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Cultivating pride in the Andes November 4th, 2018 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

“When we first started working with these innovative farmers, they were embarrassed to list ‘farmer’ as their occupation on their national ID card.” María Quispe, head of a Bolivian NGO called Prosuco, reminded a large crowd of villagers and visitors in the village of Cutusuma, La Paz.

Last week yapuchiris from many communities along with the famers in Cutusuma were celebrating the launch of a new book about themselves, published by Prosuco, with Swiss support.

Swiss diplomats, local people and government officials took turns at the microphone to express their pride in the changes over the years. A national TV station, Channel 7, was recording the event while a professional broadcaster from Radio San Gabriel in El Alto moderated the event in Aymara, a native language of the High Andes.

Food was served as an aphtapi, an old buffet style that is making a comeback in Bolivia. Boiled native potatoes, chuño, broad beans and oca are wrapped in wool blankets, then spread out on the earth or on a table. Diners serve themselves. Most put the food in little plastic bags saved from their last trip to the shop. It’s an Andean lunch with attitude, and it saves on plastic plates.

There was also dancing to Andean flute music; the local High School marching band belted out the national anthem with confidence and enthusiasm.

The striking feature of the book launch was that no one seemed ashamed to be a farmer anymore. It had been a long trip. The book, printed on high quality paper and illustrated with professional photography, explained that in 2004, Prosuco had set out to train innovative farmers as extension agents. One of the first steps was to give these innovative farmers a name. They settled on “yapuchiri,” an Aymara word for “farmer.” Calling the new expert farmers “yapuchiris” was a way of saying that farming was an important job. During the next 14 years, yapuchiris were trained all over the Altiplano as well as the valleys of Chuquisaca. Seventy of them were certified as “Yapuchiri Community Facilitators” by the Vice-Ministry of Alternative Education (such an original and creative name for a branch of government).

The book explains how the yapuchiris and Prosuco tried new ideas on farms, adapting several organic fertilizers, such as bokashi and biol, to local conditions, along with mineral mixes and natural repellents. Non-chemical controls of Andean potato weevil were also adapted to local conditions.

The book has numerical data to show that the yapuchiris’ yields are higher than those of other farmers and higher than those achieved by farmers who received conventional agricultural training. This is important, as organic agriculture is often dismissed (famously by The Economist in 2016) as low yielding and incapable of feeding the World’s growing population.

Over the years, the yapuchiris developed the Pachagrama, a large chart for listing the yapuchiris’ weather forecast, while planning and documenting the year’s weather as it unfolds, day by day. We have discussed the Pachagrama in earlier blogs To see the future, and  Predicting the weather. The yapuchiris started the Pachagrama as a table with some drawings, then refined it over the years.

At first, some of the yapuchiris’ neighbors scoffed at the idea of farmers as extensionists, saying that they wanted a real agronomist to train them. But eventually the yapuchiris convinced the others and were able to work with up to 50% of the farmers in their own villages. As Mark Twain put it, “an expert is someone with a brief case who is 50 miles from home.”

In fact, it can be an advantage to offer advisory services “50 miles (70 km) from home”. Projects began hiring yapuchiris to teach other communities. The yapuchiris crisscrossed the Altiplano, promoting productive, organic agriculture to appreciative audiences.

It is foolish of anyone to denigrate the people who feed us and care for the land. Building pride in a profession takes time and creating a more productive, sustainable agriculture is only part of it. Twelve years of support and training were important to develop a cadre of self-confident yapuchiris. Events with music, speeches and a splendid lunch also help to display that confidence while books in an attractive format also help to show how the work evolved over the years.

The book

Quispe, María, Eleodoro Baldiviezo and Sonia Laura 2018 Yapuchiris: Un Legado para Afrontar los Impactos del Cambio Climático. La Paz: Prosuco, Cosude & Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation.

Blog stories about yapuchiris

Inspiration from Bangladesh to Bolivia

Farmers produce electronic content

Forty farmer innovations

Acknowledgement  

Thanks to María Quispe, Eleodoro Baldiviezo, Sonia Laura, Eric Boa and Paul Van Mele for their comments on an earlier version.

CULTIVANDO ORGULLO EN LOS ANDES

por Jeff Bentley, 4 de noviembre del 2018

“Cuando empezamos a trabajar con estos agricultores innovadores, les daba vergüenza poner ‘agricultor’ como su oficio en su carnet.” María Quispe, directora de una ONG boliviana llamada Prosuco, recordó a una gran multitud de campesinos y visitantes en la comunidad de Cutusuma, La Paz.

La semana pasada, Yapuchiris de diferentes comunidades junto con los agricultores de Cutusuma celebraron el lanzamiento de un nuevo libro sobre sí mismos, publicado por Prosuco, con el apoyo suizo. Los diplomáticos suizos, la población local y los funcionarios del gobierno se turnaron al micrófono para expresar su orgullo por los cambios a lo largo de los años. Una televisión nacional, Canal 7, grababa el evento mientras que una locutora profesional de Radio San Gabriel de El Alto moderaba el evento en aymara, un idioma nativo de los Andes Altos.

La comida fue servida como un aphtapi, un antiguo estilo de buffet que de nuevo se está poniendo de moda en Bolivia. Las papas nativas cocidas, el chuño, las habas y la oca son colocadas en aguayos de lana y se extienden sobre la tierra o sobre una mesa. Los comensales se sirven solos. La mayoría pone la comida en pequeñas bolsas de plástico guardadas de su última visita a la tienda. Es un almuerzo andino con actitud, y ahorra en platos de plástico.

También hubo baile con música de flauta andina; la banda del colegio local entonó el himno nacional con confianza y entusiasmo.

Al presentar el libro ya era claro que a nadie le apenaba ser agricultor. Había sido un largo viaje. El libro, impreso en papel de alta calidad e ilustrado con fotografías profesionales, explica que en 2004, Prosuco se había propuesto formar a agricultores innovadores como agentes de extensión agrícola. Uno de los primeros pasos fue poner un nombre a estos agricultores innovadores Ellos mismos eligieron “yapuchiri”, que es simplemente una palabra aymara que significa “agricultor”. Llamar a los nuevos expertos agricultores “yapuchiris” era una forma de decir que la agricultura era un oficio importante. Durante los siguientes 14 años, se formaron nuevos yapuchiris desde todo el Altiplano y hasta los valles de Chuquisaca. Setenta de ellos recibieron un certificado como “Yapuchiris Facilitadores Comunitarios” del Viceministerio de Educación Alternativa (un nombre tan original y creativo por una instancia gubernamental).

El libro explica cómo los yapuchiris y Prosuco probaron nuevas ideas en finca, adaptando los fertilizantes orgánicos, como el bokashi, los bioles, a las condiciones locales, junto con caldos minerales, y repelentes naturales. Los controles no químicos del gorgojo andino de la papa también se adaptaron a las condiciones locales.

El libro tiene datos numéricos para mostrar que los rendimientos de los yapuchiris son más altos que los de otros agricultores y más altos que los logrados por los agricultores que recibieron capacitación agrícola convencional. Esto es importante, ya que la agricultura orgánica es a menudo descartada (por ejemplo en un caso famoso por The Economist en 2016) como de bajo rendimiento e incapaz de alimentar a la creciente población mundial.

A lo largo de los años, los yapuchiris desarrollaron el Pachagrama, una ficha para sistematizar el pronóstico del tiempo de los yapuchiris, mientras planifican y documentan el tiempo del año a medida que se desarrolla, día a día. Hemos discutido el Pachagrama en blogs anteriores Conocer el futuro, y Prediciendo el clima. Los yapuchiris iniciaron el Pachagrama como un cuadro con algunos dibujos, luego lo refinaron con el paso de los años.

Al principio, algunos de los vecinos de los yapuchiris se burlaron de la idea de los agricultores como extensionistas, diciendo que querían que un ingeniero agrónomo los capacitara. Pero finalmente los yapuchiris convencieron a los demás y pudieron trabajar con hasta el 50% de los agricultores de sus propias comunidades. Como dijo Mark Twain, “un experto es alguien con un maletín que está a 50 millas de casa”.

De hecho, puede ser una ventaja ofrecer servicios de asesoramiento a “50 millas (70 km) de casa”. Los proyectos comenzaron a contratar yapuchiris para enseñar a otras comunidades. Los yapuchiris cruzaron el Altiplano, promoviendo la agricultura orgánica y productiva a audiencias apreciativas.

Es una tontería denigrar a la gente que nos alimenta y cuida de la tierra. Crear orgullo en una profesión lleva tiempo y crear una agricultura más productiva y sostenible es sólo una parte de la tarea. Doce años de apoyo y capacitación fueron importantes para desarrollar un grupo de yapuchiris seguros de sí mismos. Los eventos con música, discursos y un espléndido almuerzo también ayudan a mostrar esa confianza, mientras que los libros en un formato atractivo también ayudan a mostrar cómo ha evolucionado el trabajo a lo largo de los años.

El libro

Quispe, María, Eleodoro Baldiviezo y Sonia Laura 2018 Yapuchiris: Un Legado para Afrontar los Impactos del Cambio Climático. La Paz: Prosuco, Cosude & Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation.

Historias del blog sobre los yapuchiris

Inspiración Bangladesh a Bolivia

Agricultores producen contenido electrónico

Forty farmer innovations

Agradecimiento

Gracias a María Quispe, Eleodoro Baldiviezo, Sonia Laura, Eric Boa y Paul Van Mele por sus comentarios sobre una versión anterior.

Alligators in your vegetables October 28th, 2018 by

Something caught my eye recently when I was reading a video script. Crawling insects that look like little alligators are actually the offspring of ladybird beetles. I thought nothing of this the first time I read the script by some colleagues in Bangladesh. But the second time I read it, it occurred to me how strange this was, comparing a common, garden insect with an alligator, an animal not found in Bangladesh and which few people have seen.

Years ago, colleagues in Honduras used the same alligator analogy to familiarize farmers with the red and black ladybird larvae, which eat aphids in vegetable gardens. The Honduran farmers knew what alligators looked like, even if they had never seen the reptiles in real life, and the analogy worked. There are no alligators in Bangladesh, but I’m sure that the analogy will work, for a couple of reasons.

First, humans are inherently interested in large vertebrates. Even children that grow up in big cities know the names of African wildlife before they can name the electrical appliances in their own home. Second, the increasing reach of mass media has made animals familiar to people who don’t see them in the wild. I remember years ago, sitting with an elderly Portuguese farmer engrossed in a TV show about walruses. She had never been to the Arctic, but was fascinated by the strange creatures. Today Animal Planet, the Discovery Channel and others have regular programming in Bengali, Portuguese, Spanish and other major languages, bringing large (and often threatened) species into our homes.

So smallholders in the tropics watch TV, engage with images of large, strange animals, which then become common knowledge, while the creatures running around in one’s own garden need some explaining. So you can indeed tell a rural audience that ladybird larvae look like alligators. Oddly enough, the analogy works.

And analogies really do help to make the strange seem familiar. Ladybird larvae lack the powerful tail and the long head of alligators. But like the alligator, ladybird larvae do have a long body and small legs. When all is said and done, ladybird larvae do look a bit more like alligators that like their parents, the shiny, round ladybird beetles.

The joy of farming October 21st, 2018 by

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading

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

Acknowledgement

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

Not sold in stores October 14th, 2018 by

I love supermarkets; whenever I visit a new country I think of the local supermarket as a kind of interactive food museum, with its own unique groceries on display.

But the supermarket also has a stranglehold on what we eat and grow, as I learned last week when I heard a talk by Lauren Chappell, a plant pathologist at the University of Oxford. Dr. Chappell explained that carrots come in white, pink and even purple varieties, in a rich diversity of sizes and shapes. We only think of the long, tapered orange varieties as the one and only true carrot because supermarkets will only buy varieties like Nairobi and Nantes, the stereotypical carrots. Some British chefs love the white and purple “heritage carrots,” but you won’t find them at the supermarket.

It’s the same with apples. Supermarkets only stock a handful of varieties, so that limits what even small-scale commercial farms can grow. On a recent visit to the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) gardens at Wisley, in southern England, I was delighted to see a whole orchard filled with 40 different kinds of apples. There was a large, bright pink variety, Rubinola, with a marvelous, spicy flavor, and a green Russet with a lumpy, almost toad-like skin, but an amazing, tart clean taste. These varieties, curated by the RHS, are rarely sold in stores, but keeping them alive is an important safeguard of our planet’s biodiversity. This rich gene pool is crucial for future efforts to breed fruit and vegetables that are adapted to tomorrow’s climate and to upcoming pests and diseases.

Preserving diverse food crops is also essential for a rich and varied diet. Gardens and small farms help to preserve our edible biodiversity.

Various institutions also encourage people to conserve genetic resources, for example by promoting farmers’ rights to seed, as we will see in next week’s blog story.

Other related blogs

Bolivian peanuts

From uniformity to diversity

Innovative processing (such as an apple juice factory on a truck) can help people to save time, and to maintain their orchards of local fruit trees (see The juice mobile).

Videos on farmer rights to seed

Farmers’ rights to seed: Malawi

Farmers’ rights to seed: Guatemala

To see the future October 7th, 2018 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

When Francisco Condori stopped working as a bricklayer in La Paz, Bolivia, he returned as a 23-year old to his home village of Cutusuma, near Lake Titicaca. He felt that because of his years in the big city he was missing some agricultural knowhow. So he consulted with the older people of Cutusuma.

More than anything, the elders taught Francisco what are now called “the indicators” that is, the signs of nature that tell when to plant and if it will be a good year. This is indispensable information in a place like the Altiplano, generally good land for farming, but sometimes hostile.  Frost, hail and drought can destroy crops at any time. That is why forecasting the weather is a specialty on the Altiplano.

For example a bird, the quiri quiri, makes nests like little ovens in the totora reeds of Titicaca and the small lake of Cutusuma. The bird seems to know how high the water will rise. In dry years it builds its nest low, and in rainy years it makes a nest high on the totora plant. Francisco learned to take a raft into the lake and seek out the nests. The height of the nest in the dry season indicates the level that the water will reach in the rainy season.

Don Francisco also learned to look for the sank’ayu cactus. If it bears fruit early, one should plant potatoes early, in October. If it fruits late, one should plant in November.

Besides looking for his own indicators, Francisco also listened to the weather forecast on the radio and on the TV, but it wasn’t always reliable. He and his friend Antonio remember that once the radio announced that there was going to be a frost and the farmers should “take care of their potato crop.” Francisco and Antonio just laughed, because it was June—winter and the dry season—and nobody had potatoes in the field.

In 1998 Francisco met Edwin Yucra, an agronomist with an interest in climate and in local knowledge. Edwin worked in Prosuko, a project that was supporting the development of sukukollus (planting beds inspired by the agriculture of the ancient civilization of Tiwanaku).

Edwin collaborated for years with Francisco and Antonio and their neighbors. In recent years, Edwin taught them that there was a free app on the Internet that farmers could download to predict the weather with the help of satellites and weather stations. Many farmers have smart phones nowadays which give them access to apps like this one, called Weather Underground.

By 2017 Edwin, now a professor at the Public University of San Andrés, worked in seven communities, including Cutusuma. They managed to build a small weather station in Cutusuma to register the weather, including temperature, wind and rain.

Francisco and Antonio go over the data from the station constantly. They log onto Weather Underground every day on their cell phones. They still listen to the forecast on the radio and on TV and they still make their own forecast based on the indicators, which their write on their Pachagrama (see blog story Predicting the weather), so they can track the weather over the year.

Don Francisco and don Antonio are conducting a deep study of the weather. They combine local knowledge with modern science. Thanks to this, Francisco has become a sort of expert and celebrity. His neighbors frequently ask him what the weather will be like. When don Francisco goes to market in the town of Batallas, the people there recognize him and ask him about the weather. In recent years Francisco has appeared on several TV channels explaining the weather, the indicators and describing climate change.

It is an example of how one can respect local, even ancestral knowledge, while still appreciating modern science.

CONOCER EL FUTURO

Por Jeff Bentley, 7 de octubre del 2018

Cuando don Francisco Condori dejó de trabajar como albañil en La Paz, Bolivia, volvió a sus 23 años a su aldea natal de Cutusuma, cerca del Lago Titicaca. Sintió que debido a sus años en la gran ciudad le hacía falta saber de la agricultura. Así que se fue consultando con la gente mayor de Cutusuma.

Los ancianos más que nada le enseñaron a Francisco lo que se llaman los “indicadores” o sea los señales de la naturaleza que dicen cuándo sembrar y si va a ser un año bueno. Esa información es indispensable en un lugar como el Altiplano, tierra productiva para el agro, pero a veces también hostil.  Heladas, granizadas y sequías pueden destruir los cultivos en cualquier momento. Por eso el pronóstico del tiempo es una especializad en el Altiplano.

Por ejemplo, una pájaro, el quiri quiri, hace sus pequeños nidos como hornito en las totoras de Titicaca y de la pequeña Laguna de Cutusuma. El pájaro parece que sabe dónde llegará el agua. En años secos hace su nido bajo, y en años lluviosos hace su nido en la parte alta de la planta de totora. Francisco aprendió a entrar en balsa a la laguna y buscar los nidos. La altura del nido en la época seca indica el nivel que el agua llegará en la época lluviosa.

Don Francisco también aprendió a revisar el cactus sank’ayu. Si daba fruto temprano habría que sembrar la papa temprano, en octubre. Si daba su fruto tarde, habría que sembrar en noviembre.

Además de buscar sus propios indicadores, Francisco también miraba el pronóstico de tiempo en la radio, y en la tele, pero no era siempre confiable. El y su amigo Antonio recuerdan que una vez la radio anunció que iba a haber helada y que los agricultores deberían “cuidar su papa.” Francisco y Antonio solo se reían, porque era junio—invierno y época seca—y nadie tenía papa sembrada.

In 1998 Francisco conoció a Edwin Yucra, ingeniero agrónomo con interés en el clima y el conocimiento local. Edwin trabajaba en Prosuko, un proyecto que apoyaba en desarrollar a los sukukollus (camellones agrícolas, inspiradas por el agro del antiguo imperio de Tiwanaku).

Edwin colaboró durante años con Francisco y Antonio y sus vecinos. Edwin, en los últimos años, les enseñó que había una aplicación gratis en el Internet que los agricultores podrían bajar y pronosticar el tiempo en base a satélites y estaciones meteorológicas. Muchos agricultores tienen smart phones hoy en día que les da acceso a estas aplicaciones como este, llamado el Weather Underground.

Para el año 2017 Edwin, ahora catedrático en la Universidad Mayor de San Andrés, trabajaba con siete comunidades, incluso Cutusuma. Lograron poner una pequeña estación meteorológica en Cutusuma para medir el tiempo, como la temperatura, viento y lluvia.

Francisco y Antonio revisan los datos de la estación constantemente. Chequean el Weather Underground cada día en sus celulares. Siguen escuchando el pronóstico en la radio y la tele y todavía hacen su propio pronóstico en base a los indicadores, lo cual apuntan en su Pachagrama (vea blog sobre Prediciendo el tiempo), para seguirlo durante el año.

Don Francisco y don Antonio están haciendo un estudio profundo del clima. Combinan el conocimiento local con la ciencia moderna. Gracias a eso Francisco se ha convertido en una especie de experto y celebridad. Sus vecinos frecuentemente le preguntan cómo va a ser el tiempo. Cuando don Francisco va al pueblo de Batallas para hacer mercado le reconocen los del pueblo y le preguntan sobre el tiempo. En los últimos años Francisco ha salido en la tele y en varios de los canales explicando el tiempo, los indicadores y que el clima está cambiando.

Es un ejemplo de que se puede respetar el conocimiento local y hasta ancestral, con amor a la ciencia moderna.

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