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The red bucket March 31st, 2019 by

I recently had a chance to visit some dairy farmers near Cochabamba. They live in a small community and are members of a dairy cooperative which was able to buy a refrigerated milk storage tank with support from the Bolivian government. Twice a day the farmers bring their metal milk cans to the collection center, a small brick building which houses a 1,000 liter storage tank.

The stainless-steel tank has an electric cooler to chill the milk and a paddle that gently stirs it. This keeps the milk fresh until a tank truck from the dairy collects the milk later in the day. After each milking, the farmer simply takes her milk to the center, avoiding the work of selling it door-to-door, or of making it into cheese.

The farmers are organized in groups of a dozen or so households, and they take turns running the collection center. This involves measuring the density of each delivery of milk with a little gadget that looks like a pistol (a density meter) to make sure that no water has been added, and jotting down how many liters each person brings in.

Every two weeks the co-op pays each farmer for their milk produced. It sounds simple but the reality is different, particularly in calculating the volume of milk each farmer delivers.

The farmers bring in one or two milk cans each time they come. The factory that makes the milk can labels each one “40 liters” but they only physically hold 39 liters. The staff at the co-op are not sure why this is. The farmers at the collection center have been known to naively give a neighbor credit for 40 liters, because the can looked full. Besides, the cans are not always full, so the milk from each family has to be measured accurately, in a special pail. Pouring the milk into the pail (while trying not to spill any) is a tedious task, and another transaction cost. But it has to be done well. The dairy and the cooperative will fine the farmers if they report more milk than they deliver.

Another problem is that farmers report whole liters to the dairy, often rounding down actual volumes.

At the meeting I attended, one young farmer complained bitterly about this. “Sometimes I bring in almost five liters, and they write down four!”

She went on to say that sometimes the person in charge is nice, and gives her credit for five liters, but most of her fellow farmers won’t do that. She singled out one other farmer, doña Irma, as being especially strict.

But doña Irma had a solution for that. “That’s why we have the red bucket,” she politely reminded the group. If someone has a little extra milk, they pour it into the red bucket. If someone needs milk to make up a liter, then can take it from the red bucket.”

Transaction costs can be higher for smaller producers. It may take as much time and effort to deliver 40 liters as to bring in 400. The collection center makes it easier to deliver milk, but it introduces a few new costs, such as the time it takes to run the center, and the risks of mis-measuring the milk.

The young farmer was still angry. No doubt some producers are more motivated to take milk from the red bucket than to add milk. Still, the red bucket was a local if imperfect solution to a nagging transaction cost.

Smallholders will make marketing and institutional innovations, like the red bucket, to stay profitable in a world where food systems are getting every more complex. At a time when many people are leaving the countryside, and multinational corporations are monopolizing the food supply, it’s good to know that at least some cooperatives are trying to work with smallholders so they can earn a decent living in their home communities.

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Taking milk to the collection centreKeeping milk clean and fresh

Kicking the antibiotic habit March 24th, 2019 by

Humanity may be on the verge of a scary new world where antibiotics no longer work. An infected wound, for example from a scratch on a rusty nail, could be potentially fatal. Surgery would become much riskier. Common diseases such as tuberculosis would once more threaten the lives of millions.

The problem is that some disease-causing bacteria are resistant to antibiotics. The more antibiotics are used, the sooner these resistant bacteria are selected and the quicker they multiply. Over-prescription and the indiscriminate use of antibiotics are the main causes of the current crisis, both in people and in animals.

Research to develop new antibiotics is an expensive business and drug companies no longer find it profitable. However, there are immediate recommendations to follow:

1. Don’t use or prescribe antibiotics for people or livestock unless they are really needed.

2. Don’t give antibiotics to livestock unless they have a bacterial disease. And never put antibiotics in animal feed on a routine basis (a common practice to promote rapid growth of the young animals).

3. Wait five to seven days after giving antibiotics to dairy cows before using her milk, to ensure there are no more drugs in the milk.

So, recently when I was invited to visit a dairy cooperative near Cochabamba, I happily went to show them a video about how to keep milk free of antibiotics. A friendly extensionist, who worked for the co-op, showed me to their meeting hall.

The video was filmed in Nigeria, which the farmers didn’t mind, but when I said it was in English there was an audible groan of dismay from the audience. I solved that by translating the video out loud into Spanish.

The questions from an audience tell you a lot about how they perceived a talk or a video. And in this case, they were fully on topic. One young man, who works with his parents’ dairy herd, asked if mastitis (an udder infection caused by bacteria) could be cured with herbal remedies. He had understood the message about avoiding antibiotics, but the video had not explicitly mentioned mastitis, the most common disease of dairy cows and routinely treated with antibiotics.

The friendly extensionist said that the video was important, because the farmers were reluctant to discard any milk. When the dairy rejected their milk, farmers often made it into fresh cheese and sell it locally.

The Bolivian farmers liked this Nigerian dairy video. The circumstances are a bit different in Bolivia, for example farmers bring their own milk to the dairy, while the Fulani herders in the video send the milk with young men on motorbikes. But the basic recommendations to limit the development of antibiotic resistance are similar all over the world. Videos can be an important way to educate the public about the dangers of misusing antibiotics.

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Further reading

The antibiotic resistance crisis

Watch the video

Keeping milk free from antibiotics

Coming soon A video on mastitis on www.accessagriculture.org

Slow recovery March 3rd, 2019 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación.

When a landscape has been stripped and ravished, like the southern Altiplano of Bolivia, recovery can take decades. In a previous story we met Dr. Alejandro Bonifacio and colleagues who were figuring out how to rear the wild native species of plants. But reforestation also takes social innovation.

Milton Villca is an agronomist from Chita, a village 45 kilometers from the town of Uyuni. Now he has returned to Chita to teach his relatives and former neighbors how to grow native plants as windbreaks to keep the fierce winds from carrying off the soil and burying the young quinoa plants.

The local farmers are starting to see the need to conserve the soil. It has taken a while. People are scattered thinly over the landscape, so when they first started plowing up the brushland to grow quinoa, in the 1970s, they thought of the land as a freebie, like air, so abundant that it had no value. They didn’t see that in the long run they would lose their fertile soil.

That is changing. Milton explains that two of the local farmers’ associations (APROA, AFNAQUI) are encouraging farmers to grow organic quinoa, and one requirement is to conserve the soil with live barriers of plants.

Just learning to establish live barriers like this can take years. First, people have to see the need. Community member Nilda Paucar explains that until 20 years ago, the wind came reliably after 4 October and for the rest of the year the wind was gentle enough to winnow the harvested quinoa grain, not like now, when the wind can blow up a dust cloud at any time of year, burying crops.

After seeing the need for windbreaks, people have to learn how to grow the native plants that form the live barriers. That is where a little local knowledge and some agronomic help can be a good thing. Paul and Marcella and I went with Milton and the community of Chita as they collected the tiny seed of khiruta, a wild shrub. Local people knock the seed off the plant into tubs. Then they sift and winnow the thousands of tiny seeds from the chafe.

As we watch, the people go right to work. This is a relatively new task for them, but they have mastered it.

The seed still has to be germinated in a nursery, which Milton manages in the nearby village of Chacala, with a local farmer, Teodocia Vásquez. Local farmer and llama herder, Ever Villca (Milton’s brother), explains that planting live barriers is only possible if people have support from an organization, for rearing the native plants in nurseries and delivering them to the community.

The experience with native plants has caught farmers’ imagination. Local resident Crecencio Laime has tried experimenting with wild plant seed, spreading it by hand on the ground and watering it, but germination was poor. “We have to keep trying,” he said, “We won’t always have the support of Milton or of an institution.”

Later, Modesta Villca (Milton’s aunt) told us that her husband has left five-meter wide, unplowed strips of native vegetation every 25 meters or so in his fields. We went to see these natural live barriers and they were beautiful, green hedgerows where wild vicuñas could browse and birds could nest. The family’s quinoa is also doing well, protected from the wind by these natural windbreaks.

As we watch (and film), the community plants seedlings of wild plants to make another live barrier. We see again that they know exactly what they are doing. Two people put the little shrubs in two parallel lines, while two men dig planting holes and two women gently lower the plants into the soil, removing the little black plastic bags from the nursery and thoughtfully collecting them so as not to leave any trash.

In the future it will be important to show the value of leaving natural windbreaks, and to appreciate the native flora. Making live barriers will still need to be made easier, but experiences like this are how farmers and researchers learn together to solve a problem. Their good attitudes and close-knit community will also go a long way. Next, the people of Chita are thinking of banding together to start their own nursery to grow native plants, so save their soil from the wind.

Watch the video

This video on live barriers has just been released. You can watch it or download it from free in English, or Spanish.

Living windbreaks to protect the soil

Barreras vivas para proteger el suelo

Acknowledgement

Agronomist Milton Villca works for the Proinpa Foundation. His work is funded in part by the Collaborative Crop Research Program of the McKnight Foudation.

Related blog stories

Awakening the seeds

Wind erosion and the great quinoa disaster

RECUPERACIÓN LENTA

por Jeff Bentley, 3 de marzo del 2019

Cuando la vegetación natural ha sido despojada y destruida, como el sur del Altiplano boliviano, la regeneración puede tomar décadas. En una historia anterior conocimos al Dr. Alejandro Bonifacio y sus colegas que están descubriendo cómo multiplicar plantas silvestres nativas. Pero la reforestación también requiere innovación social.

Milton Villca es un agrónomo de Chita, un pueblo a 45 kilómetros de la ciudad de Uyuni. Ahora ha regresado a Chita para enseñar a sus parientes y antiguos vecinos cómo cultivar plantas nativas como rompevientos o barreras vivas para evitar que los fuertes vientos se lleven la tierra y entierren a las jóvenes quinuas.

Los agricultores locales están empezando a ver la necesidad de conservar el suelo. Ha sido un aprendizaje costoso en tiempo. La gente vive dispersa sobre el paisaje, así que cuando comenzaron a arar la tierra para cultivar quinua, en la década de 1970, pensaron que la tierra era gratis, como el aire, tan abundante que no tenía valor. No vieron venir las consecuencias a largo plazo, especialmente la pérdida de suelo fértil.

Eso está cambiando. Milton explica que dos de las asociaciones de agricultores locales (APROA, AFNAQUI) están alentando a los agricultores a cultivar quinua orgánica, y un requisito es conservar el suelo con barreras vivas de plantas.

Aprender a establecer barreras vivas puede llevar años. Primero, la gente tiene que ver la necesidad. Nilda Paucar, miembro de la comunidad, explica que hasta hace 20 años, el viento venía siempre después del 4 de octubre y que durante el resto del año el viento era suave como para aventar el grano de quinua cosechado, no como ahora, cuando el viento puede soplar con una nube de polvo en cualquier época del año, enterrando los cultivos.

Después de ver la necesidad de las barreras vivas, la gente tiene que aprender a cultivar las plantas nativas que las forman. Ahí es donde un poco de conocimiento local y ayuda agronómica sirve mucho. Paul, Marcella y yo fuimos con Milton y la comunidad de Chita mientras recogían la pequeña semilla de khiruta, un arbusto nativo, silvestre. Los lugareños ponen la semilla de la planta en bañadores. Avientan y limpian los miles de diminutas semillas.

Mientras observamos, la gente se pone manos a la obra. Esta es una actividad nueva para ellos, pero lo saben hacer muy bien.

La semilla es germinada en un vivero, que Milton maneja en la cercana aldea de Chacala, con una agricultora local, Teodocia Vásquez. Ever Villca (hermano de Milton), agricultor local y pastor de llamas, explica que plantar barreras vivas sólo es posible si la gente tiene el apoyo de una organización, para cultivar las plantas nativas en viveros y entregar las plantas a la comunidad.

La experiencia con plantas nativas ha captado la imaginación de los agricultores. Crecencio Laime, un agricultor de la zona, ha intentado experimentar con semillas de plantas silvestres, esparciéndolas a mano en el suelo y regándolas, pero la germinación fue pobre. “Tenemos que seguir intentándolo”, dijo, “No siempre tendremos el apoyo de Milton o de una institución”.

Más tarde, Modesta Villca (tía de Milton) nos dijo que su marido ha dejado franjas de vegetación nativa sin ararlas de cinco metros de ancho a más o menos cada 25 metros en sus parcelas. Fuimos a ver estas barreras naturales vivas y eran hermosos arbustos verdes donde las vicuñas salvajes podían comer y los pájaros podían anidar. La quinua está protegida del viento por estos rompevientos naturales.

Mientras vemos (y filmamos), la comunidad planta plantines de arbustos nativos para hacer otra barrera viva. Vemos de nuevo que saben exactamente lo que están haciendo. Dos personas colocan los pequeños arbustos en dos líneas paralelas, mientras que dos hombres cavan agujeros para plantar y dos mujeres bajan suavemente las plantas en el suelo, sacando las pequeñas bolsas de plástico negro del vivero y recolectándolas cuidadosamente para no dejar basura.

En el futuro se valorará el dejar barreras vivas naturales. Y a apreciar la flora nativa. Tendrá que ser más fácil plantas barreras vivas, pero gracias a experiencias como ésta, los agricultores y los investigadores aprenden juntos a resolver un problema. Su buena disposición y su comunidad unida también serán de gran ayuda. Después, la gente de Chita está pensando en unirse para comenzar su propio vivero para cultivar plantas nativas, para salvar su suelo del viento.

Ver el video

Para ver más sobre el contexto de este blog, puede ver el video recién publicado en inglés y en español

Barreras vivas para proteger el suelo

Living windbreaks to protect the soil

Agradecimientos

El Ing. Milton Villca trabaja para la Fundación Proinpa. Su trabajo es financiado en parte por el Programa Colaborativo de Investigación de Cultivos de la Fundación McKnight.

Related blog stories

Despertando las semillas

Destruyendo el Altiplano Sur con quinua

Predicting the weather August 5th, 2018 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación.

Most city dwellers are only interested in short term weather forecasting. Will it rain over the weekend when we plan to invite friends to a barbecue? Do I need to carry an umbrella or wear a coat tomorrow? Fortunately for urbanites, TV, radio and web-based services provide short term forecasts.

Farmers are interested in short term weather forecasting too, but also in long term predictions. Knowing what week the rains will start is crucial for deciding when to plant rain-fed crops. Knowing how much it will rain helps farmers choose whether to plant on high or low ground.

I learned this recently from Edwin Yucra, a researcher at UMSA, the public university of San Andrés, in La Paz. Edwin has spent years working with Andean farmers on the Bolivian Altiplano, helping them to make use of weather forecasts based on the latest scientific data. For example, not long ago, Edwin noticed that there was an unexpected rain forecast for two or three days hence. Farmers usually like rain, but not on this occasion. The farmers he works with were about to freeze-dry potatoes into chuño, when dry nights are essential. To warn the farmers, Edwin didn’t have to meet with them. He let them know on social media. The farmers were able to delay making chuño and save their potatoes from rotting.

Scientific weather forecasting is not particularly accurate over a whole year. This leaves farmers more or less to their own devices. One group of master Andean farmers, called the “yapuchiris” (which means “farmer” in Aymara) is paying attention to long term weather forecasting. During the dry season, the yapuchiris notice the behavior of animals, plants or stars. For example, birds nesting on high ground are interpreted as a sign of a wet year, while low-lying nests suggest a coming drought.

The yapuchiris write down their meteorological predictions, and then painstakingly record the weather every day for the next year, to see if their forecasts are accurate. The yapuchiris use a paper form which they and their partners at PROSUCO (an NGO) have been perfecting since the early 2000s. They use a large chart called a Pachagrama. They coined this term by blending the Aymara word for earth and weather (“pacha”) with the Spanish ending “-grama” (as in telegrama). The “Earth-gram” includes 365 columns for each day of the year and rows for different kinds of weather (sun, wind, rain, hail etc.) The yapuchiris draw a dot in each row every day to add further information. For example a dot placed higher in the sun column means a sunny day and a lower dot is a cloudy day. Later the dots can be connected to draw a graph of the year’s weather.

PROSUCO is now doing a statistical study to show how well a dedicated group of 18 yapuchiris have accurately predicted weather for several years. The university tracks modern meteorology sites for short-term forecasting, while the Pachagrama validates local, long-term weather predictions. These two efforts are different, but farmers value both of them, and will use them to see what the weather will be like this week, and this year.

Read more about the yapuchiris:

Farmers produce electronic content

Inspiration from Bangladesh to Bolivia

Or about chuño:

Feeding the ancient Andean state

Acknowledgement

This work with weather is funded by the McKnight Foundation’s Collaborative Crop Research Program (CCRP).

Photos courtesy of PROSUCO.

PREDICIENDO EL CLIMA

Por Jeff Bentley

5 de agosto del 2018

La mayoría de los citadinos solo estamos interesados en el pronóstico del tiempo a corto plazo. ¿Lloverá durante el fin de semana cuando pensamos invitar nuestros amigos a una parrillada? ¿Debo llevar un paraguas o un abrigo mañana? Afortunadamente para los citadinos, los servicios meteorológicos de la televisión, la radio y web hacen tales pronósticos a corto plazo.

Los agricultores también están interesados en pronósticos meteorológicos a corto plazo, además de predicciones a largo plazo. Saber qué semana comenzarán las lluvias es crucial para decidir cuándo sembrar cultivos de secano. Saber cuánto va a llover ayuda a los agricultores a elegir sembrar en terreno alto o bajo.

Esto lo aprendí recientemente de Edwin Yucra, investigador de UMSA, la Universidad Mayor de San Andrés, en La Paz. Durante años, Edwin ha trabajado con agricultores en el Altiplano boliviano, ayudándolos a hacer pronósticos meteorológicos, incluso con métodos científicos. Por ejemplo, no hace mucho tiempo, Edwin notó que había un pronóstico de lluvia inesperada para dos o tres días. A los agricultores generalmente les gusta la lluvia, pero no esta vez. Estaban a punto de congelar las papas en chuño, cuando las noches secas son esenciales. Para advertir a los agricultores, Edwin no tenía que reunirse con ellos. Él les hizo saber en las redes sociales para que pudieran esperar para hacer chuño y evitar que sus papas se pudran.

El pronóstico meteorológico científico no es muy preciso para predicciones de un año entero, lo cual deja a los agricultores más o menos a sus propios recursos. Por otro lado, un grupo de agricultores andinos, los llamados yapuchiris (que significa “agricultor” o “agricultora en aymara), pone atención a la predicción del tiempo a largo plazo. Durante la época seca, los yapuchiris se fijan en el comportamiento de los animales, plantas o las estrellas. Por ejemplo, las aves que anidan en un terreno más elevado que el normal se interpretan como señal de un año lluvioso, mientras que los nidos más bajos sugieren que habrá sequía.

Los yapuchiris escriben sus predicciones meteorológicas y luego registran minuciosamente el comportamiento del tiempo todos los días durante el próximo año, para ver si sus pronósticos eran ciertos. Los yapuchiris usan un formulario en papel que ellos y sus socios en PROSUCO (una ONG) han estado perfeccionando desde principios de la década de 2000. Usan una tabla grande llamada Pachagrama. Ellos acuñaron este término combinando la palabra aymara para la tierra y tiempo (“pacha”) con la terminación “-grama”. Ese Pachagrama incluye 365 columnas para cada día del año y filas para los diferentes tipos de clima (sol, viento, lluvia, granizo, etc.). Los yapuchiris dibujan un punto en cada fila todos los días para anotar la información. Por ejemplo, un punto colocado más arriba en la columna del sol significa un día soleado y un punto más abajo es un día nublado. Más tarde, los puntos se pueden conectar para dibujar un gráfico del clima del año.

Prosuco ahora está haciendo un estudio estadístico para ver si un grupo de 18 yapuchiris diestros ha predicho con precisión el clima durante varios años. La universidad rastrea los sitios modernos de meteorología para el pronóstico a corto plazo, mientras que el Pachagrama valida las predicciones meteorológicas a largo plazo en base a observaciones ecológicas. Estos dos esfuerzos son diferentes, pero los agricultores valoran ambos y los usarán para ver cómo será el clima esta semana y este año.

Lea más acerca de los yapuchiris:

Agricultores producen contenido electrónico

Inspiración de Bangladesh a Bolivia

O sobre el chuño:

Feeding the ancient Andean state

Agradecimiento

Este trabajo con el clima es financiado por el Programa Colaborativo de Investigación sobre Cultivos (CCRP) de la Fundación McKnight.

Las fotos son cortesía de PROSUCO.

Making a lighter dryer June 10th, 2018 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

Fundación Valles, an NGO in Bolivia that does agricultural research and development, has developed a peanut dryer that uses sunlight to help prevent groundnuts from developing the molds that produce deadly aflatoxins. The prototype model had an A-shaped metal frame, raised off the ground, and was covered in a special type of light yellow plastic sheeting known as agrofilm, able to withstand long exposure to sunshine. The dryer kept out water, and with air flowing in from the ends of the dryer, the peanuts could dry even on rainy days.

Two years ago, in Chuquisaca Fundación Valles worked with farmers to develop cheaper versions of the dryer, making the A-shaped frames from wooden poles, instead of metal, and began distributing large sheets of agrofilm, 2 by 12-meters, for which farmers paid $14, half the original cost. Fundación Valles encouraged the farmers to continue adapting the original design of the dryer. In May 2018 I visited some of these farmers together with agronomists Walter Fuentes and Rolando Rejas of Fundación Valles, to find out what had happened.

When Augusto Cuba, in Achiras, received the agrofilm from Fundación Valles in 2016, he did not put it to immediate use. The weather was dry during several harvests, but during the rainy days during the peanut harvest in May, 2018, don Augusto put the agrofilm to the test. He took a plastic tarp to his field and laid it on the ground. He covered it with freshly harvested groundnuts, cut the agrofilm in half, and then placed the six meter length on top.

Don Augusto ignored the basic design of the dryer. He didn’t want to go to all of the trouble of cutting poles and building the raised platform of wooden poles. His design was much simpler and portable: as he worked in the field he could remove the agrofilm when the sun came out, and put it back when it started to drizzle again. The main disadvantage, however, was that the air did not flow over the covered nuts; humidity could build up, allowing mold to develop.

The original tent-like dryer has several limitations. It is expensive, and as don Augusto pointed out to us, it is a lot of work to make one from wood. At harvest, peanuts are heavy with moisture. The pods lose about half their weight when dried. So farmers dry their peanuts in the field, and sleep there for several nights to protect the harvest from hungry animals. A solar dryer must be carried to the field, yet these may be up to an hours’ walk from home and involve climbing up and down steep slopes. Farmers who are using the original solar dryer, as designed by Fundación Valles, are those who have their fields close to home. Yet even taking a simple tarp to the harvesting site would be an improvement over drying the pods on the bare ground.

Later I had a chance to discuss don Augusto’s method for drying peanuts with Miguel Florido, an agronomist with Fundación Valles, and with Mario Arázola, the leader of APROMANI (a peanut farmers’ association). They were concerned that don Augusto´s design would trap in too much moisture, especially if it was misty all day and the farmer never had a chance to remove the agrofilm. We agreed that a dryer had to have a few simple agronomic criteria; it had to keep out the rain, keep the groundnuts off the ground, and let air flow through.

After discussing don Augusto’s case, we agreed that a dryer also has to meet some of the farmers’ criteria: it has to be cheap, portable and able to handle large volumes of peanuts, while keeping them out of the rain.

Aflatoxin contamination is a serious problem worldwide, and while it can be addressed, inventing a simple technology is hard work. Researchers start with a problem and some ideas to solve it, like air flow and keeping peanuts dry. But it is only after offering farmers a prototype that researchers can see the farmers’ demands. For example, designing a stationary dryer helps researchers to see that farmers need a portable one. Making and using a small dryer in the field highlights the need for a larger one. These types of demands only emerge over time, as in having a long, slow conversation, but one that is worth having.

HACER UN SECADOR MÁS LIGERO

Por Jeff Bentley, 10 de junio del 2018

Fundación Valles, una ONG en Bolivia dedicada a la investigación y el desarrollo agrícola, ha desarrollado un secador de maní que usa la luz solar para ayudar a evitar que los maníes (cacahuates) desarrollen los mohos que producen aflatoxinas mortales. El modelo prototipo tenía un armazón de metal en forma de A, levantado del suelo, y estaba cubierto con un tipo especial de lámina de plástico amarillo claro conocida como agrofilm, capaz de soportar la exposición prolongada al sol. El secador no dejaba pasar el agua, y con el aire que entraba desde los extremos del secador, los maníes podrían secarse hasta en días lluviosos.

Hace dos años, en Chuquisaca, la Fundación Valles trabajó con los agricultores para desarrollar versiones más baratas del secador, haciendo los marcos en forma de A de postes de madera, en lugar de metal, y comenzó a distribuir grandes láminas de agrofilm, de 2 por 12 metros, para lo cual los agricultores pagaban $14, la mitad del costo original. La Fundación Valles alentó a los agricultores a seguir adaptando el diseño original del secador. En mayo de 2018 visité a algunos de estos agricultores junto con los agrónomos Walter Fuentes y Rolando Rejas de la Fundación Valles, para averiguar qué había pasado.

Cuando Augusto Cuba, en Achiras, recibió el agrofilm de la Fundación Valles en 2016, no lo puso en uso de una vez. No hacía falta porque hacía sol durante varias cosechas, pero cuando los días lluviosos durante la cosecha de maní en mayo del 2018, don Augusto puso a prueba el agrofilm. Él llevó una lona de plástico a su parcela y la puso en el suelo. Lo cubrió con maní recién cosechado, cortó el agrofilm por la mitad y lo colocó sobre su cosecha.

Don Augusto no copió el diseño básico del secador. No quería tomarse la molestia de cortar postes y construir la plataforma elevada de postes de madera. Su diseño era mucho más simple y portátil: mientras trabajaba en el campo, podía quitar el agrofilm cuando salía el sol y volver a colocarlo cuando comenzaba a lloviznar nuevamente. La principal desventaja, sin embargo, era que el aire no fluía sobre el maní cubierto; la humedad podría acumularse, posiblemente permitiendo que se forme el moho.

El secador original en forma de carpa tiene varias limitaciones. Es caro, y como nos señaló don Augusto, es mucho trabajo hacer uno con madera. En la cosecha, los maníes son pesados con la humedad. Las vainas pierden más o menos la mitad de su peso en el secado. Entonces los agricultores secan su maní en el campo y duermen allí varias noches para proteger la cosecha de los animales hambrientos. Un secador solar debe llevarse al campo, aunque puede tardar hasta una hora a pie desde su casa e implica subir y bajar pendientes fuertes. Los agricultores que sí usan el secador solar original, tal como lo diseñó Fundación Valles, son aquellos que tienen sus campos cerca de la casa. Sin embargo, incluso llevar una lona simple al sitio de cosecha sería mejor que secar las vainas sobre el puro suelo.

Más tarde tuve la oportunidad de discutir el secador de don Augusto con Miguel Florido, un agrónomo de la Fundación Valles, y con Mario Arázola, el líder de APROMANI (una asociación de agricultores de maní). Les preocupaba que el diseño de don Augusto atrapara demasiada humedad, especialmente si estaba nublado todo el día y el agricultor no podía quitar el agrofilm. Acordamos que un secador debía tener unos pocos criterios agronómicos simples; debía proteger el producto de la lluvia, evitar contacto entre el suelo y los maníes y dejar que el aire fluyera.

Después de discutir el caso de don Augusto, acordamos que un secador también debe cumplir con algunos de los criterios de los agricultores: tiene que ser barato, portátil y capaz de manejar grandes cantidades de maní, mientras los mantiene fuera de la lluvia.

La contaminación por aflatoxinas es un problema serio en todo el mundo, y aunque se puede solucionar, inventar una tecnología simple es un trabajo duro. Los investigadores comienzan con un problema y algunas ideas para resolverlo, como el flujo de aire y el maní seco. Pero es solo después de ofrecer a los agricultores un prototipo que los investigadores pueden ver las demandas de los agricultores. Por ejemplo, diseñar un secador estacionario ayuda a los investigadores a ver que los agricultores necesitan uno portátil. Hacer y usar un pequeño secador en el campo resalta la necesidad de un más grande. Este tipo de demandas solo surgen con el tiempo, como en una conversación larga y lenta, pero que vale la pena tener.

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