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Innovating with local knowledge July 22nd, 2018 by

Local knowledge is dynamic and farmers are fast to adapt traditional practices when the need arises, as we saw during a recent filming visit.

The fall armyworm arrived in Africa only in 2016 and is creating panic among farmers and governments alike. International development organisations are quick to ring the bell and up the competition to bid for public funds to respond to evident emergencies.

But farmers can’t always wait for solutions to be developed by researchers or for government support. In an earlier blog, “Armies against armies,” I wrote about John Fundi from Embu County, Kenya, who combined various observations on how ants behave to develop his own solution. Ants like fat and caterpillars, so if you smear fat on the maize stalks you can attract the ants to move up on the plants and eat the caterpillars.

Aaron Njagi shared another interesting innovation based on keen observations. As an herbalist, Aaron knows a lot about which plants can be used to cure people and which ones can be used to kill or repel insect pests. The herbal pesticide that he uses to kill caterpillars in his vegetable crops proved inadequate to control the fall armyworm, so Aaron immediately figured that this pest was not like any other. His herbal mix needed extra strength.

“Just one drop of aloe vera in water is enough to cure people from respiratory problems, so I decided to add the strength of this plant to the mix of plants I use to control the other caterpillars,” he says. On top, he adds chopped chilli for extra bitterness and strength, and then boils the lot. Once the water has cooled down a little, Aaron removes the plants from the water and adds a little snuff tobacco.

“After fermenting the mix for a week in the shade, I can now use it,” he continues, “but you need to dilute it as it is very powerful. I also decided to add a little washing powder before spraying it, so it sticks better to the maize plants.”

Farmers know when something works, and when something doesn’t work. Everywhere we went, we heard that pesticides did not kill the fall armyworm. But Aaron’s mixture works. That he is already asked by his neighbours to spray their fields with his herbal medicine further testifies how fast farmers can innovate.

Related blogs

Armies against armies

Agro-Insight has written many blog stories on Local innovation and Pest management

Related videos

The videos on fall armyworm will be posted on www.accessagriculture.org in the coming month.

Acknowledgement

The videos on fall armyworm are developed in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) with funding from the McKnight Foundation’s Collaborative Crop Research Program (CCRP).

Armies against armies July 15th, 2018 by

Some battles are harder to win than others. Last year farmers in much of Africa were faced for the first time with a new species of armyworm and saw their maize crops attacked. The fall armyworm had come from Latin America and was unknown to farmers, extension workers and governments. Responses across the continent differed, but quite some governments attempted to stem the tide of fall armyworms with pesticides. In Zambia, the government used the army, deploying soldiers across the country to spray farmers’ maize fields.

But the pest is not easily killed by pesticides and the worry is that this approach will cause more harm than good. The fall armyworm begins life as a caterpillar before becomimg an adult moth. The moth is nocturnal and lives for about two weeks during which it lays its eggs in batches of 100-300 tiny eggs. The small, whitish fluffy spots are mostly found on the underside of maize leaves. When the tiny caterpillars emerge en masse they look like an army, ready to invade the plant. Some armyworms drop off the leaves, hanging on a fragile thread and then carried by the wind to attack neighbouring maize plants. After feeding just a few days on the surface of leaves, the young armyworms hide inside the leaf whorl of young plants. On mature maize plants they tunnel through the husk and chew on soft maize kernels. Either way, the armyworms are protected from pesticide sprays.

Last week, Marcella and I were in Embu County in Kenya, making two farmer training videos on how best to manage the fall armyworm. I was particularly curious to find out if farmers had come up with their own solutions. After all, they have not had a lot of time to experiment. But necessity is the mother of invention, and when livelihoods are at stake farmers can be quick and inventive in finding effective ways to manage damaging pests.

John Fundi, a young farmer in Ugweri village, told us how he merged two independent observations to come up with a life-saving solution. “When my wife cooks in the kitchen, I have seen that when some of the cooking fat is spoiled on the floor, these tiny black ants come and feed on it. And when we dry our maize after harvest, I have seen that some of these ants also carry caterpillars from the maize ears. So I thought that perhaps these ants can help me control the fall armyworm.”

John with his wife and young son now go to their field when the maize is just a few weeks old. With their fingers they smear a little bit of solid cooking fat to the base of the maize stalk. With a small pack of cooking fat, they can easily cover half a hectare. “In no time, the tiny black ants will come to feed on the oil and while they are on the maize they also find any armyworms. Even when we cannot see the tiny caterpillars inside the whorl, the ants will find and kill them,” John says with a satisfying smile. When the maize plant starts to develop maize ears, John and his wife repeat the treatment, smearing the fat at the base of the stalk and one metre high on the stalk.

Neighbours who had sprayed pesticides in vain found it difficult to believe that John’s innovation would work. But as they have seen the results of using cooking fat with their own eyes all have started to copy John’s method. With the videos we hope that examples of innovative farmers like John will inspire farmers and governments across Africa to try out low-cost and simple methods.

In agriculture, armies of ants can do the job of national armies for free – and without the costly and damaging effects of spraying pesticides.

Related blogs

Agro-Insight has written many blog stories on Local innovation and Pest management

Related videos

The videos on the fall armyworm will be published on www.accessagriculture.org in the coming month. Other videos we made that relate to ants used in pest control are:

Weaver ants against fruit flies

Promoting weaver ants in your orchard

Acknowledgement

The videos on fall armyworm are developed in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) with funding from the McKnight Foundation’s Collaborative Crop Research Program (CCRP).

Making a lighter dryer June 10th, 2018 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

Fundación Valles, an NGO in Bolivia that does agricultural research and development, has developed a peanut dryer that uses sunlight to help prevent groundnuts from developing the molds that produce deadly aflatoxins. The prototype model had an A-shaped metal frame, raised off the ground, and was covered in a special type of light yellow plastic sheeting known as agrofilm, able to withstand long exposure to sunshine. The dryer kept out water, and with air flowing in from the ends of the dryer, the peanuts could dry even on rainy days.

Two years ago, in Chuquisaca Fundación Valles worked with farmers to develop cheaper versions of the dryer, making the A-shaped frames from wooden poles, instead of metal, and began distributing large sheets of agrofilm, 2 by 12-meters, for which farmers paid $14, half the original cost. Fundación Valles encouraged the farmers to continue adapting the original design of the dryer. In May 2018 I visited some of these farmers together with agronomists Walter Fuentes and Rolando Rejas of Fundación Valles, to find out what had happened.

When Augusto Cuba, in Achiras, received the agrofilm from Fundación Valles in 2016, he did not put it to immediate use. The weather was dry during several harvests, but during the rainy days during the peanut harvest in May, 2018, don Augusto put the agrofilm to the test. He took a plastic tarp to his field and laid it on the ground. He covered it with freshly harvested groundnuts, cut the agrofilm in half, and then placed the six meter length on top.

Don Augusto ignored the basic design of the dryer. He didn’t want to go to all of the trouble of cutting poles and building the raised platform of wooden poles. His design was much simpler and portable: as he worked in the field he could remove the agrofilm when the sun came out, and put it back when it started to drizzle again. The main disadvantage, however, was that the air did not flow over the covered nuts; humidity could build up, allowing mold to develop.

The original tent-like dryer has several limitations. It is expensive, and as don Augusto pointed out to us, it is a lot of work to make one from wood. At harvest, peanuts are heavy with moisture. The pods lose about half their weight when dried. So farmers dry their peanuts in the field, and sleep there for several nights to protect the harvest from hungry animals. A solar dryer must be carried to the field, yet these may be up to an hours’ walk from home and involve climbing up and down steep slopes. Farmers who are using the original solar dryer, as designed by Fundación Valles, are those who have their fields close to home. Yet even taking a simple tarp to the harvesting site would be an improvement over drying the pods on the bare ground.

Later I had a chance to discuss don Augusto’s method for drying peanuts with Miguel Florido, an agronomist with Fundación Valles, and with Mario Arázola, the leader of APROMANI (a peanut farmers’ association). They were concerned that don Augusto´s design would trap in too much moisture, especially if it was misty all day and the farmer never had a chance to remove the agrofilm. We agreed that a dryer had to have a few simple agronomic criteria; it had to keep out the rain, keep the groundnuts off the ground, and let air flow through.

After discussing don Augusto’s case, we agreed that a dryer also has to meet some of the farmers’ criteria: it has to be cheap, portable and able to handle large volumes of peanuts, while keeping them out of the rain.

Aflatoxin contamination is a serious problem worldwide, and while it can be addressed, inventing a simple technology is hard work. Researchers start with a problem and some ideas to solve it, like air flow and keeping peanuts dry. But it is only after offering farmers a prototype that researchers can see the farmers’ demands. For example, designing a stationary dryer helps researchers to see that farmers need a portable one. Making and using a small dryer in the field highlights the need for a larger one. These types of demands only emerge over time, as in having a long, slow conversation, but one that is worth having.

HACER UN SECADOR MÁS LIGERO

Por Jeff Bentley, 10 de junio del 2018

Fundación Valles, una ONG en Bolivia dedicada a la investigación y el desarrollo agrícola, ha desarrollado un secador de maní que usa la luz solar para ayudar a evitar que los maníes (cacahuates) desarrollen los mohos que producen aflatoxinas mortales. El modelo prototipo tenía un armazón de metal en forma de A, levantado del suelo, y estaba cubierto con un tipo especial de lámina de plástico amarillo claro conocida como agrofilm, capaz de soportar la exposición prolongada al sol. El secador no dejaba pasar el agua, y con el aire que entraba desde los extremos del secador, los maníes podrían secarse hasta en días lluviosos.

Hace dos años, en Chuquisaca, la Fundación Valles trabajó con los agricultores para desarrollar versiones más baratas del secador, haciendo los marcos en forma de A de postes de madera, en lugar de metal, y comenzó a distribuir grandes láminas de agrofilm, de 2 por 12 metros, para lo cual los agricultores pagaban $14, la mitad del costo original. La Fundación Valles alentó a los agricultores a seguir adaptando el diseño original del secador. En mayo de 2018 visité a algunos de estos agricultores junto con los agrónomos Walter Fuentes y Rolando Rejas de la Fundación Valles, para averiguar qué había pasado.

Cuando Augusto Cuba, en Achiras, recibió el agrofilm de la Fundación Valles en 2016, no lo puso en uso de una vez. No hacía falta porque hacía sol durante varias cosechas, pero cuando los días lluviosos durante la cosecha de maní en mayo del 2018, don Augusto puso a prueba el agrofilm. Él llevó una lona de plástico a su parcela y la puso en el suelo. Lo cubrió con maní recién cosechado, cortó el agrofilm por la mitad y lo colocó sobre su cosecha.

Don Augusto no copió el diseño básico del secador. No quería tomarse la molestia de cortar postes y construir la plataforma elevada de postes de madera. Su diseño era mucho más simple y portátil: mientras trabajaba en el campo, podía quitar el agrofilm cuando salía el sol y volver a colocarlo cuando comenzaba a lloviznar nuevamente. La principal desventaja, sin embargo, era que el aire no fluía sobre el maní cubierto; la humedad podría acumularse, posiblemente permitiendo que se forme el moho.

El secador original en forma de carpa tiene varias limitaciones. Es caro, y como nos señaló don Augusto, es mucho trabajo hacer uno con madera. En la cosecha, los maníes son pesados con la humedad. Las vainas pierden más o menos la mitad de su peso en el secado. Entonces los agricultores secan su maní en el campo y duermen allí varias noches para proteger la cosecha de los animales hambrientos. Un secador solar debe llevarse al campo, aunque puede tardar hasta una hora a pie desde su casa e implica subir y bajar pendientes fuertes. Los agricultores que sí usan el secador solar original, tal como lo diseñó Fundación Valles, son aquellos que tienen sus campos cerca de la casa. Sin embargo, incluso llevar una lona simple al sitio de cosecha sería mejor que secar las vainas sobre el puro suelo.

Más tarde tuve la oportunidad de discutir el secador de don Augusto con Miguel Florido, un agrónomo de la Fundación Valles, y con Mario Arázola, el líder de APROMANI (una asociación de agricultores de maní). Les preocupaba que el diseño de don Augusto atrapara demasiada humedad, especialmente si estaba nublado todo el día y el agricultor no podía quitar el agrofilm. Acordamos que un secador debía tener unos pocos criterios agronómicos simples; debía proteger el producto de la lluvia, evitar contacto entre el suelo y los maníes y dejar que el aire fluyera.

Después de discutir el caso de don Augusto, acordamos que un secador también debe cumplir con algunos de los criterios de los agricultores: tiene que ser barato, portátil y capaz de manejar grandes cantidades de maní, mientras los mantiene fuera de la lluvia.

La contaminación por aflatoxinas es un problema serio en todo el mundo, y aunque se puede solucionar, inventar una tecnología simple es un trabajo duro. Los investigadores comienzan con un problema y algunas ideas para resolverlo, como el flujo de aire y el maní seco. Pero es solo después de ofrecer a los agricultores un prototipo que los investigadores pueden ver las demandas de los agricultores. Por ejemplo, diseñar un secador estacionario ayuda a los investigadores a ver que los agricultores necesitan uno portátil. Hacer y usar un pequeño secador en el campo resalta la necesidad de un más grande. Este tipo de demandas solo surgen con el tiempo, como en una conversación larga y lenta, pero que vale la pena tener.

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.

Inspiration from Bangladesh to Bolivia May 13th, 2018 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

For years I have thought of farmer experiments as fundamentally different from scientific trials. Smallholders live from their harvest and after trying an innovation for a while can decide qualitatively if it is useful or not. For the scientists it’s the other way around; the data are the precious material they need to write their papers, while the harvested crop is irrelevant. The scientists need replicable results to show that an innovation will work in different places. But the farmers are less concerned if their results are replicable over a large area; they only want to know if an innovation is helpful in their own fields.

That’s what I thought, anyway, but this past week in La Paz, Bolivia I saw how farmers who work together may become more concerned about doing experiments with replicable results. I was with Prosuco, a small NGO that promotes farmer research. Agronomist Sonia Laura, their research coordinator, introduced me to eight farmer-experimenters from all over the northern Bolivian Altiplano. They had travelled for three or four hours from different points across this cold, arid landscape to meet us in El Alto, the sprawling new city growing on the high plains just above La Paz.

These farmer experimenters call themselves “yapuchiris”, an Aymara word that means master farmer. A network of 70 yapuchiris meets irregularly, exchanging information, conducting experiments and teaching their neighbors new ideas (such as making organic fertilizers, natural pesticides and soil conservation).

The day we met in El Alto we discussed future experiments the yapuchiris could do. The president of the group, Miguel Ortega, suggested working on earthworms. He had raised earthworms and used their humus for years to fertilize his greenhouse vegetables. The other yapuchiris were mildly interested, especially because some of them already raised earthworms. They talked about carrying out an experiment on earthworm humus, but were a little vague on what this would be.

Then Sonia played an Aymara-language version of a video on earthworms, filmed in Bangladesh. A year earlier, Sonia had given the yapuchiris a DVD with this and six other videos in Aymara, Spanish, and Quechua. Some yapuchiris had watched the videos and some had not. At home, don Miguel had watched the one on earthworms four times.

After watching the video together the group came alive, defining more clearly what they would do in their earthworm experiment. With don Miguel taking the lead, they first agreed to standardize the types and amounts of food they would give their earthworms, so that the results would be replicable. In the video, Bangladeshi women had measured their materials in small baskets. On the Altiplano, most people have a 12-liter bucket, which Miguel suggested that they use instead of the basket.

Miguel said that the objective of the experiment was to get humus in one month. In his own, previous experience, it could take four months to get humus, and he wanted to speed up the process.

The video suggested mixing cow dung with chopped up banana stems, which are unavailable on the frigid Altiplano. The group kind of got stuck there. Sometimes a little outside facilitation can be useful. I helped them make a quick list of the plant materials they did have, including potato tops—stems and leaves normally discarded after harvest—and various kinds of straw.

That was enough to set the group thinking about how to adapt Bangladeshi techniques to Bolivian conditions. Don Miguel seized the lead again and asked each member of the group if they had potato tops. Only two others did, so he then asked how many had green barley straw. They all did, so they decided that each yapuchiri would make his or her earthworm trial at home with two layers of dung and two layers of barley straw.

The video shows making a home for worms in a cement ring, with a floor of sand, broken brick and earth. Even though the yapuchiris had just seen the video, they couldn’t quite recall all of the materials, their order and thickness of each layer. So we watched parts of the video again.

Again, the yapuchiris adapted. They didn’t have broken brick, so they decided to use small stones instead, to make an earthworm habitat of sand, with a layer of rock on top, followed by earth, straw, manure, a second layer of straw and a final top layer of manure. One advantage of a video is that farmer-experimenters can review it to recall specific details.

One yapuchiri, don Constantino, offered to bring a starter supply of earthworms to their next meeting, so they could all set up their experiments.

These yapuchiris have had a lot of contact with researchers. They were essentially organizing themselves so that each one of them would conduct a replica of a standardized experiment. They all live far from each other and they understand that each yapuchiri lives in a different environment, so they decided to take that into account. They agreed to measure the pH of the water (they have pH paper to do that) and the temperature, which will help later in understanding any differences that could be due to these independent experimental variables.

The yapuchiris need replicable results if they are going to share innovations with others. By collaborating with researches, the yapuchiris are learning the advantages of the scientific method.

The Bangladeshi earthworm video was filmed at sea level, about as far away as one can get from the Bolivian Altiplano (at about 4000 meters). Yet these yapuchiris found inspiration in what they saw and they said that the worm techniques in the video were simpler and more practical than others that they had been taught. This is a direct benefit of sharing knowledge and experience from farmer-to-farmer. Farmers who use an innovation for a few years will simplify it, validate it, and make it practical for other farmers to try, even if those farmers live on other continents.

Further viewing

You can watch the earthworm video in Aymara, English and several other languages at www.accessagriculture.org.

Acknowledgements

Our work in Bolivia is funded by the McKnight Foundation’s CCRP (Collaborative Crop Research Program). Thanks to Sonia Laura, of Prosuco, for sharing various insights with me.

INSPIRACIÓN DE BANGLADESH A BOLIVIA

Por Jeff Bentley, 13 de mayo del 2018

Por años he pensado que los experimentos de los agricultores eran fundamentalmente diferentes de los ensayos científicos. Los campesinos viven de su cosecha y al probar una innovación por un tiempo pueden decidir cualitativamente si sirve o no. Para los científicos es al revés; los datos son el material precioso que necesitan para escribir sus publicaciones, mientras que el cultivo cosechado es irrelevante. Los científicos necesitan resultados replicables para mostrar que una innovación funcionará en diferentes lugares. Pero a los campesinos les importa menos si sus resultados son replicables en un área grande; solo quieren saber si una innovación es útil en sus propias parcelas.

Por lo menos así pensaba yo, pero esta semana pasada en La Paz, Bolivia, vi cómo los agricultores que trabajan juntos pueden interesarse más por hacer experimentos con resultados replicables. Estuve con Prosuco, una pequeña ONG que promueve la investigación de agricultores. La Ing. Sonia Laura, su coordinadora de investigación, me presentó a ocho agricultores experimentadores de todo el Altiplano boliviano. Habían viajado durante tres o cuatro horas desde distintos puntos a través de este frío y árido paisaje para encontrarse con nosotros en El Alto, la nueva ciudad dinámica que crece en las llanuras arriba de La Paz.

Estos agricultores experimentadores se llaman “yapuchiris”, una palabra aymara que significa agricultor experto. Una red de 70 yapuchiris se reúne irregularmente, intercambiando información, realizando experimentos y enseñando a sus vecinos nuevas ideas (como hacer fertilizantes orgánicos, plaguicidas naturales y la conservación del suelo).

El día que nos encontramos en El Alto discutimos algunos experimentos futuros que los yapuchiris podrían hacer. El presidente del grupo, Miguel Ortega, sugirió trabajar con las lombrices de tierra. Él había criado lombrices de tierra, usando su humus durante años para fertilizar sus hortalizas de carpa solar (invernadero). Los otros yapuchiris estaban algo interesados, especialmente porque algunos de ellos ya habían criado lombrices. Hablaron de llevar a cabo un experimento sobre eñ lombrihumus, sin especificar mucho cómo hacerlo.

Luego Sonia tocó una versión en idioma aymara de un video sobre lombrices de tierra, filmado en Bangladesh. El año anterior, Sonia les había dado a los yapuchiris un DVD con este y otros seis videos en aymara, español y quechua. Algunos yapuchiris habían visto los videos y otros no. En casa, don Miguel había visto el de las lombrices cuatro veces.

Después de ver el video juntos, el grupo cobró vida, definiendo más claramente lo que harían en su experimento con las lombrices. Con don Miguel tomando la iniciativa, primero acordaron estandarizar los tipos y cantidades de alimentos que darían a sus lombrices, para que los resultados fueran replicables. En el video, las mujeres bangladesíes habían medido sus materiales en pequeñas canastas. En el Altiplano, la gente tiene un balde de 12 litros, que Miguel sugirió usar en lugar de la canasta.

Don Miguel dijo que el objetivo del experimento era obtener humus en un mes. En su propia experiencia previa, podría tomar cuatro meses obtener humus, y quería acelerar el proceso.

El video sugirió mezclar bosta (estiércol) de vaca con tallos de banana picados, que no están disponibles en el frígido Altiplano. El grupo se estancó allí. A veces, un poquito de facilitación externa puede ser útil. Los ayudé a hacer una lista rápida de los materiales vegetales que tenían, incluidas las hojas y tallos de las papas, y varios tipos de paja.

Eso fue suficiente para que el grupo pensara en cómo adaptar las técnicas de Bangladesh a las condiciones bolivianas. Don Miguel volvió a tomar la iniciativa y preguntó a cada miembro del grupo si tenían hojas de papa. Solo otros dos las tenían, entonces él preguntó cuántos tenían paja verde de cebada. Todos la tenían, por lo que decidieron que cada yapuchiri haría su prueba de lombriz en casa con dos capas de estiércol y dos capas de paja de cebada.

El video muestra cómo hacer un hogar para las lombrices en una argolla de cemento, con un piso de arena, ladrillo quebrado y tierra. Aunque los yapuchiris acababan de ver el video, no podían recordar todos los materiales, el orden y el grosor de cada capa. Así que vimos partes del video nuevamente.

De nuevo, los yapuchiris se adaptaron. No tenían ladrillos quebrados, entonces decidieron usar piedras pequeñas para crear un hábitat de arena, con una capa de piedritas, seguida de tierra, paja, estiércol, una segunda capa de paja y una capa superior de estiércol. Una ventaja de un video es que los agricultores-experimentadores pueden revisarlo para acordarse de detalles específicos.

Uno de los yapuchiris, don Constantino, se ofreció a traer algunas lombrices para la próxima reunión, para que todos pudieran empezar sus experimentos.

Estos yapuchiris han tenido mucho contacto con los investigadores. Se organizaban esencialmente para que cada uno de ellos llevara a cabo una réplica de un experimento estandarizado. Todos viven lejos el uno del otro y entienden que cada yapuchiri vive en un ambiente diferente, por lo que decidieron tomar eso en cuenta. Acordaron medir el pH del agua (tienen papel de pH para hacer eso) y la temperatura, lo que ayudará luego a comprender las diferencias que son como variables experimentales independientes.

Los yapuchiris necesitan resultados replicables si van a compartir innovaciones con otros. Al colaborar con las investigaciones, los yapuchiris están aprendiendo las ventajas del método científico.

El video de la lombriz de tierra de Bangladesh fue filmado a nivel del mar, lo más lejos que se puede llegar desde el Altiplano boliviano (a unos 4000 metros sobre el nivel de mar). Sin embargo, estos yapuchiris encontraron inspiración en lo que vieron y dijeron que las técnicas de lombricultura en el video eran más simples y más prácticas que otras que les habían enseñado. Este es un beneficio directo de compartir conocimiento y experiencia de agricultor a agricultor. Los campesinos que usan una innovación durante algunos años lo simplifican, lo validan y lo vuelven práctico para que otros agricultores lo prueben, incluso si esos agricultores viven en otros continentes.

Para ver más

Se puede ver los videos sobre la lombriz de tierra en aymara, español y varios otros idiomas en www.accessagriculture.org.

Agradecimientos

Nuestro trabajo en Bolivia es auspiciado por el CCRP (Programa Colaborativo para la Investigación de los Cultivos) de la Fundación McKnight. Gracias a Sonia Laura por compartir varias percepciones conmigo.

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