WHO WE ARE SERVICES RESOURCES




Most recent stories ›
AgroInsight RSS feed
Blog

Are you poor? May 7th, 2017 by

Big smile with banana bunch on head copyWhen Jeff, Paul and I write these blogs we chose our words carefully. We want to paint a positive yet realistic picture of development, reflecting an optimism founded on first-hand experiences. Yet it can be difficult when writing about the poorer regions of the world to avoid emphasising poverty and creating a spiral of despair, however unintentional.

The recent vogue in development is to classify countries by income, the latest in a long list of attempts to find a neutral way to describe poor countries. We have come a long way since Henry Kissinger’s crude and infamous description of Bangladesh as a “basket case”, back in the 1970s. “Third World” countries prevailed for a while, but its use faded as political divisions between East and West began to disappear.

In 1987, the Brundtland Commission on Environment and Development proposed the use of North and South to distinguish rich and developed nations from their impoverished counterparts. This has never quite caught on, though “the global South” is still in current use. “Under-developed” countries had a patronising ring to it and though “developing countries” has a more positive connotation it has never really conveyed a strong sense of transition out of poverty.

Now we have low, middle and high income countries, with rankings monitored by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Donors find this classification a convenient way to separate countries in terms of needs and to target funds at the most deserving. Ranking by income matters a lot because it determines where projects will be funded and allowed to work.

Caravan at petrol staton copyBut there are still anomalies, particularly in large countries such as Brazil and South Africa, where regional disparities in income and life prospects are particularly marked. Even low income countries have wealthy people, and middle income countries have pockets of poverty. When I drove from the Western Cape into the Eastern Cape, in 2000, it was like entering a different country. The landscape became bleaker, towns more ramshackle and the mobile phone signal disappeared.

The OECD list classifies South Africa as “upper middle income”, so there are drawbacks to this method of deciding which countries do and don’t deserve donor support. Fortunately, South Africa is able to fund its own development projects and I was intrigued to experience a few years ago  an initiative that used the expertise and knowledge of white farmers to train black farmers in maize production. Maize has been a popular smallholder crop for many years, but on a small scale and with poor yields.

Hat lady with samples and Richard copyI got to know the white farmers, mostly Afrikaans-speaking, when I ran a course on plant clinics in Drankensville. I assumed that most of them belonged to the rich world, yet although they had undoubtedly benefited from apartheid-era privilege, there was no simple division between them and the black farmers they worked with. At a plant clinic, I watched in admiration as the Afrikaaners gave advice on maize problems in fluent Zulu. Many of the (white) people on the course had been given additional Zulu names, probably by domestic staff. I saw a genuine rapport between the two groups of farmers and an obvious mutual respect. It made me think hard about the way we decide who is poor and who is not.

Later I learned that some of the Afrikaaners had left school with minimal qualifications. They’d been in the army and then worked the land. Yes, they clearly had more material wealth, but to label them rich and the black farmers they worked with poor seemed wrong. This bleak division did little to emphasise the dignified way in which the white and black farmers treated each other.

Remo consultation copyAid agencies and international NGOs learnt long ago that pictures of suffering children attract funds, but they over-emphasise misery at the cost of hope for a better future. A poor country is a poor country, whichever way you look at it. But we should think carefully about how we describe their farmers, people who strive hard to do better. Their ambitions, perseverance and creativity deserve respect, hence the importance of choosing the right labels for the countries where they live.  Our blog stories will continue to feature the successes of farmers and entrepreneurs in poor countries. Publicising their achievements is the simplest way to enrich the lives of everyone.

Acknowledgements

I’m grateful for the support of the Agriculture Research Council of South Africa and for the support of my colleagues at the Plant Protection Research Institute.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

Wonder Crops April 9th, 2017 by

Innovation in agriculture is the key to progress, yet new ideas need to be carefully examined. This is particularly true for “if only” crops, where wondrous benefits could be realised, so we are told, if only more were produced for eager markets. It rarely turns out to be so simple.

Neem products Fortune company copyFrom the 1960s onwards the neem tree received a lot of attention from pest scientists who promoted the pesticide properties of naturally occurring compounds. Neem’s properties had been known across India for centuries, but were a source of wonderment to Western scientists, intrigued by the possibilities of natural alternatives to the highly toxic pesticides damned in Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.

“If only” crops often promise increased incomes for farmers, with other benefits such as reduced pest management costs and health risks in the case of neem. Neem was promoted widely in West Africa as part of IPM (integrated pest management), though the most notable success I am aware of was an agroforestry scheme in Niger, where neem was used as windbreaks for annual crops. Neem was also promoted widely as a botanical insecticide in Central America in the 1990s, but the most lasting result of plantings seems to be attractive trees in public parks.

I did hear of a commercial scheme to harvest neem oil from neem plantations in Indonesia, driven by a reported US market price of US$50 per litre. But, like many other wonder crops, the hype didn’t match the reality. Neem products are sold widely in India, often with heavy government subsidies, but wider, international trade has yet to happen.

Promoting any new plant-based product for profit requires a complex series of coordinated steps, from getting farmers to grow enough plants to guarantee a steady supply of raw material, to having processing facilities that can produce the quality product needed by traders that are ready and willing to pay a fair price.

Patchouli possible copyAdd to this: trading regulations, alternative suppliers and fluctuating demand, and the barriers to success become daunting. The promotion of neem products has been a qualified success where farmers were already familiar with the plant. Creating enterprises based on a first-time crop is much more challenging, as I learnt last week in Rwanda. Patchouli is a small herbaceous plant whose leaves produce a pungent oil used in perfumery. Patchouli oil is also used in making incense and anyone who has visited India or passed by Hindu temples elsewhere is likely to have smelled its particularly intense and persistent aroma.

About 10 years ago an entrepreneur from Haiti, Pierre Léger, visited Rwanda and convinced the government to support a scheme to plant patchouli, a previously unknown crop. This was the wonder plant, according to the spiel, that would transform the lives of many poor farmers in Rwanda. Patchouli is well-suited to conditions in Rwanda, where aid agencies and the government were keen to support new enterprises, particularly those that promised high financial rewards. Add to this a global patchouli oil shortage and skyrocketing price at the time, and it’s easy to understand why a proposal to establish a patchouli industry in Rwanda received a sympathetic welcome. Rwanda already grew geraniums for essential oils, so this type of business was already familiar to some farmers.

Showing quinoa products copyToday, however, patchouli still languishes as an “if only” crop for Rwanda: if only more farmers had planted it; if only distilling facilities had been successfully established; if only investment from the government had been realised; and if only the original promoter had stayed the course necessary to establish a patchouli oil business. There are wonder crops that have succeeded, but usually because they were already grown by farmers and there was a semblance of a local industry that could be expanded when market conditions became favourable. It also helps to have committed private investors.

Quinoa is not an overnight success for Bolivia or Peru. Many people have worked for years to promote its nutritional benefits, efforts that are now being rewarded by sustained exports to North America and Europe. The quinoa was also supported for years at the exporting end in the Andes by researchers and entrepreneurs in Bolivia.

The overall picture of wonder crops is, however, of patchy success. Leucaena, a woody legume, was widely promoted by projects as a reliable solution to fodder shortages, yet it was plagued by a psyllid (a sucking insect) that followed the expansion of planting aroundPsyllids on leucaena 2 copythe world. Goji berries, a super-food grown mainly in north-west China, is a wonder crop that continues to do well. But success also encourages competitors, with increased quinoa and goji production in the US, for example.

The main lesson from the fates of many crops promoted as “the next big thing” for development is to exercise caution. It is tricky linking production to markets and finding reliable investors who will keep working on processing and marketing after donor dollars have disappeared. A committed community of researchers, processors, exporters, producers and policy-makers is essential. There is undoubtedly a place for wonder crops in creating new enterprises, but only if the assumptions and claims of the promoters are thoroughly scrutinised before taking the plunge.

Related blog stories

The quinoa boom in Bolivia has been years in the making: Quinoa, lost and found

Persistence helped to establish cardamom in Guatemala, as explained in A troubled crop.

A wonder crop can also be an insect, as we read in Kiss of death in the cactus garden

Share on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

The best knowledge is local and scientific April 2nd, 2017 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación.

Scientific knowledge is universal, but experienced agricultural scientists also bring their own, personal experience to bear on local problems.

Every year our guava tree loses all its fruit to fruit flies. A few weeks ago in Cochabamba my wife, Ana, sent me down to the agro-supply shop to get a special device, a pheromone trap, which lures fruit flies to their death using the scent of a sexual attractant. Insects use chemicals called pheromones to communicate with members of their own species. Some pheromones are emitted by a female fly that is ready to mate, but there are also alarm pheromones and aggregation pheromones (which you have seen in play, if you have ever noticed a large cluster of ladybird beetles clinging to a branch).

Ana was inspired to use the pheromone trap after having watched some training videos from Africa on the Access Agriculture website.

At the shop, the vendor said that “you get those traps at Proinpa.” I was a little surprised that she even knew of pheromone traps, but even more so that she knew of Proinpa: not everyone is aware of nearby agricultural research institutes.

At Proinpa, Luis Crespo, an entomologist, asked us why we wanted a pheromone trap. When Ana said for guava, Luis gave us a sad, knowing smile, as if to say “lost cause.”

“But the trap also works for fruit flies attacking peaches?” Ana added.

Luis said yes, but fruit flies prefer guava so much that he advises peach growers to cut down any guava trees, or the peaches will be ruined by flies emerging from the guavas.

Luis took us to his lab, where he piqued our interest in the food bait trap, as an alternative to the pheromone trap. He took a plastic soda-pop bottle and cut three small doors in it, to let in the fruit flies. “Fill the bottom of the bottle with a sweet liquid. The best one is fermented chicha.” Luis smiled at the thought that fruit flies liked the traditional maize beer. The flies are attracted to the liquid bait in the bottom of the bottle and drown.

The Mediterranean fruit fly (Ceratitis capitata) is native to Europe, but it is now widespread in South America. There are also fruit flies that are native to the Americas (Anastrepha spp.).

Unlike the pheromone trap, the food bait trap would catch both species of fruit fly, males and females, as well as houseflies, “and even wasps and bees,” Luis added with a touch of sadness. Entomologists like wasps, because they kill insect pests.

Luis Crespo with pheromone trapOn the other hand, Luis explained, when the food bait trap is full of dead insects, don’t pour it on the ground or the sugary liquid will attract fruit flies, and you will feed them instead of killing them.

Luis went on to explain that when wormy fruit falls to the ground, the fruit fly larvae pupate in the soil. So you have to gather up the fallen fruits immediately.

trampa de feromonasEven though Luis prefers food bait traps, which can be made entirely from local materials, he was kind enough to sell us a wax plug of imported pheromone bait as well. Luis took a wire and a pair of pliers and with a practiced hand, poked the wire through the bait and fashioned the wire into a little hook, so we could hang it inside the pheromone trap. Then he gave us the little triangular (delta) trap; the male, Mediterranean fruit flies will fly to the little plug of sex bait, but will be captured and die on the sticky floor of the trap.

Ana and I left pleased. We had three ideas: two kinds of traps and a renewed determination to clean up the fallen fruit. And if that didn’t work, we could always cut down our guava tree and plant an avocado tree in its place.

I remembered from earlier visits that Luis knew everything there was to know about potato pests, like weevils and moths. I was delighted to see that he was also an expert on fruit flies. Local knowledge and scientific knowledge are often seen as opposites, but at their best they are complimentary. A good agricultural scientist combines textbook knowledge with local experience to unravel the ties between peach trees and guava, the various species of flies, and the advantages of different traps for fruit flies.

Watch the videos

Integrated approach against fruit flies

Killing fruit flies with food baits

Collecting fallen fruit against fruit flies

Mass trapping of fruit flies

Weaver ants against fruit flies

EL MEJOR CONOCIMIENTO ES LOCAL Y CIENTÍFICO

por Jeff Bentley, 2 de abril del 2017

El conocimiento científico es universal, pero los experimentados científicos agrícolas también usan su propia experiencia para solucionar los problemas locales.

Cada año nuestro guayabero pierde toda su fruta a las moscas de la fruta. Hace unas semanas en Cochabamba mi esposa Ana me mandó a la tienda agropecuaria para comprar un aparato especial, una trampa de feromonas que llama a las moscas de fruta a su muerte, usando un atrayente sexual. Los insectos usan químicos llamados feromonas para comunicarse con miembros de su propia especie. Algunas feromonas son emitidas por una mosca hembra que está lista para la cópula, pero hay también feromonas de alarma y de agregación (las cuales usted tal vez ha visto en acción, si alguna vez se ha fijado en un gran grupo de mariquitas aferrándose a una rama).

Ana se inspiró a usar la trampa de feromonas después de ver algunos videos didácticos de Africa en el sitio web de Access Agriculture.

En la tienda, la vendedora dijo “se consiguen esas trampas en Proinpa.” Me sorprendió que ella supiera de las trampas de feromona, y más todavía que ella conocía a Proinpa: no todos se dan cuenta de los institutos de investigación agrícola en su zona.

En Proinpa, el Ing. Luis Crespo, entomólogo, nos preguntó por qué queríamos una trampa de feromona. Cuando Ana dijo para el guayabero, Luis nos dio una sonrisa triste, como decir “causa perdida.”

“¿Pero la trampa también funciona para moscas de la fruta que atacan a los durazneros?” Ana agregó.

Luis dijo que sí, pero que las moscas de la fruta prefieren tanto a la guayaba que él asesora a los productores de durazno a quitar todos sus guayaberos, caso contrario los duraznos serán arruinados por las moscas que emergen de las guayabas.

Luis nos llevó a su laboratorio, donde nos interesó en la trampa con atrayente alimenticio, como alternativa a la trampa de feromona. Tomó un envase plástico de refresco y cortó tres pequeñas puertas, para dejar entrar las moscas de la fruta. “Hay que llenar el fondo con cualquier líquido dulce. Lo mejor es la chicha fermentada.” Luis sonrió al pensar que a las moscas de la fruta les gusta la tradicional cerveza de maíz. Las moscas se atraen al anzuelo líquido al fondo de la botella y allí se ahogan.

La mosca mediterránea (Ceratitis capitata) es nativa a Europa, pero hoy en día está difundida por Sudamérica. Hay también moscas de la fruta nativas a las Américas (Anastrepha spp.).

A diferencia de la trampa de feromonas, la trampa alimenticia atraparía a ambas especies de mosca de la fruta, tanto machos como hembras, y moscas domésticas, “y hasta avispas y abejas,” Luis agregó con un toque de tristeza. A los entomólogos les gustan las avispas porque matan a las plagas insectiles.

Luis Crespo with pheromone trapPor otro lado, explicó Luis, cuando la trampa alimenticia está llena de insectos muertos, no botes el contenido al suelo porque el líquido dulce atraerá a las moscas de la fruta, y las alimentarás en vez de matarlas.

Luis siguió explicando que cuando la fruta agusanada cae, las moscas de la fruta se empupan en el suelo. Hay que eliminar toda la fruta caída inmediatamente.

trampa de feromonasA pesar de que Luis prefiere las trampas alimenticias, que se pueden hacer de materiales locales, amablemente nos vendió un tapón de cera, con feromonas. Luis tomó un alambre y alicate y con una mano experta, pasó el alambre a través del tapón y formó el alambre como ganchito, para que lo pudiéramos colgar dentro de la trampa de feromona. Luego nos dio una trampita triangular (trampa delta); los machos de la mosca mediterránea irán volando al corcho impregnado de olor a sexo, pero serán capturados y morirán en el piso pegajoso de la trampa.

Ana y yo nos fuimos contentos. Teníamos tres ideas: dos clases de trampas y una determinación renovada de limpiar la fruta caída. Y si eso no funcionaba, siempre podríamos despachar nuestra guayabera y plantar un palto (aguacate) en su lugar.

Me acordé de mis anteriores visitas que Luis lo sabía todo de las plagas de la papa, como gorgojos y polillas. Me encantó ver que también era experto en las moscas de la futa. El conocimiento local y el científico a menudo se ven como opuestos, pero en el mejor de los casos se complementan. Un buen científico agrícola combina el conocimiento de los textos con la experiencia local para entender la relación entre los durazneros y los guayaberos, las diferentes especies de moscas, y las ventajas de las diferentes trampas para las moscas de la fruta.

Vea los videos

Integrated approach against fruit flies

Killing fruit flies with food baits

Collecting fallen fruit against fruit flies

Mass trapping of fruit flies

Weaver ants against fruit flies

Share on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

Chemical attitude adjustment February 26th, 2017 by

Kannappan, C. Sekar, his wife, Bharathidasan, BagyarajAgricultural extension can work deep changes in farmers’ attitudes. Ironically, the extensionists themselves often think that a change in heart is difficult to achieve, so it was good to meet some inspired farmers last week in Tamil Nadu, India, while teaching a course with Paul Van Mele to agricultural researchers and extension agents.

We wrote four fact sheets with advice for farmers and we wanted to show the papers to real farmers, as a kind of peer review. One of the participants, Mrs. P. Tamilselvi, took us to the village of Seethapappi, where she works as an extensionist. The course participants, mostly agricultural researchers, formed small groups and found farmers to talk to.

We approached a farmhouse, where entomologist K. Bharathidasan called out, asking if anyone was home. When a surprised couple emerged, Bharathidasan introduced himself and soon had the farmers reading a fact sheet in Tamil on groundnut stem rot.

After Mr. C. Sekar read the fact sheet he talked about an organic agricultural concoction he used as a fertilizer and insecticide. He called it pancha kaviya, alluding to five ingredients it contained. Bharathidasan wrote down the recipe:

Mix 1) cow dung, 2) cow urine, 3) ghee, milk and curd, 4) coconut water and 5) jiggery (a candy) or sugarcane juice. Mix the ingredients thoroughly. Keep for 45 days. Filter the liquid directly into a sprayer and spray the crop.

This was only the first of many natural agro-chemicals farmers in this village described to us. Sekar also makes an organic pesticide with eight types of local plants. He adds them to cow urine and keeps them for 20 days. Then he filters the liquid and sprays it on his crops.

When Mrs. Sekar read the fact sheet she mentioned another organic pesticide. Two more farmers had their own recipe for a home brew to spray on plants.

Bagyaraj and farmer Prakash Kanna CROPPEDFarmer Prakash Kanna showed us a batch of pancha kaviya he’d made, a dull brown mix in a plastic drum. It had a strong, sour smell. He put it in irrigation water to fertilize his plants. He called it a growth regulator. (The pancha kaviya adds nutrients and beneficial flora and fauna to the soil).

The farmers said they also used marigold extract and gypsum powder to control various diseases in groundnuts (peanuts). And they enhance the soil with a beneficial bacterium, Pseudomonas, mixed with aged cow dung which helps the bacteria multiply and suppress fungi that cause disease.

That’s quite a lot of innovation.

Bharathidasan later told me that the farmers really liked the fact sheets, except for the references to chemicals. That wasn’t surprising given the many non-chemical options the villagers were using.

Later that week we visited another village, Panayaburam, slightly larger than Seethapappi, with a small cooperative office where the farmers met.

Here we quickly learned of a different set of attitudes. The farmers did mention neem oil and using a net to keep small insect pests out of vegetables, but many said that “here we only use chemicals.” One went so far as to say that if you used a mix made from cow dung on your plants, the other farmers would say that you were insane.

Anthropologists have long known that each village is unique; conclusions drawn in one village may not apply to neighboring ones. Even so, such a big difference in attitudes to chemicals was surprising. Seethapappi farmers said that they liked everything in the fact sheets, except for the chemicals. In Panayaburam farmers only wanted to know about pesticides to manage pests and diseases.

There is one major difference between these two villages. Organic-leaning Seethapappi has a KVK (farm science center), where farmers receive training and get advice. Extension agents in that KVK have generated a lot of excitement about making inputs from local materials. Panayaburam does not have a KVK, and farmers rely on the biased advice of agro-chemical dealers to keep plants healthy.

A KVK is a permanent structure, with a building and staff, working with farmers over the years. Extensionists may become frustrated with the pace of change because farmers seldom adopt a new technique instantly. Smallholders have to try out innovations on their own. Extension agents can and do make a difference in farmers’ attitudes about agrochemicals, even if it takes time.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

Crop with an attitude January 29th, 2017 by

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 “tarwi”, from Quechua, the language of the Incas.

tarwi in bloomWhile making a video in Bolivia, my colleagues and I asked doña 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. That’s 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 don’t 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. “Yes, and it does very well. Planting tarwi is like fallowing your soil, or like using chicken manure,” he explained.

Tarwi seeds are also rich in oils and proteins and doña Eleuteria regularly feeds lupin beans to her children. Like some other Bolivians doña Eleuteria make a nutritious snack by boiling the seeds, but it’s 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.

sorting tarwi or lupine seedWhile visiting doña 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 doña 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.

“I do bury them,” she explained, “because they are so bitter that if the chickens eat them they will die.”

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.

Acknowledgements

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.

Further reading

Calisaya, J.J.,  M. Lazarte, R. Oros, P. Mamani 2016 “Desarrollo Participativo de Innovaciones Tecnológicas para Incrementar la Productividad de los Suelos Agrícolas en Regiones Andinas Deprimidas de Bolivia.” Read at the Community of Practice meeting, McKnight Foundation, Ibarra, Ecuador 11-16 July. See the paper here.

Further viewing

The farmer training video Growing lupine without disease can be viewed and downloaded on the Access Agriculture video-sharing platform in English, French, Spanish, and shortly also in Quechua and Aymara.

CULTIVO CON CARÁCTER FUERTE

Por Jeff Bentley

29 de enero del 2017

Una planta tiene una personalidad, y como la gente y los países, algunos tienen más carácter 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 países. En Bolivia se llama “tarwi”, del quechua, el idioma de los Incas.

Mientas mis colegas y yo filmábamos un video en Bolivia, pedimos que doña Eleuteria en la comunidad de Phinquina nos contara qué sembraba después de cosechar el tarwi. Ella nos sorprendió cuando dijo que a veces sembraba papa después del tarwi. Es increíble, porque las papas son tan exigentes que muchos agricultores andinos descansan el suelo durante años antes de sembrar papas. Si no, el suelo tendrá 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 pregunté a Reynaldo Herbas de la comunidad de Tijraska, si él jamás había sembrado papas después del tarwi. “Sí, y produce muy bien. El sembrar tarwi es como descansar sus suelo, o como usar gallinaza,” explicó.

Marcella films Eleuteria soaking tarwiLos granos de tarwi son ricos en aceites y proteínas y doña Eleuteria a menudo los da de comer a sus hijos. Igual que algunas otras bolivianas, doña Eleuteria hace una merienda nutritiva con los granos cocidos, pero cuesta mucho trabajo. Los granos tienen que remojarse en agua durante tres días antes de cocerse, para después dejarlos en el chorro del río durante varios días más para expulsar los amargos alcaloides.

El Ing. Agrónomo Juan Vallejos de Proinpa (un instituto de investigación) confirmó que el tarwi toma mucha agua para procesarse. Es irónico, porque el tarwi se recomienda para zonas secas con suelos empobrecidos. Existen variedades dulces, sin los alcaloides amargos, pero en Bolivia recién empieza la búsqueda por esos lupinos dulces.

Cuando visitamos a doña Eleuteria para aprender cómo ella procesa la semilla, nos mostró cómo quitar los granos malos de tarwi, para asegurarse que el cultivo que siembra será sano. (La enfermedad principal es la antracnosis, causada por el hongo Colletotrichum gloeosporioides). Preguntamos a doña Eleuteria qué hacía con los granos enfermos. Pensábamos que diría 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 tóxicos, bien sea sanos o enfermos.

Eleuteria Sanchez burries bad lupine seed as chicken will die if they eat it“Los entierro,” explicó, “porque son tan amargos que si las gallinas se los comen podrían morirse.”

El Ing. Vallejos explicó que las plantas de tarwi están 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 sequía 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 adaptación al cambio climático.

Una planta puede tener una personalidad compleja, con cualidades de oro igual que algunos defectos trágicos. El tarwi o lupino en muchas maneras en el cultivo perfecto: bien adaptado a los desafíos 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.

Agradecimientos

Para escribir este cuento en Cochabamba, Bolivia, tuve la buena suerte de estar acompañado de Paul Van Mele y Marcella Vrolijks de Agro-Insight y Juan Vallejos y Maura Lazarte y otros de Proinpa. La visita se financió por la McKnight Foundation.

Para leer más

Calisaya, J.J.,  M. Lazarte, R. Oros, P. Mamani 2016 “Desarrollo Participativo de Innovaciones Tecnológicas para Incrementar la Productividad de los Suelos Agrícolas en Regiones Andinas Deprimidas de Bolivia.” Trabajo presentado en la reunión de la Comunidad de Práctica, McKnight Foundation, Ibarra, Ecuador 11-16 de julio. Ver la presentación aquí.

Para ver más

El video educativo para agricultores Producir tarwi sin enfermedad está disponible para ver y bajar en inglés, francés, español, y pronto también en quechua y aymara, en la plataforma Access Agriculture que se dedica a compartir videos.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

Design by Olean webdesign