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Marketing as a performance February 13th, 2022 by

Nederlandse versie hieronder

Some 30 years ago, eminent anthropologist Paul Richards described the practices of smallholder farmers as a type of performance, similar to theatre or a musical act. Farmers acquire skills and competence through practice, rehearsal and improvisation. This week, I learned that the same applies to the marketing of farm produce.

In the Ecuadorean Andes, SWISSAID has been supporting women’s associations for 12 years to strengthen their skills on ecological farming. They taught farmers to produce various types of compost, including with manure of guinea pigs, as well as liquid biofertilizers or bioles with good microbes that farmers apply to their soil or spray as foliar fertilizer on the trees and vegetables. The highly mixed farms that we visit with abundant fruit and vegetables testify that these farmers master the art of agroecological farming.

But within a year, SWISSAID realised that, despite farmers’ improved knowledge and skills, indigenous and smallholder farmers had no real place to sell their produce in the cities, apart from improvised stalls on the pavement. Also, consumers were not willing to pay a bonus for food that was produced without toxic agrochemicals. Clearly, farmers also required training on marketing and needed to be organised in groups. And they needed help to liaise with other institutions, such as the university and local authorities.

While working with SWISSAID on a video about agroecological markets, I realized how much progress they have made on multiple fronts. By now, the local government of Pelileo in Tungurahua Province has given the farmers’ association a fixed day to sell their organic produce at a covered market, which they call the “Farm to Fork Agroecology Fair”.

They also advocate healthy food through TV, newspapers and social media. On Thursdays, consumers know that on this day, all produce sold at the farmers’ market is produced without chemicals, and they are now willing to pay a little extra.

Attending a training session on the grounds of the market one morning with some 30 women, including two who were spinning wool and one who was breastfeeding her baby, it strikes me that the various training sessions are all led by highly dynamic trainers who are clearly skilled to capture the attention of the audience. Several farmers have brought fresh produce and on some long tables, they start to work on the display, using local pottery and nicely woven baskets. The various containers serve as a unit of sales, after which they all agree on how much to sell the specific amounts of produce.

When it is the turn of Verónica López, a young theatre coach with a pink aerobic leggings, the training shifts into another gear. Soon all the women are walking around and act together. They pause whenever Verónica gives new instructions, as they act out emotions like “anger,” “happiness” or “love.” As in a play, the women learn how their body language matters when attending a client, or what difference it makes when they look each other in the eyes. They learn that they should be friendly, but they should also speak up. Overcoming shyness is something women learn by practicing in a playful, non-confrontational environment, with fellow women farmers whom they know well.

Like in a theatre or music concert, the better the actors engage with their audience the better the play. By practicing and rehearsing new skills such as looking the consumers in the eyes, engaging with them, being friendly and patient, the rural women in Ecuador have come a long way, and their efforts are paying off.

During covid, the markets closed for three months, yet the women had built such good relations with their clients, that some of the urban consumers found their way directly to the farms around the city. SWISSAID further supported this adaptation, for example putting up signs at the farmhouses, so consumers could find the agroecological producers.

While practicing, rehearsing and improvising proved necessary ingredients for successful adaptation of farming to a changing environment, it surely also determines the success of marketing healthy food.

While Paul Richards was right, agriculture is a type of performance, apparently marketing is as well, and the art of theatre can help farmers to act effectively with customers.

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Acknowledgements

The visit in Ecuador to film various farmer-to-farmer training videos, including the one on “Agroecological Fairs”, was made possible with the kind support of the Collaborative Crop Research Program (CCRP) of the McKnight Foundation. We thank SWISSAID for the tremendous support during our visit.

 

Marketing als een voorstelling

Zo’n 30 jaar geleden beschreef de eminente antropoloog Paul Richards de praktijken van kleine boeren als een soort voorstelling, vergelijkbaar met theater of een muzikale act. Boeren verwerven vaardigheden en bekwaamheid door oefening, repetitie en improvisatie. Deze week heb ik geleerd dat hetzelfde geldt voor het vermarkten van landbouwproducten.

In de Ecuadoraanse Andes steunt SWISSAID al 12 jaar vrouwenorganisaties om hun vaardigheden op het gebied van ecologische landbouw te versterken. Zij leerden de boeren verschillende soorten compost te produceren, onder meer met mest van cavia’s, en ook vloeibare biofertilizers of bioles met goede microben die de boeren op hun grond aanbrengen of als bladmeststof op de bomen en groenten spuiten. De zeer gemengde boerderijen die we bezoeken met overvloedig fruit en groenten getuigen ervan dat deze boeren de kunst van de agro-ecologische landbouw beheersen.

Maar binnen een jaar realiseerde SWISSAID zich dat, ondanks de verbeterde kennis en vaardigheden van de boeren, inheemse en kleine boeren geen echte plaats hadden om hun producten in de steden te verkopen, afgezien van geïmproviseerde stalletjes op de stoep. Bovendien waren de consumenten niet bereid een premie te betalen voor voedsel dat zonder giftige landbouwchemicaliën was geproduceerd. Het is duidelijk dat de boeren ook marketingtraining nodig hadden en dat ze in groepen moesten worden georganiseerd. En ze hadden hulp nodig bij het leggen van contacten met andere instellingen, zoals de universiteit en de plaatselijke autoriteiten.

Toen we met SWISSAID werkten aan een video over agro-ecologische markten, realiseerde ik me hoeveel vooruitgang ze op verschillende fronten hebben geboekt. Inmiddels heeft de lokale overheid van Pelileo in de provincie Tungurahua de boerenvereniging een vaste dag gegeven om hun biologische producten te verkopen op een overdekte markt, die ze de “Farm to Fork Agroecologie Markt” noemen. Ze maken ook reclame voor gezonde voeding via tv, kranten en sociale media. Op donderdag weten de consumenten dat op die dag alle producten die op de markt worden verkocht, zonder chemicaliën zijn geproduceerd, en ze zijn nu bereid om een beetje extra te betalen.

Toen we op een ochtend op het terrein van de beurs een trainingssessie bijwoonden met ongeveer 30 vrouwen, waaronder twee die wol sponnen en één die haar baby borstvoeding gaf, valt het me op dat de verschillende trainingssessies allemaal worden geleid door zeer dynamische trainers die duidelijk de aandacht van het publiek weten te trekken. Verschillende boeren hebben verse produkten meegebracht en op enkele lange tafels beginnen ze te werken aan de uitstalling, gebruik makend van lokaal aardewerk en mooi gevlochten manden. De verschillende recipiënten dienen als verkoopeenheid, waarna ze met z’n allen afspreken voor hoeveel ze de specifieke hoeveelheden producten willen verkopen.

Als het de beurt is aan Verónica López, een jonge theatercoach met een roze aerobic legging, gaat de training in een andere versnelling. Al snel lopen alle vrouwen rond en acteren ze samen. Ze pauzeren telkens wanneer Verónica nieuwe instructies geeft, terwijl ze emoties uitbeelden als “woede”, “geluk” of “liefde”. Net als in een toneelstuk leren de vrouwen hoe belangrijk hun lichaamstaal is als ze een klant te woord staan, of welk verschil het maakt als ze elkaar in de ogen kijken. Ze leren dat ze vriendelijk moeten zijn, maar dat ze ook hun zegje moeten doen. Verlegenheid overwinnen leren vrouwen door te oefenen in een speelse, niet-confronterende omgeving, met collega-boerinnen die ze goed kennen.

Net als bij een theater- of muziekconcert geldt: hoe beter de acteurs zich met hun publiek engageren, hoe beter het stuk. Door nieuwe vaardigheden te oefenen en te repeteren, zoals de consumenten in de ogen kijken, met hen omgaan, vriendelijk en geduldig zijn, hebben de plattelandsvrouwen in Ecuador een lange weg afgelegd, en hun inspanningen werpen vruchten af.

Tijdens covid waren de markten drie maanden gesloten, maar de vrouwen hadden zo’n goede band met hun klanten opgebouwd, dat een deel van de stedelijke consumenten rechtstreeks de weg vond naar de boerderijen rond de stad. SWISSAID ondersteunde deze aanpassing verder, bijvoorbeeld door borden op te hangen bij de boerderijen, zodat de consumenten de agro-ecologische producenten konden vinden.

Oefenen, repeteren en improviseren bleken noodzakelijke ingrediënten voor een succesvolle aanpassing van de landbouw aan een veranderende omgeving, maar het is zeker ook bepalend voor het succes van het vermarkten van gezond voedsel.

Paul Richards had gelijk, landbouw is een soort performance, maar blijkbaar is marketing dat ook, en de kunst van het theater kan boeren helpen om effectief met klanten om te gaan.

La Tablée September 26th, 2021 by

Nederlandse versie hieronder

The choice to eat healthy, organic food cannot be left to consumers alone. While organising farm visits to inform and build trust among consumers is important, too often such initiatives are left to individual farmers. But when this is coordinated at a higher level with multiple stakeholders, including local authorities, an amazing dynamism can be created, as I recently learned during a visit to France.

With my wife Marcella and colleagues from Access Agriculture, we decided to stay a few days longer in Rennes, after we attended the Organic World Congress in September 2021. Strolling through the historic city centre towards the old church of Saint George, we are pleasantly surprised to discover La Tablée (Table Guests), a festive open-air event on the grounds around the ruins where people are invited to taste local products laid out on long lines of picnic tables.

The Tablée and various other events we attended were all organised by the collegial group created by those involved from the initial application of Rennes city to host the Organic World Congress. They called their group ‘Voyage to Organic Lands’.

After some friendly volunteers explained the concept, we took a seat and started to taste some of the apple juices, which are all delicious and remarkably distinct. Each bottle has a name printed on the bottle screw cap (Arthur, Lancelot, Merlin, Gauvain, Vivianne, Perceval and Excalibur). Before France was unified in 843 AD, Britain (la Grande Bretagne) and Brittany (la Petite Bretagne) had close ties and historians increasingly believe that the legend of the hero king Arthur and his brave knights have their roots in France, in the forests near Rennes. Perhaps French apple juice or cider was served at the round table.

When I heard someone speaking about apples over the loudspeakers, I realized that there was a live radio show taking place on one of the corners. Radio Rennes was interviewing the organic apple grower, Arnaud Lebrun. In full honesty, Arnaud explained how he started his career as a salesman for a pesticide company.

“After more than a decade, I began to see all the damage this was doing to the environment, and I could no longer find peace with myself. I decided to quit my job and make a 180-degree shift. My wife and I bought a neglected apple orchard with trees that were already 40 years old and we converted it into an organic apple orchard. We had to learn everything,” Arnaud explains live on air, “I did not even know how to drive a tractor.”

In the shade of an old oak tree, interviews went on all day long with local farmers and food producers. While we only stayed on for an hour or so, I could still hear Arnaud’s wife profess: “our customers truly appreciate all the products we make from our apples. What gives me the most satisfaction is to see the smiles on people’s faces.”

Brittany has the richest diversity of apple varieties in the country and a long tradition of producing cider and pomée, a thick sweet to spread on bread. Preparing the pomée is a community event that celebrates harvest, as the women clean the apples while men take turns all night long stirring the thickening pomade in a huge copper pot over a fire.

Another remarkable traditional product on the picnic tables is gwell, a creamy type of yoghurt made by fermenting raw milk from the pie noire, a breed of local cow that almost went extinct in the 1970s. Gwell is traditionally eaten with flat round buckwheat cakes (galette) or potatoes, and is an excellent ingredient for desserts.

As we are having a great culinary experience, Lisa and Olivier, the sympathetic local baker farmers whom we just got to know at the Organic World Congress, arrive and join our table. They brought with them some more fresh bread and other traditional goodies.

Small leaflets, each one with a little quiz, invite people to reflect on one particular aspect of making and eating food. This pleasant event brings consumers and producers closer to each other, and with the radio reaches a much wider audience.

For over 60 years, consumers have been influenced by marketeers to eat and drink over-processed foods, stripped of their nutrients. It will take time for people to switch from flavour-enhanced junk to real food. Through joint efforts between organic and biodynamic farmer associations, researchers, restaurant owners, as well as authorities from cities and regions, changing consumer behaviour towards healthy, natural food can become a continuous concerted effort.

As I learned that week in Rennes around the table, consumers and farmers need more than connections, they need to form communities, and a bit of fun can help.

Discover more

Voyage to Organic Lands / Voyage en Terre Bio: https://www.voyageenterrebio.org

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An exit strategy

 

De tafelgasten

De keuze om gezond, biologisch voedsel te eten kan niet alleen aan de consument worden overgelaten. Hoewel het belangrijk is boerderijbezoeken te organiseren om de consumenten te informeren en vertrouwen te wekken, worden dergelijke initiatieven maar al te vaak overgelaten aan individuele landbouwers. Maar wanneer dit op een hoger niveau wordt gecoördineerd met meerdere belanghebbenden, waaronder lokale overheden, kan een verbazingwekkende dynamiek ontstaan, zoals ik onlangs leerde in Frankrijk.

Met mijn vrouw Marcella en collega’s van onze vzw Access Agriculture besloten we een paar dagen langer in Rennes te blijven, nadat we in september 2021 het Organic World Congress hadden bijgewoond. Wandelend door het historische stadscentrum in de richting van de oude kerk Saint George, worden we aangenaam verrast als we La Tablée (Tafelgasten) ontdekken, een feestelijk openluchtevenement op het terrein rond de ruïne waar mensen worden uitgenodigd om lokale producten te proeven die op lange rijen picknicktafels zijn neergezet.

Nadat enkele vriendelijke vrijwilligers het concept hadden uitgelegd, namen we plaats en begonnen we met het proeven van enkele van de appelsappen, die allemaal heerlijk en opmerkelijk verschillend zijn. Op elk flesje staat een naam gedrukt op de schroefdop (Arthur, Lancelot, Merlijn, Gauvain, Vivianne, Perceval en Excalibur). Voordat Frankrijk in het jaar 843 werd verenigd, hadden Groot-Brittannië (la Grande Bretagne) en Bretagne (la Petite Bretagne) nauwe banden en historici geloven steeds meer dat de legende van koning Arthur en zijn dappere ridders hun wortels hebben in Frankrijk, in de bossen bij Rennes. Misschien werd er aan de ronde tafel wel Frans appelsap of cider geserveerd.

Toen ik iemand over appels hoorde praten via de luidsprekers, realiseerde ik me dat er een live radioprogramma aan de gang was op het terrein. Radio Rennes interviewde de biologische appelteler, Arnaud Lebrun. In alle eerlijkheid legde Arnaud uit hoe hij zijn carrière was begonnen als verkoper bij een pesticidenbedrijf.

“Na meer dan tien jaar begon ik de schade aan het milieu in te zien, en ik kon geen vrede meer met mezelf vinden. Ik besloot mijn baan op te zeggen en een ommezwaai van 180 graden te maken. Mijn vrouw en ik kochten een verwaarloosde appelboomgaard met bomen die al 40 jaar oud waren en we bouwden die om tot een biologische appelboomgaard. We hebben alles moeten leren”, vertelt Arnaud live in de uitzending, “ik wist niet eens hoe ik een tractor moest besturen.”

In de schaduw van een oude eik gingen de interviews de hele dag door met lokale boeren en voedselproducenten. Hoewel we maar een uurtje aanhielden, kon ik Arnauds vrouw nog horen uitroepen: “onze klanten waarderen echt alle producten die we van onze appels maken. Wat mij de meeste voldoening geeft, is de glimlach op de gezichten van de mensen te zien.”

Bretagne heeft de rijkste verscheidenheid aan appelvariëteiten van het land en een lange traditie in de productie van cider en pomée, een dik snoepje om op brood te smeren. Het bereiden van de pomée is een gemeenschapsgebeuren dat de oogst viert, waarbij de vrouwen de appels schoonmaken terwijl de mannen om beurten de hele nacht lang de indikkende pomée in een enorme koperen pot boven een vuur roeren.

Een ander opmerkelijk traditioneel product op de picknicktafels is gwell, een romige soort yoghurt die wordt gemaakt door rauwe melk van de pie noire te laten gisten, een lokaal koeienras dat in de jaren zeventig bijna was uitgestorven. Gwell wordt traditioneel gegeten met platte ronde boekweitkoeken of aardappelen, en is een uitstekend ingrediënt voor desserts.

Terwijl we aan het genieten zijn van onze culinaire ervaring, komen Lisa en Olivier, de sympathieke lokale bakkers-boeren die we net hebben leren kennen op het Organic World Congress, aan onze tafel zitten. Ze hebben nog wat vers brood en andere traditionele lekkernijen bij zich.

Kleine folders, elk met een korte quiz, nodigen uit om na te denken over een bepaald aspect van het produceren en eten van voedsel. Dit gezellige evenement brengt consumenten en producenten dichter bij elkaar, en bereikt met de radio een veel breder publiek.

Al meer dan 60 jaar worden consumenten door marketeers beïnvloed om overbewerkte voedingsmiddelen te eten en te drinken, ontdaan van hun voedingsstoffen. Het zal tijd vergen voordat de mensen overschakelen van smaakversterkende junk naar echt voedsel. Door gezamenlijke inspanningen van verenigingen van biologische en biodynamische landbouwers, onderzoekers, restauranthouders en autoriteiten van steden en regio’s kan het veranderen van het consumentengedrag in de richting van gezond, natuurlijk voedsel een continue gezamenlijke inspanning worden.

Die week in Rennes aan de tafel heb ik geleerd dat consumenten en boeren meer nodig hebben dan verbindingen, ze moeten gemeenschappen vormen, en een beetje plezier kan daarbij helpen.

An exit strategy April 4th, 2021 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

Development projects often die when the money runs out. Many of these efforts often have no exit strategy in mind, but that’s changing, as I saw on a recent visit to Villa Taquiña, on the mountain slopes above Cochabamba, Bolivia.

Once an independent peasant community, Villa Taquiña has now largely been swallowed by the city of Cochabamba, but until recently, many farmers still managed to grow small plots of cut flowers.

When I lived in Villa Taquiña, years ago, if I caught the bus before dawn I would share the ride with older women taking huge bundles of carnations, gladiolas, and chrysanthemums to sell in the central market. But on my recent visit a local farmer, doña Nelly, explained that when Covid put a stop to big weddings and funerals, it wiped out the demand for cut flowers. Adaptable as ever, the smallholders turned to fresh vegetables, but there was a catch. The flowers had been grown with lots of pesticides. Now the farmers hoped to produce in a more environmentally friendly way, “so we can leave something for our children and grandchildren,” doña Nelly explained.

Two agronomists, Ing. Alberto Cárdenas and Ing. Alexander Espinoza, from Fundación Agrecol Andes, are helping a dozen farm families transition to agroecology. The farmers plant broccoli, cabbage and other vegetables with seeds they buy at the shop. The seeds come dusted in pink fungicide, but the farmers harvest seeds from some of the plants they grow, and are now producing 80% of their own seed. If they need a fungicide, they can make sulfur-lime or Bordeaux mix, which are accepted by most organic agricultural programs. The farmers also plant basil, quilquiña and other aromatic plants among their vegetables to discourage insect pests. Many different plants are grown together; this is called intercropping and it also keeps the pests away. The farmers are also bringing their soils back to life by incorporating compost.

Although the plots are tiny (some farmers have as little as 700 square meters) with hard work even a small piece of land can produce a lot of vegetables. Then the problem becomes where to sell it. Folks could take their produce to the big market in the city, but they would have to compete with conventionally-grown vegetables brought in by the truck load. Alberto and Alex have organized the farmers to work together. They often meet at doña Nelly’s house to package the produce with attractive labels. Besides saving on the costs of agrochemicals, these organic farmers have a close link with consumers, so they listen to what their clients want, and try to offer them a rich diversity of vegetables.

Belonging to a group also helps the farmers to reach customers who appreciate organic produce. In Bolivia the niches for organic food are still in their infancy, so producers and consumers need a little help finding each other. Alberto and Alex have organized the farmers with their consumers. Every week a group of consumers (including my family) gets a WhatsApp message with this week’s menu of what is on offer. We order what we want, everything from crisp vegetables to a perfect whole wheat flour to the best cactus fruit I’ve ever had. Two days later Alberto and Alex cheerfully arrive at our door with the produce.

Unfortunately, this is not sustainable marketing. Vegetable growers can’t always depend on the good graces of a project to sell their produce for them, but Alberto and Alex have an exit strategy.  They are organizing volunteer farmers and consumers to meet occasionally and inspect the farms, to guarantee that they are agroecologically sound. It is called the “participatory guarantee system,” (SPG) a kind of people’s organic certification. With time, Alberto hopes to make the marketing profitable enough that someone, perhaps the farmers themselves, will take it over as a private enterprise.  To that end, the farmers are organizing themselves into a legally-recognized association. Letting the farmers and the consumers get to know each other is also an innovation to make sure that we keep buying and selling.

I visit Villa Taquiña with two-dozen mask-wearing consumers, who were delighted to meet some of the farmers who grow the food we eat. One of those farmers, Elsa Bustamante, has an exit strategy of her own. She is feeding guinea pigs on the vegetable waste from her small plot, and she plans to start a restaurant featuring organic vegetables and homegrown guinea pigs. “You will all be my customers,” Elsa tells us. And then she serves up golden brown quarters of fried guinea pig on a bed of rice, potatoes and salad. The consumers love it.

Related Agro-Insight blog stories

The next generation of farmers

Strawberry fields once again

Further reading

Bentley, Jeffery W. 2015 “Flowers Watered with Beer.” Agriculture for Development 26:20-22.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Nelly Camacho, Elsa Bustamante, and her brother Pastor for letting us into their homes and their fields. Doña Nelly is the representative of the SPG Cercado. (Cercado is a province in the Department of Cochabamba. Cercado has only one municipality, which is also called Cochabamba, and it is the Department’s capital). The SPG Cercado is backed up by Law 3525, “Regulation and promotion of ecological production of agriculture, livestock and non-timber forest products” and by the National Technical Norm (NTN) which supports the participatory guarantee systems (SPG) which is used to accredit urban, peri-urban and rural groups of ecological farmers. The SPG Cercado works via an MOU with the municipal government of Cochabamba and the Fundación Agrecol Andes, with funding from the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation. Ing. Alberto Cárdenas and Ing. Alexander Espinoza work for the Fundación Agrecol Andes, in Cochabamba. A big thanks to them for organizing this visit, and thanks as well to Alberto for his comments on an earlier version of this story.

Scientific name

Quilquiña (Porophyllum ruderale) is a pungent herb used for making salsas.

Videos on the agroecological way to produce vegetables

Using sack mounds to grow vegetables

Managing black rot in cabbage

Managing vegetable nematodes

Insect nets in seedbeds

ESTRATEGIA DE SALIDA

Jeff Bentley, 4 de abril del 2021

Los proyectos de desarrollo suelen morir cuando se acaba el dinero. A muchos de estos esfuerzos les falta una estrategia de salida, pero eso está cambiando, como vi hace poco en una visita a Villa Taquiña, al pie de la cordillera andina, en Cochabamba, Bolivia.

Villa Taquiña, que era una comunidad agrícola independiente, hoy en día ha sido prácticamente tragada por la ciudad de Cochabamba, pero hasta hace poco, muchos agricultores cultivaban pequeñas parcelas de flores cortadas para vender.

Cuando yo vivía en Villa Taquiña, hace algunos años, si salía antes del amanecer compartía el micro (bus) con mujeres mayores de edad que llevaban enormes bultos de claveles, gladiolos y crisantemos para vender en el mercado central. Pero en mi última visita, una agricultora local, doña Nelly Camacho, me explicó que cuando el Covid acabó con las bodas y los funerales bien asistidos, dio fin a la demanda de flores cortadas. Tan bien adaptables como siempre, los pequeños agricultores empezaron a producir verduras frescas, pero había un problemita. Las flores se cultivaban con muchos plaguicidas. Ahora los agricultores esperan producir de forma más ecológica, “porque queremos dejar algo para nuestros hijos, y nietos”, explica doña Nelly.

Los ingenieros agrónomos Alberto Cárdenas y Alexander Espinoza, de la Fundación Agrecol Andes, les están ayudando a una decena de familias en la transición a la agroecología. Los agricultores siembran brócoli, repollo lechugas, vainas y otras hortalizas con semillas que compran en la agropecuaria. Las semillas vienen recubiertas con un fungicida rosado, pero los agricultores guardan algunas de las semillas de las plantas que cultivan, y ahora están produciendo el 80% de sus propias semillas. Si necesitan un fungicida, pueden hacer sulfocálcico o caldo bordelés, que son aceptados por la mayoría de los programas de agricultura orgánica. Los agricultores también siembran albahaca, quilquiña y otras plantas aromáticas entre sus hortalizas para ahuyentar a las plagas insectiles. Cultivan una mezcla de muchas plantas diferentes; esto se llama policultivo y también evita tener plagas. Además, los agricultores están recuperando sus suelos, incorporando compost.

A pesar de que las parcelas que quedan son pequeñas (alguna gente cultiva sólo 700 metros cuadrados), con trabajo se puede producir muchas verduras. Luego viene el problema de dónde venderlas. Los agricultores podrían llevar sus productos al gran mercado, la Cancha de Cochabamba, pero tendrían que competir con las camionadas de hortalizas convencionales. Alberto y Alex han organizado a los agricultores para que trabajen juntos. A menudo se reúnen en la casa de doña Nelly para embolsar los productos con etiquetas atractivas. Además de ahorrarse los costos de los agroquímicos, estos agricultores orgánicos tienen un estrecho vínculo con los consumidores, y saben lo que sus clientes quieren y tratan de ofrecerles una rica diversidad de verduras.

Pertenecer a un grupo también ayuda a los agricultores a encontrar los clientes que aprecian los productos orgánicos. En Bolivia, los nichos de los alimentos orgánicos todavía están en pañales, entonces los productores y consumidores necesitan un poco de ayuda para encontrarse. Alberto y Alex han organizado a los agricultores con sus consumidores. Cada semana, un grupo de consumidores (incluyendo a mi familia) recibe un mensaje de WhatsApp con la oferta semanal. Pedimos lo que queremos, desde verduras súper frescas, una perfecta harina integral, y la mejor tuna que jamás he probado. Dos días después, Alberto y Alex puntualmente nos dejan una “bolsa saludable” (Bolsaludabe) de productos en la puerta.

Lastimosamente, este tipo de comercialización no es sostenible. Los horticultores no siempre pueden depender de la buena voluntad de un proyecto para vender sus productos, pero Alberto y Alex tienen una estrategia de salida. Están organizando a agricultores y consumidores voluntarios para que se reúnan de vez en cuando e inspeccionen las parcelas, a fin de garantizar que son agroecológicas de verdad. Se llama “sistema participativo de garantías” (SPG), y es una especie de certificación orgánica popular. Con el tiempo, Alberto espera que la comercialización sea lo suficientemente rentable como para que alguien, tal vez los mismos productores, se haga cargo de vender la producción de manera particular. Para hacer eso, los productores se están organizando en una asociación con personería jurídica. El hacer que los agricultores y los consumidores nos conozcamos es también una innovación para asegurar que sigamos comprando y vendiendo.

En mi visita a Villa Taquiña éramos dos docenas de consumidores con barbijos, que estábamos encantados de conocer a algunos de los agricultores que producen los alimentos que comemos. Una de esas agricultoras, Elsa Bustamante, tiene su propia estrategia de salida. Ella está alimentando a cuys con los residuos vegetales de su pequeña parcela, y planifica abrir un restaurante con verduras ecológicas y cuys producidos en casa. “Todos ustedes serán mis clientes”, nos dice Elsa. Y luego sirve cuartos de cuy fritos y dorados y aún calientes sobre un lecho de arroz, papas y ensalada. A los consumidores les encanta.

Artículos relacionados del blog de Agro-Insight

The next generation of farmers

En el frutillar de nuevo

Lectura adicional

Bentley, Jeffery W. 2015 “Flowers Watered with Beer.” Agriculture for Development 26:20-22.

Agradecimientos

Gracias a Nelly Camacho, Elsa Bustamante, y su hermano Pastor por recibirnos en sus hogares y sus parcelas. Doña Nelly es la representante del SPG Cercado. (Cercado es una provincia del Departamento de Cochabamba. Cercado tiene un solo municipio, que también se llama Cochabamba, el cual es la capital del Departamento). El SPG Cercado es respaldado por la Ley 3525, “Regulación y promoción de la producción agropecuaria y forestal no maderable ecológica” y por la Norma Técnica Nacional (NTN) que apoya a los sistemas participativos de garantía (SPG) a través de la cual se acredita grupos de productores ecológicos a nivel urbano, periurbano y rural. El SPG Cercado trabaja a través de un convenio entre el gobierno municipal de Cochabamba y la Fundación Agrecol Andes, con financiamiento de la Cooperación Italiana. Los Ing. Alberto Cárdenas y Alexander Espinoza trabajan para la Fundación Agrecol Andes, en Cochabamba. Gracias a ellos por organizar el viaje, y gracias a Alberto por sus comentarios sobre una versión anterior de este blog.

Vocabulario

El cuy es el conejillo de las Indias.

La quilquiña es una hierba con un fuerte olor usada para hacer salsas, Porophyllum ruderale.

Videos sobre la forma agroecológica de producir hortalizas

Producir hortalizas en maceta de saco

Managing black rot in cabbage

El manejo de nematodos en hortalizas

Insect nets in seedbeds

Redes contra insectos en almácigo

Learn by living July 29th, 2018 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

Carrasco National Park is the largest national park in Cochabamba, Bolivia. At over 6,000 square kilometers it is the size of Delaware, or twice the size of Luxembourg. It spans an impressive range of topographies, from the high Andes down to the rain forest. I was in the park recently with my family to see some of the sandstone caves. Our guide was a 15-year-old schoolboy named Samuel. We met him in the office of the accredited guides, next to the park rangers’ station.

Soon after we arrived, the ranger had sent Samuel a WhatsApp message, and he came quickly to lead the tour. Fortunately he was available, since school was on a two-week break. However, we got off to an inauspicious start. Samuel started his introduction talk in a soft, rapid mumble, like a bored student chanting a dull lesson. He seemed not to know or care what he was talking about. But first impressions were misleading, as we soon found out.

Some of my more patient family members were able to draw Samuel out. By the time he had taken us across a mountain stream in a hand-powered cable car, Samuel was explaining that the balsa tree, which gives the light wood for airplanes, is actually quite heavy when it is standing timber. He then told us about palo santo, a tree guarded by ants which clear plants from around the base of the tree and keep the branches free of epiphytes. In an earlier, crueler age, people guilty of theft and even minor crimes could be tied to the tree to be tortured by the ants which inject a white poison from the needles on their abdomen.

Samuel showed a tiny species of native, stingless bee that makes its nest inside a termite nest. The bees make a honey-colored tunnel which serves as a doorway and landing pad. The tunnel is barely visible, peeking out of the large termite nest. You have to be a patient observer, like Samuel, to notice this. I was delighted to learn about the bees that move in with the termites. I have loved these little golden bees for years, but never seen them living in termite nests.

Samuel also took us to the entrance of the cave of the oil birds. Much like bats, the birds live in caverns, fly out at night and eat the fruit of palms and trees. Later, the birds regurgitate the seeds onto the cave floor. Samuel picked up six seeds from the stream flowing from the cave. He recognized all six species by their seed, which he picked out of the muck puked out by the birds.

Samuel may not have been much of a showman, but he knew his stuff. He had grown up in the area, the son of settlers from the Andes, so he had learned much about the forest by his own observations. Samuel wants to study tourism, and keep working in the park. He taught me once again the importance of being patient and willing to learn from others. Appearances can be deceiving and one wouldn’t normally expect a shy 15 year-old to be an expert naturalist. But you can always learn something if you’re willing to listen.

The palm and tree species identified by Samuel are:

Laurel (Spanish elm) Cordia aliodora. Palta laurel (unidentified). Pachubilla or caminante (walking palm) Socratea exorrhiza. Majo (açaí) Euterpe oleracea. Tembe (peach palm) Bactris gasipaes. Ramoncilla (a palm) Trichilia pallida

Other species mentioned

The oil bird is Steatornis caripensis. The stingless bee is Melipona sp.

Acknowledgement

Thanks to Ana Gonzales for identifying the palm and tree species.

APRENDER VIVIENDO

Por Jeff Bentley

29 de julio del 2018

El Parque Nacional Carrasco es el parque nacional más grande de Cochabamba, Bolivia. Con más de 6.000 kilómetros cuadrados, tiene dos terceras el área de Puerto Rico. Abarca una impresionante gama de topografías, desde los altos Andes hasta el bosque lluvioso. Estuve en el parque recientemente con mi familia para ver algunas de las cuevas de piedra arenisca. Nuestro guía era un estudiante de 15 años llamado Samuel. Lo encontramos en la oficina de los guías acreditados, al lado de la estación de los guardaparques.

Poco después de llegar, el guardabosques le envió a Samuel un mensaje por WhatsApp, y él vino rápidamente para dirigir la gira. Afortunadamente estaba disponible, ya que el colegio estaba en un receso de dos semanas. Sin embargo, tuvimos un comienzo desfavorable. Samuel comenzó su charla de introducción en un murmullo suave y rápido, como un estudiante aburrido cantando una lección aburrida. Parecía no saber o interesarse de lo que estaba hablando. Pero las primeras impresiones fueron engañosas, como pronto descubrimos.

Algunos de mis familiares más pacientes pudieron ganar la confianza de Samuel. En el tiempo que tardó en llevarnos a través de un riachuelo en un teleférico manual, Samuel explicaba que el árbol de balsa, que da la madera liviana para aviones, en realidad es bastante pesada cuando está en pie. Luego nos contó sobre el palo santo, un árbol protegido por hormigas que limpian las plantas de alrededor de la base del árbol y mantienen las ramas libres de epífitas. En una edad anterior y más cruel, las personas culpables de robo e incluso delitos menores podían ser atadas al árbol para ser torturadas por las hormigas que inyectan un veneno blanco de las agujas en su abdomen.

Samuel mostró una pequeña especie de abeja nativa sin aguijón que hace su nido dentro de un nido de termitas. Las abejas forman un túnel de color miel que sirve como entrada y plataforma de aterrizaje. El túnel es apenas visible, asomándose desde el gran nido de termitas. Tienes que ser un observador paciente, como Samuel, para fijarte en esto. Yo estaba encantado de aprender sobre las abejas que viven con las termitas. Hace muchos años que amo a estas pequeñas abejas de oro, pero nunca las he visto viviendo en nidos de termitas.

Samuel también nos llevó a la entrada de la cueva de los guácharos. Son pájaros que, igual que los murciélagos, viven en cavernas, vuelan de noche y comen fruta de palmeras y árboles. Más tarde, las aves regurgitan las semillas en el suelo de la cueva. Samuel recogió seis semillas de la quebrada que fluía de la cueva. Reconoció las seis especies por sus semillas, vomitadas por los pájaros, que recogió del lodo.

Samuel no era muy teatrero, pero sabía lo que hacía. Él había crecido en la zona, hijo de colonos de los Andes, por lo que había aprendido mucho sobre el bosque por sus propias observaciones. Samuel quiere estudiar turismo y seguir trabajando en el parque. Él me enseñó una vez más la importancia de ser paciente y estar dispuesto a aprender de los demás. Las apariencias engañan y uno normalmente no esperaría que un quinceañero tímido fuera un experto naturalista. Pero siempre puedes aprender algo si estás dispuesto a escuchar.

Las palmeras y árboles identificadas por Samuel son:

Laurel Cordia aliodora. Palta laurel (no identificada). Pachubilla o caminante Socratea exorrhiza. Majo Euterpe oleracea. Tembe Bactris gasipaes. Ramoncilla Trichilia pallida.

Otras especies mencionadas 

El guácharo es Steatornis caripensis. La abejita es Melipona sp.

Agradecimiento

Gracias a Ana Gonzales por identificar las especies de palmeras y árboles.

 

The blacksmiths of Ironcollo October 8th, 2017 by

Andean farmers have used iron tools since colonial times, including plows, harrows, picks, shovels and hoes. A favorite Bolivian tool is a long, triangular hoe, known as the qallu (Quechua for “tongue”). The qallu is ideal for working the steep rocky potato fields. Many farmers never leave home without their qallu.

In the valley of Cochabamba, the village of Ironcollo is home to the blacksmiths who make qallus and other tools. Ironcollo is strategically sited near the small market city of Quillacollo on the valley bottom. Farmers coming from the high Andes to shop in town can stop in Ironcollo on the way and have tools repaired or buy a new one.

Ironcollo is an old place. It is built over an archaeological mound, a large, artificial hill created gradually over the centuries as each generation of pre-Colombian people built their houses on the ruins of the people before them. Today the villagers are unsure exactly how long their ancestors have been working iron in Ironcollo, though they told me they were well established before the War for Independence from Spain, and that they made weapons for fighters in the Battle of Falsuri (1823). I have no reason to doubt them.

The narrow main street of Ironcollo is lined with shops, many of them owned by blacksmiths. I saw a large, industrial-made wood and leather bellows lying in the dust by one front gate. The label, pressed into the hardwood, says that the bellows is a model No. 102, made by Alldays and Onions of Birmingham, England. A museum in Marlsborough, New Zealand displays another copy of the same model, imported from Britain before 1888. Not only have the blacksmiths of Ironcollo been connected to global trade for some time, but their nineteenth century ancestors were making enough money to buy themselves decent equipment.

But times are tough now in Ironcollo. Where there were once 70 blacksmiths shops, there are now 30. Cheaper steel tools from Brazil and China are eating into their market. Not that the blacksmiths are going down without a fight. In 2011 they started holding an annual fair, inviting the public to stroll through the village and see how iron tools are heated in a charcoal forge until they are red hot, and then skillfully pounded into shape on an anvil.

We saw many tools on display in Ironcollo, but none of the larger ones were fitted with handles. No one was even selling handles at the fair. The smiths’ customers were still largely hardworking smallholders who know how to whittle a tree branch into a hoe handle.

Some blacksmiths have responded to changing market demands, making coat-racks and decorations for city people.My wife Ana and I met a woman blacksmith, doña Aidé, who took over her husband’s forge when he died, so she could support her children. The kids are grown up now, but she continues to make heavy-duty rakes that she designed herself. She also invented a new recipe, which she calls “the blacksmith’s dish” (el plato del herrero): steak cooked right on the hot coals of the forge, which she sells to visitors at the annual blacksmith’s fair.

An older blacksmith, don Aurelio, designed a new style of blacksmith forge, with a built-in electric fan. This saves labor, since the blacksmith doesn’t need an assistant to pump the bellows to fan the flames of the forge. Don Aurelio’s family makes and sells the electric forges to other smiths in the community, and beyond.

In 2013 the blacksmiths of Ironcollo formed an association. Community leader Benigno Vargas explained that they hope that this will be a way of getting support from the government, which is much more likely to fund a community group than unorganized family firms. But with or without official support, for now local farmers are still keeping the blacksmiths in business.

These blacksmiths have technical innovations, like the electric bellows and the coatracks and other metal products, but they have also innovated socially, with the annual fair, a professional association, and even a new way to prepare steak.

Near the end of the short main street, an elderly farmer stops us to admire the heavy, green rake we bought from doña Aidé. The farmer is from a remote village, and speaks little Spanish. She asks us in Quechua how much we paid for the rake before she marches off, wondering if she should invest 40 pesos in such a fine tool. Innovative farmers need imaginative tool makers who are tied into the local tradition of farming.

Further viewing

Family farmers make many of their own tools. Access Agriculture has videos for example on making a rabbit house, making a quail house and other devices. Many of the videos show how farmers use different tools. When farmers watch the videos, they are often interested in the tools they see in the videos.

Farmers around the world also rely on mechanics and other artisans to make and repair some tools, like the conservation agricultural tillage equipment for tractors and tools drawn by animals.

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