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Learning to teach June 7th, 2020 by

Versi√≥n en espa√Īol a continuaci√≥n

A really good teacher will teach you both subject matter and how to explain it to others. Elías Sánchez mentored thousands of Central Americans in organic agriculture. He started his adult life as a rural schoolteacher because he wanted to help people. But he soon realized that rural people needed agricultural training as much as the usual school subjects, so he studied agronomy and became an extension agent. When he found government bureaucracy too limiting, he started a teaching farm called Loma Linda, in Santa Lucía, in a pine-covered canyon in the mountains above Tegucigalpa, Honduras. That’s where I met him, in the late 1980s.

Loma Linda had dormitories, a classroom and a dining hall, where 30 farmers could come in to take a five-day course, usually paid for by NGOs or development projects. These were the days when donors were generous with NGOs in Honduras.

In the short course, don El√≠as, as everyone called him, taught an effective alternative to slash-and-burn agriculture. Don El√≠as expected people to make radical changes in how they farmed, after attending his course.  At the time, the forests on the steep hillsides were rapidly disappearing as people cut and burned trees, brush and crop residues before planting maize fields. The smoke was so thick in the springtime that every year the Tegucigalpa airport had to close because pilots couldn‚Äôt see the runway. There was also widespread soil erosion.

Don Elías taught his adult students how to build terraces, plant vegetables, fruits and grains, to make compost and natural remedies for pests and diseases. Thousands of smallholders from all over Honduras took don Elías’ course and slowly began to burn less, and to use organic fertilizer. He was pretty convincing; I’ve made compost ever since taking his course.

Don Elías realized that his audience didn’t see manure as fertilizer. Honduran smallholders would let manure pile up in the corral, and never think of spreading it on nearby maize fields. He held long discussions with the farmers to define organic matter (as anything living or that had once been alive, or came from a plant or animal). Then he taught them that any organic matter could be made into fertilizer. He kept his explanations simple and avoided pedantic words.

During the course we would eat fresh vegetables from the teaching farm for lunch, then get our hands dirty, making new compost heaps and spreading fertilizer from ones that were ready to use. ‚ÄúCompost needs two things,‚ÄĚ don El√≠as would say: ‚Äúwater and air.‚ÄĚ He taught that rain usually provided enough water, and by making compost above ground, air could circulate, as long as you didn‚Äôt pack the material.  But for good measure he would heap the organic matter around a thick wooden pole, which he would then pull out, to leave an air hole. Don Elias said that you could make compost in a pit, but it was more work. He did advise us to scrape the leaves and other debris off of the soil surface, so the compost was in contact with the dirt, where the soil-dwelling bacteria would help to start the decomposition.

Don Elías knew that the smallholders already worked hard, so his innovations had to be easy to use. Compost heaps could be left until they decomposed into rich, black earth. Turning wasn’t necessary. He taught people to make compost in the field, so they wouldn’t have to carry the materials very far.

I recalled El√≠as S√°nchez last week, when I dug up one of our compost pits at home (a perfect quarantine activity). We don‚Äôt make compost piles, because we live in the city and our compost includes some ugly garbage. Sometimes we cover the pits with soil and grow something on top (a trick I learned from a farmer in Mali: Playing with rabbits).  Although our compost pit is unlike the compost piles that don El√≠as used to make, ours followed all his basic principles.

1) It was made from organic matter.

2) It had air pockets, from cardboard boxes I left in it, which in due time decomposed.

3) It had water. While digging it out I found a couple of teaspoons I had accidentally tossed out with the dishwater. Soapy water may kill beneficial microorganisms, so I won’t try it again. Even after thirty years I’m still learning.

4) I didn’t work too hard on this compost pit. I never did turn it.

The compost was worth it, rich and black, full of earthworms, retaining moisture for several days once we spread it on the soil. Don Elías would have been pleased. He would also be pleased that many farmers, teaching farms and organizations in Latin America have adopted his ideas about organic agriculture.

To be a good mentor, teach the basic principles of subjects that students want to learn about. Show people how to make a prototype and then encourage them to keep on experimenting. Innovations need to be adapted if they’re going to be used for a lifetime.

Related blog stories

Trying it yourself

Training trees

Friendly germs

Earthworms from India to Bolivia

A revolution for our soil

Related videos

Living windbreaks to protect the soil

Mulch for a better soil and crop

Composting to beat striga

And other videos about Sustainable Land Management

Acknowledgement

Thanks to Keith Andrews, Eric Boa and Paul Van Mele for excellent comments on a previous version of this story.

APRENDER A ENSE√ĎAR

Por Jeff Bentley, 7 de junio del 2020

Un buen profesor no solo te ense√Īa la materia sino c√≥mo explicarla tambi√©n. El√≠as S√°nchez fue mentor de miles de centroamericanos en la agricultura org√°nica. Empez√≥ su vida adulta como maestro de escuela rural porque quer√≠a ayudar a la gente. Pero pronto se dio cuenta de que la gente del campo necesitaba aprender m√°s de la agricultura, as√≠ que estudi√≥ agronom√≠a y se hizo un extensionista. Cuando se dio cuenta de que la burocracia gubernamental era demasiado limitante, comenz√≥ una granja de aprendizaje llamada Loma Linda, en Santa Luc√≠a, en un ca√Ī√≥n cubierto de pinos en las monta√Īas cerca de Tegucigalpa, Honduras. All√≠ es donde lo conoc√≠, a finales de los 80.

Loma Linda tenía dormitorios, un aula y un comedor, donde 30 agricultores podían entrar para tomar un curso de cinco días, normalmente pagado por una ONG o por proyectos de desarrollo. Eran los días en que los donantes eran generosos con las ONGs en Honduras.

En el curso corto, don El√≠as, como todos le llamaban, ense√Īaba una alternativa eficaz a la agricultura de tala y quema. Don El√≠as esperaba que la gente hiciera cambios radicales en la forma de cultivar, despu√©s de asistir a su curso.  En ese momento, los bosques de las escarpadas laderas estaban desapareciendo r√°pidamente, ya que la gente cortaba y quemaba √°rboles, matorrales y rastrojos antes de sembrar milpa. El humo era tan espeso en la primavera que cada a√Īo el aeropuerto de Tegucigalpa ten√≠a que cerrar porque los pilotos no pod√≠an ver la pista. Tambi√©n se produjo bastante erosi√≥n del suelo.

Don El√≠as ense√Ī√≥ a sus alumnos adultos a construir terrazas, a sembrar verduras, frutas y granos, a hacer abono y remedios naturales para las plagas y enfermedades. Miles de peque√Īos agricultores de toda Honduras tomaron el curso de don El√≠as y poco a poco empezaron a quemar menos, y a usar fertilizante org√°nico. El fue bastante convincente; he hecho compost desde que tom√© su curso.

Don El√≠as se dio cuenta de que su p√ļblico no ve√≠a el esti√©rcol como fertilizante. Los peque√Īos propietarios hondure√Īos dejaban el esti√©rcol apilado en el corral y nunca pensaban en esparcirlo en los maizales cercanos. Mantuvo largas discusiones con los agricultores para definir la materia org√°nica (como cualquier cosa viviente o que alguna vez estuvo viva, o que salga de una planta o animal). Luego les ense√Ī√≥ que cualquier materia org√°nica pod√≠a convertirse en fertilizante. Manten√≠a sus explicaciones simples y evitaba las palabras pedantes.

Durante el curso almorz√°bamos hortalizas frescas de la finca, luego nos ensuci√°bamos las manos, haciendo nuevas aboneras y esparciendo el fertilizante de las que estaban listas para usar. “El abono necesita dos cosas”, dec√≠a don El√≠as: “agua y aire”. Ense√Ī√≥ que la lluvia usualmente daba suficiente agua, y al hacer abono en cima la tierra, el aire pod√≠a circular, si no se empacara el material.  Pero por si acaso, hac√≠a la abonera alrededor de un grueso poste de madera, que luego sacaba, para dejar un agujero de aire. Don El√≠as dijo que se pod√≠a hacer abono bajo tierra, pero era m√°s trabajo. Nos aconsej√≥ que rasp√°ramos las hojas y otros desechos de la superficie del suelo, para que el abono estuviera en contacto con la tierra, donde las bacterias que viven en el suelo ayudar√≠an a iniciar la descomposici√≥n.

Don El√≠as sab√≠a que los peque√Īos agricultores ya trabajaban duro, as√≠ que sus innovaciones ten√≠an que ser f√°ciles de usar. Se pod√≠an dejar la abonera hasta que se descompusieran en una tierra rica y negra. No era necesario moverla. Ense√Ī√≥ a la gente a hacer compost en el campo, para que no tuvieran que llevar los materiales muy lejos.

Record√© a El√≠as S√°nchez la semana pasada, cuando desenterr√© una de nuestras aboneras en casa (una perfecta actividad de cuarentena). No hacemos abonera sobre el suelo, porque vivimos en la ciudad y nuestro abono incluye alguna basura fea. Hacemos el abono en una fosa que a veces tapamos con tierra y cultivamos algo encima (un truco que aprend√≠ de un agricultor en Mali: Playing with rabbits).  Aunque nuestra abonera enterrada no es como las que don El√≠as sol√≠a hacer sobre el suelo, la nuestra segu√≠a todos sus principios b√°sicos.

1) Estaba hecha de materia org√°nica.

2) Tenía bolsones de aire, de cajas de cartón que metí, que con el tiempo se descompusieron.

3) Ten√≠a agua. Mientras desenterraba el composte encontr√© un par de cucharaditas que hab√≠a tirado accidentalmente con el agua lavar los trastos. El agua jabonosa puede matar a los microorganismos buenos, as√≠ que no lo intentar√© de nuevo. Incluso despu√©s de treinta a√Īos todav√≠a estoy aprendiendo.

4) No trabajé muy duro en esta abonera. Nunca la movía.

El abono valió la pena, rico y negro, lleno de lombrices, reteniendo la humedad durante varios días una vez que lo esparcimos en el suelo. Don Elías habría estado encantado. También estaría contento de que muchos agricultores, fincas educativas y organizaciones en América Latina hayan adoptado sus ideas sobre la agricultura orgánica.

Para ser un buen mentor, ense√Īa los principios b√°sicos de las materias que los estudiantes quieren aprender. Mostrar a la gente c√≥mo hacer un prototipo y luego animarlos a seguir experimentando. Los alumnos tienen que adue√Īarse de las innovaciones, para seguir adapt√°ndolas toda la vida.

Historias sobre temas parecidos  

Trying it yourself

Training trees

Microbios amigables

Lombrices de tierra de la i India a Bolivia

Una revolución para nuestro suelo

Videos relacionados

Barreras vivas para proteger el suelo

El mulch mejora el suelo y la cosecha

Composting to beat striga

Manejo sostenible de la tierra

Agradecimientos

Gracias a Keith Andrews, Eric Boa y Paul Van Mele por sus excelentes comentarios sobre una versión previa de esta historia.

Training trees May 10th, 2020 by

Many people are familiar with pruning trees, but on a recent course organised by the association of ecological gardeners (VELT) in Bocholt, Limburg, Belgium, I learned another important trick to shape trees and harvest more fruit. By training trees, you make branches grow in the direction you want. That sounds easy enough, but back home, when trying to apply this to our own fruit trees, I learned once more the importance of understanding the principles, and then adapting them to the local conditions.

Pierre Zanders, the trainer from VELT, explained to us that branches that grow straight upright have tremendous vigour and just continue growing up without giving fruits. The more you can get a branch to grow horizontally, the more fruit it will produce. Young branches that are weighed down by too much fruit can break, so ideally you should aim to train branches to grow at angles between 45 and 60 degrees.

Pierre is such an expert on fruit trees that he is often asked to travel to share his skills. He proudly told us a story about the time he was invited to the USA to train thousands of mature fruit trees. While the job was scheduled to take 6 weeks, Pierre finished the job in just two weeks. In disbelief, the owner of the groves had to accept that Pierre had a much faster way of training branches.

‚ÄúIf you have to train older trees,‚ÄĚ Pierre told us, ‚Äúyou don‚Äôt need any branch spreaders that cost money. The only thing you need is a very sharp knife. Up in the trees, you find enough wood that can be used as a branch spreader. Prune a stick that is as thick as the twig you want to bend lower. In the stick you have removed from the tree, cut a notch at one end of the stick and then cut the stick to the right length. Fix one end of the stick onto the main tree trunk, and place the end with the notch around the twig you want to bend. Gently push the stick down until the twig reaches the desired angle.‚ÄĚ The owner was amazed. This seasoned fruit expert from Belgium had not used any of the commercial branch spreaders the owner had bought to train his trees.

Pierre laughingly provokes us: ‚Äúwhy pay money if you can do it much simpler and much faster? Besides, with my technique nobody needs to go back into the orchard a few months later to collect any tree training devices. Over time, the branches will start to grow in the desired direction and the little sticks that I used as branch spreader can stay in the tree or may eventually be blown away by the wind. So, you save money twice.‚ÄĚ

During Pierre’s pruning course, we learned that for younger trees it is useful to hang weights to the branches, or to tie strings and use pegs to fix the string down to the soil. After the course I talked to my friend, Johan Hons, an organic farmer, and he kindly gave me a roll of string and taught me a useful knot to loosely tie the string around twigs and branches.

A few days after training my 20 or so fruit trees, I saw in dismay how some of the branches had snapped. ‚ÄúTerrible, how could this happen,‚ÄĚ I wondered. ‚ÄúDid I bend them too much?‚ÄĚ Taking a closer look at the damage, I noticed some wool on the strings. Apparently, the sheep grazing under my fruit trees had started rubbing themselves against these strings. It was too much for some of the young branches to take.

That was the time I had to come up with my own solution. All my fruit trees have a mesh wire tree shelter guard around their trunk to protect their bark from the sheep. By placing a bamboo stick through the holes at the top of the mesh, I could fix my strings to the bamboo, above reach of the sheep. The two short strings down from the bamboo to the mesh ensure that the bamboo does not snap in half with the pulling forces from the branches.

Farming is about observing what works and what doesn’t work…. If you understand the basic principles of a technology, it is easier to make workable adaptations. Pierre and Johan both gave me good ideas about how to spread branches so they do not grow straight up. But after my sheep undid their good suggestions, I could still invent my own technique, because Pierre had taught me the underlying principle: more horizontal branches produce more flowers and therefore more fruit.

Related videos

Staking and pruning passion fruit

Growing annual crops in cashew orchards

Coffee: stumping & pruning

The right way to distribute trees February 23rd, 2020 by

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

There is a right way and a wrong way to distribute tree seedlings, as I realized recently.

The wrong way. Some 30 years ago, I was visiting a family in a Honduran village, Galeras, when a pickup truck from the Ministry of Agriculture pulled up. Two men unloaded little black plastic bags, each holding a strange, broad-leafed tree seedling.

A woman emerged from the car and without pausing to greet us, she made a breathless speech. ‚ÄúWe are giving you little trees to plant. They are good for shade, for timber, for firewood, and cattle can eat the leaves. They are called ‚Ķ‚ÄĚ and she rattled off a long, cumbersome scientific name.

‚ÄúWhat is the common name?‚ÄĚ I asked.

‚ÄúOh, I don‚Äôt know that, just plant them.‚ÄĚ

And then the Ministry people got back in their car and drove off to the next house. In the following weeks, I saw little seedlings piled in front of many homes in Galeras. These trees, which came unannounced and uninvited, were all left to die.

The right way. This week, I visited the communities of Collpa Cala Cala and Collpa Centro, with extensionists from a Bolivian NGO, Fundación Agrecol Andes, which has 20 years of experience in high Andean communities.

This time I was inside the pickup, with the project staff. The team had gone in the day before with a bigger truck, to deliver 5000 pine seedlings to Collpa Cala Cala, and 3600 to Collpa Centro, and more trees to two other villages.  This morning, the little trees were glistening with dew in a cow pasture‚ÄĒthe cows were tethered out of reach of the seedlings. The locals soon gathered around us, and in the native language, Quechua, Tito Villarroel (the project coordinator) reminded them that the goal was for ‚Äúeach family to plant the trees that they ordered.‚ÄĚ He went on, ‚ÄúPlease count out the number of trees you ordered.‚ÄĚ Each family had asked for 100 to 500 seedlings.

Tito asked if anyone from the community wanted to speak. Two local men, don Marco and don Juevenal both thanked the project, and said they were sorry it was ending. They said they would like to get trees for two more years.

I asked some of the farmers why they wanted pine trees. ‚ÄúFor the timber,‚ÄĚ they said. ‚ÄúEither to sell or to use ourselves.‚ÄĚ

The project team read the names of each subscribed family, to make sure they were all there, and gave each one a new steel pick, a wooden handle and a hoe, so they would have the right tools to plant the trees. Each family also got a bag of bread rolls and a whole, raw chicken, and a two-liter bottle of soda pop. This food will help to feed the family for the day they take off from their other work to plant the trees.

Each family has agreed to plant the trees in a place of their choosing, where they can protect the trees from roaming livestock. Many of the trees will be planted near people’s homes, or in other places where it is easy to see the animals from the village. The previous year, these same villagers also planted trees, now growing in small stands.

Tito and his colleagues will come back the following week. Each village gets a follow up visit every week. Over the next few visits, the NGO extensionists will make sure that there are no unforeseen problems. But there is little doubt that these folks will plant their trees.

The team hopes that the trees will help to keep the soil on the steep slopes and out of the streams that provide drinking water to the valley below. Almost all of the land around these communities is quite steep, so no matter where the trees are planted, they should help to manage soil erosion. The NGO would have liked to have planted native trees, rather than pines, which are not native to South America. But the local people wanted pine trees, and so that’s what they got.

The moral of the story is, local people will plant and manage forestry trees if:

  • The tree species is of interest to the communities
  • The trees are accompanied by tools, food or other things of value that stimulate folks to invest in planting trees
  • Local people are consulted about the project beforehand and organized

Cynics complain that development work is going in circles, but that’s not true. Like any skill, community development work improves with practice.

Related blog story

Slow Recovery

Related videos

Living windbreaks to protect the soil

Parkland agroforestry

Farmer managed forest regeneration

Further reading

Bentley, Jeffery W. & Jorge Valencia 2003 ‚ÄúLearning about Trees in a Quechua-Speaking Andean Community in Bolivia,‚ÄĚ pp. 69-134. In Paul Van Mele (ed.) Way Out of the Woods: Learning How to Manage Trees and Forests. Newbury, UK: CPL Press. 143 pp.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Fundación Agrecol Andes, for inviting me to see their work. Thanks to the project team, including Alexandra Flores, David Torrico, Nelson Daga and Edgar Hinojosa. This project was funded by CRS (Catholic Relief Services) with additional funding by the Coca Cola Foundation. The soft drinks distributed on this visit were from a Bolivian bottler, not Coke.

LA MANERA CORRECTA DE DISTRIBUIR LOS √ĀRBOLES

Por Jeff Bentley

23 de febrero del 2020

Los plantines de √°rboles se pueden distribuir de forma correcta, o incorrecta, como me di cuenta recientemente.

La manera incorrecta. Hace unos 30 a√Īos, yo estaba visitando a una familia en una aldea hondure√Īa, Galeras, cuando lleg√≥ una camioneta del Ministerio de Agricultura. Dos hombres descargaron peque√Īas bolsas de pl√°stico negro. Cada bolsa ten√≠a el plant√≠n de un √°rbol desconocido, de hoja ancha.

Una mujer se baj√≥ del carro y sin tomar la molestia de saludarnos, hizo un discurso r√°pido, memorizado. “Les estamos dejando unos peque√Īos √°rboles para que los planten. Sirven para la sombra, para la madera, para la le√Īa, y el ganado puede comer las hojas. Se llaman …” y nos dio un largo y engorroso nombre cient√≠fico.

“¬ŅCu√°l es el nombre com√ļn?” Pregunt√©.

“Oh, no lo s√©, s√≥lo pl√°ntenlas.”

Y sin más ceremonia, la gente del Ministerio volvió a su carro y se fue a la próxima casa. En las semanas siguientes, vi bultos de plantitas frente a muchas casas en Galeras. Estos árboles, que llegaron sin aviso y sin invitación, lentamente se murieran.

La manera correcta. Esta semana, visit√© las comunidades de Collpa Cala Cala y Collpa Centro, con extensionistas de una ONG boliviana, Fundaci√≥n AGRECOL Andes, que tiene 20 a√Īos de experiencia en comunidades altoandinas.

Esta vez, estuve dentro de la camioneta, con la gente del proyecto. El equipo hab√≠a entrado el d√≠a anterior con un cami√≥n m√°s grande, para entregar 5000 plantines de pino a Collpa Cala Cala, y 3600 arbolitos a la Collpa Centro, y m√°s plantines a otras dos comunidades.  Esa ma√Īana, los arbolitos brillaban con el roc√≠o en el prado de las vacas, las cuales estaban atadas fuera del alcance de los plantines. Los comuneros pronto se reunieron a nuestro alrededor, y hablando en el idioma ancestral, quechua, Tito Villarroel (el coordinador del proyecto) les record√≥ que el objetivo era que “cada familia plante los √°rboles que hab√≠a ordenado”. Continu√≥: “Por favor, cuenten el n√ļmero de plantines que pidieron”. Cada familia hab√≠a pedido de 100 a 500 plantines.

Tito pregunt√≥ si alguien de la comunidad quer√≠a hablar. Dos hombres locales, don Marco y don Juvenal, agradecieron el proyecto y dijeron que no quer√≠an que se acabara. Dijeron que les gustar√≠a tener √°rboles durante dos a√Īos m√°s.

Pregunt√© a algunos de los agricultores por qu√© quer√≠an pinos. “Por la madera”, dijeron. “Para venderla o para usarla nosotros mismos”.

El equipo pasó lista y dio a cada familia suscrita una nueva picota, un mango de madera y un azadón, para que tuvieran las herramientas adecuadas para plantar los árboles. Cada familia también recibió una bolsa de pan, un pollo crudo entero, y una botella de refresco de dos litros. Esta comida ayudará a alimentar a la familia el día que planten los árboles.

Cada familia ha acordado plantar los √°rboles en un lugar de su elecci√≥n, donde puedan proteger los √°rboles del ganado suelto. Muchos de los √°rboles se plantan cerca de las casas de la gente, o en otros lugares donde es f√°cil ver los animales de la comunidad. El a√Īo anterior, estos mismos vecinos tambi√©n plantaron √°rboles, que ahora crecen en peque√Īos manchones alrededor de las comunidades.

Tito y sus colegas volverán la semana siguiente. Cada comunidad recibe una visita de seguimiento cada semana. En las próximas visitas, los extensionistas de la ONG se asegurarán de que no haya problemas imprevistos. Pero hay pocas dudas de que la gente plantará sus árboles.

El equipo espera que los árboles ayuden a conservar el suelo en las laderas empinadas, para proteger a las quebradas que dan agua potable al valle de abajo. Casi toda la tierra alrededor de estas comunidades es bastante escarpada, por lo que no importa dónde se planten los árboles, ayudará a manejar la erosión del suelo. A la ONG le hubiera gustado plantar árboles nativos, en lugar de pinos, que no son nativos de Sudamérica. Pero la gente local quería pinos, y eso es lo que obtuvieron.

La moraleja es que la gente local plantar√° y manejar√° los √°rboles forestales si:

РLas especies de árboles son de interés para las comunidades

– Los √°rboles van acompa√Īados de herramientas, alimentos u otras cosas de valor que estimulan a la gente a invertir en la plantaci√≥n de √°rboles

РSe consulta a la población local sobre el proyecto de antemano y se organiza

Los cínicos se quejan de que el trabajo de desarrollo sólo da vueltas, pero eso no es cierto. Como cualquier habilidad, el trabajo de desarrollo de la comunidad mejora con la práctica.

Un blog previo que le podría interesar

Recuperación lenta

Videos sobre la reforestación

Barreras vivas para proteger el suelo

Agroforestería del bosque ralo

Regeneración del bosque manejada por agricultores

Lectura

Bentley, Jeffery W. & Jorge Valencia 2003 ‚ÄúAprendiendo sobre √Ārboles en una Comunidad Andina de Habla Quechua en Bolivia,‚ÄĚ pp. 69-134. In Paul Van Mele (ed.) Way Out of the Woods: Learning How to Manage Trees and Forests. Newbury, UK: CPL Press. 143 pp.

Agradecimientos

Gracias a la Fundación AGRECOL Andes, por invitarme a ver este trabajo. Gracias al equipo de trabajo, incluyendo a Alexandra Flores, Nelson Daga, David Torrico y Edgar Hinojosa. Este proyecto fue financiado por CRS (Catholic Relief Services) con fondos adicionales de la Fundación Coca Cola. Los refrescos distribuidos en esta visita fueron de una embotelladora boliviana, no de la Coca Cola.

Eating an old friend December 15th, 2019 by

Last year in Bangladesh, in the village of Begati Chikerbath, I visited Shamsur Naheris, an energetic extensionist in a bright orange sari. She had organized an exchange visit so that local women can tell their stories about making money and changing their lives by the simple means of raising chickens.

A year and a half earlier, the village had hosted an FFS (farmer field school) on poultry, where the women learned to vaccinate their chickens and ducks with eye drops and to keep the hens in small coops. When the hen has a clutch of eggs, she sits on them in a nest, called a hazol, which the villagers make themselves, a technique they learned in the FFS. The hazol is a kind of earthen bowl with two small cups on one side for feed and water. Because the hazol is big and heavy, the hens are less likely to upset and spill their food. The hen sits on straw in the hazol and broods her eggs with water and food handy. The hazol and the hen are placed inside a small chicken coop.

More chicks live to maturity with this system, and when they are six weeks old, they can be let loose to find their own food, which lowers costs and saves space in the chicken coop. Then the hen can start another brood. This way she gets five or six broods in a year, over a useful life of some five years, until she ends up in the family cooking pot.

‚ÄúHow can you stand to eat your old friend?‚ÄĚ one visitor asked, concerned that the women might have become too attached to the hens to eat them.

‚ÄúIt‚Äôs easy, we just soften the meat first with green papaya,‚ÄĚ one of the chicken farmers explains.

While there may be little sentimentality attached to the birds, the women are all keen to raise them. Every house has a small chicken coop in the back yard and all of the little structures are filled with healthy birds.

In a meeting with visitors from other villages, five local women told how raising chickens has improved not just their income, but also their self-esteem. The audience was clearly moved. The visitors were farmers and their husbands, 25 couples from six local community-based, water management groups. Having the husbands attend was a touch of inspiration. It would ensure that the men would be convinced and would support their wives as they started small-scale commercial poultry.

Even a simple technical innovation, such as a chicken coop and an improved nest, may require some training and clever community organizing.

Acknowledgements

The extensionists mentioned in this paper were Community development facilitators (CDF) for the Blue Gold Project, which is financed by the government of the Netherlands to improve water management in Bangladesh.

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What counts in agroecology August 18th, 2019 by

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

Measuring the costs and benefits of a small farm can be harder than on a large one, especially if the small farm includes an orchard and makes many of its own inputs, as I saw on a recent visit to Sipe Sipe, near Cochabamba, Bolivia, where a faith-based organization, Agroecología y Fe (Agroecology and Faith) is setting up ecological orchards.

The director of Agroecology and Faith, Germ√°n Vargas, explained that a forest creates soil, gradually building up rich, black earth under the trees, while agriculture usually exposes the soil to erosion. A farm based on trees, with organic fertilizer, and with vegetables growing beneath the trees, should be a way to make a profit while conserving the soil. 

Extensionist Marcelina Alarcón showed us the apple trees that she and local farmers planted in August, 2018. They started by terracing the one hectare of gently sloping land. In one week of hard work they built a 200,000 liter, circular water reservoir of stone and concrete (gravity-fed with stream water) to irrigate the terraces and three additional hectares. The cost was 64,000 Bs. ($9,275), which seems like a big investment, but similar reservoirs built 30 years ago are still working.

Lush beds of lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, wheat, onions (some plants grown for their seed) are thriving beneath the apple trees. When one crop is harvested another takes its place, in complex rotations over small spaces. No chemicals are used, but the group makes calcium sulphate spray and liquid organic fertilizers to improve the soil, prevent crop diseases and enhance the production and quality of the apples and vegetables.

The group has harvested vegetables four times and sold them directly to consumers at fairs organized by Agroecology and Faith for a total gross receipt of 4,380 Bolivianos ($635).

I was visiting the farm at Sipe Sipe with a small group organized by Agroecology and Faith and some of their allies. Some of the lettuce, onions and tomatoes from the farm end up in a tub during our visit, to make a salad for the visitors‚ÄĒpart of a fabulous lunch (complete with fresh potatoes and mutton cooked underground) offered at a modest cost. Produce cooked on site and sold informally on the farm are probably not counted when estimating profitability. After the tour of the farm and before the lunch, Marcelina set up a table with some vegetables for sale. She was kept quite busy writing down each transaction as we bought small bags of tomatoes and other produce for amounts less than a dollar each.

The sale of half a kilo of tomatoes is as much work to document as the sale of twenty tons of rice. A small farm has many more sales than a large farm and it takes a lot of administrative work to keep track of produce that is not sold because it goes into seed, feed or onto the family table.

The cost:benefit of a conventional field is simpler to tabulate: so much labor, machinery, seed and chemicals, all purchased, and single crop yields measured with relative ease. Yet this doesn‚Äôt tell the whole story. Loss of soil due to erosion, or carbon and nitrogen to the atmosphere, or pollution from fertilizer run-off all have a cost, even if they are often dismissed as ‚Äúexternalities.‚ÄĚ

An agroforestry system like the hectare of apples and vegetables we visited starts with a large investment in irrigation and terracing. Many of the inputs are labor, or home-made fertilizers, and their cost is not always counted. The apple trees have not yet borne fruit, and some of the vegetables may escape the bookkeeper‚Äôs tally. Yet here the ‚Äúexternalities‚ÄĚ have a positive and valuable contribution: soil is being created, chemical pollution is nil, and livelihoods are enriched as local farmers, mostly women, learn to work together to produce healthy food to sell. Classical economic comparisons with conventional farms fail to take account of these benefits.

Even a small farm can have a lot to consider in estimating returns, with many crops and activities and environmental services. Until we learn to measure the environmental efficiency as well as financial profitability of agroforestry or agroecological farms properly, they will never look as good as they really are.

Further reading

A recent report from the FAO (the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization) concludes that yield data is too poor a parameter to compare conventional (over-plowed, chemical intensive) agriculture with agroecology, a beyond-organic agriculture with soil conservation and respect for local communities.

HLPE Report on Agroecological and other innovative approaches for sustainable agriculture and food systems that enhance food security and nutrition. Extract from the Report: Summary and Recommendations (19 June 2019). Rome: FAO http://www.csm4cfs.org/summary-recommendations-hlpe-report-agroecology-innovations/

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LO QUE CUENTA EN LA AGROECOLOG√ćA

Por Jeff Bentley, 18 de agosto del 2019

Medir los costos y los beneficios de una peque√Īa finca puede ser m√°s dif√≠cil que en una grande, especialmente si la peque√Īa incluye √°rboles y produce muchos de sus propios insumos, como vi en una reciente visita a Sipe Sipe, cerca de Cochabamba, Bolivia, donde la organizaci√≥n eclesial ‚ÄúAsociaci√≥n Agroecolog√≠a y Fe‚ÄĚ (AAF) est√° estableciendo huertos ecol√≥gicos agroforestales.

El director de la AAF, Germ√°n Vargas, explic√≥ que un bosque crea suelo, acumulando gradualmente tierra negra y rica bajo los √°rboles, mientras que la agricultura suele exponer el suelo a la erosi√≥n. Una finca basada en √°rboles, con abonos org√°nicos, y con hortalizas que crecen debajo de los √°rboles, deber√≠a ser una forma de obtener beneficios al mismo tiempo que se conserva el suelo. 

La extensionista Marcelina Alarc√≥n nos mostr√≥ los manzanos que ella y la gente local plantaron en agosto del 2018. Comenzaron haciendo terrazas en una hect√°rea en suave pendiente. En una semana de trabajo duro construyeron un reservorio circular de agua de 200.000 litros de piedra y concreto (llenado por gravedad de agua de riachuelo) para regar las terrazas y tres hect√°reas adicionales. El costo fue de 64.000 Bs. ($9,275), que parece una inversi√≥n grande, pero reservorios similares construidos hace 30 a√Īos siguen funcionando.

Camellones exuberantes de lechuga, repollo, br√≥coli, trigo, cebollas (algunas cultivadas para su semilla) prosperan bajo los manzanos. Cuando se cosecha un cultivo, otro ocupa su lugar, en complejas rotaciones sobre peque√Īos espacios. No aplican productos qu√≠micos, pero el grupo fabrica caldo mineral sulfoc√°lcico y abonos org√°nicos l√≠quidos para mejorar el suelo, prevenir las enfermedades de los cultivos y mejorar la producci√≥n y calidad de los manzanos y de las hortalizas.

El grupo ha cosechado verduras cuatro veces y las ha vendido directamente a los consumidores en ferias organizadas por la AAF (en una canasta solidaria y saludable) por un total de 4.380 bolivianos (635 dólares).

Yo visitaba la finca agroforestal de Sipe Sipe con un peque√Īo grupo organizado por la AAF y algunos de sus aliados. Algunas de las lechugas, cebollas y tomates de la finca terminaron en una ba√Īera durante nuestra visita, para hacer una ensalada para los visitantes, parte de un fabuloso almuerzo (con papas frescas y cordero cocido bajo tierra en un pampaku) ofrecido a un precio modesto. Los productos cocinados en el sitio y vendidos informalmente en la finca probablemente no se contabilizan. Despu√©s del recorrido por la finca y antes del almuerzo, Marcelina organiz√≥ una mesa para vender algunas verduras. Se mantuvo ocupada apuntando cada transacci√≥n mientras compr√°bamos peque√Īas bolsas de tomates y otros productos por cantidades menos de un d√≥lar cada una.

La venta de medio kilo de tomates es tanto trabajo como la venta de veinte toneladas de arroz. Una finca peque√Īa tiene muchas m√°s ventas que una grande y se requiere mucho trabajo administrativo para hacer un seguimiento de los productos que no se venden porque van a parar como semilla, para alimentar a los animales o a la mesa de la familia.

El costo:beneficio de un campo convencional es m√°s simple de tabular: tanta mano de obra, maquinaria, semillas y productos qu√≠micos, todos comprados, y el rendimiento de un solo cultivo medido con relativa facilidad. Sin embargo, esto no cuenta toda la historia. La p√©rdida de suelo debido a la erosi√≥n, o el carbono y nitr√≥geno a la atm√≥sfera, o la contaminaci√≥n por la escorrent√≠a de los fertilizantes, todos ellos tienen un costo, aunque a menudo se desestimen como “externalidades”.

Un sistema agroforestal, como la hect√°rea de manzanas y hortalizas que visitamos comienza con una gran inversi√≥n en riego y terrazas. Muchos de los insumos son mano de obra, o abonos caseros, y su costo no siempre se cuenta. Los manzanos a√ļn no han dado fruto, y algunas de las verduras pueden escaparse de la cuenta del contable. Sin embargo, aqu√≠ las “externalidades” tienen una contribuci√≥n positiva y valiosa: se est√° creando el suelo, la contaminaci√≥n qu√≠mica es nula y los medios de subsistencia se enriquecen a medida que los agricultores locales, en su mayor√≠a mujeres, aprenden a trabajar juntas para producir alimentos saludables para vender. Las comparaciones econ√≥micas cl√°sicas con las explotaciones convencionales no tienen en cuenta estos beneficios.

Incluso una peque√Īa granja puede tener mucho que considerar al estimar los rendimientos, con muchos cultivos y actividades y servicios ambientales. Hasta que no aprendamos a medir la eficiencia ambiental y la rentabilidad financiera de las granjas agroforestales o agroecol√≥gicas de manera adecuada, nunca se ver√°n tan bien como realmente son.

Para leer m√°s

Un informe reciente de la FAO (Organización de las Naciones Unidas para la Alimentación y la Agricultura) concluye que los datos sobre el rendimiento son muy pobres para poder comparar la agricultura convencional (sobre arado, con uso intensivo de químicos) con la agroecología, una agricultura que vas más allá de la orgánica, con conservación del suelo y respeto para las comunidades locales.

Resumen y recomendaciones del informe del GANESAN sobre Agroecología y otras innovaciones (19 de junio 2019). Roma: FAO. http://www.csm4cfs.org/es/summary-recommendations-hlpe-report-agroecology-innovations/

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