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The poor get richer and healthier, finally October 25th, 2020 by

Recent papers on the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study for 2019 show that before 2000, the economy of wealthy countries grew at a faster rate than poor ones. But things are changing. Since the turn of the millennium, poorer countries have become healthier and wealthier at a faster rate. Wealth was long been linked with lower birth rates. ‚ÄúThe rich get richer and the poor get children,‚ÄĚ wrote F Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby, a novel first published in 1925. Yet birth rates are declining in poor countries and people are living longer, healthier lives.

From 2000 to 2019, the poorest fifth of countries added an average of nine healthy years to the life of each person, while the wealthiest 20% of countries added just two years. Articles in the prestigious medical journal, The Lancet, attribute the change to increased investments by governments in women and children, in health, development and education, as part of efforts to meet the United Nation’s Millennium Goals.

Measuring health improvements in populations used to be an inexact science. Since the introduction of disability-adjusted life-years (DALY), or years lost to death or disability, it’s become easier to monitor changes. According to the study, DALYs declined worldwide from 1990-2010 by 2.3% per year. In other words, people got healthier. The annual decline increased to 4.0% from 2010 to 2019, thanks largely to reductions in incidence of major diseases that kill children, such as lower respiratory infections, diarrhea and meningitis by more than 60% between 1990 and 2019. New treatments also meant that the health impact of other infectious diseases declined. The number of people with HIV/AIDS peaked in 2004 and has fallen ever since.

Despite on-going news reports about health crises, global health has steadily improved over the past 30 years. When the DALY is statistically adjusted for age (as people live longer), some of the poorest countries see an average yearly decline of 2% in the rate of death and disability. Good news for the people of Ethiopia, Angola, Burundi, Malawi, Sudan, Myanmar, Laos and Bangladesh, for example, and a powerful reminder that lives are improving.

Population growth is slowing. The world’s population is estimated to peak in 2064 at 9.73 billion, and to decline to 8.79 billion by 2100. Girls and women are spending more years in school and contraception is easier to get.

As middle-income countries develop and urbanize, improving their well-being will depend less on combatting infectious disease, and more on adopting healthier diets, getting exercise, and reducing tobacco use. For countries that are still poor, continued improvements in health will demand ‚Äúdoubling down on policies and strategies that stimulate economic growth, expand access to primary and secondary schooling and improve the status of women (Lancet 2020; 396: 1135).‚ÄĚ

It is fashionable in some circles to mock the efforts of formal development. But government and international investments in health and education are improving the lives of poor people in measurable ways.

Further reading

Abubakar, Ibrahim 2020 The future of migration, human populations, and global health in the Anthropocene. The Lancet 396: 1133-1134.

Murray, Christopher J. L. and collaborators 2020 Five insights from the Global Burden of Disease Study 2019. The Lancet 396: 1135-1159.

Murray, Christopher J. L. and collaborators 2020 Global burden of 369 diseases and injuries in 204 countries and territories, 1990‚Äď2019: A systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2019. The Lancet 396: 1204.1222.

Of mangos and manioc October 18th, 2020 by

Vea la versi√≥n en espa√Īol a continuaci√≥n

Last week in this blog, I wrote about how Native American words for crops entered English and other tongues from native languages, through Spanish (Spanish chocolate). Now it’s time for the other side of the story, the Portuguese side.

Soon after the Columbus voyage, in May of 1493, Pope Alexander VI essentially drew a line north-south through the Atlantic Ocean, 100 leagues (about 400 km) west of the Cape Verde Islands, declaring that any lands discovered west of that line would belong to Spain. The Portuguese could claim any non-Christian country east of the line. The Pope‚Äôs intention was to recognize Spanish rights to the islands of the Caribbean, since the Portuguese had previously claimed all lands south of the Canary Islands (which would have given the Caribbean to the Portuguese).  The Portuguese accepted Spain‚Äôs hold on the Caribbean, but argued strenuously that the line should be moved a further 270 leagues west.  

Just the next year, Spanish and Portuguese negotiators met in Tordesillas, in northern Spain, where Spain bowed to the Portuguese demand, and the line moved west. Fortuitously, the change would later ensure that Brazil became a Portuguese colony.

The Portuguese would only land on Brazil in 1500, but six years earlier in Tordesillas, they had insisted so strongly on moving the line that some historians wonder if Portugal had known of South America in 1494. In the end, Portugal claimed Brazil in addition to territories in Africa and Asia. Spain got the rest of the Americas and most of the Pacific Ocean. Even by the arrogant standards of sixteenth century imperialism, the Tordesillas deal was astonishing, splitting the world in half the way you would slice an orange with a knife.

Other seafaring nations, especially England, rejected the Treaty of Tordesillas out of hand, but the deal did help to avoid war between Spain and Portugal. The Portuguese set up a string of trading colonies from Guinea Bissau in West Africa to Macau in China. They took 16th century manufactured goods east, along with the names for the stuff. Many languages in Asia and Africa borrowed Portuguese words for items like ‚Äúwindow‚ÄĚ (janela) and ‚Äúkey‚ÄĚ (chave).

The exchange of goods and words worked both ways. In India, Portuguese travelers savored a delicious fruit called maanga in Malayalam, a Dravidian language. The fruit became ‚Äúmanga‚ÄĚ in Portuguese, and then ‚Äúmango‚ÄĚ in many languages from German to Japanese.

The Portuguese also brought new foods from Brazil, like a tasty nut, called ‚Äúcashew‚ÄĚ in many European languages from the Portuguese caju, from akai√ļ, in the native Tupi language.

In spite of treaties, the Spanish-Portuguese tension lingered, and still shows up in language today. The tropical American root crop, cassava, has three names in English. The word ‚Äúcassava‚ÄĚ comes from the Spanish cazabe (the name for cassava flour), which is from the Taino, a native language that was then spoken throughout the Greater Antilles. Another English word for cassava is ‚Äúmanioc‚ÄĚ, which comes not from Spanish, but from the rival Portuguese, from mandioca, from mandi√≥ka, in the Tupi language of Brazil.  German, Dutch and many other languages also have two words for this crop, ‚Äúcassava‚ÄĚ from Taino via Spanish and ‚Äúmanioc‚ÄĚ from Tupi through Portuguese.

The label for ‚Äúpineapple‚ÄĚ was also contested. The Spanish called the fruit pi√Īa, ‚Äúpinecone‚ÄĚ, because of its faceted skin. The English translated pi√Īa as ‚Äúpine‚ÄĚ and added ‚Äúapple,‚ÄĚ to signal ‚Äúthis is a fruit‚ÄĚ, making an unusual blended word.  Brazilians today call the pineapple abacaxi (from the Tupi ywa-kat√≠, ‚Äúfragrant fruit‚ÄĚ), but in Portugal it is anan√°s, from the Tupi word for pineapple, nan√°. In most of the world‚Äôs languages today, except for English and Spanish, the pineapple is known by some version of ‚Äúananas.‚ÄĚ

The line of Tordesillas, through the center of the Atlantic Ocean, seems improbably and crudely imperialistic to modern ideals. The Iberian colonies have finally all been surrendered, but the Spanish influence on the world’s languages is still felt from the west of that line, with a Portuguese legacy on the east side.

Further reading

Brotton, Jerry 2013 A History of the World in Twelve Maps. London: Penguin Books. 514 pp. (See chapter 6).


Most of the etymologies are from Michaelis Dicionário Brasileiro da Língua Portuguesa


18 de octubre del 2020, por Jeff Bentley

La semana pasada en este blog, escrib√≠ que algunas palabras ind√≠genas para cultivos americanos pasaron al ingl√©s y a otros idiomas desde las lenguas nativas, a trav√©s del espa√Īol (Chocolate espa√Īol). Ahora nos toca la otra parte de la historia, el lado portugu√©s.

Poco despu√©s del viaje de Col√≥n, en mayo de 1493, el Papa Alejandro VI traz√≥ una l√≠nea de norte a sur a trav√©s del Oc√©ano Atl√°ntico, a 100 leguas (unos 400 km) al oeste de las Islas de Cabo Verde, declarando que cualquier tierra descubierta al oeste de esa l√≠nea pertenecer√≠a a Espa√Īa. Los portugueses podr√≠an reclamar cualquier pa√≠s no cristiano al este de la l√≠nea. La intenci√≥n del Papa era reconocer los derechos espa√Īoles sobre las Islas del Caribe, ya que los portugueses hab√≠an reclamado anteriormente todas las tierras al sur de las Islas Canarias (que dar√≠a el Caribe a los portugueses).  Los portugueses aceptaron el dominio espa√Īol sobre el Caribe, pero argumentaron en√©rgicamente que la l√≠nea deber√≠a desplazarse otras 270 leguas hacia el oeste. 

Al a√Īo siguiente, los negociadores espa√Īoles y portugueses se reunieron en Tordesillas, en Castilla, donde Espa√Īa acept√≥ la demanda portuguesa y la l√≠nea se movi√≥ hacia el oeste. Por suerte de los portugueses, m√°s tarde el cambio les dar√≠a el Brasil como colonia.

Los portugueses s√≥lo desembarcar√≠an en el Brasil en el 1500, pero seis a√Īos antes en Tordesillas, hab√≠an insistido tanto en mover la l√≠nea que algunos historiadores se preguntan si Portugal hab√≠a sabido de Am√©rica del Sur en el 1494. Al final, Portugal reclam√≥ Brasil adem√°s de territorios en √Āfrica y Asia. Espa√Īa obtuvo el resto de las Am√©ricas y la mayor parte del Oc√©ano Pac√≠fico. Aun seg√ļn los arrogantes est√°ndares del imperialismo del siglo XV, el acuerdo de Tordesillas fue mucha cosa, dividiendo el mundo a la mitad como si se tratara de cortar una naranja con un cuchillo filudo.

Otras naciones marineras, especialmente Inglaterra, rechazaron el Tratado de Tordesillas de frente, pero el acuerdo ayud√≥ a evitar la guerra entre Espa√Īa y Portugal. Los portugueses establecieron una serie de colonias comerciales desde Guinea Bissau en √Āfrica Occidental hasta Macao en la China. Se llevaron las manufacturas del siglo XVI al este, junto con sus nombres. Muchos idiomas de Asia y √Āfrica se prestaron palabras portuguesas para art√≠culos como “ventana” (janela) y “llave” (chave).

El intercambio de bienes y palabras corri√≥ en ambos sentidos. En la India, los viajeros portugueses saborearon una deliciosa fruta llamada maanga en malayalam, una lengua drav√≠dica. La fruta se convirti√≥ en “manga” en portugu√©s, y luego en “mango” en muchos idiomas del alem√°n al japon√©s.

Los portugueses tambi√©n trajeron nuevos alimentos del Brasil, como el sabroso mara√Ī√≥n. Su nombre en ingl√©s y en varios otros idiomas europeos, cashew, viene del ‚Äúcaju‚ÄĚ en portugu√©s, del akai√ļ, en la lengua nativa tup√≠.

A pesar de los tratados, la tensi√≥n hispano-portuguesa persisti√≥, y a√ļn hoy se manifiesta en el idioma. La yuca, o la mandioca, tiene varios nombres. El m√°s com√ļn en ingl√©s es “cassava”, del espa√Īol ‚Äúcazabe‚ÄĚ (el nombre no de la yuca sino de su harina). ‚ÄúCazabe‚ÄĚ viene del ta√≠no, idioma nativo que se hablaba en las Antillas Mayores. Otra palabra inglesa para la yuca es ‚Äúmanioc‚ÄĚ que no es del espa√Īol, sino de su rival, el portugu√©s, de ‚Äúmandioca‚ÄĚ, la cual viene mandi√≥ka, en la lengua tup√≠ de Brasil.  El alem√°n, el holand√©s y muchos otros idiomas tambi√©n tienen dos palabras para la yuca, “cassava” del ta√≠no a trav√©s del espa√Īol y “manioc” del tup√≠ a trav√©s del portugu√©s.

La ‚Äúpi√Īa‚ÄĚ era otra palabra discutida. Los espa√Īoles lo bautizaron “pi√Īa”, por las facetas de su piel, como de la fruta del pino. El ingl√©s tradujo ‚Äúpi√Īa‚ÄĚ como pine (pino) y a√Īadi√≥ apple (manzana), como decir “esta es una fruta”. El resultado, ‚Äúpineapple‚ÄĚ es una extra√Īa mezcla de dos palabras.  Hoy en d√≠a los brasile√Īos llaman a la pi√Īa abacaxi (del tup√≠ ywa-kat√≠, “fruta fragante”), pero en Portugal es ‚Äúanan√°s,‚ÄĚ de la palabra tupi para pi√Īa, nan√°. Actualmente en la mayor√≠a de los idiomas del mundo, excepto el ingl√©s y el espa√Īol, la pi√Īa es conocida por alguna versi√≥n de “anan√°s”.

La l√≠nea de Tordesillas, atravesando el Oc√©ano Atl√°ntico, parece improbable para nuestros ideales modernos y antimperialistas. Hoy en d√≠a los ib√©ricos han entregado todas sus colonias, pero la influencia espa√Īola en las lenguas del mundo a√ļn se siente desde el oeste de esa l√≠nea, con un legado portugu√©s al lado este.

Lectura adicional

Brotton, Jerry 2013 A History of the World in Twelve Maps. Londres: Penguin Books. 514 pp. (See chapter 6).


La mayoría de las etimologías son de Michaelis Dicionário Brasileiro da Língua Portuguesa

Spanish chocolate October 11th, 2020 by

Vea la versi√≥n en espa√Īol a continuaci√≥n

When Columbus dropped anchor in the Bahamas that October day, he actually had Arabic interpreters on board, because he was so unsure who he would meet on his trip. The people he came across actually spoke Taino, an Arawakan language. The Spanish soon learned the Taino words for New World devices, like hammocks and canoes, but also for American crops, like maize (maíz, in Spanish, from the Taino mahís).

Thirty years later, in Mexico, the conquistadores learned about a bean that made a nasty, but uplifting drink. The Aztecs called it xocoatl, from xoco (bitter) and atl (water). The word became chocolate, first in Spanish, and then in dozens of other languages. The language of the Aztecs, Nahuatl, was also the source of the words for tomato (tomatl) and chili (chilli), also funneled through Spanish (tomate, chile) into most of the languages of Europe.

In South America, the Spanish learned the names for quinoa (Spanish quinua, from the Quechua kinwa) and for sun-dried meat, jerky (charque, from ch’arki).

Two hundred years after the Taino discovered Columbus lurking off their coasts, the words for Native American crops and foods were still finding their way into English, through the Spanish connection. In 1697, a British pirate with a flair for writing, William Dampier, published the bestseller A New Voyage Round the World, which introduced his readers to the avocado, from the Spanish aguacate, from the Nahuatl ahuacatl (testicle), named for its shape. For good measure, Dampier also passed on the first recorded recipe in English for guacamole (Nahuatl ahuacamulli, or ‚Äúavocado sauce‚ÄĚ).

The Native Americans gave the world so many of our favorite crops and foods. It‚Äôs fitting that some of the names for these crops are also Native American. It also makes historical sense that some of these terms were filtered through Spanish, a bittersweet reminder that these crops arrived on the global stage through conquest and colonization.  

A word about jerky

Just to set the record straight, I’ve read in two books recently that ch’arki is freeze dried. It’s not; it’s just sun dried. You can make it in warm or cold weather, as long as the sun shines.

Further reading

Preston, Diana & Michael Preston 2004 A Pirate of Exquisite Mind. The Life of William Dampier: Explorer, Naturalist and Buccaneer. London: Corgi Books. 512 pp.

For the etymologies I have generally followed the spellings in the 22nd (2001) edition of the Diccionario de la Lengua Espa√Īola, by the Spanish Royal Academy. Although published in Madrid, this outstanding dictionary also respectfully documents the various Latin American versions of the Spanish language.

Related blogs

Expanding horizons

Khipu: a story tied in knots

Watch videos in Spanish

Access Agriculture has 109 videos in Spanish on farming, gardening and food. You can watch them here.


Jeff Bentley, 8 de octubre del 2020

Cuando Col√≥n ech√≥ el ancla en las Bahamas ese d√≠a de octubre, ten√≠a int√©rpretes de √°rabe a bordo, porque no sab√≠a con qui√©n se topar√≠a en su viaje. Resulta que la gente que encontr√≥ hablaba en ta√≠no, un idioma arahuaco. Los espa√Īoles pronto aprendieron las palabras ta√≠nas para los artefactos del Nuevo Mundo, como hamacas y canoas, pero tambi√©n para los cultivos americanos, como el ma√≠z (del ta√≠no ‚Äúmah√≠s‚ÄĚ). Del espa√Īol, el ‚Äúma√≠z‚ÄĚ pas√≥ al ingl√©s, alem√°n, franc√©s, italiano, holand√©s y varios otros idiomas europeos.

Treinta a√Īos despu√©s, en M√©xico, los conquistadores aprendieron sobre un grano que hac√≠a una bebida con sabor feo, pero con efecto agradable. Los aztecas lo llamaban xocoatl, de xoco (amargo) y atl (agua). La palabra se convirti√≥ en ‚Äúchocolate‚ÄĚ, primero en espa√Īol, y luego en docenas de otras lenguas. La lengua de los aztecas, el n√°huatl, fue tambi√©n la fuente de las palabras para tomate (tomatl) y chile (chili), tambi√©n canalizadas a trav√©s del espa√Īol hasta la mayor√≠a de las lenguas de Europa.

En Sudam√©rica, los espa√Īoles aprendieron los nombres de la quinua (del quechua kinwa) y del charque (ch’arki, en quechua), que termin√≥ como jerky, en ingl√©s.

Doscientos a√Īos despu√©s de que los ta√≠nos descubrieran a Col√≥n acechando en sus costas, las palabras para los cultivos y alimentos de los americanos nativos segu√≠an entrando al ingl√©s y los otros idiomas de Europa, a trav√©s de la conexi√≥n espa√Īola. En 1697, un pirata brit√°nico con talento para la escritura, William Dampier, public√≥ el bestseller, Un Nuevo Viaje Alrededor del Mundo, que introdujo la palabra avocado al ingl√©s, de ‚Äúaguacate‚ÄĚ en espa√Īol, del ahuacatl (test√≠culo) nombre que pusieron en n√°huatl por la forma del fruto. Adem√°s, Dampier dej√≥ la primera receta escrita en ingl√©s para el guacamole (el n√°huatl ahuacamulli, o “salsa de aguacate”).

Los ind√≠genas americanos dieron al mundo muchos de nuestros cultivos y alimentos favoritos. Es apropiado que algunas de los nombres para estos cultivos tambi√©n sean ind√≠genas. Tambi√©n tiene sentido hist√≥rico que algunos de estos t√©rminos llegaron a los dem√°s idiomas europeos gracias a los espa√Īoles, un agridulce recuerdo que algunas de las contribuciones m√°s valiosas de las Am√©ricas eran frutos de la conquista y la colonizaci√≥n.

Sobre el charque

Solo una aclaración, he leído hace poco en dos diferentes libros que el ch’arki es liofilizado, o sea que es secado en frío, congelado. Pero no es cierto. El charque es secado así no más, a sol, en tiempo frío o caliente.

Para leer m√°s

Preston, Diana & Michael Preston 2004 A Pirate of Exquisite Mind. The Life of William Dampier: Explorer, Naturalist and Buccaneer. Londres: Corgi Books. 512 pp.

Para la mayor√≠a de las etimolog√≠as he usado la ortograf√≠a en la 22a (2001) edici√≥n del Diccionario de la Lengua Espa√Īola, de la Real Academia Espa√Īola. Este magn√≠fico diccionario es publicado Madrid, pero tambi√©n documenta el vocabulario y usos latinoamericanos, con amor y respeto.

Previamente en nuestro blog

Expanding horizons

Desenredando la historia del khipu

Videos en espa√Īol

Access Agriculture tiene 109 videos en espa√Īol sobre el agro, el huerto y la comida. Los puede ver aqu√≠.

GMOs by hook and by crooks October 4th, 2020 by

Vea la versi√≥n en espa√Īol a continuaci√≥n

In the midst of a deep ecological, economic and political crisis, the Bolivian government is being pushed by multinational companies to open up the country to GMOs, genetically modified crops.

Since 1996, Bolivia has been clearing about 200,000 hectares of tropical forest per year, one of the highest rates per capita in the world. Public forests are converted to private farmland, to plant subsidized soy beans, mostly for the benefit of large-scale export growers, who control vast areas (10,000 to 20,000 hectares each), according to Gonzalo Colque of the Fundación Tierra.

Colque adds that the first and only GMO crop to be approved in Bolivia was Monsanto‚Äôs Roundup Ready¬ģ soy, in 2005 (by presidential decree, during the brief, interim presidency of Eduardo Rodr√≠guez Veltz√©). Roundup Ready soya is resistant to glyphosate (to encourage the use of this herbicide). Soon after being approved, all the soy planted in Bolivia was GMO.

GMO crops that are resistant to herbicide can be sprayed with large doses of glyphosate, allowing farmers to easily control weeds in their crop, at least for a few years. Meanwhile, the farm supply companies make money on the weed-killer and on the seed that tolerates it. But within a few years, weeds evolve resistance to glyphosate, starting an arms race that the farmers will lose.

In 2012, after several years of debate and analysis, Evo Morales, the first indigenous president of Bolivia, signed a law with the remarkable title ‚ÄúFramework Law for the Mother Earth and Integrated Development to Live Well‚ÄĚ (Ley Marco de la Madre Tierra y Desarrollo Integral para Vivir Bien). The law outlawed GMOs, although Roundup Ready was still legal.

In April 2019, Morales walked back his earlier, anti-GMO position. According to Opinión (a respected newspaper) Morales authorized the evaluation (a prerequisite for approval) of two GMO soy varieties (HB4 and Intacta Pro, both resistant to glyphosate) at the request of the Bioceres company. HB4 soya had just been released in Argentina on 28 February 2019, in collaboration with Bioceres and the Beijing Da-Bei-Nong Technology Group. Shortly after, Brazil approved a similar GMO soy. Bioceres is headquartered in Argentina; investors include Monsanto and Syngenta AG, a global company that produces agrochemicals and since 2018 has been owned by ChemChina, a Chinese state-owned enterprise.

In mid-2019, when the massive forest fires in the Brazilian Amazon caught the world’s attention, Bolivian citizens’ groups struggled to let the world know that primary, tropical dry forest was also ablaze in the Bolivian Chiquitania. To satisfy exporters’ demands for frozen, deboned beef, parts of the forest had been cleared to make room for cattle. Some forest had been selectively logged, drying it out and making it more fire-prone. According to the Ministry for Rural Development and Land, 2,526 tons of frozen beef were exported in 2019, mostly to China, not bad for a business that had essentially not existed the year before.

President Morales refused to sign a state of emergency, which would have let French firefighters and other allies come help. The fire torched 200,000 hectares of trees and killed an estimated two million wild animals, and it tarnished President Morales’ reputation, contributing to the collapse of his government in November, 2019.

To the surprise of everyone in Bolivia, and following two chaotic days in which the country had no president at all, on 12 November 2019, Jeanine √Ā√Īez (the second vice-president of the Senate), emerged as president, promising to hold elections as soon as possible.

√Ā√Īez, a 52-year old lawyer and a former TV news reporter, came across fairly well in her press conferences. Her rhetoric was conciliatory, and she appointed some indigenous people to cabinet positions. Many people gave her a chance, even after she called out the army to quell some violent protests. Crucially, √Ā√Īez presented herself as a caretaker president, an honest broker overseeing fair elections. But she squandered that asset when, in 24 January 2020, she declared that she too would run for president.

Even after she started campaigning, √Ā√Īez enjoyed mild public support. Then in mid-March, she locked Bolivia down. This may have slowed the spread of Covid, but it crippled the economy. Her popularity and legitimacy were further weakened by allegations of corruption and by reports that she had ties to the international cocaine trade, through a drug-dealing ex-husband in Colombia and an incarcerated nephew. 

Then on 7 May 2020, √Ā√Īez, the accidental president, surprised the long-suffering Bolivian people with a presidential decree (number 4232) allowing genetically modified crops to be evaluated (and rapidly approved). According to the newspaper Opini√≥n, this decree was, like Morales‚Äôs decree a year earlier, also made on behalf of Bioceres, the seed and agrochemical company.

The Bolivian public saw through the GMO arguments. An opinion survey by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in June, selected to include a broad cross-section of society by region, gender and political orientation, disapproved of the √Ā√Īez government and 79% said they were opposed or very opposed to genetically modified crops.

There was little movement on the GMO issue for three months, until on 17 September, √Ā√Īez withdrew from the October elections. She had been slipping in the polls, and her candidacy had split the vote so that there was now a risk that Morales‚Äô party could win the elections.

Once she was out of the electoral race, A√Īez lost little time supporting GMOs. On 22 September, just five days after quitting her campaign, she signed a new presidential decree (4348) allowing for hard yellow maize from ‚Äúany technology‚ÄĚ (i.e. GMO) to be grown in areas with local varieties, as long as the two crops were planted on different dates and separated (the decree does not say by how far) to avoid cross pollinating native and GMO maize. Such regulations will be impossible to enforce in a country where 50,000 to 70,000 hectares are already sown to illegal GMO maize. √Ā√Īez clearly intended to benefit large-scale growers, as hard yellow maize is the type used for export and for animal feed.

Bolivian laws have to be passed by parliament; the Mother Earth law specifically prohibits GMOs, but presidential decrees, like the ones √Ā√Īez has signed, come from the chief executive alone. They can also be revoked by the next president.

The biggest winners in legalizing GMO seed are the multinational companies who use government approval as leverage to enforce patents and oblige farmers to buy seed from the dealer every year.

Complicated technical and scientific issues like GMOs should be thoughtfully discussed by academic, scientific, consumer and farmer representatives, and then laws that govern these technologies should be passed by congress, not forced by a fragile, unelected president, backed by the export agricultural lobby. Multinationals pushing their GMO seed show their true colors when they take advantage of weak governments in moments of crisis.

Photo credits

GMO soy seed and a soy field cleared from forest in Bolivia, photos by Eric Boa.

Further reading

Bioceres 2019. Prospectus. https://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1769484/000110465919033172/a19-9851_1f1.htm)

eFarmNews 2019 Argentina, the first country in the world authorizing a Chinese soybean transgenic trait. https://efarmnewsar.com/2019-02-28/argentina-the-first-country-in-the-world-authorizing-a-chinese-soybean-transgenic-trait.html

Colque, Gonzalo 2020 Vulneración de los Derechos Humanos y de la Naturaleza por la Introducción de Transgénicos en Bolivia. Paper read at the Foro: Nuevos Retos para la Agroecología en Bolivia. The talk is available on the Facebook page of Fundación Tierra. https://www.facebook.com/101332713279511/videos/2813006752357621. (The talk starts 27 minutes into this version of the recording).

Friedrich Ebert Stiftung 2020 Proyecto de An√°lisis Prospectivo y Di√°logo. Informe No. 2. Cuestionario Delphi (segunda ronda): Escenarios prospectivos 2020. https://drive.google.com/file/d/1KA7f3Q0n_DoVnDsY4em0NVB2VsKGjQdr/view

Ministry of Rural Development and Land 2020 Plan Nacional de Respuesta y Rehabilitación para el Sector Agropecuario ante los Efectos del Covid-19. Government of Bolivia, Ministerio de Desarrollo Rural y Tierras (with FAO, IFAD and IICA).

Opini√≥n 2020 ¬ŅQu√© respondieron Evo y √Ā√Īez a los pedidos de evaluar semillas de soya transg√©nica? https://www.opinion.com.bo/articulo/pais/respondieron-evo-anez-pedidos-evaluar-semillas-soya-transgenica/20200516234355768011.html

Reuters 2019 Brazil approves new soy seed that resists drought, two herbicides. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-brazil-soybeans-idUSKCN1SU244

Related blog stories

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A long walk home

A brief history of soy

Related videos

Soy is a nutritious food that can be grown organically, without GMOs. You may enjoy these videos for family farmers.

Making soya cheese

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Making a condiment from soya beans

Harvesting and storing soya bean seed

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Enriching porridge


Jeff Bentley, 4 de octubre del 2020

En medio de una profunda crisis ecológica, económica y política, las empresas multinacionales están manipulando al gobierno boliviano a abrir el país a los cultivos transgénicos.

Desde 1996, Bolivia ha talado unas 200.000 hect√°reas de bosques tropicales por a√Īo, una de las tasas m√°s altas per c√°pita del mundo. Los bosques en tierras fiscales se convierten en tierras particulares, para sembrar soya subvencionada, principalmente en beneficio de los que producen para la exportaci√≥n, que controlan grandes √°reas (10.000 a 20.000 hect√°reas cada una), seg√ļn Gonzalo Colque de la Fundaci√≥n Tierra.

Colque agrega que el primer y √ļnico cultivo transg√©nico que se aprob√≥ en Bolivia fue la soya Roundup Ready¬ģ de Monsanto, en 2005 (por decreto presidencial, durante la breve presidencia interina de Eduardo Rodr√≠guez Veltz√©). La soya Roundup Ready es resistente al glifosato (para fomentar el uso de este herbicida). Poco despu√©s de su aprobaci√≥n, toda la soya sembrada en Bolivia fue transg√©nica.

Los transg√©nicos resistentes a los herbicidas pueden ser fumigados con altas dosis de glifosato, lo que permite a los agricultores controlar f√°cilmente las malezas, al menos durante unos pocos a√Īos. Mientras tanto, las empresas agropecuarias ganan dinero con el herbicida y con la semilla que lo tolera. Pero en pocos a√Īos, las malezas desarrollan resistencia al glifosato, iniciando una carrera de armas que los agricultores perder√°n.

En 2012, despu√©s de varios a√Īos de debate y an√°lisis, Evo Morales, el primer presidente ind√≠gena de Bolivia, firm√≥ una ley con el impresionante t√≠tulo de “Ley Marco de la Madre Tierra y Desarrollo Integral para Vivir Bien”. La ley prohib√≠a los transg√©nicos, aunque Roundup Ready segu√≠a siendo legal.

En abril de 2019, Morales cambi√≥ a su anterior posici√≥n anti transg√©nicos. Seg√ļn Opini√≥n (un respetado peri√≥dico) Morales autoriz√≥ la evaluaci√≥n (un prerrequisito para la aprobaci√≥n) de dos variedades de soya transg√©nica (HB4 e Intacta Pro, ambas resistentes al glifosato) a petici√≥n de la empresa Bioceres. La soya HB4 acababa de ser lanzada en la Argentina el 28 de febrero de 2019, en colaboraci√≥n con Bioceres y el Beijing Da-Bei-Nong Technology Group. Poco despu√©s, el Brasil aprob√≥ una soya transg√©nica similar. Bioceres tiene su sede en Argentina; sus inversionistas incluyen Monsanto y Syngenta AG, una empresa mundial que produce agroqu√≠micos y que desde el 2018 es propiedad de ChemChina, una empresa estatal china.

A mediados de 2019, cuando los enormes incendios forestales en la Amazonia brasile√Īa llamaron la atenci√≥n del mundo, grupos de ciudadanos bolivianos lucharon por hacer saber al mundo que el bosque seco tropical primario tambi√©n ard√≠a en la Chiquitania boliviana. Para satisfacer la demanda de los exportadores de carne de res congelada y deshuesada, se hab√≠an talado partes del bosque para dar lugar a m√°s ganado. Algunos bosques hab√≠an sido talados selectivamente, hasta que se volvieron m√°s secos y m√°s propensos al fuego. Seg√ļn el Ministerio de Desarrollo Rural y Tierras, en 2019 se exportaron 2.526 toneladas de carne de res, casi todo a China, nada mal para un negocio que esencialmente no exist√≠a el a√Īo anterior.

El presidente Morales se neg√≥ a firmar el estado de emergencia, lo que habr√≠a permitido a los bomberos franceses y otros aliados venir a ayudar. El incendio destruy√≥ 200.000 hect√°reas de √°rboles y mat√≥ a dos millones de animales salvajes, y empa√Ī√≥ la reputaci√≥n del Presidente Morales, contribuyendo al colapso de su gobierno en noviembre de 2019.

Para sorpresa de todos en Bolivia, y despu√©s de dos d√≠as ca√≥ticos en los que el pa√≠s no tuvo ning√ļn presidente, el 12 de noviembre de 2019, Jeanine √Ā√Īez (la segunda vicepresidente del Senado), sali√≥ como presidenta, prometiendo celebrar elecciones lo antes posible.

√Ā√Īez, abogada de 52 a√Īos y ex presentadora de noticias de televisi√≥n, sali√≥ bien en sus conferencias de prensa. Su ret√≥rica fue conciliadora, y nombr√≥ a algunos ind√≠genas en puestos del gabinete. Mucha gente le dio una oportunidad, incluso despu√©s de que llamara al ej√©rcito para reprimir algunas protestas violentas. Crucialmente, √Ā√Īez se present√≥ como una presidenta provisional, una intermediaria honesta que supervisar√≠a unas elecciones justas. Pero desperdici√≥ ese activo cuando, el 24 de enero de 2020, declar√≥ que ella tambi√©n se presentar√≠a como candidata a la presidencia.

Incluso despu√©s de empezar la campa√Īa, √Ā√Īez disfrut√≥ de un leve apoyo p√ļblico. Luego, a mediados de marzo, cerr√≥ Bolivia. Esto puede haber frenado la propagaci√≥n de Covid, pero paraliz√≥ la econom√≠a. Su popularidad y legitimidad se debilitaron a√ļn m√°s por las denuncias de corrupci√≥n y las revelaciones de que ten√≠a v√≠nculos con el traficante internacional de coca√≠na, a trav√©s de un ex marido narcotraficante en Colombia y un sobrino encarcelado. 

Luego, el 7 de mayo de 2020, √Ā√Īez, el presidente accidental, sorprendi√≥ al pueblo boliviano con un decreto presidencial (n√ļmero 4232) que permit√≠a evaluar (y aprobar r√°pidamente) los cultivos gen√©ticamente modificados. Seg√ļn el peri√≥dico Opini√≥n, este decreto, tal como el de Morales el a√Īo anterior, se hizo a petici√≥n de la empresa multinacional Bioceres.

El p√ļblico boliviano no se dej√≥ enga√Īar. Una encuesta de opini√≥n realizada por la Fundaci√≥n Friedrich Ebert en junio, con una muestra representativa de la sociedad por regi√≥n, g√©nero y orientaci√≥n pol√≠tica, desaprob√≥ al gobierno de √Ā√Īez y el 79% se opon√≠a a los cultivos gen√©ticamente modificados.

Ah√≠ se quedaron los transg√©nicos durante tres meses, hasta que el 17 de septiembre, cuando √Ā√Īez se retir√≥ de las elecciones de octubre. Hab√≠a ido perdiendo en las encuestas y su candidatura hab√≠a dividido el voto, por lo que ahora hab√≠a la posibilidad de que el partido de Morales ganara las elecciones.

Una vez fuera de la carrera electoral, √Ā√Īez perdi√≥ poco tiempo apoyando a los transg√©nicos. El 22 de septiembre, s√≥lo cinco d√≠as despu√©s de abandonar su campa√Īa, firm√≥ un nuevo decreto presidencial (4348) que permit√≠a el cultivo de ma√≠z amarillo duro de “cualquier tecnolog√≠a” (es decir, transg√©nico) en zonas con variedades locales, siempre y cuando los dos cultivos se sembraran en fechas diferentes y con distancias entre un campo y el otro (no dice a cu√°nta distancia) para evitar la polinizaci√≥n cruzada de ma√≠z nativo y el transg√©nico. Ser√° imposible hacer cumplir esas normas en un pa√≠s en el que ya se han sembrado entre 50.000 y 70.000 hect√°reas de ma√≠z transg√©nico ilegal. √Ā√Īez ten√≠a claramente la intenci√≥n de beneficiar a los grandes empresarios, ya que el ma√≠z amarillo duro es el que se usa para la exportaci√≥n y para la alimentaci√≥n animal.

Las leyes bolivianas tienen que ser aprobadas por el parlamento; la ley de la Madre Tierra proh√≠be espec√≠ficamente los transg√©nicos, pero los decretos presidenciales, como los que ha firmado √Ā√Īez, provienen √ļnicamente del ejecutivo. Tambi√©n pueden ser revocados por el pr√≥ximo presidente.

Los mayores ganadores en la legalizaci√≥n de los transg√©nicos son las empresas multinacionales que usan la aprobaci√≥n del gobierno como palanca para hacer cumplir las patentes y obligar a los agricultores a comprar semillas al comerciante cada a√Īo.

Las cuestiones técnicas y científicas complicadas, como los transgénicos, deben ser discutidas cuidadosamente por los representantes académicos, científicos, consumidores y agricultores, y luego las leyes que rigen estas tecnologías deben ser aprobadas por el congreso, no forzadas por una frágil presidenta no elegida, beneficiando a un grupo de presión de la agricultura de exportación. Las multinacionales que trafican sus semillas transgénicas muestran sus verdaderas intenciones cuando se aprovechan de los gobiernos débiles en momentos de crisis.

Créditos de las fotos

Semilla transgénica de soya y un campo soyero en lo que era bosque en Bolivia, fotos por Eric Boa.

Lectura adicional

Bioceres 2019. Prospectus. https://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1769484/000110465919033172/a19-9851_1f1.htm)

eFarmNews 2019 Argentina, the first country in the world authorizing a Chinese soybean transgenic trait. https://efarmnewsar.com/2019-02-28/argentina-the-first-country-in-the-world-authorizing-a-chinese-soybean-transgenic-trait.html

Colque, Gonzalo 2020 Vulneración de los Derechos Humanos y de la Naturaleza por la Introducción de Transgénicos en Bolivia. Trabajo presentado en el Foro: Nuevos Retos para la Agroecología en Bolivia. La ponencia está disponible en la página Facebook de la Fundación Tierra. https://www.facebook.com/101332713279511/videos/2813006752357621. (La charla empieza 27 minutos después del inicio de la grabación).

Friedrich Ebert Stiftung 2020 Proyecto de An√°lisis Prospectivo y Di√°logo. Informe No. 2. Cuestionario Delphi (segunda ronda): Escenarios prospectivos 2020. https://drive.google.com/file/d/1KA7f3Q0n_DoVnDsY4em0NVB2VsKGjQdr/view

Ministerio de Desarrollo Rural y Tierras 2020 Plan Nacional de Respuesta y Rehabilitación para el Sector Agropecuario ante los Efectos del Covid-19. Gobierno de Bolivia (con la FAO, IFAD e IICA).

Opini√≥n 2020 ¬ŅQu√© respondieron Evo y √Ā√Īez a los pedidos de evaluar semillas de soya transg√©nica? https://www.opinion.com.bo/articulo/pais/respondieron-evo-anez-pedidos-evaluar-semillas-soya-transgenica/20200516234355768011.html

Reuters 2019 Brazil approves new soy seed that resists drought, two herbicides. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-brazil-soybeans-idUSKCN1SU244

Antes en este blog

Viajes productivos

A long walk home

A brief history of soy

Videos sobre la soya

La soya es un alimento nutritivo que se puede producir org√°nicamente, sin transg√©nicos. Le podr√≠an interesar estos videos para la agricultura familiar.  

Making soya cheese

Growing annual crops in cashew orchards

Making a condiment from soya beans

Harvesting and storing soya bean seed

Soya sowing density

Enriching porridge

Khipu: A story tied in knots September 27th, 2020 by

Vea la versi√≥n en espa√Īol a continuaci√≥n

Writing was linked to farming from the time of the first scribes, when Sumerian accountants made wedge-shaped marks in wet clay tablets to keep track of trade in grain and livestock. These numbers and symbols were first used around 5,000 BC as a simple notational system for counting sheep and jars of olive oil, eventually evolving into true writing by at least 3,500 BC as shown by recorded hymns and myths. Original writing systems were rare: only the Chinese and the Mesoamericans invented writing independently of the Sumerians.

All writing systems use a flat surface, and until factories made cheap paper in the nineteenth century, material to write on was a limitation. Clay was bulky. Stone was hard. Papyrus was expensive. Parchments from animal skins were so valuable that old ones were often scraped clean to write something new; the old text was often still visible and called a palimpsest. Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka took the trouble to write scriptures on palm leaves, painstakingly arranged in books, while rare Sanskrit manuscripts survive on birch bark.

High in the Andes, the Inka state was using its own system for recording data, based on a completely different medium: knotted twine, a technique that had been evolving since at least the time of the Wari Empire (450-1000 AD), long before the Inka (1400-1533). The multilingual empire of the Inka reached from Ecuador to Chile, with millions of subjects. Conquered communities paid tax to the empire, as textiles, and as maize and freeze-dried potatoes kept in storehouses (qollqa) and as a one-year labor turn every seven years (mit’a).

To tabulate all of these obligations, the empire used the khipu, knots on a string. The khipu maker (khipu kamayoq, or knot-master) started with long central cord, with secondary and tertiary twine fanning out from it like branches of a tree. Each string told a story. Meaning was distinguished by type of fiber (cotton vs llama hair), whether it was twisted left or right, by the type of knot, by a hundred different colors of twine and by the position of the knots.

Conquered nobles were forced to send their sons to live in the capital city, Cusco, where the boys took a four-year course on Inka myth and history, and on the official language (Quechua). Two years of their education were devoted to a study of the khipu.

The khipu was accurate enough to record the census data of a whole province, the soldiers of an army, or tax obligations. Knot-masters also used the khipus to help memorize and recite myths and narratives.

The Spanish conquistadores understood that khipus stored data accurately, and had them dictated and transcribed as sources of Inka history. Khipus were even allowed as evidence in colonial courts, where the litigants would argue over the ownership of land or titles, or sue for reimbursement for foodstuffs supplied to Spanish soldiers, as recorded in the knotted strings.

Knowledge of how to make a khipu died out a generation after the conquest, but Harvard anthropologist, Gary Urton, a specialist in the khipus, argues that they were not an adding machine (as some thought), nor were they true writing. They were however, a superb mnemonic device, perfectly accurate for recording exact numbers in the hundreds of thousands.

Moderately simple khipus could be interpreted on their own, without memorizing the content. The Inka organized a network of runners radiating out from Cusco across the realm. Each messenger (chaski) would run for about 20 km, before relaying his information to the next courier. A team could cover as much as 240 km a day, but perhaps 150 chaskis were needed to run from Quito to Cusco, some 2900 km. To avoid garbling their message entirely, each chaski handed the next one a khipu, which travelled independently of its maker, and must have been capable of bearing meaning alone.

I wonder what would have happened if the khipus had evolved for a much longer time? Given a few more centuries, would they have evolved into a full writing system to record human language, not with marks on a flat surface, but in three dimensions? It would have been a truly unique writing system, unlike any other the world has used.

Further reading

Urton¬īs study of the khipus is discussed at length in:

D’Altroy, Terence N. 2015. The Incas. New York: Wiley Blackwell. 547 pp.

Photo credit

Khipu on display at the Museo Larco, in Lima. Photo by Claus Ableiter.

Related blog stories

Stored crops of the Inka

Feeding the ancient Andean state

Feeding the Inca empire

Inka Raqay, up to the underworld


Por Jeff Bentley, 27 de septiembre del 2020

La escritura estuvo vinculada a la agricultura desde los tiempos de los primeros escribas, cuando los contadores sumerios hac√≠an marcas en forma de cu√Īa en tablillas de arcilla h√ļmeda para llevar la cuenta del comercio de granos y ganado. Estos n√ļmeros y s√≠mbolos se usaron por primera vez alrededor del 5.000 a.C. como un simple sistema de anotaci√≥n para contar ovejas y c√°ntaros de aceite de oliva, que con el tiempo evolucion√≥ hasta convertirse en escritura verdadera por lo menos para el 3.500 a.C., como lo demuestran los himnos y mitos registrados. Los sistemas de escritura originales eran pocos: s√≥lo los chinos y los mesoamericanos inventaron la escritura independientemente de los sumerios.

Todos los sistemas de escritura usan una superficie plana, y hasta que las fábricas hacían papel barato en el siglo XIX, el material para escribir era una limitación. La arcilla era voluminosa. La piedra era dura. El papiro era caro. Los pergaminos de pieles de animales eran tan valiosos que los viejos a menudo se raspaban para escribir algo nuevo; el texto antiguo era a menudo todavía visible y se llamaba palimpsesto. Los monjes budistas de Sri Lanka se tomaban la molestia de escribir escrituras en hojas de palma, cuidadosamente dispuestas en libros, mientras que raros manuscritos sánscritos sobreviven en corteza de abedul.

En las alturas de los Andes, el estado Inca usaba su propio sistema de registro de datos, basado en un medio completamente diferente: el hilo anudado, una t√©cnica que hab√≠a estado evolucionando desde por lo menos la √©poca del Imperio Wari (450-1000 d.C.), mucho antes del Inka (1400-1533). El imperio multiling√ľe del Inca lleg√≥ desde Ecuador hasta Chile, con millones de s√ļbditos. Las comunidades conquistadas pagaban impuestos al imperio, en forma de textiles, ma√≠z y chu√Īo guardados en almacenes (qollqa) y como un turno de trabajo de un a√Īo cada siete a√Īos (mit’a).

Para tabular todas estas obligaciones, el imperio usaba el khipu, nudos en una cuerda. El entendido en la materia, el khipu kamayoq, o maestro de nudos, comenzó con un largo cordón central, con cuerdas secundarias y terciarias que se abrían en abanico como las ramas de un árbol. Cada cuerda contaba una historia. El significado se distinguía por el tipo de fibra (algodón vs pelo de llama), si se retorcía a la izquierda o a la derecha, por el tipo de nudo, por cien colores diferentes de hilo y por la posición de los nudos.

Los nobles conquistados eran obligados a enviar a sus hijos a vivir en la ciudad capital, Cusco, donde los muchachos tomaban un curso de cuatro a√Īos sobre el mito y la historia del Inca, y sobre el idioma oficial (el quechua). Dos a√Īos de su educaci√≥n se dedicaron al estudio del khipu.

El khipu era lo suficientemente preciso como para registrar los datos del censo de toda una provincia, los soldados de un ejército, o los impuestos. Los maestros de nudos también usaban los khipus para ayudar a memorizar y recitar mitos e historias.

Los conquistadores espa√Īoles entendieron que los khipus guardaban datos con precisi√≥n, y los hicieron dictar para transcribirlos como fuentes de la historia de los incas. Los khipus fueron incluso permitidos como evidencia en las cortes coloniales, donde los litigantes discut√≠an qui√©n era el due√Īo de tal terreno o t√≠tulo, o demandaban el reembolso de los alimentos suministrados a los soldados espa√Īoles, seg√ļn lo registrado en las cuerdas anudadas.

El conocimiento de c√≥mo hacer un khipu se extingui√≥ una generaci√≥n despu√©s de la conquista, pero el antrop√≥logo de Harvard, Gary Urton, especialista en los khipus, argumenta que no eran una m√°quina de sumar (como algunos pensaban), ni tampoco eran redacci√≥n. Sin embargo, eran un magn√≠fico dispositivo mnemot√©cnico, perfectamente preciso para registrar n√ļmeros exactos en los cientos de miles.

Los khipus moderadamente simples podían ser interpretados por sí mismos, sin memorizar el contenido. Los Incas organizaron una red de corredores que irradiaban desde Cusco a través del reino. Cada mensajero (chaski) correría durante unos 20 km, antes de transmitir su información al siguiente mensajero. Un equipo podía cubrir hasta 240 km al día, pero tal vez se necesitaban 150 chaskis para correr de Quito a Cusco, unos 2900 km. Para evitar tergiversar su mensaje por completo, cada chaski entregó al siguiente un khipu, que viajó solito, sin su creador, y debe haber sido capaz de llevar el significado por sí solo.

Me pregunto qu√© habr√≠a pasado si los khipus hubieran evolucionado durante mucho m√°s tiempo. Dados unos pocos siglos m√°s ¬Ņhabr√≠a evolucionado hacia un sistema de escritura completo para registrar el lenguaje humano, no con marcas en una superficie plana, sino en tres dimensiones? Habr√≠a sido un sistema de escritura verdaderamente √ļnico, como ning√ļn otro que el mundo haya usado.

Para leer m√°s

El estudio de Urton de los khipus est√° ampliamente descrito en:

D’Altroy, Terence N. 2015. The Incas. Nueva York: Wiley Blackwell. 547 pp.

Crédito de la foto

Khipu exhibido en el Museo Larco, en Lima. Foto por Claus Ableiter.

Relatos relacionados del blog

Stored crops of the Inka

Feeding the ancient Andean state

Alimentando al Imperio Incaico

Inka Raqay, up to the underworld

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