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Sowing experiments April 24th, 2022 by

For nearly a century, from 1839 to 1924, the US government distributed free seeds to any citizen who wanted them. As told in First the Seed, by Jack Kloppenburg, seeds of field crops, vegetables and even flowers were sourced from around the world (often by the US Navy). The seed was multiplied in the USA, and mailed through the post by members of Congress to their constituents. The program was wildly popular and by 1861, the first year of the American Civil War, almost two and a half million seed packages (each with five packets of seed) were being shipped each year to farmers and gardeners.

As Kloppenburg explains, given the botanical knowledge of the time, and the limited ability of formal agricultural research in the United States, the free seed for farmers ‚Äúwas the most efficient means of developing adapted and improved crop varieties.‚ÄĚ

I recently saw a little window into this seed program. On 7 April 2022, The Times-Independent (a newspaper in Moab, Utah), published a replica of their page one from exactly 100 years earlier. One short story, ‚ÄúSeeds Go Quickly‚ÄĚ showed just how much people loved free seed. The little story reads:


In last Thursday’s issue, The Times-Independent announced that a quantity of government seeds had been received by this office for distribution to the people of Moab, and inviting those who wanted some of the seeds to call for them. Within a few minutes after the paper was delivered to the post office, local people commenced to call for the seeds, and there was a continuous demand until the supply was entirely exhausted.

I hadn‚Äôt realized that newspapers also helped to distribute the seed. In 1922, Moab‚Äôs local newspaper did not bother telling its readers what the ‚Äúgovernment seed‚ÄĚ was. They knew it well, even though today the program is forgotten. Kloppenburg says that the government seed was not only free, but of high quality, better than what private companies were then able to supply. This partly explains the rush of townspeople clamoring seed at The Times-Independent office, but farmers‚Äô love of innovation was also a reason for the excitement. The farmers and gardeners who swung open the glass door of the newspaper office didn‚Äôt know what kind of seed was in the little packages. There was some mystery there: each package contained several packets of different seed. Each packet was just a handful of seed, enough to try out, but not enough to plant a field.

The free seed sparked thousands of farmer experiments over decades, which formed the basis of modern, North American agriculture.

The development of the adapted base of germplasm on which American agriculture was raised is the product of thousands of experiments by thousands of farmers committing millions of hours of labor in thousands of diverse ecological niches over a period of many decades.

Jack Kloppenburg, First the Seed, page 56

In the early 1800s seed companies were small, but they were growing. By 1883 these companies organized as the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA) and immediately began to lobby against government seed. Free seed was so popular that it took ASTA forty years, until 1924, to finally convince Congress to kill the program, at the height of its popularity.

Since 1922, companies have largely wrested control of seed from farmers, who once produced and exchanged all of the seed of field crops. It’s worth remembering that small gifts of seed sparked farmer experiments that shaped American agriculture.

Further reading

Kloppenburg, Jack Ralph, Jr. 1990 First the Seed: The Political Economy of Plant Biotechnology, 1492-2000. Cambridge University Press.

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Seeing with your hands April 10th, 2022 by

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

Potatoes sold at the market have to be sorted by size, which sounds more tedious than it is. This past February, Nancy Herrera, a farmer in Locoa, near Latacunga, explained that sorting is easy, because the hands know how to do it.

This seemed odd to me, until I saw people selecting potatoes that way in Cuturiví Chico, near Pujilí, in Cotopaxi. Agronomist Victoria López had convinced a farm family to let us film them harvesting a field of potatoes. They used their hoes to gently break open the ridges of earth, and reveal the tubers inside.

The potatoes were tossed into little piles in the field, and the family immediately sorted them, which is important because each size has its own use. But the family does not sit at a pile, tossing each tuber into smaller piles. They have a more efficient strategy.

First, don Abelardo took a bag and moved from pile to pile, taking out the largest potatoes, about the size of his fist. These are the ‚Äúgruesas,‚ÄĚ that is, the ‚Äúthick‚ÄĚ or big ones. These will be sold immediately. His daughter-in-law collected the next smallest size, ‚Äúla segunda,‚ÄĚ about the size of an egg. These would be kept for seed, or they could be sold, if the price was right. Their cousin collected the smallest ones, in another bag, ‚Äúla tercera,‚ÄĚ which would be seed if the bigger ones were all sold. It took a few minutes for three people to sort out this small harvest. The potatoes that were left are ‚Äúkuchi,‚ÄĚ from the Kichwa word for ‚Äúpig;‚ÄĚ these were gathered up last and would be used as animal feed. They included not just the smallest tubers, but also bigger ones that were damaged. Sorting this way efficiently grades the potatoes by size while culling the unhealthy ones.

Finally, don Abelardo sewed each bag shut with blue twine. Each bag was tied in a different knot to indicate its size. The bag with the big gruesas had two ears. The segundas were in a one-eared bag. The tercera bag has no ears at all, and the kuchi potatoes are in a bag with one ear, but with blue twine tied to the ear itself (in case the kuchi is ever sold). There is a potential market for all potatoes and the ears on the bag communicate the size all the way down the market chain, from farmers to wholesalers to retailers.

As the family sorts the potatoes, Marcella films them for a video on seed potato. The farmers’ practiced hands move quickly, and gracefully, accurately sorting the potatoes while barely glancing at them.

Like everything that family farmers do, there is art in these bags of potatoes, neatly and accurately sorted by size, and bagged, some for sale, some for animals, and two medium sizes that will be stored for a while and eaten, sold or used as seed, depending on the rise and fall of market prices.

Related Agro-Insight blogs

Give bokashi a chance


Thanks to Ing. Victoria L√≥pez (Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Agropecuarias‚ÄĒINIAP) for sharing her knowledge of Ecuador and farming with us, and for introducing us to the farmers she works with.


Jeff Bentley, 10 de abril del 2022

Las papas que se venden en el mercado tienen que clasificarse por tama√Īo, lo que parece m√°s tedioso de lo que es. El pasado mes de febrero, Nancy Herrera, una agricultora de Locoa, cerca de Latacunga, explic√≥ que la clasificaci√≥n es f√°cil, porque las manos saben c√≥mo hacerlo.

Esto me pareci√≥ extra√Īo, hasta que vi a gente seleccionando papas de esa manera en Cuturiv√≠ Chico, cerca de Pujil√≠, en Cotopaxi. La ingeniera agr√≥noma Victoria L√≥pez hab√≠a convencido a una familia de agricultores para que les dej√°ramos filmar la cosecha de un campo de papas. Usaron sus azadones para abrir suavemente las crestas de tierra y revelar los tub√©rculos que hab√≠a dentro.

Las papas se colocan en peque√Īos montones en el campo y la familia las clasifica inmediatamente, lo que es importante porque cada tama√Īo tiene su propio uso. Pero la familia no se sienta junto a un mont√≥n, echando cada tub√©rculo en montones m√°s peque√Īos. Tienen una estrategia m√°s eficaz.

En primer lugar, don Abelardo agarra una bolsa y pasa de un mont√≥n a otro, sacando las papas m√°s grandes, del tama√Īo de su pu√Īo. Estas son las “gruesas”, es decir, las “gruesas” o grandes. Se venden inmediatamente. Su nuera recog√≠a el siguiente tama√Īo m√°s peque√Īo, “la segunda”, del tama√Īo de un huevo. Estas se guardan como semilla o se venden, si el precio est√° bien. Su prima recog√≠a las m√°s peque√Īas, en otra bolsa, “la tercera”, que ser√≠a semilla si se vend√≠an todas las m√°s grandes. Las tres personas tardaron unos minutos en recoger esta peque√Īa cosecha. Las papas que quedaron son “kuchi”, palabra kichwa que significa “cerdo”; se recogieron en √ļltimo lugar y se usar√≠an como alimento para animales. Las papas kuchis no solo inclu√≠an los tub√©rculos m√°s peque√Īos, sino tambi√©n los grandes que estaban da√Īados. La clasificaci√≥n de este modo permite separar eficazmente las papas por su tama√Īo, al tiempo que se eliminan las que est√°n mal.

Por √ļltimo, don Abelardo cos√≠a cada bolsa con una cabuya azul. Cada bolsa estaba atada con un nudo diferente para indicar su tama√Īo. La bolsa con las gruesas ten√≠a dos orejas. Las segundas estaban en una bolsa de una oreja. La tercera bolsa no ten√≠a ninguna oreja, y las papas kuchis estaban en una bolsa con una oreja, pero con cabuya azul atada a la oreja (por si alguna vez se vende la kuchi). Hay un mercado potencial para todas las papas y las orejas de la bolsa comunican el tama√Īo a lo largo de toda la cadena de mercado, desde los agricultores hasta los mayoristas y los minoristas.

Mientras la familia clasifica las papas, Marcella las filma para un video sobre las papas de semilla. Las manos expertas de los agricultores se mueven con rapidez y elegancia, clasificando las papas con precisión y sin apenas mirarlas.

Como todo lo que hacen las familias agr√≠colas, hay arte en estas bolsas de papas, ordenadas con precisi√≥n por tama√Īos, y embolsadas, algunas para la venta, otras para los animales, y dos tama√Īos medianos que se almacenar√°n durante un tiempo y se comer√°n, vender√°n o usar√°n como semilla, dependiendo de las subidas y bajadas de los precios del mercado.

Otro blog de Agro-Insight

El bokashi es m√°s que fertilizante


Gracias a la Ing. Victoria López (Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Agropecuarias-INIAP), y a por compartir su conocimiento del agro ecuatoriano, y por presentarnos a las familias con las cuales trabaja.

Give bokashi a chance April 3rd, 2022 by

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

I admit that I once took a dim view of bokashi, a hand-crafted organic fertilizer made from barnyard manure and some store-bought materials, like molasses, bran, yeast, or even yoghurt (recipes vary). It takes work to make it, because it has to be stirred every day or two. I once wrote about a bokashi factory I saw in Nepal that impressed me, because I thought it might be easier for busy farmers to buy bokashi, and skip all the work of mixing it.

But this past February I met an innovative farmer, Héctor Casa, in Tunicuchí, in the Andes of central Ecuador. Don Héctor does not have a lot of time or money, but he is able to use bokashi on his small, mixed farm of pigs, guinea pigs, potatoes and vegetables. He graciously took time off from his job in a plywood factory to let Marcella and Paul film him for a video on seed potatoes.

Don Héctor starts his bokashi by making compost from his animals’ manure. He adds soil, rice husks, rock phosphate, lime, molasses and whey. He also adds microorganisms: a water solution that includes a few handfuls of forest soil. For good measure he puts in some biol, a fermented, liquified manure which is also rich in beneficial germs.

I watched as don Héctor deftly stirred each ingredient one at a time into a pile, shoveling it all over again with each addition, thoroughly blending it. It’s hard work, but he makes it look easy. But when he turned over a large, plastic sheet, I realized he had a second pile, with about five tons of finished bokashi. I’ve rarely seen that much of the stuff in one place, because it is requires some patience to make, and some store-bought materials.

Don H√©ctor had made his five tons of bokashi over two weeks, shoveling it over thoroughly every day, but now his work was about to pay off. It was ready to take to the field, and he was pleased that his bokashi was more than fertilizer; it would also protect his crops from pests and diseases. He explained that the good microbes he cultured in the bokashi would help to control potato diseases. ‚ÄúThe microorganisms eat the bad fungi. They eliminate them.‚ÄĚ

Then don Héctor took us to see his potato crop, not a garden, but a commercial field of healthy potatoes. These are some of the few potatoes grown in an environmentally-friendly way in the whole of highland Ecuador, where chemical fertilizer is commonly used along with fungicides and insecticides.

Don Héctor does use bokashi to keep the soil fertile. But bokashi also acts as a fungicide of sorts, as it adds good microbes to the earth, which help to keep down soil-borne diseases.

Bokashi alone would not be enough to keep pests and diseases away. To manage the Andean potato weevil and the potato tuber moth, don Héctor hills up the potatoes. Three times per season he and his helpers heap soil up around the base of each potato plant. The third time, they pile the soil really high, just as the potatoes are flowering and the plants have reached their full height.

‚ÄúThe tuber moth lays its eggs at the base of the potato plant, and when the worms hatch, they move down into the potato,‚ÄĚ don H√©ctor explains. ‚ÄúBy hilling up lots of soil I make a barrier that protects the potatoes from the moths and its worms.‚ÄĚ As an added advantage, the extra soil around each potato plant gives the tubers room to grow. They can‚Äôt develop unless they are blanketed in soft earth.

We visited don H√©ctor with Ecuadorian seed researcher Israel Navarrete, who was especially taken by rows of maize that H√©ctor had planted around his crop. Don H√©ctor said that the rows of corn formed a barrier that kept disease out of the potato crop. Israel called it positive deviance: ‚Äúbeing odd, but in a good way.‚ÄĚ

The idea may be odd, but it also seemed to be working. We saw that the neighboring fields were not doing as well as this healthy one. One neighbor sprayed insecticide on his potatoes, and the leaves were damaged by the potato tuber moth, while don Héctor’s crop had little visible insect damage. Other nearby potato plants were stunted by herbicides, where farmers tried to spray to avoid the work of weeding and hilling up their crop. Don Héctor’s organic potato plants were larger, and a healthy green.

I used to doubt the value of bokashi, because I saw it as fertilizer, expensive and tedious to make. But in reality, bokashi also acts as a fungicide, replenishing some of the good microorganisms that conventional agriculture kills. Innovative farmers combine bokashi with other techniques, like carefully hilling up the potatoes, and encircling them with a protective crop of maize. This integrated approach seems to be working, and is worthy of formal study by researchers.

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Thanks to Ing. Victoria L√≥pez (Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Agropecuarias‚ÄĒINIAP), and Ing. Nancy Panchi and Dr. Israel Navarrete (both of the International Potato Center‚ÄĒCIP) for introducing us to innovative potato farmers in Cotopaxi, Ecuador. Victoria, Israel and Paul Van Mele read a previous version and made valuable comments


Jeff Bentley, 3 de abril del 2022

Yo antes veía con escepticismo al bokashi, un abono orgánico hecho a mano con estiércol y algunos materiales comprados en la tienda, como melaza, salvado, levadura o incluso yogurt (las recetas varían). También requiere trabajo, porque hay que removerlo cada día o dos. Una vez escribí sobre una fábrica de bokashi que vi en Nepal y que me impresionó, porque pensé que sería más fácil para los atareados agricultores comprar bokashi y evitar el trabajo de mezclarlo.

Pero el pasado febrero conoc√≠ a un agricultor innovador, H√©ctor Casa, en Tanicuch√≠, en los Andes centrales de Ecuador. Don H√©ctor no tiene mucho tiempo ni dinero, pero logra usar el bokashi en su peque√Īa granja mixta de cerdos, cuyes, papas y verduras. √Čl amablemente tom√≥ un tiempo libre de su trabajo en una f√°brica de madera para dejar que Marcella y Paul le filmaran para un video sobre la semilla de papa.

Don H√©ctor empieza su bokashi haciendo compost con el esti√©rcol de sus animales. A√Īade suelo, c√°scara de arroz, fosfato de roca, cal, melaza y suero. Tambi√©n a√Īade microorganismos: una soluci√≥n de agua con unos pu√Īados de tierra del bosque. Adem√°s, agrega un poco de biol, un esti√©rcol fermentado y licuado que tambi√©n es rico en microbios beneficiosos.

Observé cómo don Héctor revolvía hábilmente cada ingrediente, de uno en uno, en un montón, removiéndolo todo de nuevo con cada adición, mezclándolo completamente. Es un trabajo duro, pero él lo hace parecer fácil. Me sorprendió que, al destapar un bulto que había tapado con un toldo de plástico, tenía unas cinco toneladas más de bokashi terminado. Rara vez he visto tanto, porque hacerlo requiere cierta paciencia y algunos materiales comprados en la tienda.

Don H√©ctor hab√≠a hecho sus cinco toneladas de bokashi durante dos semanas, movi√©ndolo cada d√≠a, pero ahora su trabajo estaba a punto de dar sus frutos. Estaba listo para llevarlo al campo, y se alegr√≥ de que su bokashi fuera m√°s que un fertilizante: tambi√©n proteger√≠a sus cultivos de las plagas y enfermedades. Explic√≥ que los microbios buenos que cultiv√≥ en el bokashi ayudar√≠an a controlar las enfermedades de la papa. “Los microorganismos se comen los hongos malos. Los eliminan”.

Luego don Héctor nos llevó a ver su cultivo de papas, no un huerto, sino un campo comercial de papas sanas. Estas son algunas de las pocas papas que se cultivan de manera amigable con la naturaleza en todo el altiplano ecuatoriano, donde suelen usar fertilizantes químicos junto con fungicidas e insecticidas.

Don H√©ctor s√≠ usa el bokashi para mantener la fertilidad del suelo. Pero el bokashi tambi√©n act√ļa como una especie de fungicida, ya que a√Īade microbios buenos a la tierra, que ayudan a evitar las enfermedades transmitidas por el suelo.

El bokashi solito no es suficiente para evitar las plagas y enfermedades. Para controlar el gorgojo de los Andes y la polilla de la papa, don H√©ctor aporca las papas. Tres veces por campa√Īa, √©l y sus ayudantes aporcan suelo alrededor de la base de cada planta de papa. La tercera vez, amontonan la tierra muy alta, justo cuando las papas est√°n floreciendo y las plantas han alcanzado su m√°xima altura.

“La polilla de la papa pone sus huevos en la base de la planta de la papa, y cuando los gusanos nacen del huevo, bajan a la papa”, explica don H√©ctor. “Al poner mucha tierra hago una barrera que protege a las papas de la polilla y sus gusanos”. Como ventaja adicional, la tierra extra alrededor de cada planta de papa da a los tub√©rculos espacio para crecer. No pueden desarrollarse si no est√°n cubiertos de tierra blanda.

Visitamos a don H√©ctor con el investigador ecuatoriano en semillas Israel Navarrete, a quien le llamaron especialmente la atenci√≥n las hileras de ma√≠z que H√©ctor hab√≠a plantado alrededor de su cultivo. Don H√©ctor dijo que las hileras de ma√≠z formaban una barrera que manten√≠a las enfermedades fuera del cultivo de papas. Israel lo llam√≥ desviaci√≥n positiva: “ser raro, pero en el buen sentido”.

La idea podr√≠a parecer extra√Īa, pero por lo visto, funcionaba. Vimos que a los campos vecinos no les iba tan bien como a este sano. Un vecino fumig√≥ sus papas con insecticida y las hojas fueron da√Īadas por la polilla de la papa, a diferencia del cultivo de don H√©ctor. Otras plantas de papa cercanas est√°n marchitadas por los herbicidas, donde los agricultores intentaron fumigar para evitar el trabajo de deshierbar y aporcar su cultivo. A cambio las plantas de don H√©ctor eran grandes y un verde exuberante.

Yo antes dudaba del valor del bokashi, porque lo ve√≠a como un fertilizante, que costaba trabajo y dinero. Pero en realidad, el bokashi tambi√©n act√ļa como fungicida, reponiendo algunos de los microorganismos buenos que la agricultura convencional mata. Los agricultores innovadores combinan el bokashi con otras t√©cnicas, como aporcar cuidadosamente las papas y rodearlas de un cultivo protector de ma√≠z. Este enfoque integrado parece funcionar, y merece ser estudiado formalmente por los investigadores.

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Gracias a la Ing. Victoria López (Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Agropecuarias-INIAP), y a la Ing. Nancy Panchi y al Dr. Israel Navarrete (ambos del Centro Internacional de la Papa-CIP) por presentarnos a los innovadores productores de papa de Cotopaxi, Ecuador. Victoria, Israel y Paul Van Mele leyeron una versión previa e hicieron comentarios valiosos.


What is a women’s association about? March 20th, 2022 by

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

When you write a story, you should know what it is about. According to this good old advice, if you know what your story is about, you’ll know what to put in and what to leave out.

In Ecuador, community organizer, Ing. Guadalupe Padilla, has told me that belonging to a group can help women gain leadership experience. Women become leaders as they work in a group, not in isolation. Guadalupe has helped to organize several such groups. Like a story, the group has to be about something. It has to have a purpose. And that purpose can easily be related to agriculture.

In Cotopaxi, Ecuador recently, while working with Paul and Marcella to film a video on women‚Äôs organizations, we met Juan Chillagana, vice-president of the parish (town) council. As an elected, local official, Mr. Chillagana has mentored several women‚Äôs organizations, each one organized around a specific product. We caught up with him on 4 February as he met with a group of women who were growing and exporting goldenberries. The fruit buyer was there, a man in a hair net explaining, ‚ÄúAll we ask is that you don‚Äôt apply agro-chemicals.‚ÄĚ The association members and the buyer weighed big, perfect goldenberries in clean, plastic trays, to take to the packing plant.

We talked with one of the members, Josefina Astudillo, who seemed pleased to be trying this new fruit crop. She guided us to her field, about a kilometer from the community center where the meeting was held. Do√Īa Josefina proudly showed us her field where the fruit was ripening to a golden perfection. One woman could grow goldenberries by herself, but it takes a group to meet the buyer‚Äôs demand: 1,000 kilos a week, at a quality ready to export.

We also met Beatriz Padilla (Guadalupe‚Äôs sister), a small-scale dairy farmer, who leads 20 households as they pool their milk. The association sends a truck to each farm, collects the milk in big cans, transfers it to the group‚Äôs cold tank. Twice a day, about 1500 liters of milk is collected by two different buyers, including one who comes at 3 AM. It‚Äôs a lot of work. Do√Īa Beatriz explained that she couldn‚Äôt do it without the group. She needs the other families so they can get a better price for their milk. A farmer with two cows has to take whatever price the dairy will give her. But an association can negotiate a price.

Margoth Naranjo is a woman in her 60s who has worked her whole adult life in associations, often in groups that included men as well. She started in her local parent-teachers‚Äô association, helping to organize the children‚Äôs breakfast. Later, she was the secretary of a farmers‚Äô insurance group, until she became the treasurer and then the president. Now, with the Corporation of Indigenous and Peasant Organizations (COIC), do√Īa Margoth is helping several women‚Äôs organizations, which sell their own agroecological vegetables, to band together for added strength. Sadly, this work came to a standstill during the Covid lockdown, but do√Īa Margoth has recently started organizing again.

All of the women’s leaders we met in Ecuador were part of a group. And each group was formed for a concrete purpose, whether for goldenberries, milk or vegetables. Like a good story, the groups were each about something, related to a dream they share: to have a quality product to sell, to improve their livelihoods.

And just as writing improves with practice, leadership sharpens with experience. The influential people we met said that any woman could be a leader if she joined a group and participated long enough.

Previous Agro-Insight blogs

Listening to what women don’t say

The goldenberry

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Thanks to Guadalupe Padilla and Sonia Zambrano for introducing us the farmers in Cotopaxi, and for sharing her knowledge with us. Thanks to Guadalupe and to Paul Van Mele for their valuable comments on a previous version of this blog. Guadalupe and Sonia work for EkoRural, an NGO. Our work was funded by the McKnight Foundation’s Collaborative Crop Research Program (CCRP).


Por Jeff Bentley, 20 de marzo del 2022

Cuando escribes una historia, debes saber de qu√© trata. Seg√ļn este viejo consejo, si sabes de qu√© trata tu historia, sabr√°s qu√© incluir y qu√© dejar fuera.

La Ing. Guadalupe Padilla organiza comunidades  en Ecuador, y me ha dicho que pertenecer a un grupo puede ayudar a las mujeres a adquirir experiencia de liderazgo. Las mujeres se convierten en lideresas cuando trabajan en grupo, no de forma aislada. Guadalupe ha ayudado a organizar varios grupos de este tipo. Al igual que una historia, el grupo tiene que tratar de algo. Tiene que tener un propósito, que puede estar tranquilamente relacionado con la agricultura.

Hace poco, en Cotopaxi, Ecuador, mientras yo trabajaba con Paul y Marcella para filmar un video sobre las organizaciones de mujeres, conocimos ¬†a Juan Chillagana, vicepresidente de la junta parroquial. Como funcionario local electo, el Sr. Chillagana ha sido mentor de varias organizaciones de mujeres, cada una de ellas organizada en torno a un producto espec√≠fico. Nos reunimos con √©l el 4 de febrero, en un encuentro con un grupo de mujeres que cultivan y exportan uvillas (uchuvas, o chiltos). El comprador de la fruta estaba all√≠, un hombre con su cabellera bien cubierta por una red. Explic√≥: “Todo lo que pedimos es que no apliquen agroqu√≠micos”. Los miembros de la asociaci√≥n y el comprador pesaron grandes y perfectas uvillas en bandejas de pl√°stico limpias, para llevarlas a la planta de envasado.

Hablamos con una de las socias, Josefina Astudillo, que parec√≠a encantada de probar este nuevo cultivo de fruta. Nos llev√≥ hasta su campo, a un kil√≥metro de la sede comunitaria donde se celebraba la reuni√≥n. Do√Īa Josefina nos mostr√≥ con orgullo su campo, donde su dorada fruta estaba madur√°ndose a la perfecci√≥n. Una sola mujer podr√≠a cultivar uvillas por s√≠ sola, pero se necesita un grupo para satisfacer la demanda de los compradores: 1.000 kilos a la semana, con una calidad lista para exportar.

Tambi√©n conocimos a Beatriz Padilla (hermana de Guadalupe), peque√Īa productora de leche, que lidera 20 hogares que acopian su leche para venderla como grupo. La asociaci√≥n env√≠a un cami√≥n a cada granja, recoge la leche en grandes botes y la traslada al tanque de fr√≠o del grupo. Dos veces al d√≠a, dos distintos compradores recogen unos 1.500 litros de leche, incluido uno que viene a las 3 de la madrugada. Es mucho trabajo. Do√Īa Beatriz explica que no podr√≠a hacerlo sin el grupo. Necesita a las otras familias para poder obtener un mejor precio por su leche. Una persona con dos vacas tiene que aceptar el precio que le d√© la procesadora de leche. En cambio, una asociaci√≥n puede negociar un mejor precio.

Margoth Naranjo es una mujer de 60 a√Īos que ha trabajado toda su vida adulta en asociaciones, a menudo en grupos que inclu√≠an tambi√©n a los hombres. Empez√≥ en la asociaci√≥n local de padres de familia, ayudando a organizar el desayuno escolar. M√°s tarde, fue secretaria del Seguro Campesino, hasta llegar a ser la tesorera y luego la presidenta. Ahora, con la Corporaci√≥n de Organizaciones Ind√≠genas y Campesinas (COIC), do√Īa Margoth est√° ayudando a varias organizaciones de mujeres, que venden sus propias verduras agroecol√≥gicas, a agruparse para tener m√°s fuerza. Lamentablemente, este trabajo se paraliz√≥ durante el cierre de Covid, pero do√Īa Margoth ha vuelto a organizarse recientemente.

Todas las mujeres l√≠deres que conocimos en Ecuador formaban parte de un grupo. Y cada grupo se form√≥ con un prop√≥sito concreto, ya sea para obtener fruta, leche o verduras. Como una buena historia, cada grupo trataba de algo, relacionado a un sue√Īo conjunto: como tener un excelente producto para vender, para vivir mejor.

Y al igual que la redacción mejora con la práctica, el liderazgo es pulida con la experiencia. Las personas influyentes que conocimos decían que cualquier mujer podría llegar a ser líder si se unía a un grupo y participaba el tiempo suficiente.

Previamente en el blog de Agro-Insight

Listening to what women don’t say

El chilto, cultivo y maleza

Videos relacionados

Las mujeres en la extensión

Derechos de los agricultores a la semilla: Guatemala

Trabajando juntos por polillos sanos

Helping women recover after childbirth


Gracias a Guadalupe Padilla y Sonia Zambrano por presentarnos a la gente de Cotopaxi, por compartir su conocimiento con nosotros. Gracias a Guadalupe y a Paul Van Mele por sus valiosos comentarios sobre una versión previa de este blog. Guadalupe y Sonia trabajan para EkoRural, una ONG. Nuestro trabajo fue financiado por Programa Colaborativo de Investigación de Cultivos (CCRP) de la Fundación McKnight.

Language or dialect? It’s complicated March 13th, 2022 by

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

People who speak different dialects of the same language can understand each other. Unlike different languages, the dialects of those tongues are ‚Äúmutually intelligible.‚ÄĚ Americans and the British understand each other (almost always), because the US and the UK speak dialects of the same English language.

However, it’s complicated, as David Shariatmadari explains. Shariatmadari, non-fiction books editor at the Guardian, starts with the old joke: a language is a dialect with an army. The classic example is Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, which are all fairly similar, but for political reasons and national pride their governments use the schools and the media to maintain the uniqueness of these languages, which are often mutually intelligible.

Arabic is an example in the other direction. Spoken in some 20 countries with important differences between each nation, the Arab countries consider themselves speakers of one language, based on a shared tradition in classical Arabic literature, and other ties.

Shariatmadari doesn’t mention Quechua, a native language still spoken in the Andes, in Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. Once the language of the Inca Empire, Quechua has lacked its own national army since the Spanish Conquest. Even so, sixteenth century Spanish clergy encouraged the Quechua language, because it was already widely spoken, and could be used for missionary work. When the Jesuits arrived in the Andes in the 16th century, they quickly learned Quechua, published a dictionary of the language and began teaching it in their universities.

After the Spanish-American wars of independence (1810-1825), the new republican governments largely dismissed Quechua, ignoring it in schools and discouraging anyone from writing it.

Quechua is now enjoying a comeback of sorts in Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador. For example, it is being taught in some schools. Google is available in Quechua, and there are articles in Wikipedia in Quechua (look for ‚ÄúRuna Simi‚ÄĚ). Opinion is divided on whether Quechua is one language with different dialects or if it has evolved to be separate, closely related languages. The Bolivian government insists that Quechua is one language. In Ecuador, ‚ÄúQuechua‚ÄĚ is called ‚ÄúKichwa,‚ÄĚ to emphasize that it is a language in its own right, and not a dialect of Quechua.

With Paul and Marcella, from Agro-Insight, we visited the province of Cotopaxi, in the Andes of Ecuador, Where the agronomists Diego Mina and Mayra Coro study the lupin bean with several communities. Diego and Mayra took us to a Kichwa-speaking community, Cuturiví Chico, where we got a chance to find out if the local people understood the Quechua version of our video on lupines. During a meeting with the community, Diego and Mayra invited them to watch the video, explaining that it had been filmed in Bolivia.

As the Quechua version of the video played, I watched the audience for their reaction. They smiled in appreciation. After all, videos in Quechua or Kichwa are rare. The farmers were absorbed in the 15-minute video all the way to the end.

Afterwards, Diego asked if they understood it. One person said he understood half. Another said ‚ÄúMore than half, maybe 60%.‚ÄĚ Then Diego asked the crucial question, ‚ÄúWhat was the video about?‚ÄĚ

The villagers neatly summarized the video. Diseases of the lupin bean could be controlled by selecting the healthiest grains as seed, and burying the sick ones. But the video had also sparked their imaginations. One said that in a previous experience they had learned to sort healthy seed potatoes, and now that they had seen the same idea with lupin beans, they wondered if the seed of broad beans could also be sorted, to produce a healthier crop.

Diego still felt that the farmers hadn’t quite understood the video, so he showed the Spanish version. But this time, the reaction was muted. People watched politely, but they seemed a bit bored and at the end there was no new discussion.

Language and dialect are valid concepts, but ‚Äúmutual intelligibility‚ÄĚ can be influenced by visual communication, enunciation, and motivation. For example in this video, carefully edited images showed people separating healthy and diseased lupin beans, which may have helped the audience to understand the main idea, even if some of the words were unfamiliar.

Clarity of the speech also counts; this video was narrated by professional broadcasters who spoke Quechua as their native language, so it was well enunciated. Motivation also matters; if a topic is of interest, people will strain to understand it. Lupin beans are widely grown in Cuturiví Chico, and these farmers really wanted to know about managing the crop’s diseases.

Whether Ecuadorian Kichwa and Bolivian Quechua are separate languages or dialects of the same tongue is still up for debate among linguists. Fortunately, people also communicate visually (for example, with excellent photography); they understand more if the words are carefully and distinctly pronounced, and if the listeners are motivated by a topic that interests them.

Watch the video

You can see the video, Growing lupin without disease, in Quechua, Spanish, and English (besides other languages).

Further reading

Shariatmadari, David 2019 Don’t Believe a Word: The Surprising Truth about Language. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

Note on names

The lupine bean (Lupinus mutabilis) is called chocho in Ecuador, and tarwi in Bolivia.


Thanks to Diego Mina and Mayra Coro for introducing us the farmers in Cotopaxi, and for sharing their knowledge with us. Thanks also to Mayra and Diego, and to Eric Boa and Paul Van Mele for their valuable comments on a previous version of this blog. Diego and Mayra work for IRD (Institut de Recherche pour le Développement) with the AMIGO project. Our work was funded by the McKnight Foundation’s Collaborative Crop Research Program (CCRP).


Photos by Paul Van Mele and Jeff Bentley. Map from Wikimedia Commons



Jeff Bentley, 13 de marzo del 2021

Cuando la gente habla diferentes dialectos de una misma lengua, se entiende. A diferencia de los idiomas distintos, los dialectos de esas lenguas son “mutuamente inteligibles”. Los estadounidenses y los brit√°nicos se entienden (casi siempre), porque los Estados Unidos y el Reino Unido hablan dialectos de la misma lengua inglesa.

Sin embargo, es complicado, como explica David Shariatmadari, editor de libros de no ficci√≥n en The Guardian. √Čl comienza con el viejo chiste: un idioma es un dialecto con un ej√©rcito. El ejemplo cl√°sico es el dan√©s, el noruego y el sueco, que son bastante similares, pero por razones pol√≠ticas y de orgullo nacional sus gobiernos usan las escuelas y los medios de comunicaci√≥n para mantener cierta separaci√≥n entre estas lenguas, que a menudo son mutuamente inteligibles.

El árabe es un ejemplo en la otra dirección. Hablado con importantes diferencias en una veintena de países, los países árabes se consideran hablantes de una sola lengua, basándose en su tradición compartida de la literatura árabe clásica, entre otras cosas.

Shariatmadari no menciona el quechua, una lengua nativa que todav√≠a se habla en los Andes, en el Ecuador, Per√ļ y Bolivia. El quechua, que fue la lengua del Imperio Inca, no ha tenido un ej√©rcito propio desde la conquista espa√Īola. Pero los sacerdotes espa√Īoles del siglo XVI fomentaron la lengua quechua, porque ya mucha gente la hablaba, y era √ļtil para la labor misionera. Cuando los jesuitas llegaron a los Andes en el siglo XVI, aprendieron r√°pidamente el quechua, publicaron un diccionario de la lengua y comenzaron a ense√Īarla en sus universidades.

Después de las guerras de independencia hispanoamericanas (1810-1825), los nuevos gobiernos republicanos desprestigiaron en gran medida el quechua, ignorándolo en las escuelas y fueron olvidando su escritura.

En la actualidad, el quechua est√° resurgiendo un poco en Bolivia, Per√ļ y Ecuador. Por ejemplo, en algunos colegios lo est√°n ense√Īando. Google est√° disponible en quechua, y Wikipedia tiene art√≠culos en quechua (busque ‚ÄúRuna Simi‚ÄĚ). Algunos discuten si el quechua es una lengua con varios dialectos o si son varios idiomas estrechamente relacionados. El gobierno boliviano insiste en que el quechua es una sola lengua. En Ecuador, el “quechua” se llama “kichwa”, para subrayar que es una lengua propia y no un dialecto del quechua.

Con Paul y Marcella, de Agro-Insight, visitamos la provincia de Cotopaxi, en los Andes del Ecuador, donde trabajan los ingenieros agrónomos Diego Mina y Mayra Coro, quienes investigan el chocho (lupino) con algunas comunidades. Diego y Mayra nos llevaron a una comunidad kichwa-hablante, Cuturiví Chico, donde pudimos averiguar si la gente local entendería la versión de nuestro video en quechua sobre lupino o tarwi. Durante una reunión con la comunidad, Diego y Mayra les pidieron que observen el video explicándoles que se había filmado en Bolivia.

Mientras se reproduc√≠a la versi√≥n quechua del video, observ√© la reacci√≥n del p√ļblico. Sonrieron del puro gusto de ver el video. Despu√©s de todo, hay pocos videos en quechua o kichwa. Los campesinos estuvieron bien metidos en el video de 15 minutos hasta el final.

Despu√©s, Diego les pregunt√≥ si lo hab√≠an entendido. Uno de ellos dijo que hab√≠a entendido la mitad. Otro dijo: “M√°s de la mitad, quiz√° el 60%”. Entonces Diego hizo la pregunta crucial: “¬ŅDe qu√© trataba el video?”.

Resumieron claramente el video. Las enfermedades del lupino podían controlarse seleccionando los granos más sanos como semilla y enterrando los enfermos. Pero el video también había despertado su imaginación. Uno de ellos dijo que en una experiencia anterior habían aprendido a clasificar semilla sana de papa, y ahora que habían visto la misma idea con el lupino, se preguntaban si la semilla de las habas también podría clasificarse, para producir una cosecha más sana.

Diego a√ļn dudaba si los agricultores hab√≠an entendido bien el video, as√≠ que les mostr√≥ la versi√≥n en espa√Īol. Esta vez la reacci√≥n fue m√°s silenciosa. La gente parec√≠a un poco aburrida, y al final no hubo ninguna nueva discusi√≥n.

La diferencia entre idioma y dialecto es real, pero la “inteligibilidad mutua” a menudo se influye por la comunicaci√≥n visual, la pronunciaci√≥n clara, y la motivaci√≥n. Por ejemplo, en este video, las im√°genes cuidadosamente editadas mostraban a personas que separaban los granos de lupino sanos de los enfermos, lo que puede haber ayudado a la audiencia a entender la idea principal, aunque desconoc√≠an algunas de las palabras.

La claridad del discurso también cuenta; este video fue narrado por locutores profesionales que hablaban quechua como lengua materna, por lo que estaba bien enunciado. La motivación también importa; si un tema es de interés, la gente se esfuerza por entenderlo. Los lupinos se cultivan ampliamente en Cuturiví Chico, y estos agricultores realmente querían saber cómo manejar las enfermedades del cultivo.

Si el kichwa ecuatoriano y el quechua boliviano son distintos idiomas o dialectos de una sola lengua es algo que los ling√ľistas todav√≠a pueden discutir. Afortunadamente, las personas tambi√©n se comunican visualmente (por ejemplo, con una excelente fotograf√≠a); entienden mejor si las palabras se pronuncian con cuidado y nitidez, y si los oyentes est√°n motivados por un tema que les interesa.

Para ver el video

Puede ver el video, Producir tarwi sin enfermedad, en quechua, espa√Īol, e ingl√©s (adem√°s de otros idiomas).

Lectura adicional

Shariatmadari, David 2019 Don’t Believe a Word: The Surprising Truth about Language. Londres: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

Una nota sobre los nombres

El lupino (Lupinus mutabilis) se llama chocho en el Ecuador, y tarwi en Bolivia.


Gracias a Diego Mina y Mayra Coro por presentarnos a la gente de Cotopaxi, y por compartir su conocimiento con nosotros. Gracias a Mayra y Diego, y a Eric Boa y Paul VAn Mele por sus valiosos comentarios sobre una versión previa de este blog. Diego y Mayra trabajan para IRD (Institut de Recherche pour le Développement), con el proyecto AMIGO. Nuestro trabajo fue financiado por Programa Colaborativo de Investigación de Cultivos (CCRP) de la Fundación McKnight.


Fotos por Paul Van Mele y Jeff Bentley. Mapa de Wikimedia Commons



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