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El Ceibo: good farmers, good chocolate June 9th, 2024 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

Chocolate has been getting a bad rap lately, for everything from deforestation to child labor and underpaid farmers who grow the cacao and never taste the chocolate. Fortunately, that’s not how they grow cacao in Bolivia.

I’ve been hearing about El Ceibo for 30 years. This umbrella organization of 47 cooperatives and over 1,300 cacao growers has been putting cocoa powder on Bolivian grocery shelves for some time, and in recent years they have been making fabulous chocolate bars. So, I was glad to get a chance to go spend a week with them not too long ago.

I went with José Luis Escobar, an agronomist who has known El Ceibo since the 1990s. El Ceibo’s headquarters are a campus of neat brick buildings, in the small town of Sapecho, in the Alto Beni region, La Paz, in the humid tropics of the Bolivian lowlands. The campus has offices, a lab, and meeting rooms, but also buildings to process cacao, and solar dryers with wheels so the drying cacao beans can be quickly rolled under a roof during a sudden shower. The walkways between the buildings are lined with cocoa trees with beautiful red, purple or golden pods.

Javier Marino, the sub-director of Ceibo’s technical wing (PIAF), showed us their nursery, also in Sapecho. Javier grew up on a nearby cocoa farm. After going away to get a degree in agronomy, he came back home and began to work at El Ceibo. 95% of Ceibo’s employees are cooperative members, or their children or grandchildren.

At the nursery, workers (all from cocoa-growing families) were busy mixing soil, sand and compost to fill the plastic bags to plant cocoa seeds. To meet the growing demand for cacao trees, El Ceibo is planning to sell half a million cocoa seedlings this year. The cocoa seedlings are of varieties that tolerate diseases like monilia, caused by a fungus. Tolerant varieties help farmers produce organic chocolate, without chemicals. Ceibo is also building a factory to produce biological fungicides and organic fertilizers.

El Ceibo has more than 10 extensionists, many of whom are cacao farmers, as well as professional agronomists. The extensionists visit each of the cooperatives that make up El Ceibo, and teach farmers to manage cacao and its diseases naturally. By nature, cocoa trees grow in the forest, in partial shade. The extensionists teach farmers to plant fruit and native forest trees among the cocoa. All the trees, even the cocoa, are pruned to let in light and air, to prevent diseases. El Ceibo agronomists explain to farmers that growing cacao with other trees also helps to manage the extreme temperatures of climate change.

El Ceibo maintains a model agroforestry plot at their nursery, where cacao grows under the rainforest trees. Some farmers have adopted agroforestry, but all of them have at least some forest trees growing among their cacao. Some of the trees are forest giants, so El Ceibo has a team of experts who visit farmers, to prune the tall trees. The pruners climb the trees safely, with ropes and harnesses. By cutting off the lower branches, the big trees cast just the right amount of shade, and the trees don’t have to be cut down. Years later, the trees can be harvested for timber, and then replanted.

All of this agronomy is paying off. In just eight years, El Ceibo has more than doubled its yield of organic cocoa, from an average of 450 pounds per hectare to 1000 (from 200 kilos to 450). To handle the increased volume, two years ago El Ceibo built a new collection center and processing plant near Sapecho. Trucks pull in with the harvested cacao beans, sent by the farmers. Before drying the cacao beans, El Ceibo ferments them in large wooden boxes, to bring out the best chocolate aromas, flavors and colors, and to get a higher price.

El Ceibo exports some cocoa butter through a German organic and fairtrade company, GEPA, and sells cocoa beans to chocolate-makers in Switzerland. But 70% of their production is for Bolivia. El Ceibo has a chocolate plant in the big city of El Alto, six hours away, staffed by grown children of cacao farmers.

Ceibo also has a shop, that opens onto a street in Sapecho, where you can buy general hardware, and special cacao-growing tools, besides the chocolate candies and cookies that El Ceibo produces. A sign in the shop reminds the cacao farmers that if they show their membership card they can buy the chocolates at a discount.

I met Jesús Tapia, a cacao-grower who has been a member of El Ceibo for 40 years. For the past two years he has also been the second vice-president of the board of directors. Like all of El Ceibo’s leaders, don Jesús was elected by the general membership. El Ceibo started 47 years ago, when a group of cocoa farmers decided that they could sell their own cocoa, and cut out the middlemen. These dealers would buy the cacao on credit, but could be slow coming back with the money. Cooperatives don’t always last very long, especially large umbrella organizations that bring together dozens of cooperatives. But here in Bolivia, the cacao farmers sell their produce at a fair price, create jobs for their co-op members, grow rainforest trees, and they have their own chocolate shop.

Acknowledgements

I’m indebted to José Luis Escobar, and to Misael Condori for introducing me to El Ceibo, and for their patient explanations. Thanks to José Luis Escobar and Paul Van Mele for reading and commenting on a previous version of this blog.

El Ceibo Cooperative Federation Ltd. (El Ceibo) has given technical assistance to its members since the 1980s. In 1993 El Ceibo created the Program to Implement Agroecology and Forestry (PIAF), which carries out research and development for the cooperatives.

Scientific name. Monilia is a disease caused by the fungus Moniliophthora roreri.

EL CEIBO: BUENOS AGRICULTORES, BUEN CHOCOLATE

Por Jeff Bentley, 9 de junio del 2024

Últimamente el chocolate tiene mala fama, desde la deforestación hasta el trabajo infantil y los agricultores mal pagados que producen el cacao sin jamás probar el chocolate. Afortunadamente, en Bolivia no se produce el cacao así.

Hace 30 años que oigo hablar de El Ceibo. Esta central de cooperativas, que agrupa a 47 cooperativas de base y más de 1.300 productores de cacao, lleva tiempo vendiendo cocoa en polvo y otros productos en sus tiendas y supermercados bolivianos. En los últimos años salieron con unas fabulosas barras de chocolate. Por eso me alegró tener la oportunidad de pasar una semana con ellos.

Fui con José Luis Escobar, un ingeniero agrónomo que conoce al Ceibo desde los años 90. La sede de El Ceibo es un campus de edificios bien construidos, de ladrillo, en el pueblo de Sapecho de la región de Alto Beni, La Paz, en el trópico húmedo de las tierras bajas bolivianas. El campus tiene oficinas, un laboratorio y salas de reuniones, pero también predios para procesar el cacao y secadores solares corredizos para meter los granos de cacao bajo techo rápidamente en caso de una lluvia sorpresiva. Las aceras entre los edificios están bordeadas de árboles de cacao con hermosas mazorcas rojas, moradas o doradas.

Javier Marino, el sub director del brazo técnico de El Ceibo (PIAF), nos mostró sus viveros, también en Sapecho. Javier es de la zona, y es hijo de productores de cacao. Tras egresarse como ingeniero agrónomo en la ciudad, volvió a casa y empezó a trabajar en El Ceibo. El 95% de los empleados de Ceibo son cooperativistas, o sus hijos o nietos.

En el vivero, los trabajadores (todos de familias cacaoteras) mezclan tierra, arena y abono para llenar las bolsas de plástico donde sembrar las semillas de cacao. Para satisfacer la creciente demanda de cacaoteros, este año El Ceibo venderá medio millón de plantines de cacao. Los plantines de cacao son de variedades que toleran enfermedades como la monilia, causada por un hongo. Las variedades tolerantes ayudan a los agricultores a producir chocolate ecológico, sin químicos. El Ceibo también está construyendo una fábrica para producir fungicidas biológicos y abonos orgánicos.

El Ceibo tiene más de 10 extensionistas. Muchos producen cacao, además de ser agrónomos profesionales. Los extensionistas visitan cada una de las cooperativas que componen El Ceibo y enseñan a los agricultores a manejar adecuadamente el cacao y sus enfermedades de forma natural. Por naturaleza, los árboles de cacao crecen en el bosque, en sombra parcial. Los extensionistas enseñan a los agricultores a plantar árboles frutales y forestales nativos entre el cacao. Todos los árboles, incluso el cacao, se podan para dejar entrar la luz y el aire, y así evitar las enfermedades. Los extensionistas de El Ceibo explican a los agricultores que cultivar cacao junto con otros árboles ayuda a manejar las temperaturas extremas del cambio climático.

Desde hace años, El Ceibo mantiene un modelo agroforestal en su vivero, donde el cacao crece bajo los árboles del bosque. Algunos agricultores han adoptado la agroforestería, pero todos tienen al menos algunos árboles forestales entre su cacao. Algunos de los árboles son gigantes del bosque; por eso El Ceibo tiene un equipo de expertos que visita a los agricultores para podar los árboles altos. Los podadores trepan a los árboles de forma segura, con lasos y arneses. Al cortar las ramas bajeras, los grandes árboles dan justo suficiente sombra y no es necesario talarlos. Años más tarde, los árboles pueden ser cosechados para madera y ser replantados.

Toda esta agronomía está dando sus frutos. En sólo ocho años, El Ceibo ha duplicado su producción de cacao ecológico, de un promedio de 45 quintales por hectárea a 10. Para manejar el mayor volumen, hace dos años El Ceibo construyó una nueva planta de acopio y de procesamiento de cacao húmedo, cerca de Sapecho. Llegan los camiones con cacao cosechado por sus agricultores. El cacao es fermentado en cajas de madera grandes, para resaltar los mejores aromas, sabores y colores del chocolate, y obtener un precio más alto.

El Ceibo exporta parte de la manteca de cacao a través de una empresa alemana de comercio justo y orgánico, GEPA, y vende granos de cacao a chocolateros de Suiza. Pero el 70% de su producción se destina a Bolivia. El Ceibo tiene una fábrica de chocolates en la gran ciudad de El Alto, a seis horas de distancia, donde trabajan los hijos e hijas mayores de los productores de cacao.

Ceibo también tiene una tienda, que da a una calle de Sapecho, donde se puede comprar ferretería en general y herramientas especiales para el cultivo del cacao, además de dulces y galletas de chocolate que El Ceibo produce. Un cartel en la tienda recuerda a los cacaocultores que si muestran su carnet de socio pueden comprar los chocolates con descuento.

Conocí a Jesús Tapia, un cultivador de cacao que es socio de El Ceibo desde hace 40 años. Desde hace dos años es también vicepresidente segundo de la junta directiva. Como todos los dirigentes de El Ceibo, don Jesús fue elegido por voto popular de los socios. El Ceibo nació hace 47 años, cuando un grupo de cacaocultores decidió vender su propio cacao y evitar a los intermediarios, que compraban la producción a crédito, pero tardaban en devolver el dinero. Las cooperativas no siempre duran mucho, sobre todo las grandes organizaciones que agrupan a docenas de cooperativas. Pero aquí, en Bolivia, los cultivadores de cacao venden sus productos a un precio justo, crean puestos de trabajo para sus cooperativas y afiliados, cultivan árboles de la selva tropical y tienen su propia chocolatería.

Agradecimientos

Estoy agradecido a José Luis Escobar y Misael Condori por hacerme conocer El Ceibo y por sus pacientes explicaciones. Gracias a José Luis Escobar y Paul Van Mele por leer y comentar sobre una versión previa de este blog.

La Central de Cooperativas El Ceibo R.L. (El Ceibo) ha dado asistencia técnica a sus afiliados desde los años 80. En el 1993 El Ceibo creó el Programa de Implementaciones Agro-ecológicas y Forestales (PIAF), el cual se encarga de la investigación y desarrollo para la central.

Nombre científico. La monilia es una enfermedad causada por el hongo Moniliophthora roreri.

 

Planting water May 5th, 2024 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

If a drier world needs more water, we may have to plant it ourselves. So, last week I took a course on how to do that. It was taught by my friends at Agroecología y Fe, a Bolivian NGO, which is doing applied, practical research on ways to plant and harvest water.

As we learned on the course, if the land is gently sloping, 0 to 6%, and if the bedrock is made of soft stone, rainwater can soak into it. The mountain slopes above the valleys of Cochabamba are made of soft, sedimentary rock, especially sandstone and shale. Many of the aquifers are short, just a few kilometers. Water that permeates the bedrock may emerge as a spring not far downhill. And the slower the water runs off the land, the more moisture sinks in.

The NGO’s name means “Agroecology and Faith.” And it must have taken a leap of faith eight years ago when they began to convince the people of the village of Chacapaya, Sipe, about an hour and a half from the city of Cochabamba, that there was a way to “plant water,” for their homes and gardens.

Marcelina Alarcón and Freddy Vargas, who are both agronomists with Agroecology and Faith, had worked with the community for years, on agroecological gardening projects. Still, it took a year to convince the people that there was a way to bring in more water. It was only after the local people saw that their springs and streams were starting to dry up, that they eventually agreed to try planting water.

They started by observing their land, hiking uphill from the springs. The oldest people, who knew the land well, showed Marcelina and Freddy were the water soaked in, or at least, where it used to soak in, before most of the vegetation had been removed by grazing animals and by cutting firewood.

They identified a plateau above the village, with five long, gently sloping depressions. In one of these places, called San Francisco, they dug shallow trenches with small machinery to slow the water. The community members also met to sign a document promising that in San Francisco they would not:

  1. Graze livestock
  2. Cut firewood
  3. Burn vegetation, or
  4. Plow up land for farming

As I learned from Germán Vargas, Freddy’s brother and the coordinator of Agroecology and Faith, those four commitments are the key to planting water. It sounds like a lot to ask, but Bolivians are now cooking with natural gas, even in the countryside, so firewood is less important. Children are going to school and don’t have time to herd sheep and goats. Many families have moved to the city, or commute there to work. They may still come home to plant crops, but are less interested in plowing up remote land for new fields. All of this means that there is less pressure on marginal lands, and an opportunity to use them to generate water.

When the course participants visited San Francisco, most of the water infiltration trenches were still holding water, even though it had not rained for weeks. It was hard to believe that just seven years earlier, this land had been bare, hardpacked soil. Now it was covered with native plants. Small trees were growing, not just the qhewiñas that the people had planted recently, but other species that were sprouting on their own, like khishwara, as well as brush, and grasses, including needle grass. Reforestation has worked so well that in January of 2024, the community dedicated another of their highland pastures to planting water.

Below San Francisco, there is a steep rocky slope, and at the base of that, a small spring that collects water from the plateau. When we saw the spring, it was gushing with clear water. Freddy explained that in 2017 this spring produced 2.3 liters of water per second. Every year it varied, with the rainfall, but the spring tended to hold more water every year. In 2024 it was running at about 5 liters per second, twice as much water in seven years.

The water from the spring feeds a stream that passes through Chacapaya, and the community has built tanks and tubes to distribute the water for drinking, irrigation and for livestock. Fortunately, the water benefits two communities. Below Chacapaya, the water flows into the River Pancuruma, which is dry most of the year. However, there is water just below the surface, where the residents of Chawarani, a neighborhood of the small city of Sipe Sipe, had dug a shallow well into the riverbed. Thanks in part to the water running off of San Francisco, the well is full of clear, clean water.

In 2023, donors helped pay for a large water tank (about 830,000 liters) in Chawarani, now filled by a solar pump, serving the community. The local people provided the labor and local materials for the project.

In these times when everything seems to be going wrong, I was glad to see that water can be managed creatively. This is a first experience, and yes, it has outside funding, but it’s proof of concept. Communities in other semi-arid parts of the world with degraded pasture on sloping land have an opportunity to use damaged lands to plant and harvest water. This is important in a warmer, drier world.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Ing. Germán Vargas, Ing. Marcelina Alarcón, and Ing. Freddy Vargas, who all work at Agroecología y Fe, for offering an excellent course, and for the inspiring work they do. This work is supported by Misereor, Trees for All, Wilde Ganzen Foundation, Helvetas, and Fundación Samay. Thanks also to Germán Vargas, Paul Van Mele, and Clara Bentley for reading and commenting on a previous version of this story.

Photos

The top photo is courtesy of Germán Vargas. The others are by Jeff Bentley.

Scientific names

Qhewiña is Polylepis spp. Khishwara is Buddleja spp. Needle grass is Stipa ichu.

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SEMBRAR AGUA

Por Jeff Bentley, 5 de mayo del 2024

Si un mundo más seco necesita más agua, quizá tengamos que sembrarla. La semana pasada asistí a un curso sobre cómo hacerlo. Lo impartieron mis amigos de Agroecología y Fe, una ONG boliviana que hace investigación aplicada y práctica sobre cómo sembrar, criar y cosechar agua.

Como aprendimos en el curso, si el terreno tiene una pendiente suave, del 0 al 6%, y si la piedra madre es blanda, el agua de lluvia puede infiltrarse. Las faldas de la cordillera alrededor de los valles de Cochabamba son de roca sedimentaria blanda, sobre todo arenisca y lutita. Muchos de los acuíferos son cortos, de unos pocos kilómetros. El agua que penetra la roca puede brotar en un manantial no muy lejos, cuesta abajo. Y si el agua corre más lento sobre la tierra, se infiltra más.

Los de la ONG Agroecología y Fe realmente mostraron algo de fe hace ocho años, cuando empezaron a convencer a los comuneros de Chacapaya, Sipe, a una hora y media de la ciudad de Cochabamba, de que había una forma de sembrar agua, para sus hogares y sus huertos.

Marcelina Alarcón y Freddy Vargas, ambos agrónomos de Agroecología y Fe, llevaban años trabajando con la comunidad en proyectos de huertos agroecológicos. Aun así, les costó un año convencer a la gente de que había una forma de traer más agua. Sólo después de que la gente viera que sus vertientes y ríos empezaban a secarse, quedaron en intentar sembrar y criar agua.

Empezaron por observar sus tierras, desplazándose cuesta arriba desde las vertientes. Los más ancianos, que conocían bien la tierra, mostraron a Marcelina y Freddy dónde se infiltraba el agua, o al menos, dónde solía infiltrarse, antes de que casi toda la vegetación había sido eliminada por el pastoreo y por la tala de leña.

Identificaron una meseta por encima de la comunidad, con cinco depresiones alargadas y suavemente inclinadas. En uno de estos lugares, llamado San Francisco, cavaron zanjas poco profundas con pequeña maquinaria para frenar el agua. Los miembros de la comunidad también se reunieron para firmar un documento en el que prometían que en San Francisco no harían lo siguiente:

  1. Pastorear animales
  2. Cortar leña
  3. Quemar vegetación, o
  4. Habilitar terreno para cultivos

Según aprendí de Germán Vargas, hermano de Freddy y coordinador de Agroecología y Fe, esos cuatro compromisos son la clave para sembrar agua. Parece mucho pedir, pero ahora los bolivianos cocinan con gas natural, incluso en el campo, así que la leña es menos importante. Los niños van a la escuela y no tienen tiempo para pastorear ovejas y cabras. Muchas familias se han trasladado a la ciudad o van allí para trabajar. A veces vuelven a sus lugares de origen para sembrar, pero están menos interesados en preparar tierras remotas para crear nuevas chacras. Todo esto significa que hay menos presión sobre las tierras marginales, lo cual es una oportunidad de usarlas para generar agua.

Cuando los participantes del curso visitaron San Francisco, la mayoría de las zanjas de infiltración todavía tenían agua, a pesar de que hacía semanas que no llovía. Era difícil creer que sólo siete años antes, esta tierra había sido un suelo desnudo y duro. Ahora estaba cubierto de plantas nativas. Crecían pequeños árboles, no sólo las qhewiñas que la gente había plantado recientemente, sino otras especies que habían nacido por sí solas, como el khishwara, y las t’olas (arbustos nativos), pastos, y la paja brava, La reforestación ha funcionado tan bien que, en enero de 2024, la comunidad dedicó otro de sus pastizales de altura a la siembra de agua.

Debajo de San Francisco hay una inclinación rocosa y, en su base, una pequeña vertiente que se alimenta con el agua de la meseta. Cuando vimos la vertiente, manaba un chorro de agua cristalina. Freddy nos explicó que en 2017 esta vertiente daba 2,3 litros de agua por segundo. Cada año variaba, con las lluvias, pero la vertiente tendía a tener más agua cada año. En 2024 llevaba unos 5 litros por segundo, el doble de agua hace siete años.

El agua de esta vertiente pasa por Chacapaya, donde la comunidad ha construido reservorios y un sistema de distribución en tubería para agua potable, riego y para animales domésticos. Felizmente, el agua beneficia a dos comunidades. Más abajo de Chacapaya, el agua desemboca en el Río Pancuruma, que está seco la mayor parte del año. Sin embargo, hay agua justo debajo de la superficie, donde los vecinos de Chawarani, un vecindario de la pequeña ciudad de Sipe, había excavado un pozo poco profundo, una galería filtrante, en el lecho del río. Gracias en parte al agua que fluye desde San Francisco, el pozo está lleno de agua cristalina y limpia.

En 2023, los donantes ayudaron a costear un gran depósito de agua (unos 830.000 litros) en Chawarani, que ahora se llena con una bomba solar y sirve a la comunidad. La población local aportó la mano de obra y los materiales locales para el proyecto.

En estos tiempos en que todo parece estar mal, me alegró ver que el agua puede manejarse de forma creativa. Se trata de una primera experiencia, y sí, tiene financiamiento externo, pero es una prueba de concepto. Los pueblos de otras zonas semiáridas del mundo con pastizales degradados en altura tienen la oportunidad de usar los terrenos dañados para sembrar y cosechar agua. Esto es importante en un mundo más caliente y más seco.

Agradecimientos

Gracias al Ing. Germán Vargas, Ing. Marcelina Alarcón, y al Ing. Freddy Vargas, quienes trabajan en Agroecología y Fe, por ofrecer un excelente curso, y por el inspirador trabajo que realizan. Este trabajo es apoyado por Misereor, Trees for All, Fundación Wilde Ganzen, Helvetas, y Fundación Samay. Gracias también a Germán Vargas, Paul Van Mele y Clara Bentley por leer y comentar una versión anterior de este artículo.

Fotos

La primera foto es cortesía de Germán Vargas. Las demás son de Jeff Bentley.

Nombres científicos

Qhewiña es Polylepis spp. Khishwara es Buddleja spp. Paja brava es Stipa ichu.

Previamente en el blog de Agro-Insight

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In the spirit of wine March 31st, 2024 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación  

While working at a vineyard in Spain, Enrique Carvajal thought of starting his own winery back home in Bolivia. Enrique was from the small town of Cliza, in Cochabamba, but he had spent most of his career working abroad, at different jobs from the USA to Tel Aviv. He would go out for a year or two, and send money home to his wife and family.

Enrique’s parents had always grown grapes in Bolivia, so he had long known how to make a rustic wine, but the Spanish vineyard was unusual. It was associated with priests, and set up to make sacramental wine, some of which they sent to priests in other countries, which did not make their own wine. The experience gave him the idea that wine could be kind of a big deal.

In 2015, in his fifties, and back in Bolivia, don Enrique collected varieties, like white muscatel, shiraz, merlot and others. By 2021, he produced over 2000 liters. Over the years, Enrique has observed which vines produce a fine wine at his farm’s altitude, 2,800 meters, making it among the highest vineyards in the world. Enrique has also created a label, and given his vineyard a name, Medallón. Having a name was a marketing idea that Enrique learned in Spain, but the name “Medallón” comes from the different medals that his family’s peaches and apples have won in local fairs.

Don Enrique also innovates by cooperating with Cliza’s municipal government, which releases sterile fruit flies in the valley every Wednesday. Medallón is one of their release sites.

Don Enrique is proud that his family’s wine is natural. He doesn’t add any chemicals to it, he explains.

He shows my wife Ana and I, and some fellow visitors, a sample of his neat bottles, with red, white and rosé vintages. The newest ones sell for a modest 25 Bolivianos (just over 3 dollars), while the 11-year-old wines sell for 100 Bolivianos.

“I’m setting aside some wine every year, for my children and grandchildren to keep as long as possible,” don Enrique explains. This aged wine and a family business will be part of don Enrique’s legacy.

Enrique’s years in Spain gave him a vision of a different future, while his stay in Tel Aviv gave him an appreciation of the past. “When I lived in Tel Aviv, I was able to travel all over the Holy land,” don Enrique explains, adding sadly, “To the places where they are fighting now.”

“I visited Bethlehem and Jerusalem and Canaan, where Jesus performed his first miracle of turning water into wine.” He adds, “Wine is sacred.”

Enrique combined his grape-growing skills, learned at home, with some Spanish ideas for marketing an upscale product, and then experimented on his own with different grape varieties at high altitudes. Intangibles, like caring for the environment, wanting to leave something for the family, and finding a spiritual connection with one’s produce, all add meaning to his work.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Enrique Carvajal, Ana Gonzáles, and Paul Van Mele for commenting on previous versions of this story.

EN EL ESPÍRITU DEL VINO

Por Jeff Bentley

31 de marzo del 2024

Mientras trabajaba en un viñedo en España, Enrique Carvajal pensó en montar su propia bodega en Bolivia. Enrique era de la pequeña ciudad de Cliza, en Cochabamba, pero había pasado la mayor parte de su carrera trabajando en el extranjero, en distintos empleos desde los Estados Unidos a Tel Aviv. Se iba por uno o dos años y enviaba dinero a su mujer y a su familia.

Los padres de Enrique siempre habían cultivado la vid en Bolivia, así que él sabía desde hacía tiempo cómo hacer un vino rústico, pero el viñedo español era distinto. Estaba asociada a unos curas quienes elaboraban vino sacramental, parte del cual enviaban a sacerdotes de otros países, donde no se elaboraba su propio vino. La experiencia le dio la idea de que el vino podía ser algo importante.

En 2015, ya cincuentón y de vuelta en Bolivia, don Enrique recolectó variedades, como moscatel blanco, shiraz, merlot y otras. Para 2021, solía producir más de 2000 litros por año. A lo largo de los años, Enrique ha observado qué cepas producen un buen vino a la altitud de su finca, 2.800 metros, lo que la sitúa entre los viñedos más altos del mundo. Enrique también ha creado una etiqueta y ha dado nombre a su viñedo, Medallón. Tener un nombre fue una idea de marketing que Enrique aprendió en España, pero el nombre “Medallón” viene de las diferentes medallas para los duraznos y manzanas que su familia ha ganado en ferias locales.

Don Enrique también innova colaborando con la alcaldía de Cliza, que libera moscas de la fruta estériles en el valle todos los miércoles. Medallón es uno de sus lugares de liberación.

Don Enrique está orgulloso de que el vino de su familia sea natural. No le añade ningún producto químico, él explica.

Nos enseña a mi mujer Ana y a mí, y a otros visitantes, una muestra de sus elegantes botellas, con vinos tintos, blancos y rosados. Las más nuevas se venden a sólo 25 bolivianos (poco más de 3 dólares), mientras que las de 11 años cuestan 100 bolivianos.

“Cada año reservo algunas botellas de vino para que mis hijos y nietos las conserven lo más que puedan, explica don Enrique. Este vino añejo y un negocio familiar formarán parte del legado de don Enrique.

Los años que Enrique pasó en España le dieron una visión nueva del, mientras que su estancia en Tel Aviv le hizo apreciar el pasado. “Cuando vivía en Tel Aviv, pude viajar por toda la Tierra Santa”, explica don Enrique, y añade con tristeza: “A los lugares donde ahora están peleando”.

“Visité Belén y Jerusalén y Canaán, donde Jesús hizo su primer milagro de convertir el agua en vino”. Y añade: “El vino es sagrado”.

Don Enrique combinó sus conocimientos sobre el cultivo de la vid, aprendidos en casa, con algunas ideas españolas para comercializar un producto de alta gama, y luego experimentó por su cuenta con distintas variedades de uva a gran altitud. Los intangibles, como el cuidado del medio ambiente, el deseo de dejar algo a la familia y la búsqueda de una conexión espiritual con los propios productos, añaden significado a su trabajo.

Agradecimiento

Agradezco a Enrique Carvajal, Ana González y Paul Van Mele por leer y comentar sobre versiones previas de este relato.

Videos to encourage agroecology February 4th, 2024 by

Agrochemicals can be sold, but agroecology often has to be shared for free.  In 2012, Access Agriculture (a non-profit) began to offer free videos on agroecology for farmers. A recent review of 244 digital tools found that Access Agriculture was one of only three that offered advice to smallholders on a wide range of agroecological principles, using exemplary extension features, such as options in various languages.

In 2021 we held an online survey of the users of Access Agriculture, to find out how people were using and sharing the videos and other information. They could take the survey in English, French, or Spanish, and 2976 people did so. Most of the respondents (83%) were living in Africa, where Access Agriculture started, suggesting that there is scope to expand in Latin America and Asia. Most survey takers were extensionists, educators (who show videos in class) and farmers themselves, who are increasingly getting online.

Access Agriculture makes an effort to feature female-friendly innovations and to film women farmers (as well as men). Still, 84% of the respondents were men. This is partly because women have less access to phones and to Internet, but the videos do reach women. Many of the extensionists who were surveyed use the videos with organized groups of women farmers.

The survey asked how the videos had made a difference in farm families’ lives. Answers were multiple choice, and more than one response was allowed. Choices were randomised so that each respondent saw them in a different order, so as not to favour the first items on the list. The top response, “better yield” garnered almost 50% of the responses. This suggests that strengthening farmers’ knowledge on agroecology, through the videos, can improve farmers’ yields, an idea that is currently debated.

The other frequent answers suggest that the videos promote productive, sustainable agriculture. “Improved pests, disease and weed management”, “better soil health and soil fertility”, and “better produce” were all noted by over 40% of respondents. Only 1% thought that the videos had made no impact on farmers’ lives.

Three quarters (72%) of the farmers who download the videos also share them. Farmers would only do this if they found the videos useful. The survey estimated that since 2015, the videos reached 90 million people, mainly by mass media. That is partly because the videos are professionally filmed, and TV stations can request the broadcast quality versions and play them on the air. Radio stations also broadcast the soundtracks, which are easily downloadable. From 2012 to 2021, four million people were reached by smaller programs, often screening videos in the villages.

Smart phones make it easy to share links to videos. Over half (51%) of the respondents shared the videos this way, reaching nearly five thousand (4927) organizations. By 2021, Access Agriculture had videos in 90 languages. However, only 55% of the survey respondents knew about these other language versions. As a result, by 2024, Access Agriculture had made local language versions easier to find online. In 2021, the Access Agriculture interface was only in three languages. Now it is in six, as Hindi, Bengali and Portuguese have joined English, French and Spanish. Access Agriculture also begun to list the video title and written summary in the language of each version, not just in the languages of the interface. Now users can find videos by entering search words in languages like Kiswahili, Telegu and Quechua.

The farmers (and others) who took our survey are people who can afford the airtime to take an online survey. They are literate in English, French or Spanish, because they have had a formal education. But with time, smart phones will become less expensive to use. As today’s youngest farmers mature, they will also bring more digital skills into the farming community. The next decade will make these videos even more accessible for farmers, extensionists and others, in ways we can scarcely imagine now.

Agroecology relies on techniques such as crop rotation, organic fertilizer, and natural enemies of plant pests. Many of these practices cannot be bought and sold. They depend on knowledge that can be conveyed online, by extensionists, and in schools. Videos in many languages can effectively share agroecology with farmers, for free, on the Internet.

Previous Agro-Insight blogs adapted from the online survey

Staying grounded while on the air in Ghana

A greener revolution in Africa

Teaching the farmers of tomorrow with videos

Further reading

Our online survey:

Bentley, Jeffery, Paul Van Mele, Flora Chadare, and Mahesh Chander. 2022. Videos on agroecology for a global audience of farmers: An online survey of Access Agriculture. International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability 20(6):1100-1116.

The review of digital tools:

Burns, Sessie, Kyle M. Dittmer, Sadie Shelton, and Eva Wollenberg. 2022. Global digital tool review for agroecological transitions. Agroecological TRANSITIONS: Inclusive Digital Tools to Enable Climate-informed Agroecological Transitions (ATDT). Cali, Colombia: Alliance of Bioversity & CIAT.

 

Scaling the Slow Food movement in Kenya January 21st, 2024 by

Scaling the Slow Food movement in Kenya

Nederlandse versie hieronder

Since 2018, the non-profit organisation Access Agriculture, which I co-founded over a decade ago with two friends from the U.K., has been supporting young people to set up or expand their existing rural enterprise in support of ecological food systems. By now, we have a network of over 240 young entrepreneurs in 15 African countries and India who regularly screen training videos in schools and rural communities. I have had the pleasure to document the experiences of some of them.

Elphas became part of Access Agriculture’s network of young Entrepreneurs for Rural Access (ERAs) in 2021, after he joined Slow Food Kenya. From around 2019 however, long before receiving a solar-powered smart projector, Elphas was already screening Access Agriculture videos to train farmers.

The videos Farmers’ rights to seed: experiences from Guatemala and Farmers’ rights to seed: experiences from Malawi convinced farmers that food sovereignty starts with becoming guardians of traditional crop varieties. “The experience was so interesting, because when farmers see farmers from other countries, they are so excited. It gives them extra motivation,” Elphas says.

“Slow Food Kenya has five strategic areas and one of them is Food Biodiversity and Agroecology, for which we have benefited a lot from Access Agriculture work. The videos have played a vital role in our work,” says Elphas. In 2022, he established 30 new community and school gardens and trained people in the concept and principles of agroecology. In 2023, another 35 gardens were established. Over two years, Elphas trained nearly 300 pupils, and more than 1,440 adults of whom 31% were youth and 62% were women.

Farmers are eager to have their own copies of the videos, so Elphas also sells preloaded flash drives and DVDs, which cost 50 Kenyan Shillings (about 0.30 Euro). For each video loaded he charges an extra 20 Kenyan Shillings (about 0.12 Euro).

One of his main clients is the network organisation Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM) Kenya which includes 65 civil society organisations. They often request Elphas to screen Access Agriculture videos during meetings and training of trainers’ sessions for which he charges 3,500 Kenyan Shillings (about 25 Euros). With the smart projector he also shows PowerPoint presentations and videos that are made by the client.

Using the smart projector, Elphas strengthens the capacities of local organisations to conserve their biodiversity and cultural heritage. Along with the videos on Farmers’ rights to seed, he has also screened the videos on Community seed banks and Collecting traditional varieties, featuring farmers from India. Inspired by these videos, already 24 community seed banks had been established in Kenya by end 2023.

One of these seed banks was created by the Belacom women group in Gilgil, at about 130 kilometres northwest of Nairobi. The group has 15 women who take pride in growing, conserving, selling and exchanging seed of a wide range of crops, such as black nightshade, spider plant, Russian comfrey, kales, spinach, amaranth and pumpkin leaves, and cassava cuttings. Together with like-minded organisations, the women from the community seed bank sell their seed and agroecological produce at the weekly Gilgil Earth Market, which is part of the global network of Earth Markets—farmers’ markets that follow Slow Food principles.

Slow Food Earth Markets are operated and managed by the producers themselves. No middlemen are involved. Besides selling and buying of fresh, healthy, diverse and indigenous produce, Earth Markets are a place for dialogue, exchange and sharing of information. To strengthen the knowledge and skills of local organisations involved in Earth Markets, Elphas has been screening training videos related to food marketing, such as the ones that were developed with farmers in Latin America on How to sell ecological food, Creating agroecological markets and A participatory guarantee system.

As farmers are interested in producing food without chemicals, Elphas starts each session by browsing the Access Agriculture video library on the projector and letting the farmers choose which videos they want to watch.

When the 20 members of the Kahua-ini community garden group from Wanyororo saw how farmers in India made their own Good microbes for plants and soil, they started producing their own solution of good microbes. By watching videos and putting what they learned into practice, Mungai and fellow members learned to improve their soil fertility, increased crop production, diversified their farms and are now earning good money from the sales of organic farm produce at the Slow Food Nakuru Earth market. Mungai also started selling bottles with solution of good microbes. But these are not the only testimonies from such groups.

After watching the video Organic biofertilizer in liquid and solid form, the 18 members of the Bee My Partner youth group in Njoro decided to produce solid biofertiliser at the onset of each planting season. They package and sell their biofertiliser in their village and even in neighbouring counties. Their thriving business has earned them respect in their community and completely changed their attitude towards agriculture. They have invested the money earned in beekeeping and fish ponds.

In early 2023, Pendo Internationale engaged Elphas to screen Access Agriculture videos to schools in Nakuru County, for which he was paid 145,000 Kenyan Shillings (about 1,100 Euros). Elphas trained hundreds of children in Michinda Boys Primary School, Nessuit Primary School, Lawina Primary School and St Brenda Secondary School, amongst others.

The video Teaching agroecology in schools, which was produced in Peru, Latin America, was of particular interest to the schools in Kenya as it shows how schools in different parts of the world celebrate and educate young children on local food culture. “The video emphasises the importance of valuing local culture and encourages a healthy lifestyle by including topics on farming and traditional food in the school curriculum. The video encourages learners to take agriculture as a career rather than see it as a punishment. The video has improved pupils of all ages from different schools to engage in creative classes to make drawings, poems, and songs about ecological farming and healthy food,” says Elphas.

To counter the degradation of indigenous peoples’ food systems, Slow Food International, Slow Food Uganda and Slow Food Kenya organised a Regional Academy for Trainers on Agroecological and Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems in 2023.

The six-month initiative was designed by indigenous peoples for indigenous peoples. As Elphas was one of the trainers, he had a chance to physically meet other Access Agriculture ERAs from Uganda and Tanzania, who are also members of the Slow Food movement.

As the coordinator of the Slow Food Youth Network in Kenya and communication person for the same network in Africa, Elphas has a clear view of what is needed in future: “The government extension service in Kenya is decentralised and heavily supported by multinationals such as Syngenta. Therefore, many government extension workers only promote seed and agrochemicals from companies. We need more training in ecological farming. Kenya needs more ERAs like myself and more smart projectors, so that Access Agriculture videos can offer a counterweight.”

Related Agro-Insight blog

Giving hope to child mothers

 

De Slow Food-beweging uitbreiden in Kenia

Sinds 2018 ondersteunt de non-profitorganisatie Access Agriculture, die ik meer dan tien jaar geleden samen met twee vrienden uit Engeland heb opgericht, jonge mensen bij het opzetten of uitbreiden van hun bestaande rurale onderneming ter ondersteuning van ecologische voedselsystemen. Inmiddels hebben we een netwerk van meer dan 240 jonge ondernemers in 15 Afrikaanse landen en India die regelmatig trainingsvideo’s vertonen in scholen en plattelandsgemeenschappen. Ik heb het genoegen gehad om de ervaringen van een aantal van hen te documenteren.

Elphas werd in 2021 lid van het Access Agriculture netwerk van jonge ondernemers (ERA’s), nadat hij zich had aangesloten bij Slow Food Kenia. Vanaf ongeveer 2019 echter, lang voordat hij een op zonne-energie werkende smart projector kreeg, vertoonde Elphas al Access Agriculture-video’s om boeren te trainen.

De video’s Farmers’ rights to seed: experiences from Guatemala en Farmers’ rights to seed: experiences from Malawi overtuigden boeren ervan dat voedselsoevereiniteit begint met het bewaken van traditionele gewasvariëteiten. “De ervaring was zo interessant, want als boeren boeren uit andere landen zien, zijn ze zo enthousiast. Het geeft ze extra motivatie,” zegt Elphas.

“Slow Food Kenia heeft vijf strategische gebieden en een daarvan is voedselbiodiversiteit en agro-ecologie, waarvoor we veel baat hebben gehad bij het werk van Access Agriculture. De video’s hebben een cruciale rol gespeeld in ons werk,” zegt Elphas. In 2022 heeft hij 30 nieuwe gemeenschaps- en schooltuinen opgezet en mensen opgeleid in het concept en de principes van agroecologie. In 2023 werden nog eens 35 tuinen aangelegd. In twee jaar tijd trainde Elphas bijna 300 leerlingen en meer dan 1.440 volwassenen, waarvan 31% jongeren en 62% vrouwen.

Boeren willen graag hun eigen kopieën van de video’s, dus verkoopt Elphas ook vooraf geladen flashdrives en dvd’s, die 50 Keniaanse Shillings (ongeveer 0,30 euro) kosten. Voor elke geladen video rekent hij 20 Keniaanse Shilling (ongeveer 0,12 euro) extra.

Een van zijn belangrijkste klanten is de netwerkorganisatie Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM) Kenya, die 65 maatschappelijke organisaties omvat. Zij vragen Elphas vaak om Access Agriculture video’s te vertonen tijdens vergaderingen en trainingen van trainers. Hiervoor rekent hij 3.500 Keniaanse Shilling (ongeveer 25 euro). Met de smart projector toont hij ook PowerPoint-presentaties en video’s die door de klant zijn gemaakt.

Met behulp van de smart projector versterkt Elphas de capaciteiten van lokale organisaties om hun biodiversiteit en cultureel erfgoed te behouden. Naast de video’s over het recht van boeren op zaad, heeft hij ook de video’s Community seed banks en Collecting traditional varieties vertoond. Geïnspireerd door deze video’s waren er eind 2023 al 24 gemeenschapszaadbanken opgericht in Kenia.

Een van deze zaadbanken is opgezet door de Belacom vrouwengroep in Gilgil, ongeveer 130 kilometer ten noordwesten van Nairobi. De groep bestaat uit 15 vrouwen die trots zijn op het kweken, conserveren, verkopen en uitwisselen van zaad van een breed scala aan gewassen, zoals zwarte nachtschade, spinrag, Russische smeerwortel, boerenkool, spinazie, amarant en pompoenbladeren, en cassave stekjes. Samen met gelijkgestemde organisaties verkopen de vrouwen van de gemeenschapszaadbank hun zaden en agro-ecologische producten op de wekelijkse Gilgil Earth Market, die deel uitmaakt van het wereldwijde netwerk van Earth Markets-boerenmarkten die de Slow Food-principes volgen.

Slow Food Earth Markets worden gerund en beheerd door de producenten zelf. Er zijn geen tussenpersonen bij betrokken. Naast het verkopen en kopen van verse, gezonde, diverse en inheemse producten, zijn de Earth Markets een plek voor dialoog, uitwisseling en het delen van informatie. Om de kennis en vaardigheden van lokale organisaties die betrokken zijn bij Earth Markets te versterken, heeft Elphas trainingsvideo’s over voedselmarketing vertoond, zoals de video’s die samen met boeren in Latijns-Amerika zijn ontwikkeld over How to sell ecological food, Creating agroecological markets en A participatory guarantee system.

Omdat de boeren geïnteresseerd zijn in het produceren van voedsel zonder chemicaliën, begint Elphas elke sessie met het doorbladeren van de Access Agriculture videobibliotheek op de projector en laat ze de boeren kiezen welke video’s ze willen bekijken.

Toen de 20 leden van de Kahua-ini gemeenschapstuingroep uit Wanyororo zagen hoe boeren in India hun eigen goede microben voor planten en bodem maakten (Good microbes for plants and soil), begonnen ze hun eigen goede microben te maken. Door video’s te bekijken en wat ze leerden in de praktijk te brengen, leerden Mungai en zijn medeleden de vruchtbaarheid van hun grond te verbeteren, de productie van gewassen te verhogen, hun boerderijen te diversifiëren. Ze verdienen nu goed geld aan de verkoop van biologische producten op de Slow Food Nakuru Earth markt. Mungai is ook begonnen met de verkoop van flessen met goede microben. Maar dit zijn niet de enige getuigenissen van dergelijke groepen.

Na het bekijken van de video Organic biofertilizer in liquid and solid form besloten de 18 leden van de Bee My Partner-jongerengroep in Njoro om aan het begin van elk plantseizoen bio-meststof te produceren. Ze verpakken en verkopen hun bio-meststof in hun dorp en zelfs in naburige provincies. Hun bloeiende bedrijf heeft de jongeren respect opgeleverd in hun gemeenschap en hun houding ten opzichte van landbouw volledig veranderd. Het verdiende geld hebben ze geïnvesteerd in bijenteelt en visvijvers.

Begin 2023 schakelde Pendo Internationale Elphas in om Access Agriculture video’s te vertonen op scholen in Nakuru County, waarvoor hij 145.000 Keniaanse Shillings (ongeveer 1.100 euro) kreeg. Elphas trainde honderden kinderen in onder andere Michinda Boys Primary School, Nessuit Primary School, Lawina Primary School en St Brenda Secondary School.

De video Teaching agroecology in schools, die werd geproduceerd in Peru, Latijns-Amerika, was met name interessant voor de scholen in Kenia omdat het laat zien hoe scholen in verschillende delen van de wereld jonge kinderen kennis laten maken met de lokale eetcultuur. “De video benadrukt het belang van het waarderen van de lokale cultuur en moedigt een gezonde levensstijl aan door onderwerpen over landbouw en traditionele voeding in het lesprogramma op te nemen.

De video moedigt leerlingen aan om landbouw als een carrière te zien in plaats van als een straf. De video heeft leerlingen van alle leeftijden van verschillende scholen ertoe aangezet om in creatieve lessen tekeningen, gedichten en liedjes te maken over ecologische landbouw en gezonde voeding,” zegt Elphas.

Om de achteruitgang van de voedselsystemen van inheemse volken tegen te gaan, organiseerden Slow Food International, Slow Food Oeganda en Slow Food Kenia in 2023 een regionale academie voor trainers over agro-ecologische voedselsystemen en voedselsystemen voor inheemse volken.

Het zes maanden durende initiatief werd ontworpen door inheemse volken voor inheemse volken. Omdat Elphas een van de trainers was, had hij de kans om fysiek kennis te maken met andere Access Agriculture ERA’s uit Oeganda en Tanzania, die ook lid zijn van de Slow Food-beweging.

Als coördinator van het Slow Food Youth Network in Kenia en communicatiepersoon voor hetzelfde netwerk in Afrika, heeft Elphas een duidelijk beeld van wat er in de toekomst nodig is: “De voorlichtingsdienst van de overheid in Kenia is gedecentraliseerd en wordt zwaar gesteund door multinationals zoals Syngenta. Daarom promoten veel voorlichters van de overheid alleen zaad en landbouwchemicaliën van bedrijven. We hebben meer training nodig in ecologische landbouw. Kenia heeft meer ERA’s nodig zoals ikzelf en meer smart projectoren, zodat Access Agriculture video’s een tegenwicht kunnen bieden.”

Gerelateerde Agro-Insight blog:

Giving hope to child mothers

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