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Watching videos to become a dairy expert January 7th, 2018 by

Last week I wrote about Isaac Enoch, who is using drip irrigation to grow vegetables in South Sudan. This week we meet Tom Juma, who is also one of the registered users of the Access Agriculture video platform.

Tom Nyongesa Juma grew up in a small village in Bungoma, in Western Kenya, about an hour from the city of Kisumu. As a young man he earned a B.Sc. in forestry, and studied soil science for an M.Sc. He nearly finished that degree, but was frustrated by a lack of money to pay his school fees. After university, in 2008, Tom started to work for various NGOs, especially ones that gave him an opportunity to help farmers improve their yields of cereals and other crops.

Then in 2017, Tom decided to put his passion for agriculture into building his own model farm. He now has turkeys, chickens, sheep and three cows. Tom is building a barn to hold 30 milk cows. He is motivated by the desire to teach others, “the extension bit,” as he puts it. But Tom also sees the urgency of producing food for Kenya: “We have so many mouths to feed.” Tom wants his teaching farm to focus on young people. He is building the barn so it can accommodate learning visits by primary schools and others, to teach kids about agriculture. “I want to show that you can make a living by agriculture, and do it smartly”, Tom explains.

As a forester and a soil scientist, Tom feels that he is not really an expert on livestock, so he has educated himself, mostly through videos. He surfed the web for any videos on livestock and horticulture and estimates that he watched over 300 videos. Tom speaks three languages, but he still found some videos in languages he didn’t understand. He watched them anyway, learning by observing the images. From videos, Tom has learned about artificial insemination and placing ear tags on cattle.

Tom says that by this time next year, he will be educating young people, and will be using videos as a key element to do that, on his model farm. Tom says that the Access Agriculture videos are of good quality, “short and to the point.” He has watched Swahili versions of several Access Agriculture videos, including the one on yoghurt making and on making a rabbit house. “They were nicely translated and educational,” Tom says.

 

Related blogs

Drip irrigation saves water in South Sudan

Why people drink milk

Related videos

Pure milk is good milk

Keeping milk free from antibiotics

Hand milking of dairy cows

Videos in Swahili

Access Agriculture has 51 videos in the Kiswahili (or Swahili) language, here.

Acknowledgements

The photos are courtesy of Tom Juma.

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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

COMIDA CONTRA LA LEY

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

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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

ADIOS COCA, HOLA CACAO

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

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Fishing changes November 12th, 2017 by

Two million years ago in East Africa, long before humans lived on any other continent, our ancestors followed the receding shorelines of shallow ponds and lakes, during each annual dry season, scooping up the stranded catfish and eels. People have eaten fish ever since, and fishing may have shaped humans more than big game hunting.

From Rome to China, early civilizations would have been impossible without fish, as renowned archaeologist Brian Fagan tells us in a new book, Fishing. Mesopotamians could always rely on fish, even when the flooding Tigris and Euphrates failed to water the crops. When the Nile flooded, it covered the land in fish, as well as water. The pyramids of Egypt were built by laborers fed on rations of beer, bread and dried catfish, caught every year in the shallow, receding flood waters of the Nile.

Ancient sailors in small boats could not carry enough provisions for long voyages. The mariners would never have been able to explore the Indian Ocean and create the trade routes that linked Europe and Asia, without settled communities of fisherfolk, who caught and dried fish to sell or trade.

Fishing would have been impossible without local knowledge. The Tahitians sailed sophisticated, deep-sea canoes to catch large, predatory fish. The big fish and the sea birds both followed dense schools of smaller fish. The Tahitians recognized that the big fish followed the birds to find the small fish. Fishers scanned the horizon for birds, and could tell by the species flying over the water what type of fish to expect there.

Commercial fishing began with herring in the North Sea in the 1300s. Dutch and Flemish crews caught the fish from deep-water wooden ships called busses, which required a large crew and started the season every year on the night of St. John, 24 June. The fish were salted, packed into standard-sized barrels, branded with the seals of the merchants who sold them, and traded all over Europe until 1810. By then the herring were becoming scarce, and salted cod from the Atlantic had captured the market. While there is still fishing in the North Sea, before the 1800s the herring were so abundant they were compared to ants.

As waters were fished out, fishers sailed farther and farther from home. The English were fishing off the shores of Iceland in 1420 and off the banks of Newfoundland in 1600. By about 1880, new technologies such as steam trawlers extended the reach of commercial fishing to deep ocean water. But some modern techniques are devastating, such as the large nets that drag the bottom, destroying the places where the fish spawn.

Many countries have reacted to over-fishing by creating 200-mile exclusion zones and limiting catches. The Canadian government closed the cod fishery in 1992 when stocks hit 1% of their peak. Thanks to the ban, the cod have since partially recovered.

Although subsistence fishing is ancient, it has never destroyed the fishery it depended upon. Salmon and sturgeon once swam up the Danube River to spawn. Communities of fishers had survived for thousands of years at the Iron Gates (on the Danube between Serbia and Romania), until nineteenth century pollution, dam-building and over-fishing destroyed the stocks.

But waters far from home, as in the Antarctic, are uncontrolled and fished recklessly, as though there were no tomorrow. Commercial fishing is now in a slow decline, while artisanal and subsistence fishing are both on the rise. Fish farming is increasing rapidly. By 2012, for the first time in history, more fish were farmed than caught wild.

I saw a glimpse of artisanal, peasant fishing recently in Bangladesh, where many villages have fields interspersed with fish ponds. Farmers throw nets and use various other techniques, bringing home one small bag of fish at a time for the supper pot.

On one especially rainy day, the ponds were over-flowing, and some people were setting up long, gently tapering nets over the drainage ditches, to catch any fish that may have escaped from the ponds. No fish was going to be wasted.

Subsistence fishers are often smallholder farmers. Fishing and farming combine easily. If fishing fed civilization, as Fagan explains, it is the smallholders who will keep fishing alive into the future. The fish ponds in Bangladesh are highly commercial, run by knowledgeable farmers. With the increasing demand for proteins, fish species will continue to feed humanity only with a good balance between open sea fishing that respects quotas (based on science and policy) and fish farming that will require stringent food safety measures, such as guarding against the abuse of antibiotics.

Further reading

Fagan, Brian 2017 Fishing: How the Sea Fed Civilization. New Have: Yale University Press. 346 pp.

Related blog stories

Cake for fish? hold the coconut, please

Fishing on a hill

Further viewing

Food for fish

Stocking fingerlings in a nursery pond

Preparing low-cost concentrate feed

Growing azolla for feed

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Specializing in seedlings October 22nd, 2017 by

Remarkably little has been written about how smallholders provide services to other farmers. As roads have improved in Bangladesh, big cities are now supplied with produce from across the country, not just from surrounding villages. Recently I met a community of farmers who sell vegetable seedlings to other farmers in southwestern Bangladesh. These innovative farmers live in the village of Abdulpur, near Jessore, and produce seedlings of cauliflower, tomato, eggplant and other popular vegetables. The plants are sold when they are just a few weeks old.

Everywhere in the village we saw neat seedbeds, filled with a dense, green blanket of germinating vegetables, each bed covered in a tunnel of plastic sheeting, stretched in place over a sturdy bamboo frame. During the first week, farmers cover the transparent plastic sheets with rice straw. Emerging seedling should not get too hot. Every day the plastic is removed to water the seedlings. This is safer than relying on the rain, which can be heavy enough to damage the delicate seedlings. The plastic covers also keep the seedlings warm at night. The farmers were taking good care of the plastic and were able to use the sheets several times, saving on expenses and reducing waste.

The seedling growers produce some of their own seed and buy some at the shop, from dealers in the community who sell packaged seed.

The farmers who buy the seedlings arrive in three-wheeled cargo motorcycles from other communities. The customers are farmers who will plant the seedlings in their own fields. They load the trays of seedlings and grow vegetables for the big markets in Dhaka. The seedling specialists are a new niche market and an encouraging sign of the growing sophistication of the vegetable trade in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh used to be synonymous with poverty. This is changing rapidly. The villagers are now living in houses made of brick instead of straw mats. The farmers are wearing newer, nicer clothing than they were even 15 years ago when I first started visiting Bangladesh. It’s clear that the rural economy is improving.

One sign of increasing globalization, the farmers of Abdulpur have recently begun to export vegetables directly to Malaysia. They are also growing organic produce, on special order from a supermarket in Dhaka. Family farmers are quick to spot new opportunities

Acknowledgement

Thanks to Abu Sharif Md. Mahbub-E-Kibria (Christian Commission for Development in Bangladesh), Nazrin Alam (Practical Action/Bangladesh) and Rakesh Khadka (Practical Action/Nepal) for taking me on their field visit to Abdulpur and sharing the results with me.

Further viewing

Watch a video on making an onion nursery.

Making a chilli seedbed.

Insect nets in seedbeds.

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