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The joy of farming October 21st, 2018 by

Yesterday in Mandera village in Tanzania, we were lucky to meet an inspiring young farmer.  32-year old Sadiki Mchama is an entrepreneur with passion and vision who left his office job to become a farmer. Across Africa, well-organised farms that produce for markets are often set up by older government officials who invest their savings into farming to provide a steady income after they retire. But Sadiki was clearly a different case, which triggered my curiosity.

Until 3 years ago Sadiki worked as an accountant at the Water Supply and Sanitation Authority of the Wami River Basin. Once he had saved enough money, he decided to start his own farm.

When asked what attracted him to go into agriculture, he replied happily: “You can enjoy everything in agriculture. Everything I do are my own ideas.”

Sadiki started growing cassava on his 10 acres (4 hectares) of land. But some of the planting material he got from the open market was infested with disease, such as the cassava mosaic virus and the cassava brown streak disease. As he uproots some of the infested plants it does not take long to realise that infested plants yield no tubers.

Eager to find a solution, Sadiki turned to the extension officer who introduced him to a project that tried to set up a cassava seed system, involving community seed producers. Sadiki successfully took the course, bought certified cassava seed and planted it far from other fields, so the disease would not spread to his new crop.

“When you start a business, you need to find customers and look after them so they come back to you,” Sadiki says. While many farmers struggle to find a market for their cassava roots, Sadiki did manage. He now rents a car and brings his produce to the customers however far away they are.

Asked how Sadiki would manage to find customers for his new cassava seed business, he said: “I attend village meetings and talk to the farmers, but I also use WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram to inform potential customers.”

Sadiki is a people person. His open, smiling face radiates with positive energy. As we were filming a video on healthy cassava seed, we were pleased to include him. In farmer training videos, enthusiastic people like Sadiki communicate ambition and show what is possible.

Once our video on quality cassava seed is posted on the Access Agriculture video platform, Sadiki plans to download the video and share it with his network. The video in turn may help to boost his business, the same way that vegetable training videos in Uganda boosted the demand for tomato, chilli and onion seed.

Young people across Africa are starting to see opportunities in agriculture. And they cleverly combine their great interpersonal skills with new ICTs and social media.

Further reading

Bentley, J. 2016. The Luo translations: farmer learning videos in northern Uganda. Agro-Insight, Belgium. See: www.accessagriculture.org/publications

Acknowledgement

The video on Quality Cassava Seed is developed for IITA under the ACAI project (African Cassava Agronomy Initiative)

Videos for added inspiration May 27th, 2018 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

Juan Almanza is an agronomist who works with seventy mothers, some single and some married, in three rural communities around Colomi, Cochabamba. Juan teaches them new ways to grow nutritious food, especially two legume crops: broad beans (introduced from Europe centuries ago) and the native lupin. The program is in its third year.

Last year Juan helped each of the three groups of women to plant a demonstration or learning plot. Juan had two new ideas to showcase: two new varieties of sweet lupins that did not have to be soaked and washed to leach out their toxins, and second, planting the whole plot (a small field) with lupins. Previously farmers planted them in a single row along the borders around a potato field.

The learning plot is an idea that Juan adopted from his earlier work with farmer field schools. The women have enjoyed the meetings and appreciated that the sweet lupins can be used in recipes that would be impossible with bitter varieties. The women have made hamburgers, soups and have boiled the lupine beans fresh, to eat like peas. The women have collected 18 recipes which Juan has written up.

Some husbands have resented the time that the women spend at the meetings, because it distracts them from farm work. Some wives quit attending. Juan realized that to keep the women in the group it was important that they receive tangible benefits which they could show to the rest of the family. So this past planting season Juan gave each woman an arroba and a half (about 18 kilos) of broad bean seed, of a new variety from La Paz, and two or three kilos of lupin seed.

Juan showed each group a video on lupins, filmed partly in Colomi, but mostly in Anzaldo, in another province of Cochabamba, where farmers already grow lupins in small fields, not just around the edge. Juan is a skilled agronomist and perfectly capable of teaching about lupins, but trying new varieties and planting them in a new way requires some extra inspiration. Seeing real farmers on the video, successfully growing lupins, gave the women the encouragement they needed. They all planted the lupins Juan gave them.

Juan and I caught up with some of the lupin farmers at the fair, held twice a week in Colomi, where farmers come to sell their produce and to buy food and clothes. Many of the busy mothers from Juan’s groups are retailers two days a week, and farmers on the other days.

As she tends a stall of grains and other dried foods, Marina explains that before they met Juan, some farmers did grow the lupins in whole fields, but they would plant them in furrows a meter apart. The new varieties are much shorter and have to be planted closer together. The video showed how to do this.

Reina Merino was unpacking her bundles of clothing in her small shop. She said that now the women plant lupins “like potatoes,” that is, in furrows, close together, and the farmers now take the trouble to weed the crop. Weeding was also an innovation. Previously lupins would just be planted and left alone until harvest time.

Unfortunately, the women’s hard work did not pay off. This past year the rains were delayed, and then it rained far too much. Some people harvested half of the lupins they were expecting; others reaped almost nothing. Given the disappointing results, I asked Reina if she would plant lupins again. “Of course we will!!” she said.

Juan is convinced that the videos were important.  He says “The best way to see a new thing is with a video. It opens the heart of the rural researcher.”

He plans to show the lupin video again to all of his groups. Juan Almanza is a dedicated, respected extension agent who uses video as one of several tools, along with talks, experimental plots and visits to farmers’ fields. He realizes that showing the video a second time will reinforce what these farmers have already learned. Hopefully the weather this year will repay their efforts.

Related blog stories

Innovating in the homeland of lupins

United women of Morochata

Acknowledgements

Our work in Bolivia is funded by the McKnight Foundation’s CCRP (Collaborative Crop Research Program). Juan Almanza works for the Proinpa Foundation.

VIDEOS PARA UN POCO MÁS DE INSPIRACIÓN

Por Jeff Bentley, 27 de mayo del 2018

Juan Almanza es un agrónomo que trabaja con setenta madres, algunas solteras y otras casadas, en tres comunidades rurales alrededor de Colomi, Cochabamba. El Ing. Juan les enseña nuevas formas de cultivar alimentos nutritivos, especialmente dos leguminosas: habas (introducidas desde Europa hace siglos) y el tarwi (lupino, chocho o altramuz) nativo. El programa está en su tercer año.

El año pasado, el Ing. Juan ayudó a cada uno de los tres grupos de mujeres a sembrar una parcela de aprendizaje. Juan tenía dos nuevas ideas para mostrar: dos nuevas variedades de tarwi dulces que no tenían que ser remojados y lavados para quitar sus toxinas, y segundo, sembrar toda la parcela con tarwi. Anteriormente, las agricultores los sembraban en una sola fila alrededor del borde de la parcela de papas.

La parcela de aprendizaje es una idea que el ingeniero adoptó de su trabajo anterior con las escuelas de campo para agricultores. Las mujeres han disfrutado de las reuniones y han apreciado que el tarwi dulce se puede usar en recetas que serían imposibles con las variedades amargas. Las mujeres han hecho hamburguesas, sopas y han hervido los tarwis frescos para comer como arvejas. Las mujeres han recogido 18 recetas que Juan ha redactado.

Algunos maridos no están de acuerdo con el tiempo que las mujeres pasan en las reuniones, porque les distrae del trabajo agrícola. Algunas esposas han dejado de asistir. El Ing. Juan se dio cuenta de que para mantener a las mujeres en el grupo era importante que recibieran beneficios tangibles que pudieran mostrar al resto de la familia. Así que en esta última campaña, Juan les dio a cada mujer una arroba y media (unos 18 kilos) de semilla de haba, una nueva variedad de La Paz y dos o tres kilos de semilla de tarwi.

Juan mostró a cada grupo un video sobre altramuces, filmado en parte en Colomi, pero principalmente en Anzaldo, en otra provincia de Cochabamba, donde los agricultores ya cultivan tarwi en pequeñas parcelas, no solo alrededor del borde. Juan es un agrónomo hábil y perfectamente capaz de enseñar sobre el tarwi, pero probar nuevas variedades y plantarlas de una nueva manera requiere algo de inspiración adicional. Ver a agricultores reales en el video, cultivando tarwi exitosamente, les dio a las mujeres el aliento que necesitaban. Todas sembraron el tarwi que Juan les dio.

El Ing. Juan y yo conversamos con algunos de los productores de tarwi en la feria, que se realiza dos veces a la semana en Colomi, donde los agricultores vienen a vender sus productos y comprar comida y ropa. Muchas de las madres de los grupos son minoristas dos días a la semana, y agricultoras en los otros días.

Mientras ella cuida un puesto de granos y otras comidas secas, Marina explica que antes de conocer a Juan, algunos agricultores cultivaban el tarwi en parcelas enteras, pero lo sembraban en surcos a un metro de distancia. Las nuevas variedades son mucho más cortas y deben plantarse más cerca. El video mostró cómo hacer esto.

Reina Merino estaba desempacando sus paquetes de ropa en su pequeña tienda. Ella dijo que ahora las mujeres plantan tarwi “como papas”, es decir, en surcos, más cerca, y que ahora se toman la molestia de carpir (desmalezar) la cosecha. La carpida también fue una innovación. Previamente, el tarwi se sembraba y se dejaba hasta el momento de la cosecha.

Infelizmente, el trabajo duro de las mujeres no dio resultado. El año pasado, las lluvias se retrasaron y luego llovió demasiado. Algunas personas cosecharon la mitad del tarwi que estaban esperando; otras no cosechaban casi nada. Dado los decepcionantes resultados, le pregunté a Reina si plantaría tarwi de nuevo. “¡ Obvio que este año lo vamos a hacer otra vez!” dijo.

El Ing. Juan está convencido de que los videos fueron importantes. Él dice: “La mejor manera de ver una cosa nueva es el video. Abre el corazón del investigador rural.”

Él planifica mostrar el video del lupino nuevamente a todos sus grupos. Juan Almanza es un extensionista dedicado y respetado que usa el video como una de varias herramientas, junto con charlas, parcelas de aprendizaje y visitas a campos de agricultores. Se da cuenta de que mostrar el video por segunda vez reforzará lo que estas agricultoras ya han aprendido. Esperemos que el clima de este año acompañe sus esfuerzos.

Historias previas

Innovando en la cuna del tarwi

Mujeres unidas de Morochata

Agradecimiento

Nuestro trabajo en Bolivia es auspiciado por el CCRP (Programa Colaborativo para la Investigación de los Cultivos) de la Fundación McKnight. Juan Almanza trabaja para la Fundación Proinpa.

Innovating in the homeland of lupins May 20th, 2018 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

Rhimer Gonzales is an agronomist who has worked in Morochata, in the Bolivian Andes, for three years, introducing new, sweet varieties of lupin: the beans can be eaten directly without soaking them to remove the natural toxins. Rhimer has also been trying, without success, to encourage folks to grow lupins in rows, just like other crops.

Farmers have been growing lupins here for a long time. Wild lupins are common in the canyons of Morochata, an area close to the center of origin for this crop with the gorgeous flowers and edible beans. It seems unlikely that local farmers could learn new ways to grow lupins, yet the use of a farmer learning video has triggered innovations.

I accompanied Rhimer during a recent visit, when we met Serafina Córdoba. She was busy washing dishes under a tree in front of her house, hurrying to finish so she get her kids started on their homework. She explained that the family got a DVD on soil conservation at a meeting of the sindicato (local village organization). Afterwards she watched the videos again with her husband and children. She remembered several of the videos, especially one on lupins and another on earthworms.

When we asked if the family had done anything new after watching the videos, at first she demurred. She wasn’t sure if the changes they had made in selecting lupin seed were important enough. Before, they would just take a handful of seeds and plant them. After seeing the video she picked out the big, healthy seeds, and the family planted those. The crop is flowering in the field now and doña Sefarina said it looks better than in previous years.

The family also noticed in the video that people planted in rows, in furrows made with oxen. So doña Serafina and her husband Jorge planted a whole field with oxen. She was pleased that this was a fast way to plant—clearly saving time is important for busy families. Rhimer confirmed that planting with oxen was a major innovation. Before, people planted just one row of lupins around the field.

The video emphasized seed selection. But it also showed row planting with oxen, because that is a routine practice in Anzaldo, where most of the video was filmed. Lupins are a more important crop in Anzaldo than in Morochata, even though both municipalities are in Cochabamba.

The value of filming farmers at work is that other farmers watching the video can learn all sorts of unexpected things. Conventional practice in one area can be an interesting innovation for another.

Rhimer explained that he selected the lupin video to show in Morochata because he thought it would be convincing. He was pleased to learn about doña Serafina’s experience, because the video succeeded in convincing her family to not only select seed, but also to plant in rows.

Each farmer responds to a video in his or her own way. Later we met don Darío, who had also seen the videos at the meeting at the sindicato, and had later watched the DVD again with his family. Then he planted a whole field of lupins in rows. Unlike doña Serafina, who said that planting in rows was easier, don Darío said it was more work. But that’s because he planted a whole field by hand with a pick, on a canyon side. Don Darío planted his lupins in straight lines up the hillside, and parallel to the slope as well, forming a grid pattern.

Rhimer explained that this lupin was a new, sweet variety and the plants were smaller than those of the bitter lupin that was previously planted in Morochata, so farmer had planted the new, shorter variety too far apart. Rhimer was also frustrated that the farmers were not watering the lupin enough. “Irrigating it one more time would have done it good.” There is plenty of water here. But folks are still not treating lupins like a major crop, worth irrigating.

Change takes time, even when a community has a good extensionist like Rhimer. I thought he was doing well, successfully encouraging people to plant a new variety, and with a little help from the lupin video, inducing people to select healthy seed and plant in lines. As farmers grow familiar with the new variety they might learn to plant it closer together and water it a bit more, especially if a market develops for it.

Rhimer was modest about his own contribution to changing farmer practices. I suggested that the farmers’ responses to the videos were closely related to his work in the community. But Rhimer said that even though he had shared ideas with people of Morochata for a long time, it was the video that finally convinced the farmers to try row planting and seed selection.

Rhimer’s hard earned standing with farmers meant they were receptive to new ideas. But the videos provided additional, concrete evidence that that the new practices actually worked.

Related blog stories

United women of Morochata

Crop with an attitude

Watch the video on lupins

Growing lupin without disease: Available in English, Spanish, Quechua, Aymara, and French

Acknowledgements

Our work in Bolivia is funded by the McKnight Foundation’s CCRP (Collaborative Crop Research Program). Rhimer Gonzales works for the Proinpa Foundation.

INNOVANDO EN LA CUNA DEL TARWI

Por Jeff Bentley, 20 de mayo del 2018

Rhimer Gonzales es un agrónomo que ha trabajado en Morochata, en los Andes bolivianos, durante tres años, introduciendo nuevas variedades dulces de tarwi (también conocido como lupino, chocho, y altramuz). Sus granos se pueden comer directamente sin remojarlos para eliminar las toxinas naturales. Rhimer también ha intentado, sin éxito, alentar a las personas a cultivar tarwi en hileras, al igual que otros cultivos.

Los agricultores han estado cultivando tarwi aquí durante mucho tiempo. Los tarwis silvestres son comunes en los cañones de Morochata, un área cercana al centro de origen de este cultivo, con hermosas flores y frijoles comestibles. Parece poco probable que se podría enseñar algo nuevo a agricultores con tanta experiencia con el tarwi, sin embargo, el uso de un video de aprendizaje ha desencadenado algunas innovaciones.

Acompañé a Rhimer durante una visita reciente, cuando conocimos a Serafina Córdoba. Estaba ocupada lavando los platos debajo de un árbol en frente de su casa, apurada a terminar para poder ayudar a sus hijos con sus tareas. Ella explicó que la familia recibió un DVD sobre la conservación del suelo en una reunión del sindicato (organización local del pueblo). Luego ella miró los videos nuevamente con su esposo e hijos. Ella recordó los videos, especialmente uno sobre tarwi y otro sobre lombrices.

Cuando le preguntamos si la familia había hecho algo nuevo después de ver los videos, al principio ella se negó. No estaba segura que los cambios que habían hecho en la selección de semillas de lupino eran lo suficientemente importantes. Antes, simplemente tomaban un puñado de semillas y las sembraban. Después de ver el video, ella seleccionó las semillas grandes y saludables, y la familia las sembró. Ahora el cultivo está en flor y doña Sefarina dice que se ve mejor que en años anteriores.

La familia también notó en el video que la gente sembraba en hileras, en surcos hechos con bueyes. Entonces doña Serafina y su esposo Jorge plantaron una parcela entera con bueyes. Estaba contenta de que era rápido sembrar así; para una familia ocupada es imprescindible ahorrar tiempo. Rhimer confirmó que sembrar con bueyes fue una gran innovación. Antes, la gente sembraba solo una fila de tarwis alrededor de la parcela.

El video enfatizó la selección de semilla. Pero también mostró la siembra en surcos con bueyes, porque esa es una práctica convencional en Anzaldo, donde se filmó la mayor parte del video. El tarwi es más importante en Anzaldo que en Morochata, aunque ambos municipios están en Cochabamba.

El valor de filmar a los agricultores mientras trabajan es que otros agricultores que miran el video pueden aprender todo tipo de cosas inesperadas. La práctica convencional en una zona puede ser una innovación interesante para otra.

Rhimer explicó que seleccionó el video de tarwi para mostrar en Morochata porque pensó que sería convincente. Le agradó conocer la experiencia de doña Serafina, porque el video logró convencer a su familia no solo de seleccionar semillas, sino también de plantar en filas.

Cada agricultor responde a un video a su manera. Más tarde nos encontramos con don Darío, quien también había visto los videos en la reunión en el sindicato, y luego había visto el DVD otra vez con su familia. Luego plantó una parcela entera de tarwi en fila. A diferencia de Doña Serafina, quien dijo que plantar en hileras era más fácil, don Darío dijo que era más trabajo. Pero eso es porque sembró un campo entero a mano con una picota, en ladera del cañón. Don Darío sembró su tarwi en línea recta hacia arriba, y de lado a lado, como cuadrícula.

Rhimer explicó que este tarwi era una variedad nueva y dulce y que las plantas eran más pequeñas que las del tarwi amargo que ya se conocía en Morochata, por lo que los agricultores habían sembrado la variedad nueva muy distanciada. Rhimer también estaba frustrado porque los campesinos no estaban regando lo suficiente al lupino. “Regarlo una vez más lo hubiera hecho bien”. Aquí hay mucha agua. Pero la gente todavía no está tratando al tarwi como un cultivo importante, que vale la pena regar.

El cambio lleva tiempo, incluso cuando una comunidad tiene un buen extensionista como Rhimer. Yo admiraba su trabajo, animando la gente a sembrar una nueva variedad y con un poco de ayuda del video de tarwi, induciendo a los agricultores a seleccionar semilla y sembrar en línea. A medida que los agricultores se familiarizan con la nueva variedad, podrían aprender a sembrarla más cerca y regarla un poco más, especialmente si se desarrolla un mercado para el tarwi.

Rhimer modestamente atribuía mucho del cambio en prácticas a los videos. Sugerí que el cambio estaba estrechamente relacionado con su trabajo en la comunidad. Pero Rhimer dijo que aunque había compartido ideas con la gente de Morochata durante mucho tiempo, fue el video que finalmente convenció a los agricultores a probar la siembra en líneas y la selección de semilla.

Por su trabajo constante, Rhimer ha ganado la confianza de los agricultores para que reciban a las nuevas ideas. Pero los videos dieron evidencia adicional y concreta de que las nuevas prácticas realmente funcionaran.

Historias previas del blog

Mujeres unidas de Morochata

Cultivo con carácter fuerte

Vea el video sobre tarwi

Producir tarwi sin enfermedad: Disponible en español, inglés, quechua, aymara, y francés

Agradecimiento

Nuestro trabajo en Bolivia es auspiciado por el CCRP (Programa Colaborativo para la Investigación de los Cultivos) de la Fundación McKnight. Rhimer Gonzales trabaja para la Fundación Proinpa.

United women of Morochata May 6th, 2018 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

The success of a woman’s group depends in large part on the quality of leadership, as I saw this last week in Morochata, a highland municipality in the Bolivian Andes. My agronomist friend Rhimer Gonzales had organized women’s groups in two neighboring villages. One group was largely inactive, while the one in the village of Piusilla was going strong.

Rhimer phoned Juliana García, the president of the women’s group of Piusilla, to arrange a meeting. Rhimer had some group business to discuss, and he was going to help me ask some follow up questions about videos. The previous year, the women had received DVDs with seven videos on soil conservation and I wanted to learn what the women had done with the information. Doña Juliana was not at home, and the women in her group were busy, but she said that if we came back at 8:30 that evening she would have at least some of the women at her house.

By 8 o’clock in the evening it was dark and raining hard. At 3350 meters above sea level it gets cold when it rains, and it’s miserable to get wet. Rhimer and I were sure that no one would come to the meeting, but still we wanted to try.

We were surprised when we got to doña Juliana’s house to see about half of the women’s group there. Doña Juliana had taken the time (and spent money) to ring the women up, and had then built a warm fire to welcome them. They soon invited me to ask my questions. The videos included one that Agro-Insight made last year on lupins, edible Andean legumes that improve the soil.

The women said that they had seen two videos with Rhimer at one of their meetings. Afterwards, the women arranged to watch the videos again, by themselves, because they are looking for ways to improve their income, for example by growing lupins and broad beans. They also want to consolidate their position as a women’s group within the sindicato, the local organization that represents and leads the community, but which is made up mainly of men.

Besides the lupin video, they had watched one from Vietnam about making live barriers on steep hillsides to conserve the soil. They recalled, accurately, that the video showed how to measure rows to plant the grass, which had to be transplanted in small clumps or cuttings.

When we asked if they had tried any of the ideas from the video, doña Juliana said that she had learned how to select her seed. One of the key ideas from the lupin video is to remove the small and unhealthy grains, and only plant the best ones for a better harvest. Doña Juliana was impressed by the little hand screen she had seen in the video, to sort the grains by size, but she didn’t have a screen. Instead, she just sorted the seed by hand, a practice which is also shown in the video. It is important to give people different options.

She has planted the seed and now the crop is flowering. Doña Juliana is impressed that by selecting her lupin seed, the plants are bigger and healthier than in previous years.

Rhimer and I asked how many of the other women in the group had selected seed too. One of them decided it was time for some comic relief. She said “My husband just grabbed some of the lupine grains in the bag and scattered them, and they are doing just fine.”

All of the women laughed, including doña Juliana, but then she reminded them: “You have all seen how to select seed and you know how to do it. So you should all try it.”

Leadership matters. In time, these women will notice the difference in yield between selected and unselected seed. It usually takes a while for a whole community to adopt an innovation. A useful step is to have one of the leaders adopt and share her experience.

Many of the women are shy, but not doña Juliana. As we are leaving she gave me a firm handshake and said: “Next time come in the daytime, and we’ll all have boiled potatoes!” I have little doubt that when doña Juliana harvests her lupins she will share her experience with the group. Triggering innovation is like growing a crop: it requires someone to plant the seed. The videos do exactly that: give farmers ideas to try out new things. And by leaving DVDs in communities you give people the chance to learn at their convenience.

Watch videos

Growing lupin without disease is available in English, French, Spanish, Ayamara and Quechua.

Grass strips against soil erosion is available in 10 languages, including Spanish, Ayamara and Quechua

More training videos can be viewed and downloaded from www.accessagriculture.org

Related blog story

Crop with an attitude

Acknowledgements

Our work in Bolivia is funded by the McKnight Foundation’s CCRP (Collaborative Crop Research Program). Rhimer Gonzales works for the Proinpa Foundation, where he helps to implement the Biocultura Project, which is funded by SDC (Swiss Cooperation).

LAS MUJERES UNIDAS DE MOROCHATA

Por Jeff Bentley, 6 de mayo del 2018

El éxito de un grupo de mujeres depende en gran medida de la calidad del liderazgo, como lo vi la semana pasada en Morochata, un municipio en los altos Andes bolivianos. Mi amigo, el ingeniero agrónomo Rhimer Gonzales, había organizado grupos de mujeres en dos comunidades vecinos. Un grupo estaba en gran parte inactivo, mientras que el de la comunidad de Piusilla estaba fuerte.

Rhimer llamó a Juliana García, la presidenta del grupo de mujeres de Piusilla, para concertar una reunión. Rhimer tenía algunos asuntos del grupo para discutir, y me iba a ayudar a hacer algunas preguntas de seguimiento sobre los videos. El año anterior, las mujeres habían recibido DVDs con siete videos sobre la conservación del suelo y yo quería saber cómo habían respondido ellas a la información. Doña Juliana no estaba en casa, y las mujeres de su grupo estaban ocupadas, pero dijo que si volvíamos a las 8:30 esa noche ella tendría al menos algunas de las mujeres en su casa.

A las 8 de la noche estaba oscuro y llovía fuerte. A los 3350 metros sobre el nivel del mar hace frío cuando llueve, y es miserable mojarse. Rhimer y yo estábamos seguros de que nadie vendría a la reunión, pero aun así queríamos intentarlo.

Nos sorprendimos cuando llegamos a la casa de doña Juliana para ver reunido la mitad del grupo de mujeres. Doña Juliana se había tomado el tiempo (y gastado dinero) para llamar a las mujeres, y luego había encendido un fuego caliente para darles la bienvenida. Pronto me invitaron a hacer mis preguntas. Los videos incluyen uno que Agro-Insight hizo el año pasado sobre el tarwi (lupino, chocho, o altramuz), una leguminosa andina comestible que mejora el suelo.

Las mujeres contaron que habían visto dos videos con Rhimer en una de sus reuniones. Luego, las mujeres se organizaron para ver los videos de nuevo, por su cuenta, porque ellas buscan opciones para mejorar sus ingresos, por ejemplo produciendo tarwi y habas. Además quieren consolidar su posición como grupo de mujeres dentro del sindicato, la organización popular que representa y lidera a la comunidad, que es conformado principalmente por hombres.

Además del video de lupinos, habían visto uno de Vietnam sobre el hacer barreras vivas en laderas para conservar el suelo. Recordaron, con precisión, que el video mostraba cómo medir las filas para plantar el pasto, que se tenía que trasplantar en matoncitos.

Cuando les preguntamos si habían probado algunas de las ideas del video, doña Juliana dijo que había aprendido a seleccionar su semilla. Una de las ideas clave del video de lupinos es eliminar los granos pequeños y enfermos, y solo sembrar los mejores para una mejor cosecha. Doña Juliana quedó impresionada por la pequeña zaranda de mano que había visto en el video, para separar los granos por tamaño, pero ella no tenía zaranda. En cambio, ella simplemente seleccionó la semilla a mano, una práctica que también se muestra en el video. Es importante dar varias opciones a la gente.

Ella ha plantado la semilla y ahora la cosecha está floreciendo. Doña Juliana está impresionada de que al seleccionar su semilla de lupino, las plantas son más grandes y más saludables que en años anteriores.

Rhimer y yo preguntamos cuántas de las otras mujeres en el grupo también habían seleccionado semillas. Una de ellas decidió que era hora para un poco de alivio cómico. Ella dijo: “Mi marido solamente agarró algunos granos de lupino del bulto y los lanzó, y están creciendo bien.”

Todas las mujeres se rieron, incluida doña Juliana, pero luego les recordó: “Todas han visto cómo seleccionar semillas y saben cómo hacerlo”. Entonces todos deberían intentarlo.”

El liderazgo sí importa. Con el tiempo, estas mujeres se fijarán en la diferencia en el rendimiento entre las semillas seleccionadas y las otras. Por lo general, toma tiempo para que toda una comunidad adopte una innovación. Un paso útil es lograr que una de las líderes adopte y comparta su experiencia.

Muchas de las mujeres son tímidas, pero no doña Juliana. Cuando partimos, me dio un firme apretón de manos y dijo: “¡La próxima vez venga de día, y todos comeremos papas cocidas!” me queda poca duda de que cuando doña Juliana coseche sus lupinos, compartirá su experiencia con el grupo. Desencadenar la innovación es como cultivar un cultivo: requiere que alguien siembre la semilla. Los videos hacen exactamente eso: dan ideas a las agricultoras para que pruben cosas nuevas. Y al dejar los DVD en las comunidades, la gente tiene la oportunidad de aprender a su conveniencia.

Ver los videos

Producir tarwi sin enfermedad está disponible en español, inglés, francés, ayamara y quechua.

Barreras vivas contra la erosión del suelo está disponible en 10 idiomas, incluso español, ayamara y quechua.

Se puede ver y bajar más videos informativos de www.accessagriculture.org

Una historia previa

Cultivo con carácter fuerte

Agradecimientos

Nuestro trabajo en Bolivia es auspiciado por el CCRP (Programa Colaborativo para la Investigación de los Cultivos) de la Fundación McKnight. Rhimer Gonzales trabaja para la Fundación Proinpa, donde él ayuda a implementar el Proyecto Biocultura, el cual es financiado por COSUDE (Cooperación Suiza).

Seed fairs February 18th, 2018 by

Seed fairs are gaining in popularity around the world, and are a great way to encourage farmers and gardeners to conserve global biodiversity. But the fairs can do more than just provide an opportunity for people to exchange and sell seed, as I recently learned during a visit to Guatemala to make a farmer training video on farmers’ rights to seed, with a particular focus    on women in biodiversity management. In Guatemala, donor agencies and organisations have supported community biodiversity conservation initiatives for over a decade.

Our local partner, ASOCOCH, is an umbrella organisation of 20 cooperatives and farmer associations, representing some 9,000 farm families in the western highlands of Huehuetenango. On Sunday, one day before the actual seed fair starts, we visit the venue. The seed fair has become a large annual event, unlike in Malawi, where seed fairs are less regular. The fair attracts hundreds of people from across the highlands, some travelling long distances. One elderly woman told me she rode a bus for five hours to get there.

The seed fair is a lively, social event, with a Ferris wheel, stalls with amusement games and one with wooden, artistically carved horses with leather saddles on which people can sit and have their photo taken against a painted background of lush vegetation, complete with mountains and waterfalls. Visitors can buy sweets and nuts. A young boy gently pushes his wheelbarrow full of mandarins for sale through the crowds, while indigenous women sell traditional delicacies. Families with grandparents and kids relish the event as the region does not have such a large fair very often.

But there is more to the fair than having fun and eating. The seed fair is held on school grounds and I soon see farmers in intricately woven, traditional clothes lining up to register for classes. There are four large rooms where farmers can learn about potato, agrobiodiversity, climate change and women’s rights. My wife Marcella and I first attend the talks in the agrobiodiversity room, where Juanita Chaves from GFAR explains about farmers’ rights to seed. To my surprise this is followed by two presentations on aflatoxins in maize by staff from a local NGO. The presenters graphically explain the relation between mouldy maize cobs and the disfigurement of children and internal organs. As most farmers conserve their own maize seed they need to be aware of the risks of fungal infections. I am still a little puzzled as to how this relates to the seed fair and agrobiodiversity conservation, but after lunch all becomes clear.

We accompany the farmers who attended the aflatoxin sessions to the Clementoro Community Seed Bank, less than 10 kilometers away. The farmers see seeds stored in plastic jars, clearly labelled and neatly stacked on the shelves. In the middle of the room, a young agricultural graduate working at the seed bank shows farmers how they can detect if their seed is contaminated with aflatoxins by using a simple methanol test. “When you store your maize crop and seed, you need to be sure it has less than 13% moisture so that moulds will not develop,” the enthusiastic young woman explains. “Here at the seed bank, you can have your seed tested and conserved in optimal conditions,” she continues.

Seed is one of farmers’ most precious resources, and storing it at a community seed bank requires lots of trust. They need to know that their seed will be safely stored until they need it, either for the next growing season or even a few years later whenever the need arises. By organising seed fairs, seminars and visits to community seed banks, ASOCUCH is building trust through sharing knowledge and explaining clearly what they do.

The next day, we film the actual seed fair itself. There is an overwhelming abundance of crop varieties, fruits, medicinal and even some ornamental plants. Farmers and their families are clearly excited as seed and plant material changes hands. There is brisk trading between farmers. While some exchange materials, most sell and buy seed. People tell each other about the seeds they have on offer. ASOCUCH, with the support of GFAR, had also prepared a booklet with traditional recipes. Copies are spread on tables at the entrance and they run out like hot cakes.

There is a judging competition to find the best seeds.  Judges visit each stand, measuring maize cobs, counting seeds, weighing potato seed tubers and taking notes. Agrobiodiversity is a serious matter. At the same time, outside the schoolhouse, sheep are being rated by another set of judges. In the late afternoon, the results are shared with the audience. People had brought dozens of varieties and over a thousand accessions of various crops. The audience is excited, and so are we. This has been a fascinating two-day event, and the drive of the farmers and their organisations has made us hopeful for the future.  Local initiatives are where conservation begins, but they need the support of local authorities, governments and international organisations to increase their impact.

Everyone has had a good time. More importantly, farmers have made new contacts, acquired seeds of traditional varieties that may have been lost in some areas and helped others to preserve them in new areas. They have learned about saving seed, but most of all, the farmers have learned that they have certain rights to seeds—they can plant their own native varieties as they wish, for example—and that these rights mattter hugely in sustaining local agriculture.

Related blogs

Quinoa, lost and found

Homegrown seed can be good

Bolivian peanuts

We share

Further viewing

Farmers’ rights to seed – experiences from Guatemela

Farmers’ rights to seed – experiences from Malawi

Managing aflatoxins in groundnuts during drying and storage

Acknowledgements

Thanks to the Global Forum on Agricultural Research and Innovation (GFAR) and the European Union for funding the production of the video discussed here. Support in Guatemala was kindly provided by the Asociación de Organizaciones de los Cuchumatanes (ASOCUCH).

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