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Mother and calf May 8th, 2022 by

Nederlandse versie hieronder

Estela Balabarca and her husband Feliciano Cruz, in the village of Canrey Chico, in Ancash, Peru, are in their late fifties early sixties and every day milk their 8 cows. One morning, the couple had invited us to join them while they moved their cows and calves to a new pasture, something we wanted to film for our video on rotational grazing.

Marcella, Jeff and I arrive early, to be sure we don’t miss this event. Feliciano opens the gate for us and tells us that they still need to milk their cows before moving them. Although we already had some shots from a local person milking, Marcella, who lets no moment go to waste, starts filming, while Jeff and I keep out of the frame and carefully observe how they go about milking.

All cows are tethered. Tied with a rope to a peg pounded into the soil, the animals can only graze a certain circle of pasture. Their calves are tethered a bit further down in the field. When Feliciano releases one calf, she immediately runs to her mother to suckle. From the other side of the cow, Feliciano, removes the teat from the calf’s mouth after which she quickly searches another teat to suckle on. After having repeated this several times, Feliciano knows the cow is releasing her milk. He now pulls the rope of the calf away from the mother, and inserts the peg in the soil, leaving the rope just long enough so that the calf can be nuzzled by her mother.

When you take the time to watch this scene, and see how mother and calf lovingly rub against each other, you cannot but feel tenderness for the animals and respect for the farmers who treat their animals like loving, living creatures.

Their cows look healthy, mostly crossbreeds with the Brown Swiss breed, and seeing the grasses and flowering plants as we have in Europe, and snow-peaked mountains in the back, it takes little imagination to think for a moment that you are in Switzerland.

In less than 5 minutes Estela has her bucket full of creamy milk. When I ask her how much each cow gives, she says: “Each cow gives about 6 litres of milk. You see my bucket is full, but the top is all foam.” In the evening, each cow gives another 3 to 4 litres. Both the milk and the cheese they prepare from it are sold to the local community.

After finishing milking a cow, the farmer releases the calf again. As she suckles, the calf drains the mother’s teats of any remaining milk. This ensures that the teat does not get the bacterial infection called mastitis. This painful infection of teats and udder, after which the cow may stop giving milk, is a frequent disease across the globe for which often antibiotics are used.

While industrial farming has reduced cows to milking machines who may never get to see a green pasture or have time to caress their offspring, it is encouraging that various international efforts are being made to bring back ethical values in food production. The Natural Livestock Farming Foundation (NLF) is one such great initiative that shares experiences between dairy farmers in the Netherlands, India, Uganda and Ethiopia (among others). NLF regularly organises international webinars and events on natural ways of dairy calf raising and animal health. By including examples in farmer-to-farmer training videos, such as the one we are producing on rotational grazing in Peru, we hope such respectful practices will inspire farmers across the world.

Related Agro-Insight blogs

Farming as a lifestyle

Asking about cows

Caring for animals, with plants

Veterinarians and traditional animal health care

Kicking the antibiotic habit

Trust that works

Stuck in the middle

Acknowledgements

The visit to Peru to film various farmer-to-farmer training videos with farmers like doña Estela and don Fernando was made possible with the kind support of the Collaborative Crop Research Program (CCRP) of the McKnight Foundation. Thanks to Vidal Rondán of the Mountain Institute for introducing us to the community.

Videos on how to improve livestock

See the many training videos on livestock hosted on the Access Agriculture video platform.

 

Moeder en kalf

Estela Balabarca en haar man Feliciano Cruz, in het dorp Canrey Chico, in Ancash, Peru, zijn eind vijftig begin zestig en melken elke dag hun 8 koeien. Op een ochtend had het echtpaar ons uitgenodigd om met hen mee te gaan terwijl ze hun koeien en kalveren naar een nieuwe weide verplaatsten, iets wat we wilden filmen voor onze video over rotatiebegrazing.

Marcella, Jeff en ik komen vroeg aan, om er zeker van te zijn dat we dit evenement niet missen. Feliciano opent het hek voor ons en vertelt ons dat ze hun koeien nog moeten melken voordat ze verplaatst worden. Hoewel we al enkele opnamen hadden van een lokaal persoon die aan het melken was, begint Marcella, die geen moment onbenut laat, te filmen, terwijl Jeff en ik buiten beeld blijven en zorgvuldig observeren hoe ze te werk gaan bij het melken.

Alle koeien zijn vastgebonden. Vastgebonden met een touw aan een in de grond geslagen pin, kunnen de dieren alleen grazen in een bepaalde cirkel van de weide. Hun kalveren zijn vastgebonden een eindje verderop in het veld. Als Feliciano een kalf loslaat, rent het onmiddellijk naar haar moeder om te zogen. Aan de andere kant van de koe gezeten, verwijdert Feliciano de speen uit de mond van het kalf, waarna het snel een andere speen zoekt om aan te zuigen. Na dit verschillende keren herhaald te hebben, weet Feliciano dat de koe haar melk aan het afgeven is. Hij trekt nu het touw van het kalf weg van de moeder, en steekt de pin in de grond, waarbij hij het touw net lang genoeg laat zodat het kalf door haar moeder kan worden geknuffeld.

Als je de tijd neemt om dit tafereel te bekijken, en ziet hoe moeder en kalf liefdevol tegen elkaar aan schuren, kun je niet anders dan tederheid voelen voor de dieren en respect voor de boeren die hun dieren behandelen als liefdevolle, levende wezens.

Hun koeien zien er gezond uit, meestal kruisingen van het ras Brown Swiss, en bij het zien van de grassen en bloeiende planten zoals wij die in Europa hebben, en de met sneeuw bedekte bergen op de achtergrond, is er weinig fantasie nodig om je voor een moment in Zwitserland te wanen.

In minder dan 5 minuten heeft Estela haar emmer vol romige melk. Als ik haar vraag hoeveel elke koe geeft, zegt ze: “Elke koe geeft ongeveer 6 liter melk. Je ziet dat mijn emmer vol is, maar de bovenkant is allemaal schuim.” s Avonds geeft elke koe nog eens 3 tot 4 liter. Zowel de melk als de kaas die ze ervan maken, worden verkocht aan de plaatselijke gemeenschap.

Nadat de boer klaar is met het melken van de koe, laat hij het kalf weer vrij. Terwijl het kalf zoogt, onttrekt het de resterende melk aan de spenen van de moeder. Dit zorgt ervoor dat de speen niet de bacteriële infectie oploopt die mastitis wordt genoemd. Deze pijnlijke infectie van spenen en uier, waarna de koe kan stoppen met het geven van melk, is een veel voorkomende ziekte over de hele wereld waarvoor vaak antibiotica worden gebruikt.

Terwijl de industriële landbouw koeien tot melkmachines heeft gereduceerd die misschien nooit een groene weide te zien krijgen of tijd hebben om hun kalveren te strelen, is het bemoedigend dat er diverse internationale inspanningen worden geleverd om ethische waarden in de voedselproductie terug te brengen. De Natural Livestock Farming Foundation (NLF) is zo’n geweldig initiatief dat ervaringen uitwisselt tussen melkveehouders in onder meer Nederland, India, Oeganda en Ethiopië. NLF organiseert regelmatig internationale webinars en evenementen over natuurlijke manieren van melkkalveropfok en dierengezondheid. Door voorbeelden op te nemen in trainingsvideo’s van boer tot boer, zoals de video die we momenteel maken over rotatiebegrazing in Peru, hopen we dat dergelijke respectvolle praktijken boeren over de hele wereld zullen inspireren.

Seeing with your hands April 10th, 2022 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

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 “gruesas,” that is, the “thick” or big ones. These will be sold immediately. His daughter-in-law collected the next smallest size, “la segunda,” 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, “la tercera,” 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 “kuchi,” from the Kichwa word for “pig;” 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

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Ing. Victoria López (Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Agropecuarias—INIAP) for sharing her knowledge of Ecuador and farming with us, and for introducing us to the farmers she works with.

LAS MANOS CONOCEN

Jeff Bentley, 10 de abril del 2022

Las papas que se venden en el mercado tienen que clasificarse por tamaño, lo que parece más tedioso de lo que es. El pasado mes de febrero, Nancy Herrera, una agricultora de Locoa, cerca de Latacunga, explicó que la clasificación es fácil, porque las manos saben cómo hacerlo.

Esto me pareció extraño, hasta que vi a gente seleccionando papas de esa manera en Cuturiví Chico, cerca de Pujilí, en Cotopaxi. La ingeniera agrónoma Victoria López había convencido a una familia de agricultores para que les dejáramos filmar la cosecha de un campo de papas. Usaron sus azadones para abrir suavemente las crestas de tierra y revelar los tubérculos que había dentro.

Las papas se colocan en pequeños montones en el campo y la familia las clasifica inmediatamente, lo que es importante porque cada tamaño tiene su propio uso. Pero la familia no se sienta junto a un montón, echando cada tubérculo en montones más pequeños. Tienen una estrategia más eficaz.

En primer lugar, don Abelardo agarra una bolsa y pasa de un montón a otro, sacando las papas más grandes, del tamaño de su puño. Estas son las “gruesas”, es decir, las “gruesas” o grandes. Se venden inmediatamente. Su nuera recogía el siguiente tamaño más pequeño, “la segunda”, del tamaño de un huevo. Estas se guardan como semilla o se venden, si el precio está bien. Su prima recogía las más pequeñas, en otra bolsa, “la tercera”, que sería semilla si se vendían todas las más grandes. Las tres personas tardaron unos minutos en recoger esta pequeña cosecha. Las papas que quedaron son “kuchi”, palabra kichwa que significa “cerdo”; se recogieron en último lugar y se usarían como alimento para animales. Las papas kuchis no solo incluían los tubérculos más pequeños, sino también los grandes que estaban dañados. La clasificación de este modo permite separar eficazmente las papas por su tamaño, al tiempo que se eliminan las que están mal.

Por último, don Abelardo cosía cada bolsa con una cabuya azul. Cada bolsa estaba atada con un nudo diferente para indicar su tamaño. La bolsa con las gruesas tenía dos orejas. Las segundas estaban en una bolsa de una oreja. La tercera bolsa no tenía 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 tamaño 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 agrícolas, hay arte en estas bolsas de papas, ordenadas con precisión por tamaños, y embolsadas, algunas para la venta, otras para los animales, y dos tamaños medianos que se almacenarán durante un tiempo y se comerán, venderán o usarán como semilla, dependiendo de las subidas y bajadas de los precios del mercado.

Otro blog de Agro-Insight

El bokashi es más que fertilizante

Agradecimientos

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.

A long walk home April 12th, 2020 by

In Bolivia, a draconian shutdown went into place almost as soon as the first coronavirus cases were reported in the country in March. When the universities were shut, one 20-year old student, José Andrés Romero, tried to stay on in the city of Sucre, where he had been studying building construction. He was working part-time as a welder’s assistant, but when his employer closed shop, José Andrés could no longer afford the rent on his room. Then he ran out of food.

The buses had been stopped, so José Andrés would have to walk home, to his grandfather’s house in the village of Motaya, 90 kilometers away.

Just leaving the city was a challenge. In Bolivia we are only allowed out of the house one morning a week; everyone is assigned a day from Monday to Friday, depending on the last number of one’s national ID. When it was José Andrés’s turn to leave his room, on a Wednesday, he left at 7:40, carrying water and cooked pasta, the last of his provisions.

He avoided the road most of the time, taking short cuts. He wasn’t very sure of the path, so he used the GPS on his phone to guide him. After running out of water, he drank from a stagnant pond, which made him vomit. Weakened, and with no houses in sight, José Andrés kept walking. The mountains and the canyons blocked his phone signal most of the way. Then he remembered what his grandmother had taught him, that the stars set in the west, and this helped guide his way.

At 11 at night, when José Andrés climbed to a ridge, he saw the lights of the town of Presto, near his village, and he also got a phone signal. He called his cousin, who came with a friend on motorcycles to pick José Andrés up from the road. It was one in the morning on Thursday when they got home.

The municipality put José Andrés in quarantine for two weeks, but his family will feed him, and then he will be able to help with the farm work and wait out the quarantine.

This story puts a face on what is blandly called rural-urban migration. One of the most viable strategies for rural migrants is to go to the city after graduating from high school, to attend university. Young people from the countryside work their way through school and after graduation build a career in the city. These hardworking, resourceful kids are the future of their country. Yet they are so under-appreciated that national leaders can close their universities and shut down the bus system, without even offering the students the dignity of a ride home.  

Source

https://correodelsur.com/local/20200402_jose-andres-escapa-del-hambre-en-sucre-y-recorre-mas-de-90-kilometros.html

A revolution for our soil March 22nd, 2020 by

la versión en español a continuación

Degraded soil can be repaired, and replenished with nutrients, until it produces abundant harvests at lower costs, while removing carbon from the atmosphere, and putting it back into the ground. This is the optimistic message of David Montgomery’s book, Growing a Revolution.

In many parts of the world, soils have been degraded by frequent plowing. The benefits of releasing a burst of nutrients for the crops and killing weeds are overcome by exposure of the soil to erosion by wind and water (see Out of space on Montgomery’s earlier book Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations). In the Midwestern USA perhaps half of the original prairie soil, and most of its organic matter, have been lost in little more than a century of conventional tillage. Chemical fertilizers provide the major nutrients of phosphorous, potassium and nitrogen in the short run, but they undermine the soil’s long-term health by suppressing mycorrhizal fungi.

These mycorrhizal fungi feed plants while making glomalin, a protein that binds soil particles together. Plowing destroys the soil structure created by beneficial fungi and their glomalin.

Montgomery, a professional geologist, explains that most soils don’t need chemical fertilizer. They have enough phosphorous, potassium and all the minor nutrients like iron and zinc that plants need, but these minerals are locked up in stone particles and other forms not accessible to the plants. The key to using these nutrients are beneficial microbes, like the mycorrhizal fungi that extract mineral nutrients from rock fragments and help to break down organic matter so plants can use it. Microbes trade phosphorous to plants for sugars. Predatory arthropods, nematodes and protozoa then feast on the microbes and release the nutrients back to the soil. A diverse soil life makes soil more fertile. Synthetic fertilizers interrupt these interactions, and the mycorrhizal fungi die, so the crop becomes chemical-dependent. Soil that is rich in organic matter (that is, in carbon) is healthier and supports a thriving community of beneficial microorganisms.

But with proper care, soil can be brought back to good health in just a few years. The right techniques can boost soil carbon from 1% (typical of degraded soils) to 4% (as in undisturbed forest) or even up to 6%. There are many such techniques and they go by various names, including “conservation agriculture,” “agroecology” or “regenerative agriculture,” and they are based on simple principles: 1) Use cover crops (or mulch) to keep the soil covered all the time; 2) Complex crop rotations of grasses, legumes and other crops; and 3) no-till, planting seeds directly into the unplowed earth.

Montgomery takes his readers to meet farmers from Kansas to Pennsylvania, from Ghana to Costa Rica, who are practicing and profiting from these three principles. Some are organic farmers; others apply small amounts of nitrogen fertilizer directly into the soil, near the seed, where the plant can efficiently take it up. We learn that some use earthworms, while others like Felicia Echeverría in Costa Rica make their own brews of beneficial microorganisms, to add life to dead soil. Gabe Brown in North Dakota rotates cattle in small paddocks, on large fields. As the cows graze, they fertilize the soil with manure.

Montgomery and soil scientist Rattan Lal estimate that conservation agriculture could offset a third to two thirds of current carbon emissions, by putting organic matter back into the soil, while tilling less and so lowering fuel expenses. Stumbling blocks to adoption of conservation agriculture include subsidies and crop insurance that keep farmers plowing and dependent on chemical fertilizer. Another is formal research, which continues to favor studies of products that companies can sell: chemical solutions to biological problems, as Montgomery puts it. Only 2% of US agricultural research goes to regenerative agriculture (and only 1% globally). Much of the innovation to revive the soil is driven not by funded research, but by the farmers themselves, who have shown that conservation agriculture, agroecology and permaculture can be more productive, with fewer pest problems. Conservation agriculture saves on expenses for inputs, so it is more profitable than conventional tillage agriculture. Properly conserved soil has little erosion; it soaks up the rain in wet years and holds the moisture for drought years.

Montgomery is concerned that when large-scale, industrialized farmers convert from tillage to conservation agriculture there must be a transition period when profits sag, before the soil improves enough to bring yield back up. He fears that this can discourage farmers from switching to conservation agriculture. Yet I am sure that the farmers themselves will work this out. As the natural experimenters that they are, farmers can try ecological farming practices with reduced tillage, first on one field, or on part of one, gradually creating the practices they need, one plot at a time. The good news is that conservation agriculture can be adopted on large farms or small ones, conventional or organic, mechanized or not. Farming can rebuild the soil, and does not need to destroy it.

Further reading

Montgomery, David R. 2017 Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soils Back to Life. New York: Norton. 316 pp.

Related blog stories

Encouraging microorganisms that improve the soil

Effective micro-organisms

Farming with trees

Out of space

The big mucuna

From uniformity to diversity

Related videos

Good microbes for plants and soil

Mulch for a better soil and crop

Reviving soils with mucuna (how to use a popular cover crop, mucuna, or velvet bean)

Intercropping maize with pigeon peas

Making a vermicompost bed

The wonder of earthworms (rearing earthworms to fertilize fields and gardens)

Animals & trees for a better crop

SLM00 Introduction (an introduction to a series of 12 videos on conservation agriculture)

Grow more, earn more (small machinery to reduce tillage)

Till less to harvest more (no-till and minimum tillage)

And many other videos on www.accessagriculture.org

UNA REVOLUCIÓN PARA NUESTRO SUELO

Por Jeff Bentley, 22 de marzo del 2020

El suelo degradado puede ser reparado, devolviendo sus nutrientes, hasta que produzca cosechas abundantes a costos más bajos, mientras que se saca carbono de la atmósfera, para ponerlo en el suelo. Este es el mensaje optimista del libro de David Montgomery, Growing a Revolution.

En muchas partes del mundo, el arar frecuentemente ha degradado los suelos. El arado trae los beneficios de liberar nutrientes repentinamente para los cultivos y matar las malezas, pero el daño es mayor debido al exponer el suelo a la erosión del viento y del agua (ver Out of space sobre el libro anterior de Montgomery, Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations). En el Medio Oeste de los Estados Unidos, quizás la mitad del suelo original de la pradera, y la mayor parte de su materia orgánica, se han perdido en poco más de un siglo de labranza convencional. Los fertilizantes químicos proporcionan los principales nutrientes de fósforo, potasio y nitrógeno a corto plazo, pero socavan la salud del suelo a largo plazo al suprimir los hongos micorriza.

Estos hongos micorriza alimentan a las plantas mientras fabrican glomalina, una proteína que une las partículas del suelo. El arado destruye la estructura del suelo creada por los hongos benéficos y su glomalina.

Montgomery, un geólogo profesional, explica que la mayoría de los suelos no necesitan fertilizantes químicos. Tienen suficiente fósforo, potasio y todos los nutrientes menores como el hierro y el zinc que las plantas necesitan, pero estos minerales están encerrados en partículas de piedra y están en otras formas no accesibles para las plantas. La clave para el uso de estos nutrientes son los microbios buenos, como las micorrizas que extraen nutrientes minerales de los fragmentos de roca y ayudan a descomponer la materia orgánica para que las plantas puedan usarla. Los microbios intercambian fósforo a las plantas por azúcares. Los artrópodos, nematodos y protozoos depredadores comen los microbios y liberan los nutrientes de vuelta al suelo. Una vida diversa en el suelo lo hace más fértil. Los fertilizantes sintéticos interrumpen estas interacciones y las micorrizas mueren, por lo que el cultivo se vuelve químicamente dependiente. El suelo rico en materia orgánica (es decir, en carbono) es más saludable y sostiene una próspera comunidad de microorganismos buenos.

Pero con el cuidado adecuado, el suelo puede volver a tener buena salud en pocos años. Las técnicas correctas pueden aumentar el carbono del suelo del 1% (típico de los suelos degradados) al 4% (como en los bosques vírgenes) o incluso hasta el 6%. Existen muchas de esas técnicas y tiene diversos nombres, como “agricultura de conservación”, “agroecología” o “agricultura regenerativa”, y se basan en principios sencillos: 1) Sembrar cultivos de cobertura (o mulch) para mantener el suelo cubierto todo el tiempo; 2) rotaciones complejas de cultivos de pastos y cereales, leguminosas y otros cultivos; y 3) la labranza cero, sembrando las semillas directamente en la tierra sin arar.

Montgomery lleva a sus lectores a conocer a agricultores de Kansas a Pensilvania, de Ghana a Costa Rica, que practican rentablemente estos tres principios. Algunos son agricultores orgánicos; otros aplican pequeñas cantidades de fertilizante de nitrógeno directamente en el suelo, cerca de la semilla, donde la planta puede absorberlo eficazmente. Aprendemos que algunos usan lombrices de tierra, mientras que otros, como Felicia Echeverría en Costa Rica, elaboran sus propias soluciones de microorganismos benéficos, para dar vida al suelo muerto. Gabe Brown, en Dakota del Norte, rota el ganado en pequeños potreros, en grandes campos. Cuando las vacas pastan, fertilizan el suelo con estiércol.

Montgomery y el científico del suelo Rattan Lal estiman que la agricultura de conservación podría compensar entre un tercio y dos tercios de las actuales emisiones de carbono, devolviendo la materia orgánica al suelo, a la vez que se labra menos y se reducen así los gastos de combustible. Entre los obstáculos para la adopción de la agricultura de conservación hay los subsidios y los seguros de los cultivos que mantienen a los agricultores arando y dependiendo de los fertilizantes químicos. Otro es la investigación formal, que sigue favoreciendo los estudios de productos que las empresas venden: soluciones químicas a problemas biológicos, como dice Montgomery. Sólo el 2% de la investigación agrícola estadounidense se destina a la agricultura regenerativa (y sólo el 1% a nivel mundial). Gran parte de la innovación para revivir el suelo no está impulsada por la investigación académica, sino por los propios agricultores, que han demostrado que la agricultura de conservación, la agroecología y la permacultura pueden ser más productivas, con menos problemas de plagas. La agricultura de conservación ahorra gastos en insumos, por lo que es más rentable que la agricultura de labranza convencional. El suelo conservado adecuadamente tiene poca erosión; absorbe la lluvia en los años húmedos y retiene la humedad en los años secos.

A Montgomery le preocupa que cuando los grandes agricultores industrializados pasen de la agricultura de labranza a la de conservación, debe haber un período de transición no rentable, antes de que el suelo mejore lo suficiente como para que vuelva a rendir bien. El teme que esto pueda desalentar a los agricultores a cambiar a la agricultura de conservación. Sin embargo, estoy seguro de que los propios agricultores lo solucionarán. Como experimentadores naturales que son, los agricultores pueden probar prácticas de agricultura ecológica con labranza reducida, primero en una parcela, o en un rincón, creando gradualmente las prácticas que necesitan, una parcela a la vez. La buena noticia es que la agricultura de conservación puede adoptarse en fincas grandes o pequeñas, convencionales u orgánicas, mecanizadas o no. La agricultura puede reconstruir el suelo, en vez de destruirlo.

Leer más

Montgomery, David R. 2017 Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soils Back to Life. New York: Norton. 316 pp.

Blogs previos sobre temas parecidos

Fomentando microorganismos que mejoran el suelo

Effective micro-organisms

La agricultura con árboles

Out of space

The big mucuna

From uniformity to diversity

Videos sobre el tema

Buenosmicrobios para plantas y suelo

El mulch mejora el suelo y la cosecha

Revivir el suelo con la mucuna (cómo usar un popular cultivo de cobertura, la mucuna, o el frijol terciopelo)

Intercropping maize with pigeon peas

Haciendo una lombricompostera

La maravillosa lombriz de tierra  (criar lombrices de tierra para fertilizar huertos y cultivo)

Animales, árboles y cultivos

SLM00 Introducción (una introducción a una serie de 12 videos sobre la agricultura de conservación)

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Toads for watermelon October 13th, 2019 by

The south coast of Jamaica is just right for growing watermelon, where I recently saw the fruit stacked under the shade trees in front of comfortable farm houses. Farmers can earn a tidy living from selling melons on the local market and to the hotels and resorts.

But the trick is to get enough water. In the dry season, a tanker truck will deliver 1000 gallons (almost 4,000 liters) for $50. Most of the farmers economize on water by using drip irrigation. For many years, farmers have saved on water by using mulch, made from the light-weight Guinea grass.

Professional crews cut and dry the grass, which is grown in small fields scattered among the patches of watermelon.  The grass crews lay out a neat carpet of mulch, which not only keeps the soil moist, but also suppresses weeds, and creates a soft, clean bed for the fruit to grow, so it develops an attractive, green rind all the way around the fruit. After harvest, the grass decomposes, enriching the soil with organic matter.

I learned about this while visiting Jamaican farmer Junior Dyer, with a group of colleagues. We asked when Junior watered his plants. He said at 9 or 10 AM. “I never water at night,” Junior explained, because if he does that frogs and toads come into the field to eat the insect pests, but then the amphibians stay for the night, digging holes into the moist soil and disturbing the roots. The frogs and toads still come and eat the insect pests when watering is done in the morning, but then they bed down on the edge of the field.

Junior also showed me some of his 13 beehives, which he moves around to pollinate his melons, cantaloupe and cucumbers. I asked Junior if he used insecticides to control major insect pests such as whiteflies, thrips and especially aphids, which transmit disease (like watermelon mosaic virus). He admitted, a bit reluctantly, that he did use insecticides. I asked how he managed that without killing his bees. Junior replied that he looks for insecticide labelled as bee-friendly. In truth, insecticides are never good for bees, but some are less toxic than others.

Junior’s extension agent, Jermaine Wilson, said that Junior belongs to a farmers’ group, but that the farmers had already observed on their own that toads and frogs are beneficial creatures. Farmers see them eating insects. Beneficial amphibians are an example of how valuable local knowledge often develops around a topic that is culturally important (like watermelon pests) and easy to observe (like toads eating bugs). I found it encouraging that Junior appreciated the frogs and toads, even though they tend to eat larger insects rather than the really small ones that are the main pests in Jamaican watermelon.

I admired the efficient system the Jamaicans have for producing watermelon, even though they still largely rely on insecticides, with little organic production. But the Jamaican farmers are moving in the right direction by encouraging frogs and toads, and beekeeping will certainly motivate them to further reduce insecticides. Watermelons are a fairly sustainable, commercial crop from family farms. The bees pollinate the melon flowers, and the fruit grows nestled in a bed of mulch, precision-watered with drip irrigation. It’s a nice blend of appropriate technology and local knowledge, with frogs and toads contributing along the way.

Acknowledgements

RADA (Rural Agricultural Development Authority) graciously hosted my visit to Saint Elizabeth Parish, Jamaica, as part of the 10th Annual Meeting of GFRAS (Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services).

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