Most recent stories ›
AgroInsight RSS feed

From Uniformity to Diversity March 18th, 2018 by

Industrial agriculture has so damaged our farmland that the survival of future generations is at risk, reveals Professor Emile Frison in his report “From Uniformity to Diversity”, but there is a way forward.

Frison’s conclusions are staggering. The indiscriminate use of synthetic fertilisers has destroyed the soil biota and its nutrient-recycling potential. The combination of monocultures with highly mechanized farming and fertiliser abuse has caused historical land degradation on over 20% of the Earth’s agricultural land.

High yielding varieties and abundant chemical inputs increased global crop yields in the early decades of the “green revolution”, but by now the sobering figures indicate that productivity in 24% to 39% of the areas growing maize, rice, wheat and soya bean has stagnated or collapsed.

The productivity of industrial agriculture has systematically degraded the environment on which it relies. The use of pesticides in agriculture has caused a global decline in insect pollinators, threatening the very basis of agriculture. Some 35% of global cultivated crops depend on pollination by insects.

Pests, diseases and weeds are adapting to chemical pest management faster than ever. Genetically modified soya bean and maize that are herbicide-tolerant have led to an indiscriminate use of glyphosate-based herbicides such as Roundup and 2,4D. Some 210 species of weeds have now evolved resistance to herbicides. Clearly, this flawed, industrial model has mainly benefitted corporate interests and the wealthiest farmers.

Of equally great concern to our future generations, industrial agriculture significantly reduces the agrobiodiversity of livestock and crops. Underutilized or minor crops such as indigenous leafy vegetables, small-grained African cereals, legumes, wild fruits and tree crops are disappearing in the face of competition with a limited number of industrially produced varieties of rice, maize and wheat.

Greenhouse gases, water pollution, over-exploited aquifers, soil erosion, loss of agrobiodiversity and epidemics such as the Avian influenza and the foot-and-mouth disease are all signs that we need to urgently re-think the way we produce, source and consume food.

A study covering 55 crops grown on five continents over 40 years found that organic agriculture was significantly more profitable (22–35%) than conventional agriculture.

In developed countries, yields of organic agriculture were 8% lower than conventional agriculture, but they were 80% higher in developing countries where the negative impacts of industrial agriculture on food and nutrition security are felt much stronger.

So, diversified systems have shown the capacity to raise productivity in places where additional food is desperately needed.

Yet corporate lobby groups, some donors and development agencies continue to push governments towards unsustainable production models. In many developing countries, the general switch towards specialized, export-oriented systems has eroded the diverse farming economy, causing a gradual loss of local food distribution systems.

With rapid shifts in global and regional competitiveness this has destabilised national food supply, not only jeopardising the very livelihoods on which rural people depend, but also putting the economic and political stability of developing countries at risk.

Ethical labels, such as Fairtrade, ensure that farmers in developing countries get more money for their produce, while at the same time ensuring social and environmental services are ploughed back into the rural communities, as explained by Nicolas Lambert, CEO of Fairtrade Belgium.

Emile Frison, and other outstanding scientists like Professor Olivier De Schutter, former UN special rapporteur on the right to food, have joined forces in the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems. There is indeed an urgent need to alert policy makers to the high risks related to short-term thinking and concentration of power in the hands of fewer, large-scale retailers and corporate agri-businesses.

It is re-assuring that eminent people have joined forces to protect global biodiversity and farmers’ rights to seed as key requirements for food systems that respect the farmers and their environment. The opponents are powerful, and motivated by greed, so the struggle is bound to be a long one.

Further reading

IPES-Food. 2016. From uniformity to diversity: a paradigm shift from industrial agriculture to diversified agroecological systems. International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food systems. www.ipes-food.org

Related videos

Farmers’ rights to seed – Guatemala

Farmers’ rights to seed – Malawi

Succeed with seeds

Around 100 farmer training videos on organic agriculture can be found on the Access Agriculture video-sharing platform:  Organic agriculture

Photo Credit: Soya beans are harvested in Brazil. Paulo Fridman/Corbis

Share on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

Malawi calling January 21st, 2018 by

Written with Ronald Kondwani Udedi

I was at home in Bolivia when I got a surprise call from southern Africa. “I’m a chilli farmer in Malawi; you’ve been to my house,” said the confident voice on the other end, before the caller ran out of credit and the faint, crackling connection was suddenly cut off.

But the caller, Lester Mpinda, was not easily discouraged. In the time it takes to walk to the village shop and buy a scratch card, he was back on the phone. “I’ve made a lot of profit from chilli,” he said. Then the call was cut off again.

I remembered Mr. Mpinda well. Malawian media expert Ronald Udedi and I had visited Mr.Mpinda’s garden in September of 2016, in Mwanza, southern Malawi, where he showed us how he had started growing local chillies from seed he bought in the market after watching the videos on a DVD. I wanted to learn more, but the phone connection was too poor to chat. Instead, I contacted my friend Ronald on social media and asked him to find out more.

Ronald filled me in on the rest of Mr. Mpinda’s story. Shortly after our visit to his farm in 2016, Ronald and I made a short video on Mr. Mpinda. Access Agriculture then invited Mr. Mpinda to share his story at a meeting with partner organizations in Lilongwe, the capital city of Malawi. I couldn’t attend, but I was a little apprehensive about the outcome, thinking that the event might distract Mr. Mpinda from his everyday work on the farm. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

At the meeting, Mr. Mpinda met Mr. Dyborn Chibonga, then the head of Nasfam (National Smallholder Farmers’ Association). Mr. Chibonga put Mr. Mpinda in touch with the nearest Nasfam extension agent in Mulanje, who later visited the farm and gave Mr. Mpinda some seed of bird’s eye chilli, the variety used to make tabasco-style hot sauce. The slender red bottles of hot sauce are a common sight on Malawian tables and the dried chilli is exported to food-makers in Europe and elsewhere.

Chilli seed is really small, and a little bit goes a long way, so Mr. Mpinda decided to share his generous gift from Nasfam with his neighbors. Mr. Mpinda started a chilli club with 12 members, of whom eight were women. He showed the club members how to plant the chilli, gave them seed, and once or twice a week he invited the club to his home to show them the chilli videos in Chichewa, the local language. Each member learned more about growing and drying this crop, which was entirely new to them. The club members created a chilli demonstration garden, where they tried out what they saw in the videos.

When the club had a stock of dried chillies, they phoned the Nasfam extension agent, who came from Mulanje, where Nasfam has a factory for making hot sauce. The agent bought 160 kilos of chilli from the individual club members, paying 2,500 Kwacha ($3.50) per kilogram, twice the price of tobacco which is number one export crop. The Nasfam agent left more seed.

Other friends and neighbors who heard of this success asked to join the club. Mr. Mpinda graciously welcomed them and now there are 80 members growing chilli and learning about the crop from the videos.

As Ronald puts it, “the most important thing (that started this new enterprise) was the DVD with the chilli videos. Mr. Mpinda and his friends watched it to learn about everything, from taking care of the nursery beds to transplanting and harvesting.” The videos meant that farmer didn’t have to rely on visits from extension agents, whose time and travel budgets are limited.

For many years only one company, NALI, made hot sauce in Malawi, but now there are over 10. Malawi is now enjoying a kind of chilli boom.  Mr. Mpinda’s story shows that smallholders can independently identify and respond to market openings. Peasant farmers are always open to new opportunities and eager to try useful innovations. I have no idea how long the chilli boom in Malawi will last, but agriculture will never go out of style. As long as smallholders have buyers, seed and good information, they will be able to market quality produce.

Related blog stories

A hot plan

New crops for Mr. Mpinda

Winning the peace, with chilli and videos

Related videos

Hear Mr. Mpinda tell, in his own words, how he became a chilli farmer. Watch Ronald Udedi’s video

Videos on chilli

Watch the videos on how to grow and process chilli here

Videos in the languages of Malawi

All the videos hosted on www.accessagriculture.org are in English and at least one other language, including the following languages spoken in Malawi:

36 videos in Chichewa

7 videos in Tumbuka

13 videos in Yao

13 videos in Sena

Share on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

Food for outlaws December 24th, 2017 by

A law can have unintended consequences, as I learned recently at the national meeting of “Prosumidores” (producers + consumers) held in Cochabamba, Bolivia. This was the second annual meeting, to promote healthy, local food and family farming. The meeting brings together farmers and concerned consumers, and it was held in a grand old house in the city center. Half a dozen groups of organized farmers sat at tables in the entrance way, selling fresh chillies, local red apples, amaranth cookies, and some delicious whole wheat bread, little flasks of apple vinegar, among other unusual and wonderful products. A few had labels, but none had a list of their ingredients or nutritional qualities.

When the presentations started in the main room, most of the farmers stayed outside where potential customers were still looking at the goods.

Inside the large hall, one of the talks was by a government lawyer. She gave a helpful explanation of law 453, on the consumers’ food rights, signed in 2013. And while it has been the law of the land for four years, many consumers are unaware of it. Law 453 is a complex piece of legislation which aims to promote safe and healthy food and includes interesting bits such as “promoting education about responsible and sustainable consumption.” But the lawyer caught the most attention when she explained that the law required all food to have a label, listing the ingredients and the nutritional characteristics of the food.

That is when a perceptive woman from the audience rose to make a statement. “I’m opening a shop to sell agro-ecological foods, but if I adhere strictly to this law I won’t be able to buy products from the kinds of people who are selling just outside this door.”

There was a moment of stunned silence, because it was true. Few smallholders can design and print a label listing the nutritional qualities of their products. (For example, I bought some fresh, delicious whole-wheat bread at the meeting. Many people could write a list of ingredients in a home-made product like bread, but would not know how to list the calories or other nutritional qualities of the food).

The more food is regulated, the more difficult it will be for small producers to meet well-meaning standards. At this event, lawyer was unable to answer the storekeeper’s question. It seemed as if no one had noticed the potential legal difficulties for smallholders (even organized ones) to sell packaged food.

This law was written to keep consumers safe, and it was certainly never intended to prevent smallholders from selling their produce directly to consumers; organized peasant farmers are a key constituency of the current government. The anti-smallholder bias was simply an unintended consequence of the law, a bit of thoughtlessness.

In Bolivia many people still sell food on street corners and in open air markets. Bolivian laws are often statements of high ideals, but enforcement can be light, which in this case is a blessing in disguise. This law may yet have time to evolve so that it protects farmers as well as consumers.

Further viewing

Watch some videos that encourage farmers to produce safe, healthy food for market:

Turning honey into money

Making fresh cheese

Managing aflatoxins in groundnuts

Keeping milk clean and fresh

And many others on www.accessagriculture.org


Una ley puede tener consecuencias imprevistas, como aprendí recientemente en la reunión nacional de “Prosumidores” (productores + consumidores) celebrada en Cochabamba, Bolivia. Esta fue la segunda reunión anual para promover la comida saludable y la agricultura familiar local. La reunión reúne a agricultores y consumidores interesados, y se llevó a cabo en una gran casa antigua en el centro de la ciudad. Media docena de grupos de campesinos organizados se sentaron en mesas en la entrada, vendiendo ají fresco, manzanas rojas locales, galletas de amaranto y un delicioso pan de trigo integral, pequeños frascos de vinagre de manzana, entre otros productos inusuales y maravillosos. Algunas tenían etiquetas, pero ninguna tenía una lista de sus ingredientes o de sus cualidades nutricionales.

Cuando las presentaciones comenzaron en la sala principal, la mayoría de los agricultores se quedaron afuera, donde los clientes potenciales seguían mirando los productos.

Dentro del gran salón, una de las charlas fue realizada por una abogada del gobierno. Dio una explicación útil de la Ley 453, sobre los derechos alimentarios de los consumidores, firmada en 2013. La ley si tiene cuatro años, pero muchos consumidores no la conocen. La Ley 453 es una ley compleja que tiene como objetivo promover alimentos seguros y saludables e incluye elementos interesantes como ” informar o difundir programas de educación en consumo responsable y sustentable”. Pero la abogada más llamó la atención cuando explicó que la ley exigía que todos los alimentos tengan una etiqueta, con los ingredientes y las características nutricionales de los alimentos.

Fue entonces cuando una mujer perspicaz de la audiencia se levantó para hacer una declaración. “Estoy abriendo una tienda para vender alimentos agroecológicos, pero si yo sigo estrictamente a esta ley no podré comprar productos de como de las personas que están vendiendo justo afuera de esta puerta”.

Hubo un momento de silencio atónito, porque era cierto. Pocos campesinos pueden diseñar e imprimir una etiqueta que enumere las cualidades nutricionales de sus productos. (Por ejemplo, compré un pan fresco y delicioso de trigo integral en la reunión. Muchas personas podrían escribir un listado de los ingredientes de un producto casero como el pan, pero no sabrían cómo enumerar las calorías u otras cualidades nutricionales de la comida).

Cuanto más se regulen los alimentos, más difícil será para los pequeños productores cumplir con esos estándares bien intencionados. En este evento, la abogada no pudo responder a la pregunta de la mujer que abriría una tienda. Parecía que nadie había notado las posibles dificultades legales para los pequeños agricultores (incluso los organizados) para vender alimentos empaquetados.

Esta ley fue escrita para la seguridad de los consumidores, y por supuesto nunca pretendió evitar que los pequeños productores vendan sus productos directamente a los consumidores; los campesinos organizados son un electorado clave del gobierno actual. El prejuicio contra los pequeños propietarios era simplemente una consecuencia involuntaria de la ley, un poco irreflexiva.

En Bolivia, mucha gente aún vende alimentos en las esquinas de las calles y en mercados al aire libre. Las leyes bolivianas a menudo son declaraciones de altos ideales, pero la aplicación de la ley puede ser leve, lo que en este caso es una bendición disfrazada. Esta ley aún puede tener tiempo de evolucionar para proteger tanto a los agricultores como a los consumidores.

Para ver más

Vea algunos videos que alientan a los agricultores a producir alimentos seguros y saludables para el mercado:

Producir tarwi sin enfermedad

Manejo de aflatoxinas en el maní

Guardemos bien el maíz

La miel es oro

Share on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

Farewell coca, hello cocoa November 26th, 2017 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación.

Enrique Arévalo is the general coordinator at the Instituto de Cultivos Tropicales (ICT) or Tropical Crops Institute, based in Tarapoto, the capital of San Martín department in northern Peru. I met my old colleague last week at an international symposium on cocoa in Lima, before visiting ICT and learning more about the rise in importance of cocoa in Peru – and the challenges in supporting farmers.

Cocoa is ICT’s most important crop and increasingly popular with farmers in San Martín, one of the main production areas. But, as Enrique explained in his introduction to ICT, San Martín is also a major coca producer. Coca is the plant from which cocaine is made. Although it is illegal to make cocaine, coca is a legal crop in Peru and Bolivia, where the partially dried leaves are chewed to ward off altitude sickness, dampen hunger and produce a soothing tea known as mate de coca.

In its early days, ICT, a private institute, did research on coca yields but that has faded away. Although cocoa is one of the key crops promoted as an alternative to coca in Peru (and elsewhere), support for cocoa research and development is far from guaranteed, as Enrique explained.

Enrique outlined what ICT did. “We offer technical support to farmers, in soil testing and diagnosis of pests and diseases, for example. We organise training for extension agents who work for the many cooperatives that buy and process cocoa.” ICT also works with tropical fruits, including banana, and popular medicinal crops such as noni and sacha inchi (Plukenetia volubilis). Despite responding directly to farmers’ needs, Enrique said it was difficult to sustain existing services while, as he put it, ”doing research for the future”, such as a new cocoa grafting technique that ICT had developed.

ICT relies on project funding plus some support from farmer associations, cocoa buyers and local government. The reduction in US funding has been particularly steep. As funds have dried up so staff numbers have declined. It was sad to hear Enrique tell me that ICTused to have over 60 staff. “Now there are only six of us to provide support to farmers while maintaining laboratory equipment and germplasm collections.” The germplasm collections are particularly important, a vital resource for understanding and exploiting the full genetic potential of of cocoa and other ICT crops.

Crippling an institute takes an instant while re-establishing staff capacity can take years. The best staff find jobs elsewhere and won’t return. Experience fades quickly when one is no longer working on a particular crop. Building up the next generation of knowledgeable scientists is a lengthy task. Rehabilitating neglected germplasm collections takes years, assuming that they can be resurrected from overgrown plots.

Cocoa production is on the up in Peru, with over 100,000 tonnes produced in 2016. The work of Enrique and his fellow scientists has done much to develop cocoa as a viable crop. The cocoa germplasm collections at ICT (one next to the laboratories and another in a separate plot) contain an invaluable store of both local varieties – Peru has the largest cocoa diversity in the world – and those introduced from other major collections, particularly Trinidad and Tobago. ICT ensures that trees are regularly pruned and plots are kept clean and free from disease. It was good to see how well the collections were being maintained through the dedication of ICT staff. But, as Enrique explained, “we need to do more to safeguard cocoa genetic resources for Peruvian farmers.”

I was part of a group of scientists and representatives from leading chocolate companies, such as Mars and Mondelēz, that visited ICT. The companies already support a lot of cocoa research and development and though more funding is always welcome it is governments that are responsible for their farmers. A swelling influx of tourists has helped promote fine flavour and aroma chocolate made in Peru. The national and international profile of Peruvian cocoa is growing and needs to be matched by reliable funding that allows dedicated scientists such as Enrique and his colleagues at ICT to stay on top of existing technical challenges while innovating for the future.

Eating chocolate is a fleeting indulgence for consumers; cocoa income is an everyday lifeline for 90,000 families in Peru, paying for food, schooling, healthcare and other essentials. You can’t sustain cocoa production without sustaining cocoa science. Identifying new funding streams is the key challenge for maintaining innovation and development of the cocoa sector in Peru.

Without the necessary support, farmers may not be able to earn enough from cocoa to support their families, and return to coca.

Other blogs on cocoa:

Out of the shade (Ecuador)

Congo cocoa  

On the road (DR Congo)

Related blogs on chocolate:

Chocolate evolution


Enrique Arévalo es el coordinador general del Instituto de Cultivos Tropicales (ICT), con sede en Tarapoto, capital del departamento de San Martín situado en el norte del Perú. Me encontré con mi viejo colega la semana pasada en un simposio internacional sobre el cacao en Lima, antes de visitar el ICT y aprender más sobre el aumento de la importancia del cacao en Perú, y los desafíos en el apoyo a los agricultores.

El cacao es el cultivo más importante del ICT y cada vez es más popular entre los agricultores de San Martín, una de las principales áreas de producción. Pero, como Enrique explicó en su introducción al ICT, San Martín también es un importante productor de coca. La coca es la planta a partir de la cual se produce la cocaína. Aunque es ilegal producirla, la coca es un cultivo legal en Perú y Bolivia, donde las hojas parcialmente secas se mastican para evitar el mal de altura, reducir el hambre y producir un té relajante llamado mate de coca.

En sus inicios, el ICT, un instituto privado, investigaba sobre el rendimiento de la coca pero eso se ha desvanecido. Aunque el cacao es uno de los principales cultivos promovidos como alternativa a la coca en Perú (y en otros lugares), el apoyo para la investigación y el desarrollo del cacao está lejos de estar garantizado, como Enrique explicó.

Enrique describió lo que el ICT hizo: “Ofrecemos soporte técnico a los agricultores, en pruebas de suelo y diagnóstico de plagas y enfermedades, por ejemplo. Organizamos cursos de formación para los agentes de extensión que trabajan para las muchas cooperativas que compran y procesan el cacao “. El ICT también trabaja con frutas tropicales, incluido el banano, y cultivos medicinales populares como el noni y el sacha inchi (Plukenetia volubilis). A pesar de responder directamente a las necesidades de los agricultores, Enrique dijo que era difícil mantener los servicios existentes mientras “se investiga para el futuro”, como por ejemplo, una nueva técnica de injerto de cacao que el ICT había desarrollado.

El ICT se basa en el financiamiento de proyectos además de obtener cierto apoyo de asociaciones de agricultores, compradores de cacao y del gobierno local. La reducción de la financiación de los Estados Unidos ha sido particularmente pronunciada. Como los fondos se han “secado”, el número de empleados ha disminuido. Fue triste escuchar a Enrique decirme que el ICT solía tener más de 60 empleados. “Ahora solo somos seis los que apoyamos a los agricultores mientras mantenemos equipo de laboratorio y las colecciones de germoplasma”. Estas colecciones de germoplasma son particularmente importantes, ya que son un recurso vital para comprender y explotar todo el potencial genético del cacao y otros cultivos del ICT.

Se require un instante para paralizar un instituto, mientras que restablecer la capacidad del personal puede llevar años. El mejor personal encuentra trabajo en otro lugar y no regresará. La experiencia se desvanece rápidamente cuando uno ya no está trabajando en un cultivo en particular. Desarrollar la próxima generación de científicos expertos es una tarea larga. La rehabilitación de colecciones de germoplasma abandonadas lleva años, suponiendo que se puedan resucitar de parcelas descuidadas.

La producción de cacao está en alza en Perú, con más de 100.000 toneladas producidas en 2016. El trabajo de Enrique y sus colegas científicos ha contribuido mucho a desarrollar el cacao como un cultivo viable. Las colecciones de germoplasma de cacao en el ICT (una al lado de los laboratorios y otra en una parcela separada) contienen una valiosa reserva de ambas variedades locales – Perú tiene la mayor diversidad de cacao del mundo – y de variedades introducidas de otras colecciones importantes, particularmente de Trinidad y Tobago . El ICT asegura que los árboles se podan regularmente y las parcelas se mantienen limpias y libres de enfermedades. Estuvo bien ver lo bien se mantenían las colecciones gracias a la dedicación del personal de ICT. Pero, como explicó Enrique, “tenemos que hacer más para salvaguardar los recursos genéticos del cacao para los agricultores peruanos”.

Formé parte de un grupo de científicos y representantes de compañías líderes de chocolate, como Mars y Mondelēz, que visitaron el ICT. Las compañías ya apoyan una gran cantidad de investigación y desarrollo del cacao, y aunque más financiación siempre es bienvenida, son los gobiernos los responsables de sus agricultores. Una creciente afluencia de turistas ha ayudado a promover el sabor fino y el aroma del chocolate hecho en Perú. El perfil nacional e internacional del cacao peruano está creciendo y debe ser acompañado por un financiamiento fiable que permita a científicos dedicados como Enrique y sus colegas del ICT mantenerse al tanto de los desafíos técnicos existentes mientras innovan para el futuro.

Comer chocolate es una indulgencia pasajera para los consumidores; los ingresos del cacao son una línea de vida cotidiana para 90,000 familias en el Perú, que permite pagar sus alimentos, la educación, sus gastos para la salud y otros artículos esenciales. No se puede mantener la producción de cacao sin sustentar la ciencia del cacao. Identificar nuevas fuentes de financiamiento es el desafío clave para mantener la innovación y el desarrollo del sector del cacao en Perú. Sin el apoyo necesario, los agricultores tal vez no puedan ganar lo suficiente del cacao para mantener a sus familias y para no volver a la coca.

Artículos relacionados del blog:

Out of the shade (Ecuador)

Congo cocoa  

On the road (DR Congo)

Blog relacionado sobre chocolate:

Chocolate evolution

Share on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

Tuta on the move July 2nd, 2017 by

The tomato is a remarkably versatile plant, with a huge number of different varieties, most of which are easy to grow. It is a popular crop with many farmers, a reflection of the strong demand from consumers in many countries. But the tomato is also prone to many pests and diseases and physiological disorders. The tomato plant is closely related to the potato and both suffer from similar diseases, including late blight, bacterial wilt and a host of viruses.

Twine for tomatoes copyTomatoes tend to be grown in small plots or in polytunnels and glasshouses, so I still recall my surprise a few years ago when I saw my largest tomato field ever in Mato Grasso state in Brazil. Double rows of tomatoes several hundred metres long were planted on a gentle downward slope. A team of workers were tying the plants to twine stretched between large poles of eucalyptus set about five metres apart. A tractor stood by, ready to carry new poles along the rows

It was an impressive operation, though I worried about the efficiency of large scale production as I watched the workers working hard to remove vigorous weeds. I also saw a number of serious diseases when I walked a short distance along the rows. More recently, I came across more large fields of tomatoes in Kyrgyzstan, during a series of visits in Chuy district with Alieve Nur and colleagues. Alieve works for Ailana, a local food processing company that produces tomato purée and tomato juice and cans vegetables and fruit.

P1040311 copyAilana have 126 contracted out-growers, most of whom have started to grow tomatoes in the last few years. The fields were set up in a different way to those in Mato Grosso. The tomatoes were direct-drilled by tractor, rather than being planted out as seedlings. The method appears to work, though there were a few gaps where no seeds had been apparently sown – or had failed to grow. They were bushy tomatoes so didn’t need staking. Which is just as well, since the largest field I saw was 52 ha. Imagine a rough square with each side 700 metres long. It would take over 30 minutes to walk around all four sides.

The other unusual thing I noticed was the absence of any major pests and diseases and weeds. The tomato plants were only a month old so maybe this was too early in the season for infections and infestations to develop. Or maybe the crop had been treated with pesticides, though there was no direct evidence of this taking place. During my day out I was presented with odd bits of leaves that were drying out or showing minor damage. Nothing to worry about, I said. But when you have a large area of a valuable crop any sign of disease can cause anxiety and precipitate hasty spraying.

Damaged fruit cut open 3 copySo far Tuta has only been found in glasshouses around Bishkek. It is unclear whether it will cause as much damage in open fields as it does in enclosed spaces, where favourable conditions lead to rapid spread of the highly damaging caterpillars. Nor is it clear how a farmer with a 52 ha field is going to control Tuta. This is a huge area for putting out pheromone traps, for example, and an expensive task as well.

There is some hope that the long, cold winters may wipe out Tuta every year, though continuous production in heated glasshouses will provide a refuge and the insect has an uncanny ability to survive hard times and re-emerge to attack afresh. In the UK my colleague Martin McPherson suggested to me that the high risk of late blight in open fields discourages farmers from this method of production.

Demand for tomatoes is growing in Kyrgyzstan and the season is short, so it makes sense to maximize production from fertile soils in open fields. Water is freely available. Farmers will now be closely monitoring the current tomato harvest for Tuta damage. Fortunately, wholesale buyers of tomatoes, such as Ailana, are already thinking about how to help farmers cope with this new threat. For the many people with a small garden plot of tomatoes it’s less clear who will be giving them advice.


Esenali Uulu T, Ulusoy MR, Çaliskan AF, 2017. First record of tomato leafminer Tuta absoluta in Kyrygyzstan. EPPO Bulletin. doi: 10.1111/epp.12390

Share on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

Design by Olean webdesign