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Show farmers and real innovators February 17th, 2019 by

Fellow anthropologist Glenn Stone has written a charming story about the ‚Äúshow farmer,‚ÄĚ one who uses a technology proposed by a project, and is always ready to give visitors a glowing account of it. Stone once visited a show farmer who was growing organic cotton with help from a project in Andhra Pradesh. Eight years later, Stone‚Äôs student, Andrew Flachs, visited the same farmer, but by then the project had ended and the farmer had given up on organic cotton. As Stone says, ‚ÄúIt usually takes a lot of external support to function as a show farmer.‚ÄĚ

Stone’s story rings true. I’ve seen many show farmers over the years.

I recall one such farmer in Chuquisaca, Bolivia, years ago, that I visited for a project evaluation. He had a small barn, built with wood, cement and other hardware donated by a well-funded project. At the time I doubted if rural people would make these livestock shelters on their own, because the materials were expensive and had to be trucked in from town. The farmer clearly liked his barn, and was happy to spend time answering my questions. Perhaps he saw my visit as part of his payment for getting a valuable structure.

The same NGO that built the barn in Chuquisaca was also encouraging people to establish group gardens with imported vegetable seed. The project encouraged the villagers to plant lettuce and carrots, ostensibly because local people were eating no vegetables. The solutions offered to the farmers transferred the model of a backyard garden from suburban USA to the sandstone canyons of Chuquisaca. But, unnoticed by the project, the farm families had been growing nutritious vegetables all along. They had patches of chilli and they grew squash between their rows of maize. Both of these vegetables were stored and available during the off-season.

As a benefit of living in Bolivia, and working on a lot of projects, I have been able to go back to this part of Chuquisaca several times. As I have returned to the area over the years, I have always been curious about the vegetables and looked to see if they caught on.  Once I saw a single row of cabbage as a dividing line in a field planted half in maize and half in potatoes, but this never caught on. I also saw a family growing a few lettuce plants in the moist soil near their outdoor water faucet. For some years a few families kept their sheep and goats inside the chicken-wire fences the NGOs built had built around the old gardens, but the backyard vegetable garden died out and the Chuquisaque√Īos continued to grow chilli and squash.

But some innovations do keep going even after the outsiders leave.

For example, in the 2000s, researchers at ICRISAT (International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics) in Mali created simple techniques for controlling Striga, the parasitic weed. Over several years, ICRISAT taught ideas like crop rotation and organic fertilizer in farmer field schools from Mali to Tanzania. In 2010 they invited Paul Van Mele and Agro-Insight to make videos with some of the farmer field school graduates. These were not show farmers; they hadn’t just copied what they learned at the FFS, but had adapted the ideas to suit their own conditions. Years after learning about these innovations, farmers were still using them.

Later, ICRISAT and others showed the Striga videos to thousands of farmers. In 2013 and 2014 I visited farmers who had not participated in the farmer field schools, but had seen the videos. They were still experimenting with control methods, years after watching the videos. They did this on their own, without project support, for example inventing new ways to intercrop legumes and cereals. Women who had seen the videos banded together in groups to pull Striga weeds for other farmers, for a fee.

Show farmers give time and labor to a project, and often loan a bit of land. In return, the show farmer usually receives some goods, such as a bit of seed, but they also get a chance to learn new ideas, which is a motivation for some farmers. And sometimes these new ideas do mature enough to become practical solutions to real problems, especially when the farmers engage with competent agricultural scientists. Even so, it may take years of research and adaptation to make the innovations affordable, practical and functional. Such ideas are too good for a show; they can be made into a 15-minute video of the real.

Further reading

Bentley, Jeffery, Paul Van Mele, Sidi Tour√©, Tom van Mourik, Samuel Guindo and G√©rard Zoundji 2017 ‚ÄúSeeds of the devil weed: Local Knowledge and Learning from Videos in Mali,‚ÄĚ pp 75-85. In Paul Sillitoe (Ed.) Indigenous Knowledge: Enhancing its Contribution to Natural Resources Management. Wallingford, UK: CAB International. 227 pp.

Stone, Glenn, 2014, Theme park farming in Japan

Zoundji, G√©rard C., Simplice D. Vodouh√™, Florent Okry, Jeffery W. Bentley & Rigobert C. Tossou 2017 ‚ÄúBeyond Striga Management: Learning Videos Enhanced Farmers‚Äô Knowledge on Climate-Smart Agriculture in Mali.‚ÄĚ Sustainable Agriculture Research 7(1): 80-92. https://www.accessagriculture.org/publications

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Videos Striga videos: https://www.accessagriculture.org/search/striga/all/

High Andean Climate Change February 10th, 2019 by

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

Recently Paul wrote about how people in Ch‚Äôoj√Īapata, a small village in the mountains high above Lake Titicaca, blend old and new ways of predicting the weather. While we were filming in the village, we also learned more about how climate change is affecting crops.

At this high altitude, 4250 meters above sea level, farmers grow bitter potato, or luk‚Äôi. This is related to the common potato, but a separate species, Solanum juzepcuzukii. Luk‚Äôi was domesticated in the Andes thousands of years ago and is well adapted to high altitudes and conditions which favor few other crops. Little else will grow in Ch‚Äôoj√Īapata besides luk‚Äôi potatoes and some pasture grasses where the villagers herd their alpacas on the steep slopes.

Veteran farmer Juan Mamani explained that in Ch‚Äôoj√Īapata it is now getting too warm to plant luk‚Äôi potatoes. And even when people can grow luk‚Äôi potatoes, it is no longer cold enough to properly process them. To make bitter potatoes edible, villagers have to freeze them outdoors for four nights. ‚ÄúNow, in mid-winter (June) when we would normally get a long freeze, it may only last one night, and when it then rains the luk‚Äôi rot.‚ÄĚ

Don Juan’s friend and neighbor, Celestino Laime, adds that the rains once came at predictable times. Now it can rain at any time, often with heavy downpours, making it difficult to farm.

There are other signs that the normal patterns of weather are changing. The farmers told us that the glaciers around them are disappearing. The mountains, once covered in solid white ice, are starting to turn grey. Now people can see the rocks appear as the ice melts and retreats.

The farmers are adapting, as they always do. With the warmer climate, folks in Ch‚Äôoj√Īapata are growing more of the common potatoes. It is not a perfect solution. They show us a potato field killed by summer frost. The bitter potatoes would have survived that cold snap.

Some people in northern, industrial countries are still denying climate change; villagers in the high Andes don’t have that luxury. They live with the changing climate and worry about it every day.

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Acknowledgements

We were accompanied on this trip by Ing. Edwin Yucra, a professor at the Universidad Mayor de San Andrés. We thank Edwin for being generous with his time and his knowledge. His work is funded in part by the Collaborative Crop Research Program of the McKnight Foundation.

CAMBIO CLIM√ĀTICO ALTOANDINO

Por Jeff Bentley, 10 de febrero del 2019

Recientemente Paul escribi√≥ acerca de c√≥mo la gente en Ch’oj√Īapata, un peque√Īo pueblo en las monta√Īas en lo alto del Lago Titicaca, mezcla viejas y nuevas formas de predecir el tiempo. Mientras film√°bamos en la comunidad, tambi√©n aprendimos m√°s sobre c√≥mo el cambio clim√°tico est√° afectando a los cultivos.

A esta altitud, 4.250 metros sobre el nivel del mar, los agricultores cultivan papa amarga, o luk’i, que es pariente de la papa com√ļn, pero es una especie separada, Solanum juzepcuzukii. La papa luk’i fue domesticada en los Andes hace miles de a√Īos y est√° bien adaptada a las alturas y a las condiciones donde pocos cultivos crecen. En Ch’oj√Īapata nada m√°s crece adem√°s de papas y algunos pastos donde la gente pasta sus alpacas en las laderas.

El veterano agricultor Juan Mamani nos cont√≥ que ahora en Ch’oj√Īapata hace mucho calor para sembrar papas luk’i. Y aun cuando la gente puede cultivar luk’i, ya no hace suficiente fr√≠o para procesarlo bien. Para que el luk‚Äôi sea comestible, hay que congelarlos al aire libre durante cuatro noches. “Ahora, en el invierno (junio), cuando sab√≠amos tener una buena helada, puede helar s√≥lo una noche, y cuando llueve el luk’i se pudre.”

El amigo y vecino de don Juan, Celestino Laime, agrega que antes, las lluvias llegaban en su debido momento. Ahora puede llover en cualquier momento, a menudo con fuertes lluvias, y es difícil sembrar.

Hay otras se√Īales de que los patrones normales del clima est√°n cambiando. Los agricultores nos dijeron que los glaciares que los rodean est√°n desapareciendo. Los cerros, antes tapados de hielo blanco s√≥lido, empiezan a ponerse color plomo. Ahora la gente ve que las piedras aparecen a medida que el hielo se derrite y se retira.

Los agricultores se est√°n adaptando, como siempre lo hacen. Con el clima m√°s c√°lido, la gente de Ch’oj√Īapata est√° cultivando m√°s papas comunes. No es una soluci√≥n perfecta. Nos muestran un campo de papas muertas por heladas que antes no ab√≠an en el verano. Las papas luk‚Äôis hubieran sobrevivido a esa ola de fr√≠o.

Algunas personas en los países del norte siguen negando el cambio climático; la gente rural andina no tiene ese lujo. Ellos viven con el cambio climático y se preocupan por ello todos los días.

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Agradecimientos

En este viaje nos acompa√Ī√≥ el Ing. Edwin Yucra, catedr√°tico de la Universidad Mayor de San Andr√©s. Agradecemos a Edwin por ser generoso con su tiempo y su conocimiento. Su trabajo es financiado en parte por el Programa Colaborativo de Investigaci√≥n de Cultivos de la Fundaci√≥n McKnight.

Formerly known as food January 27th, 2019 by

In a recent book, Formerly Known as Food, Kristin Lawless cautions readers about the risks of eating processed food produced by industrial farming. For example, maize and soybeans are widely used in animal feeds and edible oils. In the USA corn and soy beans have been genetically modified to withstand massive applications of glyphosate herbicide. Glyphosate is reported by the WHO to be an endocrine disrupting chemical (EDC)Although more research is needed to show how these chemicals impact our health,  an  EDC interferes with the normal working of hormones, the chemical messengers of our bodies. Glyphosate is just one of an increasing number of chemicals for which health concerns are mounting, with authors like Lawless calling for stronger action.

A chemical used in plastic packaging, BPA (bisphenol A), has recently been classified as an EDC, and is slowly being removed, albeit on a voluntary basis. BPA is found in everything from plastic milk jugs to the linings of cans of food, where the BPA leaches into the food. Some companies now offer plastics made from BPS, cynically advertised as ‚ÄúBPA free‚ÄĚ, even though BPS is similar to BPA and is also an EDC.

While some industrial foods are tainted by chemicals, other food products are a health risk in their own right because of what has been removed from them. For example, the industrial vegetable oils, shortenings, and margarine have been heated to such high temperatures that their naturally occurring molecules have been broken down and oxidized; their nutritional properties diminished. These factory-made oils are often advertised as ‚Äúheart safe‚ÄĚ, but they actually damage the walls of one‚Äôs arteries.

Lawless  also offers valuable suggestions for healthier eating. For example, cook at home; eat less fast food, and skip processed food. Eat whole foods like whole milk, and real eggs). She advocates joining a food coop that works with concerned family farmers who provide healthy food that goes beyond organic.

On the down side, this book dismisses the role of exercise and of calorie intake, almost as though we could simply eat our way to health with organic food. Having said this, Formerly Known is well written and is based on ten-years of study and interviews with key food researchers. The book educates the readers to take control over what we put in our mouths. While reading it I was inspired to make several lifestyle changes. For example, I finally read the ingredients label on the salad dressing I loved, and realized that it was full of processed oils, other goop and chemicals. I’ve since started making my own dressing.

I would also add that it is time to respect smallholder, family farmers. They have been bombarded over the past few decades with advertisements to buy agrochemicals, often subtly enabled by agricultural policies that favor the agrochemical multinationals and often pay less attention to the effect of mass-produced food on public health. Farmers (and the rest of us) deserve more technical alternatives for managing pests and nourishing the soil. The videos hosted by Access Agriculture provide family farmers with such alternatives, presented in an engaging manner.

Further reading

Lawless, Kristin 2018 Formerly Known as Food: How the Industrial Food System Is Changing Our Minds, Bodies, and Culture. New York: St. Martin’s Press. 317.

Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals https://www.who.int/ceh/risks/cehemerging2/en/

Recognition of BPA as an EDC https://chemsec.org/recognition-of-bpa-as-an-edc-for-human-health-will-increase-the-protection-of-consumers/

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For alternatives to industrial, chemical-intensive agriculture, see some of the almost 200 training videos hosted on www.accessagriculture.org.

Death of the third flowers January 13th, 2019 by

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

Uncertainty is a way of life for farmers.  But the better they can predict what’s going to happen, the more successfully they will adapt. One of the main uncertainties is the weather, particularly in harsh environments like the Bolivian Altiplano, the high plains, where the periods and patterns of rain, hail and frost are different each year. Miguel Ortega, Enrique Huallpa and Constantino Franco explained to me last December how they try to forecast what is going to happen by observing when the t’ola plant flowers. They live in the municipality of Waldo Ballivián, in the Altiplano, where the t’ola plant usually flowers in three bursts in August. According to Miguel, Enrique and Constantino each of these three blooms indicates what the frosts will be like later in November. The farmers then use this information to schedule potato planting.

These farmers of the southern hemisphere plant potatoes three times in the springtime between August and late September, roughly one or two weeks apart.

As don Bernabé, another local farmer, explained in last week’s blog, if the flowers get wet from the rain, they die. Which flowers survive the rains of August foretells which potatoes will survive the frosts of November. Or so farmers like Miguel, Enrique and Constantino believe. But is this happenstance? Or maybe even wishful thinking? Another explanation is that a lifetime of living in the elements has given observant rural people the skills to predict the weather.

Miguel Ortega is a yapuchiri or farmer extensionist, and one of his jobs is to share information with other farmers. In 2018, don Miguel told his neighbors that there would be a frost late in the spring because he had seen that the third flowering of the t’ola had withered. Not everyone listened. When it froze, on the last two nights of November, some people lost the potatoes that they had planted late. Don Miguel had planted early, and he avoided the frost.

Modern meteorology can tell farmers relatively little about the weather two months away. Being able to forecast crucial weather events two months in the future is a crucial survival skill for smallholders who must rely on their own knowledge to plan their crop every year.

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DE T’OLAS Y PAPAS

Jeff Bentley, 13 de enero del 2014

Los campesinos conviven con la incertidumbre.¬† Pero cuanto mejor puedan predecir lo que va a pasar, mejor se adaptar√°n. Una de las principales incertidumbres es el clima, particularmente en ambientes hostiles como el Altiplano boliviano, donde los per√≠odos y patrones de la lluvia, del granizo y de las heladas son diferentes cada a√Īo. Miguel Ortega, Enrique Huallpa y Constantino Franco me explicaron el pasado mes de diciembre c√≥mo intentan pronosticar lo que va a pasar observando cu√°ndo florece una planta, la t’ola. Viven en el municipio de Waldo Ballivi√°n, en el Altiplano, donde la t’ola florece tres veces en agosto. Seg√ļn don Miguel, don Enrique y don Constantino, cada una de estas tres floraciones indica c√≥mo ser√°n las heladas a finales de noviembre. Los agricultores usan esta informaci√≥n para programar la siembra de papas.

Estos agricultores del hemisferio sur siembran sus papas tres veces en primavera, entre agosto y finales de septiembre, con una o dos semanas de diferencia.

Como explic√≥ don Bernab√©, otro agricultor del Altiplano, en el blog de la semana pasada, si las flores se mojan por la lluvia, mueren. Las flores que sobreviven a las lluvias de agosto pronostican qu√© papas sobrevivir√°n a las heladas de noviembre. O eso creen los agricultores como don Miguel, don Enrique y don Constantino. Pero, ¬Ņes esto una casualidad? ¬ŅO hasta una ilusi√≥n? Otra explicaci√≥n es que la gente rural es observante, y despu√©s de toda una vida viviendo en los elementos, han desarrollado las habilidades para predecir el tiempo.

Miguel Ortega es un yapuchiri o extensionista agr√≠cola, y uno de sus trabajos es compartir informaci√≥n con otros agricultores. En el 2018, don Miguel dijo a sus vecinos que habr√≠a una helada a finales de la primavera porque hab√≠a visto que la tercera floraci√≥n del t’ola se hab√≠a marchitado. No todos escucharon. Cuando se congel√≥, en las √ļltimas dos noches de noviembre, algunas personas perdieron las papas que hab√≠an plantado tarde. Don Miguel hab√≠a plantado temprano, y evit√≥ la helada.

La meteorolog√≠a moderna puede informar relativamente poco a los agricultores sobre el tiempo a dos meses de distancia. Poder pronosticar eventos clim√°ticos cruciales dos meses en el futuro es una habilidad crucial para la supervivencia de los peque√Īos agricultores que deben confiar en sus propios conocimientos para planificar sus cultivos cada a√Īo.

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Reading the mole hills January 6th, 2019 by

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

Smallholders constantly read the landscape for clues on how the year will go. Farmers’ weather knowledge guides them as they make decisions early in the year.  Predictions about when it will rain and how much let farmers know if they should plant early or late, or if they should prepare the low-lying fields or the high and dry ones.  Scientific weather forecasts are pretty accurate for up to a week, but less so for the next several months, which is what one needs to know when planning a crop.

I had heard about local weather forecasting before, but recently appreciated how farmers read natural signs of weather as a whole system of mutually reinforcing information. Farmers don’t read the weather indicators in isolation; each sign of nature reconfirms and supports the others.

While filming a video recently with Paul, Marcella and our colleagues from Prosuco, we visited Bernabé Choquetopa, an expert Aymara farmer of the southern Bolivian Altiplano, as he showed us several of the weather indicators he uses near his farm in Aroma, Oruro. It was November, early summer in the southern hemisphere, and all the signs suggested that it was going to be a dry year, with fairly low crop yields.

Don Bernabé showed us a bush, the t’ola, or khiruta (discussed in last week’s blog). He explained that the bush typically flowers in September and October. If the bush fills with yellow flowers, it will be a good year for his crops. But if early rains damage the bush’s blossoms in October, then his crops will suffer and yields will be low in March. Don Bernabé showed us how the khiruta on his farm was not flowering very well, predicting a poor year.

Bernab√© doesn‚Äôt rely only on the khirtu flowers for his forecasts. At a small stream he showed us the moss floating on the water. He has observed that when the moss is green in November, there will soon be abundant rains, but this year the moss was brown, except for one small green spot. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs worrying,‚ÄĚ don Bernab√© said. ‚ÄúThe rain will be irregular and it may not start until the end of January.‚ÄĚ

But I was most impressed by don Bernab√©‚Äôs observations of moles, called ‚Äútuju‚ÄĚ in Aymara, which dig their burrows along the river bank. Don Bernab√© showed us the openings to the mole‚Äôs nests, in the moist, sandy soil. Then he pointed out the highwater mark from the previous year. There was a line of sticks and bits of wood left high on the bank by last year‚Äôs flood water. This year, the moles were digging their burrows well below that line, not far above the level of the current, dry season water. Like the moss and the khiruta, the moles were predicting a dry year‚ÄĒnot very good for the quinoa crop.

The moles are intriguing, because like the people, many animals also need to forecast the rains, for example, to know where to build their nests. An individual mole that could somehow foretell the water level would have an adaptive advantage. The moles that could anticipate the water level would be selected for.

This folk meteorology could and should be scientifically validated. The method would be easy enough: document local forecasts and then record the weather over the year and compare the outcomes to the predictions. My colleagues at Prosuco in Bolivia are now doing this important research, in full collaboration with the expert farmers who know how to predict the weather. Don Bernabé for his part is writing a book to keep his vital knowledge alive.

Previous blog story

To see the future

Scientific name

The tuju is not really a mole; it is the highland tuco-tuco, Ctenomys opimus, a rodent of the Ctenomydae family.

LEYENDO EL NIDO DEL TOPO

Por Jeff Bentley, 6 de enero del 2019

Los campesinos leen el paisaje constantemente para encontrar pistas sobre c√≥mo va a ir el a√Īo. Los conocimientos meteorol√≥gicos de los agricultores los gu√≠an en la toma de decisiones a principios de a√Īo.¬† En base a predicciones sobre cu√°ndo y cu√°nto va a llover los agricultores saben si deben sembrar tarde o temprano, o si deben preparar sus chacras bajas o las tierras altas y secas.¬† Los pron√≥sticos cient√≠ficos del tiempo son bastante precisos hasta para una semana, pero menos para los pr√≥ximos meses, que es lo que se necesita saber al planificar un cultivo.

Yo ya hab√≠a o√≠do hablar de los pron√≥sticos locales, pero hace poco pude apreciar c√≥mo los agricultores leen las se√Īales naturales del tiempo como un sistema integral de informaci√≥n que se refuerza mutuamente. Los agricultores no leen los indicadores meteorol√≥gicos de forma aislada; cada se√Īa de la naturaleza reconfirma y apoya a las dem√°s.

Mientras film√°bamos un video con Paul, Marcella y nuestros colegas de Prosuco, visitamos a Bernab√© Choquetopa, un experto agricultor aymara del sur del Altiplano boliviano, quien nos mostr√≥ varios de los indicadores naturales que √©l usa cerca de su casa en Aroma, Oruro. Era noviembre, principios del verano en el hemisferio sur, y todas las se√Īales indicaban que iba a ser un a√Īo seco, con cosechas bajas.

Don Bernab√© nos mostr√≥ un arbusto, el t’ola, o khiruta (discutido en el blog de la semana pasada). Explic√≥ que el arbusto suele florecer en septiembre y octubre. Si el arbusto se llena de flores amarillas, ser√° un buen a√Īo para sus cosechas. Pero si las lluvias tempranas da√Īan las flores del arbusto en octubre, entonces sus cosechas se ver√°n afectadas y los rendimientos ser√°n bajos en marzo. Don Bernab√© nos mostr√≥ c√≥mo el khiruta en su lugar no estaba floreciendo muy bien, prediciendo un mal a√Īo.

Bernab√© no conf√≠a s√≥lo en las flores de khirtu para sus pron√≥sticos. En una peque√Īa quebrada nos mostr√≥ el musgo flotando en el agua. √Čl ha observado que cuando el musgo est√© verde en noviembre, pronto habr√° abundantes lluvias, pero este a√Īo el musgo era color caf√©, excepto por una peque√Īa mancha verde. “Es preocupante”, dijo don Bernab√©. “La lluvia ser√° irregular y puede que no empiece hasta finales de enero.‚ÄĚ

Pero me impresionaron mucho las observaciones de don Bernab√© de los topos, llamados “tuju” en aymara, que excavan sus madrigueras cerca de la orilla del r√≠o. Don Bernab√© nos mostr√≥ las puertas de los nidos de los topos, en el suelo h√ļmedo y arenoso. Luego se√Īal√≥ la marca de agua alta del a√Īo anterior. Hab√≠a una l√≠nea de palos y trozos de madera en lo alto de la orilla por el agua de la inundaci√≥n del a√Īo pasado. Este a√Īo, los topos estaban cavando sus nidos muy por debajo de esa l√≠nea, no muy por encima del nivel del agua actual de la √©poca seca. Al igual que el musgo y el khiruta, los topos predijeron un a√Īo seco, no muy bueno para el cultivo de quinua.

Los topos me intrigaban, porque al igual que la gente, muchos animales también necesitan pronosticar las lluvias, por ejemplo, para saber dónde construir sus nidos. Un topo individual que de alguna manera pudiera predecir el nivel del agua tendría una ventaja adaptativa. Se seleccionarían los topos que podrían anticipar el nivel del agua.

Esta meteorolog√≠a popular podr√≠a y deber√≠a ser validada cient√≠ficamente. El m√©todo ser√≠a bastante f√°cil: documentar los pron√≥sticos locales y luego registrar el tiempo a lo largo del a√Īo y comparar los resultados con las predicciones. Mis colegas de Prosuco en Bolivia est√°n haciendo esta importante investigaci√≥n, en plena colaboraci√≥n con los agricultores que saben leer las se√Īas de la naturaleza. Don Bernab√©, por su parte, est√° escribiendo un libro para mantener vivos sus conocimientos vitales.

Previa historia del blog

Para ver el futuro

Nombre científico

El tuju no es un topo de verdad, sino el tuco-tuco de la puna, Ctenomys opimus, un roedor de la familia Ctenomydae.

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