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Eating and talking about it November 25th, 2018 by

Rachel Herz, a neuroscientist, explains in a recent book about food that people perceive just a handful of basic tastes with our tongues: bitter, sweet, salt and sour. But our nose can sense many thousands of distinct scents. When we exhale, our nose smells the food in our mouths. Taste in the mouth and aroma in the nose combine to form the endless variety of flavor.

Other creatures cannot savor their food this way, because only humans have a glottis (vocal chords), covered by a flap that opens and closes to let air pass between our throats and our windpipe. This allows only humans to breathe in and out of our mouths, which is why we can speak (and unfortunately, why we can choke to death as well).

In all fairness, animals seem to enjoy their food, too. A dog will beg for a pancake and chickens get excited when they find a fat grub in the moist earth, but people go much further. As Richard Wrangham explains, humans have been adapting to cooked food at least since Homo erectus times. Cooking allowed us to evolve smaller guts and larger brains, which made speech possible.

And of course, one of the favorite topics of conversation is food. Whether it is fish curry in Bangladesh, millet and groundnut sauce in Uganda or chicken and tortillas in Guatemala, humans will sit down together to eat and talk, and sometimes to laugh.

Animals communicate, but only humans speak, compulsively spinning little stories for each other. Certainly discussing food is at the heart of the human experience. Whether eating, cooking or producing food, there is always something to say about it.

Further reading

Herz, Rachel 2018 Why You Eat What You Eat: The Science behind Our Relationship with Food. New York: W.W. Norton and Company. 352 pp.

Wrangham, Richard 2009 Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human. London: Profile Books. 309 pp.

Alligators in your vegetables October 28th, 2018 by

Something caught my eye recently when I was reading a video script. Crawling insects that look like little alligators are actually the offspring of ladybird beetles. I thought nothing of this the first time I read the script by some colleagues in Bangladesh. But the second time I read it, it occurred to me how strange this was, comparing a common, garden insect with an alligator, an animal not found in Bangladesh and which few people have seen.

Years ago, colleagues in Honduras used the same alligator analogy to familiarize farmers with the red and black ladybird larvae, which eat aphids in vegetable gardens. The Honduran farmers knew what alligators looked like, even if they had never seen the reptiles in real life, and the analogy worked. There are no alligators in Bangladesh, but I’m sure that the analogy will work, for a couple of reasons.

First, humans are inherently interested in large vertebrates. Even children that grow up in big cities know the names of African wildlife before they can name the electrical appliances in their own home. Second, the increasing reach of mass media has made animals familiar to people who don’t see them in the wild. I remember years ago, sitting with an elderly Portuguese farmer engrossed in a TV show about walruses. She had never been to the Arctic, but was fascinated by the strange creatures. Today Animal Planet, the Discovery Channel and others have regular programming in Bengali, Portuguese, Spanish and other major languages, bringing large (and often threatened) species into our homes.

So smallholders in the tropics watch TV, engage with images of large, strange animals, which then become common knowledge, while the creatures running around in one’s own garden need some explaining. So you can indeed tell a rural audience that ladybird larvae look like alligators. Oddly enough, the analogy works.

And analogies really do help to make the strange seem familiar. Ladybird larvae lack the powerful tail and the long head of alligators. But like the alligator, ladybird larvae do have a long body and small legs. When all is said and done, ladybird larvae do look a bit more like alligators that like their parents, the shiny, round ladybird beetles.

The smart phone generation September 30th, 2018 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación.

Colleagues from the Public University of San Andrés in La Paz have been teaching groups of farmers to use a free app called Weather Underground, which allows users to forecast the weather in their location. This week my colleagues wrote a fact sheet for farmers on how to use Weather Underground. I went with one of the agronomists, Alex Borda, to validate his fact sheet in the farm community of Choquenaira, on the Bolivian Altiplano.

Young farmers in Bolivia have smart phones, and like young people in the city, they use Facebook and other applications. So, farmers should be eager to download and use apps from the web to predict the weather, which is so important for agriculture.

First we met with Pascual Choque, 80, who was sitting with his friends in the shade of a large stack of bricks. Don Pascual was born at a time when many rural communities lived in the semi-slavery of the haciendas, large farms managed by powerful landlords. The Revolution of 1952 brought many social changes and new freedoms, including access to education and information. Don Pascual went to school, became a teacher and now, among other things, works in a radio station. He interviews agronomists and PhDs on his morning show, broadcast at five o’clock, when rural people are eating breakfast and listening to the news.

Don Pascual read the fact sheet. As a retired school teacher, he read out loud quite quickly, but he said that the only thing he understood from the fact sheet was that the climate is changing. “That is true,” he said, “the rains used to come at the same time each year. Not anymore.”

Alex read the fact sheet with some other farmers, but they also struggled to make sense of the text. It had unfamiliar terms like “click”, “select an option” and “close the app”. I started to feel frustrated, just like Alex. I have helped to validate many fact sheets and this was the first time that the people said that they understood almost nothing.

We kept walking until we reached a small station of the Agricultural School of the Public University of San Andrés. I was surprised find this outpost in the immensity of the Altiplano, with no houses nearby. The station was small—some llama corrals, tractors and sun burnt buildings and there were few people around. We managed to speak with some professors. As we were about to leave I saw two young women dressed in work clothes. They were agronomy students. “Let them read your fact sheet” I suggested to Alex. He came back pleased a few minutes later. The students liked his fact sheet and said that “there was nothing difficult to understand about it”. The youth understood his fact sheet. They have smart phones, and know how to discuss these magical pocket computers.

Today from the Andes to Africa one hears that the youth are leaving the countryside. To attract the ones who are staying, it will be necessary to try new digital options to help manage agricultural information. The older generation took advantage of the new technology of their times, like schools and radio. This generation is also looking for new information technologies, even some that support agriculture. I have little doubt they will be interested in a free way to predict the weather using their cell phones.

LA GENERACIĂ“N SMART PHONE

30 de septiembre del 2018, por Jeff Bentley

Compañeros de la Universidad Mayor de San Andrés en La Paz han estado enseñando a grupos de agricultores a usar una aplicación gratis llamada el Weather Underground, que permite a los usuarios pronosticar el tiempo para su ubicación. Esta semana mis colegas han escrito una hoja volante sobre para agricultores sobre cómo usar el Weather Underground. Fui con uno de los ingenieros, Alex Borda, a validad su hoja volante en la comunidad campesina de Choquenaira, en el Altiplano de Bolivia.

Los jĂłvenes campesinos en Bolivia tienen smart phones, e igual que en la ciudad, usan Facebook y otras aplicaciones. Entonces, a los campesinos les deberĂ­a gustar bajar y usar aplicaciones del web para pronosticar el tiempo, ya que la agricultura depende del clima.

Primero nos encontramos con Pascual Choque, de 80 años, sentado con sus amigos en la sombra de un gran bulto de ladrillos, para construir una nueva casa. Don Pascual nació cuando muchas comunidades rurales vivían en la semi-esclavitud de las haciendas, fincas grandes manejadas por poderosos terratenientes. La Revolución del 1952 trajo muchos cambios sociales, incluso el acceso a la educación y la información. Don Pascual asistió al colegio y llegó a ser docente y, entre otras cosas, trabajó en una radio.  El se entrevista con ingenieros y doctores en su programa por la mañana, a las 5, cuando la gente rural desayuna y escucha las noticias.

Don Pascual leyó la hoja volante. Como profesor jubilado lee muy bien y muy rápido en voz alta, pero dijo que lo único que entendió de la hoja volante era que el clima está cambiando. “Es cierto,” dijo, “antes las lluvias venían en su debido día. Ya no.”

Alex leyó su hoja volante con otras campesinas, pero tampoco entendían muy bien la hoja volante. Tenía vocabulario desconocido como “hacer clic”, “seleccionar una opción” y “cerrar la aplicación”. Yo empecé a frustrarme, junto con Alex. He acompañado a muchas hojas volantes y esa era la primera vez que la gente decía que no entendía casi nada.

Seguimos caminando hasta llegar a la pequeña estación de la Facultad de Agronomía de la Universidad Mayor de San Andrés. Era para mí una enorme sorpresa ver la estación en la inmensidad del Altiplano, pero no había más casas. La estación era pequeña—unos corrales de llama, tractores y edificios tostados por el sol. Había poca gente. Logramos hablar con algunos profesores. Estábamos pot irnos cuando vi a dos jóvenes vestidas en ropa de trabajo. Eran estudiantes de agronomía. “Que ellas lean tu hoja volante” sugería a Alex. El volvió unos minutos después todo contento. A ellas les gustó la hoja volante y dijeron que “no tenía nada difícil de entender”. Las jóvenes entendían su hoja volante. Ellos tienen teléfonos inteligentes, y saben discutir esas computadoras de bolsillo.

Hoy en día desde los Andes hasta Africa se oye que todos los jóvenes quieren abandonar el campo. Para atraer a los que quieren quedarse, será necesario probar nuevas opciones de tecnología digital para manejar información agrícola. Sus abuelos aprovecharon de las nuevas opciones de sus tiempos, como el colegio y la radio. Esta generación también busca nuevas tecnologías de información, incluso para el apoyo del agro. Les debe interesar una forma gratis de pronosticar el clima con su celular.

Videos that speak to Andean farmers March 26th, 2017 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

The Quechua language (or group of closely related languages, depending on your perspective), is a Native American tongue with some eight to ten million speakers in Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador. Quechua was actually encouraged in the colonial era: grammars, dictionaries and catechisms were written in the language, chairs for teaching the language were founded in Andean universities. But Quechua was scorned during the republican era, following independence from Spain (1809-1825). In recent years, the language has been recovering ground in a sense. It is starting to be used in schools and in political speech.

Wikipedia lists over 20,000 articles in Quechua. Popular on-line videos in Quechua include language lessons, the Jesus Film, films produced by students, and a rousing version of “Hakuna Matata”. The talented Renata Flores plays “House of the Rising Sun” on the piano and sings it in Quechua, with heart and soul.

But there are few agricultural videos in Quechua. This is rather surprising, since the people who speak Quechua are fundamentally farmers. So we have remedied this, a bit.

Along with colleagues in Bolivia and at Agro-Insight, we have produced seven farmer training videos in Quechua. The same videos are also available in Aymara, the language native to the Lake Titicaca region of Peru and Bolivia.

screening seed in bright lightOnly two of the videos were originally made in Bolivia: one on managing the poisonous aflatoxins in peanuts (groundnuts) and one on tarwi (the lupine bean). Other videos were originally shot in other countries (shown in brackets):

Integrated Soil Fertility Management (various African countries)

Let’s Talk Money:  simple cost:benefit accounting for new farm technology (Mali)

The Wonder of Earthworms (Bangladesh)

Grass Strips against Soil Erosion (Vietnam and Thailand)

Till Less to Harvest More (Guatemala)

You may wonder why we translated existing videos instead of making new ones. Cost is one reason. It is much cheaper and easier to translate a video than to make one. Besides, many of the Quechua videos already on the web are basically translations of other work.  If that works for entertainment, it should be OK for farming.

Farmers understand learning videos other continents, provided the voice over is in a language that the audience speaks. Videos are a way of sharing knowledge from farmer-to-farmer cross culturally.

We hope that speakers of Quechua and Aymara will enjoy seeing smallholders, like themselves, farming and solving problems in Asia, Africa and Central America.

The videos are hosted in the public domain at the Access Agriculture portal, which has many videos in African and Asian languages. These are the site’s first videos in Native American languages.

Videos in Quechua

To watch the videos in Quechua, visit Access Agriculture here.

Videos in Aymara

You can also watch videos in Aymara here.

Acknowledgements

The translations were funded by the McKnight Foundation

VIDEOS QUE HABLAN A LOS AGRICULTORES ANDINOS

Por Jeff Bentley, 26 de marzo del 2017

El quechua es un idioma (o grupo de idiomas muy cercanos, según su perspectiva), nativo a las Américas, con unos ocho a diez millones de hablantes en Bolivia, Perú y Ecuador. Los gobiernos coloniales efectivamente fomentaron el uso del quechua: gramáticas, diccionarios y catequismos se escribieron en el idioma y se fundaron cátedras para enseñar el idioma en las universidades andinas. Pero el quechua fue desprestigiado en la era republicana, después de la independencia de España (1809-1825). En años recientes, el idioma se ha cobrado fuerzas. Empieza a usarse en los colegios y en discursos políticos.

Wikipedia dice que tiene más de 20,000 artículos en quechua. Videos populares en línea incluyen lecciones para aprender el idioma, películas producidas por estudiantes, Jesús (la película) y una versión emocionante de “Hakuna Matata”. La talentosa Renata Flores toca “House of the Rising Sun” en el piano y lo canta en quechua, con alma y corazón.

Pero hay pocos videos agrĂ­colas en quechua, lo cual es sorprendente, ya que las personas que habla el idioma son fundamentalmente agricultores. Entonces hemos hecho algo para cambiar la situaciĂłn.

Junto con colegas en Bolivia y en Agro-Insight, hemos producido siete videos didácticos en quechua. Los mismos videos también están disponibles en aymara, el idioma nativo a la región del Lago Titicaca del Perú y Bolivia.

sorting tarwi or lupine seed3Solo dos de los videos se rodaron originalmente en Bolivia: uno sobre el manejo de las venenosas aflatoxinas en maní, y uno sobre el tarwi (chocho, o lupino). Otros videos se filmaron originalmente en otros países (indicados entre paréntesis):

Manejo Integrado de la Fertilidad del Suelo (varios paĂ­ses africanos)

Hablemos del Dinero: contabilidad sencillo para costo:beneficio de nueva tecnologĂ­a agrĂ­cola (MalĂ­)

La Maravillosa Lombriz de Tierra (Bangladesh)

Barreras Vivas contra la ErosiĂłn del Suelo (Vietnam y Tailandia)

Arar Menos para Cosechar Más (Guatemala)

Tal vez se pregunta porque tradujimos videos existentes en vez de hacer nuevos videos. El costo es una razón. Es mucho más barato y fácil traducir un video que hacer uno. Además, muchos de los videos en quechua que ya están en la Web son básicamente traducciones de otras obras. Si eso vale para el entretenimiento, también funciona para el agro.

Los agricultores entienden a los videos didácticos de otros países, con tal que la narración sea en un idioma que el público hable. Los videos son una manera de compartir el conocimiento de campesino-a-campesino de forma intercultural.

Esperamos que los hablantes del quechua y del aymara disfruten de ver a campesinos, como ellos mismos, trabajando y resolviendo problemas en Asia, Africa y Centroamérica.

Los videos están alojados en el dominio público en el portal de Access Agriculture, que tiene muchos videos en idiomas africanos y asiáticos. Pero los presentes son los primeros videos en el sitio en idiomas nativas a las Américas.

Videos en quechua

Para mirar los videos en quechua, visite a Access Agriculture aquĂ­.

Videos in Aymara

Se puede mirar los videos en aymara aquĂ­.

Agradecimientos

Las traducciones se fundaron por la McKnight Foundation

 

Men’s language, women’s language January 8th, 2017 by

In most countries, men and women have different styles of speaking. But is it possible for a community to have two completely different languages, one for men and one for women, not just for one generation, but sustained for a long time?

caribbeanIf such diglossia (a dual language system) is possible, imagine the decisions one would have to make while engaging with such a community. Makers of educational videos might have to make two soundtracks for a single community. An agricultural extensionist would have to choose which language to use for a talk.

caribbean-lesser-antillesAs strange as it may seem, at least one society did come close to having two, gender-based languages, which were spoken over several generations.  In the 17th century, the people of the Caribbean Island of Dominica told a story that they said took place some generations before the coming of the Europeans, when the islands of the Lesser Antilles had been inhabited by people who spoke an Arawak language. Then the islands were attacked by canoe-loads of men who spoke a Carib language. The invaders killed the local men, and then settled down with the women.

The two languages were extremely different, but the children born after the invasion grew up speaking both of them. All children learned the Arawak language of their mothers, but when the boys became teenagers they started spending more time with the men, and began to speak Carib among themselves. The Islanders developed a version of Carib that became a language for men only.

In 1665, Father Raymond Breton, a French missionary, published a two-volume dictionary of the language then spoken on the islands of Dominica and St. Vincent. The dictionary specified whether each word was used by men, or by women.

Various scholars have questioned the historical accuracy of the Carib invasion story. It is possible that the men’s language originated through trade or migration.  We will never know if Carib men of the 13th century once rampaged across the island beaches, murdering Arawak men and capturing women. There is no historical or archaeological evidence for (or against) this story. Yet the linguistic data are well documented. There is no doubt that in the 1650s, over much of the Lesser Antilles, men and women spoke in two remarkably different codes. The two genders used the same sounds, and most of the same grammar, but men’s words were from Carib, and women’s words were from Arawak. (The men could speak the women’s language, and would speak it when socializing with women. The men’s language was only used between men).

If you could time travel to the Island of Dominica in the 17th century, and were able to speak the full range of men’s and women’s languages, a talk with the whole community would sooner or later switch to the women’s language, because it was everyone’s first tongue.

In agricultural extension today, sometimes it helps to create a space where women can easily speak up, so that their concerns can be addressed. It is easy to start to think that men and women are very different, but it is also worth remembering that in some ways we are the same, and that language can unite us.

Further reading

Allaire, Louis 1980 “On the Historicity of Carib Migrations in the Lesser Antilles.” American Antiquity 45(2):238-245.

Boucher, Philip P. 2009 Cannibal Encounters: Europeans and Island Caribs, 1492–1763. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Davis, Dave D. and R. Christopher Goodwin 1990 “Island Carib Origins: Evidence and Nonevidence.” American Antiquity 55(1):37-48.

Taylor, Douglas 1954 “Diachronic Note on the Carib Contribution to Island Carib.” International Journal of American Linguistics 20(1):28-33.

Taylor, Douglas R. and Berend J. Hoff 1980 “The Linguistic Repertory of the Island-Carib in the Seventeenth Century: The Men’s Language: A Carib Pidgin?”  International Journal of American Linguistics 46(4):301-312.

Further viewing

Watch a video on women in agricultural extension, here.

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