trabajan para las muchas cooperativas que compran y procesan el cacao “. El ICT también trabaja con frutas tropicales, incluido el banano, y cultivos medicinales populares como el noni y el sacha inchi (Plukenetia volubilis). A pesar de responder directamente a las necesidades de los agricultores, Enrique dijo que era difícil mantener los servicios existentes mientras “se investiga para el futuro”, como por ejemplo, una nueva técnica de injerto de cacao que el ICT había desarrollado.

El ICT se basa en el financiamiento de proyectos además de obtener cierto apoyo de asociaciones de agricultores, compradores de cacao y del gobierno local. La reducción de la financiación de los Estados Unidos ha sido particularmente pronunciada. Como los fondos se han “secado”, el número de empleados ha disminuido. Fue triste escuchar a Enrique decirme que el ICT solía tener más de 60 empleados. “Ahora solo somos seis los que apoyamos a los agricultores mientras mantenemos equipo de laboratorio y las colecciones de germoplasma”. Estas colecciones de germoplasma son particularmente importantes, ya que son un recurso vital para comprender y explotar todo el potencial genético del cacao y otros cultivos del ICT.

Se require un instante para paralizar un instituto, mientras que restablecer la capacidad del personal puede llevar años. El mejor personal encuentra trabajo en otro lugar y no regresará. La experiencia se desvanece rápidamente cuando uno ya no está trabajando en un cultivo en particular. Desarrollar la próxima generación de científicos expertos es una tarea larga. La rehabilitación de colecciones de germoplasma abandonadas lleva años, suponiendo que se puedan resucitar de parcelas descuidadas.

La producción de cacao está en alza en Perú, con más de 100.000 toneladas producidas en 2016. El trabajo de Enrique y sus colegas científicos ha contribuido mucho a desarrollar el cacao como un cultivo viable. Las colecciones de germoplasma de cacao en el ICT (una al lado de los laboratorios y otra en una parcela separada) contienen una valiosa reserva de ambas variedades locales – Perú tiene la mayor diversidad de cacao del mundo – y de variedades introducidas de otras colecciones importantes, particularmente de Trinidad y Tobago . El ICT asegura que los árboles se podan regularmente y las parcelas se mantienen limpias y libres de enfermedades. Estuvo bien ver lo bien se mantenían las colecciones gracias a la dedicación del personal de ICT. Pero, como explicó Enrique, “tenemos que hacer más para salvaguardar los recursos genéticos del cacao para los agricultores peruanos”.

Formé parte de un grupo de científicos y representantes de compañías líderes de chocolate, como Mars y Mondelēz, que visitaron el ICT. Las compañías ya apoyan una gran cantidad de investigación y desarrollo del cacao, y aunque más financiación siempre es bienvenida, son los gobiernos los responsables de sus agricultores. Una creciente afluencia de turistas ha ayudado a promover el sabor fino y el aroma del chocolate hecho en Perú. El perfil nacional e internacional del cacao peruano está creciendo y debe ser acompañado por un financiamiento fiable que permita a científicos dedicados como Enrique y sus colegas del ICT mantenerse al tanto de los desafíos técnicos existentes mientras innovan para el futuro.

Comer chocolate es una indulgencia pasajera para los consumidores; los ingresos del cacao son una línea de vida cotidiana para 90,000 familias en el Perú, que permite pagar sus alimentos, la educación, sus gastos para la salud y otros artículos esenciales. No se puede mantener la producción de cacao sin sustentar la ciencia del cacao. Identificar nuevas fuentes de financiamiento es el desafío clave para mantener la innovación y el desarrollo del sector del cacao en Perú. Sin el apoyo necesario, los agricultores tal vez no puedan ganar lo suficiente del cacao para mantener a sus familias y para no volver a la coca.

Artículos relacionados del blog:

Out of the shade (Ecuador)

Congo cocoa  

On the road (DR Congo)

Blog relacionado sobre chocolate:

Chocolate evolution

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Honest farming November 19th, 2017 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación.

You can’t teach a skill that you don’t practice, yet many agricultural scientists try to do just that, lecturing at universities or writing extension messages without spending time a farm. So I was pleased this week to meet a scientist who was getting on-farm experience, and loving it.

My wife Ana and I met Dr. Alberto Centellas on the small farm, about a hectare, which he works with a business partner in the Cochabamba Valley, here in Bolivia. We heard that he sold fruit tree seedlings, and we went to buy some. I had barely closed the farm gate when Dr. Centellas walked up to me, wearing a grin and a straw hat. Without waiting for introductions, Dr. Centellas (“call me Alberto”) began to show us his projects, passionately explaining each one.

Dr. Centellas is Bolivian, but he earned his Ph.D. in Brazil, in temperate fruit production. Then he worked for Embrapa, the Brazilian agricultural research agency, for eight years, followed by another stint at Proinpa, an agricultural research organization in Bolivia. Now he teaches fruticulture at the university in Cochabamba. Teaching and administration don’t always leave much time to spend in the greenhouse, so to hone his agricultural skills, Alberto works on the farm every Saturday.

He had planted new varieties of apples from Brazil, bred to yield fruit in warm climates. After just two years the little trees were head-high. The orchard was enclosed in a large net to keep out the birds. “We won’t harvest anything if we let in the birds.”

The Tahiti lemon trees were full of bright, round green fruits the size of walnuts. “These are seedless. You can just wash them and drop them whole in the blender, rind and all. They are perfect for mixing with cachaça (the Brazilian cane liquor).”

Besides lemon and apple trees, he also has a collection of pears, avocados, peaches and cherimoyas.

Like a lot of researchers, Dr. Centellas is regularly invited to conferences in other countries. But he uses his trips as more than talking shops. He also collects tree varieties. “But only from research centers,” he hastens to add. He gets new tree varieties from reliable sources where the trees are certified and guaranteed to be healthy.

The farm is also a serious business, called Tecnoplant, and it is state of the art. Avocado tree seedlings are expertly grafted and growing in the protected cover of a tidy greenhouse. Other trees have been planted in a small orchard.

Avocados are tricky. Unlike many trees, each variety belongs to one of several pollination groups, including A, B and AB. They yield more if the varieties are grown in mixed groves. Dr. Centellas has carefully set out one row of the variety Fuerte, and one of the variety Lamb Hass. The little trees are watered with drip irrigation and growing under plastic mulch, to keep out the weeds. This is cutting edge tree culture.

I ask Dr. Centellas what motivates him to invest so much time and effort in the farm. I thought he might say something about boosting commercial fruit production, or contributing to agricultural development, but I was pleasantly surprised when he said “I was teaching other people how to farm, and then I got tired of them asking me how many trees I had on my own farm. And I would have to answer that I had none.”

It is more honest to teach techniques that one actually practices. Farming helps Dr. Centellas to understand the real problems that farmers face, making him a better teacher.

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EL AGRO HONESTO

por Jeff Bentley

No se puede enseñar una habilidad que uno no practica, aunque muchos científicos agrícolas tratan de hacer eso, dando clases en las universidades o escribiendo mensajes de extensión sin pisar tierra agrícola. Entonces me dio gusto esta semana conocer a un científico que sí ganaba experiencia agrícola, y le encantaba.

Con mi esposa Ana, conocimos al Dr. Alberto Centellas en la pequeña finca, tal vez una hectárea, que él trabaja con un socio en el Valle de Cochabamba, aquí en Bolivia. Habíamos escuchado que él vendía plantines de frutales, y fuimos a comprar. Yo apenas había cerrado el portón cuando el Dr. Centellas se me acercó, con una sonrisa y su sombrero de paja. Sin esperar que nos presentáramos, el Dr. Centellas (“llámeme Alberto”) empezó a mostrarnos sus proyectos, explicando cada uno con pasión.

El Dr. Centellas es boliviano, pero ganó su doctorado en el Brasil, en la fruticultura de climas templados. Luego trabajó para Embrapa, la agencia de investigación agrícola brasileña, por ocho años, seguido por un tiempo en Proinpa, una organización de investigación agrícola en Bolivia. Ahora enseña fruticultura en la universidad en Cochabamba. La docencia y la administración no siempre dejan mucho tiempo para estar en el invernadero, así que, para pulir sus habilidades agrícolas, Alberto trabaja en la finca todos los sábados.

Había plantado nuevas variedades de manzanos del Brasil, mejorados para dar fruta en climas calientes. Después de solo dos años los arbolitos estaban a la altura de unapersona. El huerto se encubría de una gran red contra los pájaros. “No cosecharemos nada si dejamos entrar a los pájaros.”

El limonero Tahití estaba lleno de brillantes frutos redondos y verdes, del tamaño de una nuez.  “No tienen semilla. Se los puede lavar y echarlos enteros al licuador, con todo y cáscara. Son perfectos para mezclar con cachaza (licor de caña brasileño).”

Además de limoneros y manzanos, él también tiene una colección de peros, paltos, durazneros y chirimoyas.

Como muchos investigadores, el Dr. Centellas es invitado frecuentemente a conferencias en otros países. Sin embargo, se aprovecha de sus viajes para hacer más que intercambiar información. También recolecta variedades de árboles. “Pero solo de los centros de investigación,” aclara. Recibe nuevas variedades de frutales de fuentes confiables, donde los arbolitos son certificados y garantizados de estar sanos.

La finca también es una empresa formal, llamada Tecnoplant, y es tecnología actualizada. Los plantines de palto están expertamente injertados y creciendo bajo la protección de un invernadero ordenado. Otros árboles se han plantado en un pequeño huerto.

El palto tiene sus mañas. A cambio de muchos otros árboles, cada variedad pertenece a uno de varios grupos de polinización, como el A, B y el AB. Rinden más si las variedades se cultivan en huertos mezclados. El Dr. Centellas ha cuidadosamente plantado un surco de la variedad Fuerte, y una de la variedad Lamb Hass. Los arbolitos se riegan por goteo y crecen bajo un mulch de plástico, para que no crezcan las malezas. Es lo último en la fruticultura.

Le pregunto al Dr. Centellas qué le motiva invertir tanto tiempo y esfuerzo en la finca. Pensé que diría algo sobre promover la fruticultura comercial, o contribuir al desarrollo agrícola, pero era una grata sorpresa cuando dijo “Yo enseñaba a la otra gente cómo tenían que producir ellos, y me aburrí de que me preguntaban cuántos árboles tenía yo en mi finca. Y yo tenía que responder que no tenía nada.”

Es más honesto enseñar las técnicas que uno realmente practica. El trabajar con sus árboles ayuda al Dr. Centellas a entender los problemas reales que enfrentan a los agricultores, y por eso es un mejor profesor.

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Head transplant: The art of avocado grafting

 

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