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A healthier way to eat groundnuts June 3rd, 2018 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

Rosario Cadima is an enterprising farmer who spends two days a week buying and selling potatoes at the fair in Colomi, Cochabamba. Juan Almanza, the talented extensionist we met in last week’s blog (Videos for added inspiration), had given her a DVD with a series of agricultural learning videos aimed at farmers like her. The DVD included seven videos in Spanish, Quechua and Aymara on caring for the soil. One of the videos was about peanuts (groundnuts), which like other legumes, fixes nitrogen for the soil. Rosario recently watched the DVD with her parents, grandfather and other family members. They watched all of the videos over three nights, and she recalled them vividly.

Juan was surprised when Rosario mentioned the video on groundnuts. “But you don’t grow groundnuts here,” he said.

“No, but we buy them and eat them,” Rosario said. Then she explained that she and her family sometimes bought peanuts that had a thick mold on them; they would simply wipe it off and eat the apparently clean nuts.

“So did we,” Juan admitted.

The mold is a fungus, and it releases a poison called aflatoxin into peanuts and other stored foods. The video showed all of this, and explained that people should bury moldy food, instead of eating it.

Rosario’s family is now careful to avoid eating moldy peanuts. Farmers are also consumers and a video can help them to make better food choices. Smallholder farmers don’t always have opportunities to learn about public health matters related to the food that they produce and eat. The farmer learning videos hosted on Access Agriculture are now carrying many more messages than we first imagined. And the videos are rich enough that viewers can interpret them to learn unexpected lessons.  As we have said in our earlier blog (Potato marmalade), eating is the last step in a process that usually starts with planting a seed, so it makes sense that videos for farmers can also benefit consumers.

Watch the video

The video Managing aflatoxins in groundnuts during drying and storage is available to watch or freely download in English, Spanish and a dozen other languages.

For more videos about preparing nutritious food, please see:

Enriching porridge, baby food

Tomato concentrate and juice

Making rennet

Making fresh cheese

Pure milk is good milk

Making a condiment from soya beans

Making soya cheese


Por Jeff Bentley, 3 de junio del 2018

Rosario Cadima es una AGRICULTORA emprendedora que pasa dos días a la semana comprando y vendiendo papas en la feria de Colomi, Cochabamba. Juan Almanza, el extensionista talentoso que conocimos en el blog de la semana pasada (Videos para un poco más de inspiración), le había dado un DVD con una serie de videos de aprendizaje agrícola dirigidos a agricultores como ella. El DVD incluyó siete videos en español, quechua y aymara sobre el cuidado del suelo. Uno de los videos era sobre cacahuates (maníes), que al igual que otras leguminosas, fija nitrógeno para el suelo. Rosario recientemente vio el DVD con sus papás, abuelo y otros miembros de la familia. Miraron todos los videos durante tres noches, y ella los recordó vívidamente.

Juan se sorprendió cuando Rosario mencionó el video sobre maní. “Pero aquí no se produce maní”, dijo.

“No, pero los compramos y los comemos”, dijo Rosario. Luego explicó que ella y su familia a veces compraban maníes que tenían un molde grueso; simplemente lo limpiaban y comían los granos, que parecían limpios.

“Nosotros también”, admitió Juan.

El moho es un hongo y libera un veneno llamado aflatoxina en los maníes y otros alimentos almacenados. El video mostró todo esto, y explicó que las personas deben enterrar el maní con moho, en vez de comerlo.

La familia de Rosario ahora tiene cuidado de no comer maníes con moho. Los agricultores también son consumidores y un video puede ayudarlos a tomar mejores decisiones para con su comida. Los pequeños agricultores no siempre tienen la oportunidad de aprender sobre asuntos de salud pública relacionados con los alimentos que producen y comen. Los videos de aprendizaje agrícola ubicados en Access Agriculture ahora llevan muchos más mensajes de lo que imaginábamos al inicio. Y los videos son lo suficientemente ricos como para que el público pueda interpretarlos para aprender lecciones inesperadas. Como hemos dicho en nuestro blog anterior (Mermelada de papa), comer es el último paso en un proceso que generalmente comienza con la siembra de una semilla, por lo que tiene sentido que los videos para agricultores también puedan beneficiar a los consumidores.

Vea el video

El video El manejo de aflatoxinas en maní está disponible para ver o bajar gratis en inglés, español y una docena de otros idiomas.

Para más videos sobre la preparación de comida nutritiva, favor de ver:

Enriching porridge, alimento para bebés

Tomato concentrate and juice

Making rennet

Making fresh cheese

Pure milk is good milk

Making a condiment from soya beans

Making soya cheese


Videos for added inspiration May 27th, 2018 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related blog stories

Innovating in the homeland of lupins

United women of Morochata


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


Por Jeff Bentley, 27 de mayo del 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Historias previas

Innovando en la cuna del tarwi

Mujeres unidas de Morochata


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

Mix and match April 1st, 2018 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

This blog often features farmers creatively adapting ideas they learned from watching farmer learning videos. It should come as little surprise that agricultural extension people can also get inventive with new ways to show the videos.

In April 2017, I gave several organizations in Bolivia copies of a DVD with seven videos, each one with Quechua, Spanish and Aymara versions. Two of the videos were made with farmers in Bolivia, but the other five presented farmers from other countries.

María Omonte, an agronomist and the national director of the NGO World Neighbors, watched all seven of the videos. To my initial surprise, María also watched all of the videos in Spanish on the Access Agriculture video portal. She is a registered user and checks the portal frequently to see if any new Spanish versions of videos have been added. María graduated from the prestigious agricultural university in Honduras, El Zamorano, and her training and natural curiosity has made her a keen life-long learner.

María and her team had been working for almost three years in six rural communities in Vila Vila, in the warm, semi-arid valleys of southern Cochabamba. Last December the team introduced the idea of organic fertilizer and Bordeaux mixture, a copper-based fungicide, as well as other similar products for diseases of papaya, lemon and other crops. After seeing some practical demonstrations and receiving starter kits with the ingredients, some of the farmers tried the Bordeaux mix, but María felt that they needed more encouragement to keep using them.

So María decided to creatively combine two videos. She took the Quechua version of “Let’s Talk Money” from the DVD, and downloaded the Spanish version of “Turning Honey into Money”, which was not on the DVD, from the Access Agriculture video portal. She decided to use these two videos along with other information to make a unique training event for the six Quechua-speaking villages, a five-hour drive from the city of Cochabamba.

I was there last week in the community of Sik’imira at an evening meeting in the local school. The courtyard was full of high school students playing a furious game of football on the cement basketball court. María and her driver, Enrique Mancilla, set up their projector and within minutes 25 farmers, over half women, had filed in and taken their seats.

María told the group that she had a video in Quechua, but from Mali, a country in Africa. From previous screenings María had learned that three details in the video were unfamiliar to farmers, so she explained those. The video mentions millet (“a small grain”) and cowpea (“a bean”) and third, the currency in the video is called the franc.

By now the football game outside had ended, and the teenagers were playing loud, pounding music. So the video was a bit hard to hear. Still, people said they understood it, and they had no questions.

María used this as an opportunity to say: “In the video we saw farmers and their facilitator adding up costs for different practices with millet and cowpea to see which one is more practical. Would you like to do the same with one of your crops?” The farmers suggested sweetpotato.

It takes skill to walk through each step in the production of a crop and at the same time count the costs in front of an audience. Unfazed, María launched into the exercise in fluent Quechua. She started to struggle with the loud music still pounding next door, but eventually they turned it down enough for her to continue.

At the end, people looked at the results. “We’re not making much money,” one said. “That’s sad,” another added.

María used this as an entrée to discuss organic inputs, to improve yields, then she asked the packed room – standing room only – if they would like to watch another video. It was 10 PM, past everyone’s bed time, but to my surprise everyone agreed.

Enrique and María put on the video Turning honey into money. She explained that this one was made in Kenya, also in Africa. By then, the music outside had mercifully stopped. The video played beautifully. Although it was in Spanish, which few in the audience understood, María told me that the images in this video are so clear that everyone understood it.

As the video ends, one man shouts out “Now we have the sweet taste of honey in our mouths!” Everyone laughs. None of the Bolivian farmers comment on the skin color of the people in the videos, or their clothing. That is not an issue. María thinks that farmers are intrigued by seeing smallholders from far away.

After watching the honey video, María says that she can bring an expert beekeeper to help them get started raising bees. The farmers request a meeting on Sunday morning. María and Enrique both agree to give up their weekend to do that, delighted at a small victory.  Until now, the Sik’imira community has only ever wanted to meet at night. A Sunday morning meeting suggests that they are taking the extension program more seriously, helped by the warm response to the two videos.

A creative development professional, with access to a library of videos, can mix and match, combining a video on calculating farm costs with one on honey. Then she can add more information, to make an exciting training event that local people find relevant.

Watch the videos

Let’s talk about money is available in 30 languages, including English, Spanish and Quechua.

Turning honey into money is available in 10 languages, including Spanish and English.


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


Por Jeff Bentley, primero de abril del 2018

Este blog a menudo resalta a agricultores que creativamente adaptan ideas que hayan aprendido cuando ven videos de capacitación. No nos debe sorprender que los ingenieros extensionistas también inventen nuevas maneras de mostrar videos.

En abril del 2017, en Bolivia, repartí copias de un DVD a varias organizaciones, con siete videos, cada uno en quechua, español y aymara. Dos de los videos se hicieron con campesinos en Bolivia, pero los otros cinco mostraron a agricultores de otros países.

María Omonte, una agrónoma y la directora nacional de la ONG Vecinos Mundiales, miró los siete videos. Para mi sorpresa inicial, María también miró todos los videos en español del portal de videos de Access Agriculture. Ella se registró al portal y revisa frecuentemente para ver si hay nuevas versiones en español de los videos. María se egresó de la prestigiosa universidad agrícola El Zamorano, y su formación y curiosidad natural le han ayudado a seguir aprendiendo toda la vida.

María y su equipo llevan casi tres años trabajando en seis comunidades en Vila Vila, en los valles cálidos y semi-áridos del sur de Cochabamba. En diciembre pasado el equipo introdujo la idea del fertilizante orgánico y el caldo bordelés, un fungicida en base a cobre, y otros caldos para enfermedades de papaya, limón y otros cultivos. Después de ver algunas demostraciones prácticas y recibir materiales de arranque, algunos comuneros probaron el caldo bordelés, pero María pensó que ella podría animarles más a usar los caldos.

Así que María decidió hacer uso creativo de dos videos. Tomó la versión en quechua de “Hablemos del dinero” del DVD, y del portal de Access Agriculture y bajó la versión en español de “La miel es oro,” el cual no estaba en el DVD. Ella decidió usar esos dos videos juntos con otra información para crear un taller de capacitación para esas seis comunidades de habla quechua, a cinco horas en auto de la ciudad de Cochabamba.

Yo estuve allá la semana pasada, en la comunidad de Sik’imira en un taller en el colegio local. El patio estaba lleno de estudiantes de secundaria que jugaban un partido enardecido de fulbito. María y su conductor, Enrique Mancilla, armaron su proyector y dentro de minutos unos 25 agricultores, casi la mitad mujeres, habían tomado sus asientos.

María contó al grupo que tenía un video en quechua, pero de Mali, un país en Africa. En talleres en otras comunidades María vio que unos tres detalles en el video eran extraños a los agricultores, así que se les explicó: el video menciona mijo (“un pequeño grano”) y caupí (“un frijol”) y tercero, la moneda en el video se llama el franco.

Ahora el partido de fulbito se había terminado, y los jóvenes habían encendido una música fuerte y pulsante. Así que nos costó un poco escuchar el video. Aun así, la gente dijo que lo entendieron, y no tenían preguntas.

María usó esa oportunidad para decir “En el video vimos que los agricultores y su facilitador sumaban los costos de diferentes prácticas con el mijo y el caupí, para ver cuál era más rentable. ¿A ustedes les gustaría hacer lo mismo con uno de sus cultivos?” El público sugirió el camote.

Requiere de destreza hablar paso por paso de la producción de un cultivo, contar los costos delante del público. Pero María arrancó el ejercicio de una vez en quechua fluido. Empezó a frustrarse con la música tan fuerte al lado, pero después de un tiempo le bajaron el volumen un poquito y siguió adelante.

Al final, la gente miró los resultados. “No ganamos mucho dinero,” dijeron. “Es triste,” agregaron.

María usó esa observación como una entrada para hablar de los insumos orgánicos, para mejorar su producción.

Ahora había tanta gente que no había donde sentarse. María les preguntó si estaban cansados y si querían irse o si querían ver otro video. Eran las 10 PM, cuando todos normalmente están dormidos, pero querían ver otro video.

Enrique y María encendieron el video La miel es oro. Ella explicó que este se hizo en Kenia, también en Africa. Ahora por fin la música de los chicos se había terminado. El video se escuchó una maravilla. Estaba en castellano, que no todos entienden, pero como María me dijo, las imágenes en este video son tan claras que toda la gente entendió.

Al fin del video, un hombre gritó “¡Nos hemos quedado con el sabor de la miel en la boca!” todos se rieron. Ninguno de los comuneros comentó sobre la tez de la gente en los videos, ni de su ropa. Eso no les importaba. María cree que a los campesinos les intriga ver a sus colegas en países lejanos.

Después de ver el video sobre la miel, María dijo que ella podría traer a un apicultor experto para enseñarles a criar abejas. La comunidad pidió una reunión el domingo en la mañana. María y Enrique se quedaron en eso, sacrificando su fin de semana, pero felices con esa pequeña victoria, Hasta ahora la comunidad de Sik’imira solo ha querido hacer talleres de noche. El querer hacer uno el domingo en la mañana sugiere que la gente empieza a tomar este programa de extensión un poco más en seria, ayudada en parte por su cálida reacción a los dos videos.

Una creativa profesional del desarrollo, con acceso a una videoteca puede combinar diferentes títulos, usando un video sobre cómo contar costos de producción con uno sobre la miel. Luego puede agregar más información para hacer un taller ameno que es relevante para la gente local.

Vea los videos

Hablemos del dinero está disponible en 30 idiomas, incluso inglés, español y quechua.

La miel es oro está disponible en 10 idiomas, incluso español e inglés.


Nuestro trabajo en Bolivia es financiado por la CCRP (Collaborative Crop Research Program) de la Fundación McKnight.

Tools of the imagination February 10th, 2018 by

A few years ago, I was sitting in the airport in La Paz, Bolivia. At nearly 4,000 meters above sea level the air is so thin you can get light headed. I sat there fighting sleep after a two day trip home from Bangladesh. Then an airline official came to tell me that the police wanted to see me. I was wide awake now, as I followed the neatly dressed official downstairs to a backroom on the first floor where the criminal police search luggage for drugs and contraband. While screening my bag they had found a strange object.

A young policeman was sitting on a stool, holding a tool I’d picked up in Bangladesh. It was a crescent-shaped iron blade, with a metal shaft and a wooden handle, polished smooth with work and sweat. I’d bought it from a man selling used tools in a Bengali village.

“What is this?” the cop asked. His face and demeanor were more of curiosity than malice. I relaxed. I wasn’t a suspect. He was simply filled with that human sense of wonder.

And so I explained that the tool was a rice weeder. It’s called a “nirani,”or “khurpi.” It’s made to work the soil at ground level, while keeping your hand off the ground. People use the nirani to weed the rice while kneeling in the field. They also use it to uproot rice seedlings from the seedbed.

Many Bolivian police and soldiers grow up on farms. The cop listened to my story with the interest of a farmer; then he thanked me for my explanation and said I was free to go.

I think of that experience often, especially when I talk to farmers about videos they have seen. Rural people often recall the tools seen on a learning video, even devices not mentioned in the narration. Farmers notice tools that city people easily overlook.

For example, in Malawi I talked to farmers about rice videos made in West Africa. The Malawians often remarked on the little wheeled, hand-pushed weeders, and wondered where they could get one.

In Uganda, farmers noticed that the Malian rice farmers worked barefoot, and asked if the Malians could not afford gum boots, or if the bare feet were part of the technique. In fact, it is easier to work barefoot in a lowland, West African rice field, where the mud can pull the boots right off of one’s feet.

And in one final example, in my blog last week, “Private screenings,” I mentioned that farmers in Benin searched for drip irrigation equipment after seeing it on a video.

National officials and even some media experts insist that agricultural learning videos must be made locally, so a new video should be filmed for each country. Of course farmers can learn from a video made in their own country. But by watching videos made elsewhere they learn about tools and ideas they would not see at home. They learn how peasant farmers in other countries solve familiar problems with ingeniously different tools. That fires the imagination, and at times even inspires farmers to ask agrodealers to stock the new tools.

Photo credit

Top photo by Paul Van Mele

Spontaneous generation January 28th, 2018 by

A few days ago, I sat at my desk in Cochabamba, Bolivia, giving a talk over the Internet to graduate students who were taking a class in IPM (integrated pest management) at the University of Kentucky and the University of Arkansas. One professor, Rob Wiedenmann, was listening in from New Zealand, where he was on sabbatical, but still in touch.

I reviewed some ideas for the students about studying local knowledge of insects and plant diseases, and recent efforts to share ideas on pest control with smallholders via videos. I said that anthropologists have great respect for local knowledge, but those anthropologists had been looking at local knowledge of relatively large plants and animals, not pest control, insect ecology or plant disease. When I was in Central America in the late 1980s and early 1990s I was surprised to realize that Honduran smallholders didn’t understand how insects reproduced. The farmers didn’t know that male and female insects mated to produce fertile eggs which hatched into larvae. This gap in knowledge led to the farmers’ misperception that caterpillars that were eating the maize field had come out of nowhere, the result of spontaneous generation.

That caught Prof. Wiedenmann’s attention. “What can you say about US farmers?” he asked. He wondered what entomologists could do to help North American farmers monitor their insect pests. US farmers often don’t realize that pests are causing damage until it is too late to do anything about them. North American farmers don’t believe in spontaneous generation, but they might as well.

I thought I knew what Prof. Wiedenmann was talking about. I’d been reading Ted Genoways’ book This Blessed Earth, an intimate account of a year in the life of a Nebraska farm family, the Hammonds. These thoughtful, professional farmers were using state of the art technology, including harvesters that gathered in a dozen rows of soybeans at once while measuring the moisture content of the beans and following the furrows by using a GPS. But at harvest time the farmers were shocked to find out that stem borers had caused losses worth thousands of dollars.

I could see that sitting high up in the combine harvester could leave farmers with fewer opportunities to observe their plants. I wasn’t sure what to suggest as a remedy, but I said it is always good to spend more time with the farmers, whether in Arkansas or in Kenya, before jumping to conclusions about what they knew and understood, particularly when it came to pests and diseases..

“Yes, agricultural researchers are often leapfrogging over the lack of information,” Wiedemann quipped. Researchers rush to make recommendations for farmers, but without really understanding their perception or their production constraints.

Different styles of farming influence the ways one sees the world. US farmers have taken biology classes at school and understand that insects don’t come out of nowhere, but lack day-to-day contact with their crops. Tropical smallholders are often out in their fields, and are more likely to spot a pest before the crop is ready to harvest. Even so, most farmers the world over are busy and don’t have enough time to observe their crop regularly and systematically. This can lead to devastating crop losses. Whether farming on a large or a small scale, helping farmers to observe their crops better requires solid interaction with growers to develop and test possible solutions that work in the local context.


Thanks to Prof. John Obrycki for inviting me to give this virtual seminar.

Further reading

Bentley, Jeffery W. & Gonzalo Rodríguez 2001 “Honduran Folk Entomology.” Current Anthropology 42(2):285-301. http://www.jefferybentley.com/Honduran%20Folk%20Entomology.pdf

Wyckhuys, Kris, Jeffery Bentley, Rico Lie, Marjon Fredrix and Le Phuong Nghiem 2017 “Maximizing Farm-Level Uptake and Diffusion of Biological Control Innovations in Today’s Digital Era.” BioControl.

Related videos

Access Agriculture has over 30 videos on IPM, which you can watch here.

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