A plant has a personality and, like people and countries, some have stronger characters than others. Take the lupin bean (Lupinus mutabilis), for example. It is an oddly erect legume that forms a sort of cone shape, and its glorious flowers make the plant wildly popular with gardeners in many countries. In Bolivia it is called âtarwiâ, from Quechua, the language of the Incas.
While making a video in Bolivia, my colleagues and I asked doĂ±a Eleuteria in the village of Phinkina to tell us what she planted after harvesting tarwi. She surprised me by saying that sometimes she followed tarwi with potatoes. Thatâs astounding, because potatoes are such a demanding crop that Andean farmers often rest the soil for years before planting a field to potatoes. Otherwise the soil may be improved by adding tons of chicken manure. Bolivian farmers in the Andes donât buy manure for other crops, just the fussy and valuable potato.
I followed up by asking Reynaldo Herbas, from the village of Tijraska, if he had ever planted potatoes right after tarwi. âYes, and it does very well. Planting tarwi is like fallowing your soil, or like using chicken manure,â he explained.
Tarwi seeds are also rich in oils and proteins and doĂ±a Eleuteria regularly feeds lupin beans to her children. Like some other Bolivians doĂ±a Eleuteria make a nutritious snack by boiling the seeds, but itâs a lot of work. The grains need to be soaked in water for three days before boiling, then left in the running water of the river for several days to wash out the bitter alkaloids.
Agronomist Juan Vallejos from Proinpa (a research institute) confirmed that tarwi takes a lot of water to process. This is ironic, because tarwi is recommended for dry areas with impoverished soils. Sweet varieties without the bitter alkaloids do exist, but in Bolivia the search for these sweet lupins is only just starting.
While visiting doĂ±a Eleuteria to learn about processing seed, she showed us how to pick out the bad grains of tarwi, to ensure that the crop planted from them would be healthy. (The main disease is anthracnose, caused by the fungus Colletotrichum gloeosporioides). We asked doĂ±a Eleuteria what she did with the diseased grains. We thought that she might say that she buried them to keep the disease from spreading. But no, she buries the discarded grains because raw lupin beans are toxic, whether they are healthy or diseased.
âI do bury them,â she explained, âbecause they are so bitter that if the chickens eat them they will die.â
Agronomist Vallejos explained that tarwi plants are so packed with alkaloids that sheep and cattle will not touch a crop growing in the field. However, the lupin plant is drought resistant and even withstands hail, which often mows down other food crops in the Andes. Local governments in Bolivia are starting to promote tarwi as a way of adapting to climate change.
A plant may have a complex personality, with sterling qualities as well as some tragic defects. Tarwi or lupin is in many ways a perfect crop: well-suited to the punishing climate of the High Andes while nutritious for people and good for the soil. The downside is that you need lots of water to process the beans and to leach out the poisons that can kill your unsuspecting chickens.
For this story in Cochabamba, Bolivia, I was fortunate enough to be accompanied by Paul Van Mele and Marcella Vrolijks of Agro-Insight and Juan Vallejos and Maura Lazarte and others from Proinpa. The visit was funded by the McKnight Foundation.
Calisaya, J.J., Â M. Lazarte, R. Oros, P. Mamani 2016 âDesarrollo Participativo de Innovaciones TecnolĂłgicas para Incrementar la Productividad de los Suelos AgrĂcolas en Regiones Andinas Deprimidas de Bolivia.â Read at the Community of Practice meeting, McKnight Foundation, Ibarra, Ecuador 11-16 July. See the paper here.
The farmer training video âGrowing a good lupine cropâ will be hosted on the Access Agriculture website shortly in English, Spanish, Quechua and Aymara.
CULTIVO CON CARĂCTER FUERTE
Por Jeff Bentley
29 de enero del 2017
Una planta tiene una personalidad, y como la gente y los paĂses, algunos tienen mĂĄs carĂĄcter que otros. Considere el lupino (Lupinus mutabilis), por ejemplo. Es una leguminosa que crece casi en forma de cono, y gracias a sus flores gloriosas la planta es querida por jardineros en muchos paĂses. En Bolivia se llama âtarwiâ, del quechua, el idioma de los Incas.
Mientas mis colegas y yo filmĂĄbamos un video en Bolivia, pedimos que doĂ±a Eleuteria en la comunidad de Phinquina nos contara quĂ© sembraba despuĂ©s de cosechar el tarwi. Ella nos sorprendiĂł cuando dijo que a veces sembraba papa despuĂ©s del tarwi. Es increĂble, porque las papas son tan exigentes que muchos agricultores andinos descansan el suelo durante aĂ±os antes de sembrar papas. Si no, el suelo tendrĂĄ que mejorarse agregando toneladas de gallinaza. Los agricultores en los Andes bolivianos no compran gallinaza para otros cultivos, solo la mimada y valiosa papa.
Luego le preguntĂ© a Reynaldo Herbas de la comunidad de Tijraska, si Ă©l jamĂĄs habĂa sembrado papas despuĂ©s del tarwi. âSĂ, y produce muy bien. El sembrar tarwi es como descansar sus suelo, o como usar gallinaza,â explicĂł.
Los granos de tarwi son ricos en aceites y proteĂnas y doĂ±a Eleuteria a menudo los da de comer a sus hijos. Igual que algunas otras bolivianas, doĂ±a Eleuteria hace una merienda nutritiva con los granos cocidos, pero cuesta mucho trabajo. Los granos tienen que remojarse en agua durante tres dĂas antes de cocerse, para despuĂ©s dejarlos en el chorro del rĂo durante varios dĂas mĂĄs para expulsar los amargos alcaloides.
El Ing. AgrĂłnomo Juan Vallejos de Proinpa (un instituto de investigaciĂłn) confirmĂł que el tarwi toma mucha agua para procesarse. Es irĂłnico, porque el tarwi se recomienda para zonas secas con suelos empobrecidos. Existen variedades dulces, sin los alcaloides amargos, pero en Bolivia reciĂ©n empieza la bĂșsqueda por esos lupinos dulces.
Cuando visitamos a doĂ±a Eleuteria para aprender cĂłmo ella procesa la semilla, nos mostrĂł cĂłmo quitar los granos malos de tarwi, para asegurarse que el cultivo que siembra serĂĄ sano. (La enfermedad principal es la antracnosis, causada por el hongo Colletotrichum gloeosporioides). Preguntamos a doĂ±a Eleuteria quĂ© hacĂa con los granos enfermos. PensĂĄbamos que dirĂa que los enterraba para que las enfermedades no se diseminaran. Pero no, ella entierra a los granos descartados porque los granos crudos de tarwi son tĂłxicos, bien sea sanos o enfermos.
El Ing. Vallejos explicĂł que las plantas de tarwi estĂĄn tan cargadas de alcaloides que las ovejas y vacas no tocan al cultivo en la parcela. Sin embargo, la planta de tarwi es resistente a la sequĂa y hasta aguanta a la granizada, que a menudo arrasa con otros cultivos en los Andes. Los gobiernos locales en Bolivia empiezan a promover el tarwi como una adaptaciĂłn al cambio climĂĄtico.
Una planta puede tener una personalidad compleja, con cualidades de oro igual que algunos defectos trĂĄgicos. El tarwi o lupino en muchas maneras en el cultivo perfecto: bien adaptado a los desafĂos del clima altoandino, mientras es nutritivo para la gente y bueno para el suelo. Su lado oscuro es que requiere de mucha agua para lavar los venenos que pueden matar a tus gallinas inocentes.
Para escribir este cuento en Cochabamba, Bolivia, tuve la buena suerte de estar acompaĂ±ado de Paul Van Mele y Marcella Vrolijks de Agro-Insight y Juan Vallejos y Maura Lazarte y otros de Proinpa. La visita se financiĂł por la McKnight Foundation.
Para leer mĂĄs
Calisaya, J.J., Â M. Lazarte, R. Oros, P. Mamani 2016 âDesarrollo Participativo de Innovaciones TecnolĂłgicas para Incrementar la Productividad de los Suelos AgrĂcolas en Regiones Andinas Deprimidas de Bolivia.â Trabajo presentado en la reuniĂłn de la Comunidad de PrĂĄctica, McKnight Foundation, Ibarra, Ecuador 11-16 de julio. Ver la presentaciĂłn aquĂ.
Para ver mĂĄs
El video educativo para agricultores âProducir tarwi sin enfermedadâ se colocarĂĄ pronto en el sitio web de Agriculture en inglĂ©s, espaĂ±ol, quechua y aymara.
Everyone wants to see lots of farmers benefitting from agricultural innovations, managing risks more effectively and creating new pathways out of poverty. Success in pilot projects is always encouraging but it is no guarantee that this will translate into bigger gains for the masses.
I recently witnessed a golden opportunity in Rwanda to spread the word about iron beans, one of several biofortified crops developed under the umbrella of Harvest Plus, a major donor-funded programme on nutrition which works closely with national governments around the world. A quartet of development practitioners working with HarvestPlusÂ recently won the World Food Prize.
Rwanda is famous for its ability to mobilize lots of people. They have a special word: Umuganda, a âcoming together in common purpose to achieve an outcomeâ. To some thereâs a strong element of âcome or elseâ, yet my experience of events in Gakenke district suggested clear enthusiasm and interest in attending.
The first event was a mass planting of âiron beansâ close to the main road, a prominent place that was both easy to reach and easy to see. The Governor of the North Province was there, as was a government minister, appointed to strengthen ties from national to local level. It was clearly a significant occasion and I watched in awe as over 100 people placed seed in prepared furrows, adding a dollop of fertilizer. It was a powerful way to promote a nutrient-rich variety of a key staple crop.
Everyone then moved a short distance to a much larger community meeting. New people arrived, swelling numbers to around 1500. As the audience settled on a gentle slope, a singer moved sinuously with microphone in hand, keeping them amused as the assembled dignitaries took their seats in a tented enclosure facing the crowd. My heart sank a little as I waited for long speeches. Managing a large meeting requires skill and active participation keeps people engaged. If they get bored they can leave, even in Rwanda.
I was unsure about the purpose of the community meeting. Was this an extension of the bean planting Umuganda? I could see a display of bean varieties at the end of the tent, but as the singer departed we turned to other things. A short line of people formed on the flat ground between the tent and the slope. It was a mixed group with a common purpose, but each seeking a different outcome. They had all come to petition the authorities about a problem or wrong-doing.
My friend Jean Claude Izamuhaye explained what was going on. âThis woman is disabled, and so is her husband. She wants help with health insurance.â Another lady had problems paying school fees for three daughters. There was a land dispute that a man wanted resolving. Each case was dealt with courteously. A moderator relayed questions to the Governor, Minister and local officials present. A village leader commented on a case.
The large crowd also responded, and not always favourably. One petitioner was deemed to have a frivolous case and was pelted with clumps of grass by neighbours as she retook her seat. The petitions lasted for over an hour. I waited for someone to say something about the beans and point to the display, but nothing happened. When the meeting ended lots of people crowded around the bags of beans, eager to learn about the different varieties on show.
At this point I was mentally urging someone to stand on a seat and give a short message about the beans, encouraging farmers to talk to knowledgeable staff from extension, dressed in distinctive green T shirts, who had been present throughout the meeting as silent observers. Now was the time, I thought, to form small groups and talk about the iron beans or even some other hot topic â the meeting took place soon after maize lethal necrosis disease was found in Rwanda. The extension workers all knew how serious this was.
The farmers milled around, the extension workers talked amongst themselves, and gradually people drifted off, back to their homes and offices. Someone had thought it was a good idea to have an attractive display of bean seeds, in full view of 1500 people, mostly farmers, but that was it. A golden opportunity to âscale-upâ an innovation was only partially seized.
Piggybacking on a community meeting held to resolve social issues needs to be done sensitively, so as not to disrupt the main reason why people came. But with a little thought and effort â getting the agreement of the meeting organisers to talk briefly about beans to everyone assembled, then tagging on a short Q&A session at the end â so much more could have been achieved.
Read more about the World Food Prize 2016
A good video, one that lets farmers tell about their innovations, can spark the viewersâ imagination. A video can even convince smallholders to try a new crop.
Mpinda grows vegetables, and sells them in the market in Mwanza. In 2013, he was able to use his earnings to buy a small, gasoline-powered pump to water his beans, onions and tomatoes. A $100 pump is a major investment for a Malawian smallholder, but also a great way to save time and avoid the backbreaking labor of carrying water from the well to the plants during the long, hot dry season.
In June 2015, Ronald Kondwani Udedi left some DVDs with videos at a government telecentre managed by Mathews Kabira, near Mwanza, Malawi. The DVDs had learning videos for farmers about growing rice and chilli peppers and managing striga, the parasitic weed.
Mathews took one set of DVDs to Mpinda, because he was âa successful farmer. Mpinda had a DVD player, but no TV, so he watched the videos on chilli growing at a neighborâs house, using the neighbors TV and Mpindaâs DVD player. He watched the videos as often as the neighbor would let him. The more he watched, the more he learned.
Mpinda soon recognized the possibilities of chilli as a crop, even though he had never grown it.
To start a new crop you need more than a bright idea; you need seed. Getting chilli seed took some imagination. Mpinda went to the market and bought 20 small fresh chillies for 100 Kwacha (14 cents) and then dried them, like tomatoes, and planted the little seeds in a nursery, just like he had seen in the video. Mpinda had already been used to making seedbeds for onions and some of his other vegetables. At 21 days he transplanted the chilli seedlings, as he had seen on the videos.
Every few days Mpinda harvests three or four kilos of chillies and takes them to the market and sells them for 1000 kwacha a kilo ($1.40).
Mpinda has already planned his next step. After harvesting his little patch of eggplant, he is going to clear the land and plant a whole garden of chilli.
Mpinda has also watched the DVD of rice videos, and although no one in the area grows rice, he realizes that the crop would do well in the slightly higher space, just above his rows of vegetables. He has already looked for rice seed: there is none to be found in Mwanza and the agro-dealers wonât or canât order it for him, so he is going to travel to the city of Zomba, 135 km away, and buy rice seed there. Mpinda has already identified the major rice varieties grown in Malawi and decided that one of them, Apasa, is the best for highland areas like his.
He is going to plant rice in October, possibly becoming the first rice farmer in Mwanza district.
Mpinda didnât watch the rice and chilli videos as part of a farmer group. He didnât have an extensionist to answer questions. He simply had the videos which he could (and did) watch several times to study the content. And this information alone was enough to inspire him to experiment with two crops that were entirely new to him.
You can watch the chilli videos in English here: http://www.accessagriculture.org/search/chilli/all/
And in Chichewa here: http://www.accessagriculture.org/search/chilli/ny/
You can watch the rice videos in English here: http://www.accessagriculture.org/search/rice/en/
And in Chichewa here: http://www.accessagriculture.org/search/rice/ny/
These videos and others are also available in other languages at www.accessagriculture.org
Farmers love to experiment, especially in trying out new crop varieties, even if it takes patience to get results. With cassava, for example, one has to wait months or even a couple of years to see what a new variety is like. In 2015, the Nigerian Saint Paul Catholic Mission gave a handful of vitamin A-rich cassava stems to Mary Ntia and her husband Emmanuel. This variety produces a yellow root which, like other yellow vegetables, has a lot of vitamin A. The couple took the new cassava home to their village of Ikot Akpan Ntia, in Nigeriaâs South-South State of Akwa Ibom. The community is so remote that extension agents have not been there in years.
I was visiting the village in May of this year, asking farmers about cassava varieties they grew, and what people wanted to see in new cassava varieties.
Mary and Emmanuel planted their vitamin A cassava and at the end of the rainy season harvested a few plants. The couple liked the large roots, so they replanted the stems in a full-sized garden, intercropped with maize. This garden experiment will allow them to see how the cassava performs under normal field conditions.
Mary and Emmanuel will also test the cassavaâs suitability for processing, once they get enough roots to ferment and toast as gari (see previous story on making gari). They also want to see if the cassava stores well underground. The best varieties can be kept in the field and harvested a year or more after maturity. This is crucial in the humid tropics, where there are few long term techniques for food storage.
Emmanuel dug up one of the older plants. After showing off the large, yellow roots to his visiting social scientists, Emmanuel hospitably invited us to take the stems home. When we demurred, an elderly couple stepped forward. They had been quietly watching and they were keen to start experimenting with vitamin A cassava, so Emmanuel handed them the stalks of the harvested plant. The old couple would cut the stems into pieces and plant them. âThis is what we do,â Emmanuel said as he handed over the stems, âwe share the stems with our neighbors.â
When a new cassava variety enters a community, farmers grow the variety, share the planting material with others and evaluate the cassava for at least two years, until they feel that they know it. Then farmers will keep sharing and multiplying the new variety. If the new variety meets farmersâ standards, they will keep growing it and sharing it.
So far, most improved cassava varieties find a place in farmerâs fields and gardens. Participatory varietal selection (PVS) is one way of structuring collaboration between smallholder farmers and breeders, to select crop varieties that farmers want to grow. Formal efforts like PVS capitalize on tropical farmersâ inherent creativity and curiosity, but smallholders will still spontaneously share planting material, and experiment on their own.
On this visit, I had the good fortune to be accompanied by Nigerian researchers Adetunji Olarewaju, Tessy Mady and Olamide Olaosebikan.
The field work mentioned in this blog was part of the IITA lead Cassava Monitoring Survey project funded by institutions including RTB (CGIAR research program on Roots, Tuber and Bananas) and IITA.
While saving seed on-farm is common practice, many farmers also rely on other seed sources, like local markets. When the rains start, however, the demand for seed may be so high that the market fails to supply it in a timely way. Fortunately, smallholders have their own creative ways of meeting the need for seed, as we recently found out.
On our first day of filming in Bawku, a small town in northern Ghana separated from Burkina Faso by a river, we are amazed by farmersâ ingenuity and drive to succeed. We are making farmer training videos on onions under a scorching sun, in 40 degree heat. Issah Bukari, like many other farmers, grows onions in the dry season because that is when onions are attacked by fewer diseases.
To our surprise the river has no water. Women carry their babies on their backs and push their bicycles across the dry riverbed. Every year, the border between both countries changes from a wide river to a winding, sandy avenue.
Issah shows us a ten-meter wide circular pit he has had dug. We begin to realise how much effort it takes to get water in the dry season.
âI pay a lot for people to dig the well. Every three days they have to dig deeper to get enough water. But it is worth it, because in the dry season water is gold.â
Issahâs garden is quite diverse. Papaya, mango and cashew trees grow scattered across his fields. On the edges of some of the sunken beds, healthy looking maize is grown. Not as a cereal crop, but as a snack: roasted maize cobs fetch a good price this time of the year. We also see some hibiscus plants used to make a refreshing, red lemonade.
âHow come you grow some scattered groundnuts in the dry season?â I ask Issah.
âThis is my guarantee to have groundnut seed by the time the rains come,â he replies.
By growing groundnuts for seed on the edge of the sunken onion beds, the groundnuts profit from the irrigation water given to the onions.
Groundnut seed, like many other legume crops, is rich in oil and gets quickly rancid in warm climate. Farmers therefore cannot easily save groundnut seed for the next season.
As illustrated in âAfrican Seed Enterprisesâ, farmer groups and private seed companies that provide legume seed in one season may struggle to guarantee supply in the next.
Continuity of supply is a big challenge. Sometimes seed enterprises cannot get enough foundation seed themselves to grow enough legume seed when farmers need it (except when large orders are placed in advance by development projects).
To deal with the uncertainties of access to water and access to seed, farmers like Issah Bukari innovate with cropping patterns, space and time.
Seed agencies are often highly critical of farmersâ practices to save seed, claiming that farmer saved seed does not even deserve to be called seed at all. As we see here, there is a lot more to saving seed than simply putting it in a sack (or âbrown baggingâ as the practice is sometimes disapprovingly called). Farmers use creative solutions, sometimes going to great efforts to produce small amounts of the varieties they need, in the dry season, to have seed ready to meet the rains.
Van Mele, P., Bentley, J.W and GuĂ©i, R.G. (eds.) 2011. African Seed Enterprises: Sowing the Seeds of Food Security. CABI Publishing, UK, 256 pp. Downloadable from: http://agroinsight.com/books.php