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The dialect devil November 10th, 2019 by

Formal education has stifled local languages and dialects for years, but there are signs of change.

A Belgian friend, Dirk, recently told me how in the 1970s, one of his primary school teachers used a little doll or “Devil´s Puppet” (Dutch: Duivels Pop) to discourage children from speaking their local dialect of Dutch, in favor of what the school system called “civilized” Dutch. If the teacher caught an 11-year old speaking the local dialect, even at play, the kid would be loaned the Devil’s Puppet. The plan backfired, however, and the boys were soon competing to get the puppet as often as possible. The teacher lost that battle, but the schools won the war, and within a generation most dialects had seriously eroded.

The Devil’s Puppet reminded me of an experience I had about the same time in Samoa. At Mapusaga High School some teachers made a chart with a line for each student’s name. If a kid was caught speaking the Samoan language, the teacher would shame him or her by putting a pair of “black lips”, cut from stiff paper, next to the student’s name. Different tool but same aim:  designed to shame children for speaking the language of their parents and grandparents.

In North America, native children were removed far from their parents and held in “ Indian boarding schools” created with the express purpose of stamping out native languages. “Killing the Indian, but saving the man (sic)” as it was put by Richard Henry Pratt, the US Army officer who founded Carlisle Indian Industrial School, the first off-reservation boarding school, in 1879. But the tide is starting to turn as many lament the loss of native languages and cultural identity. In Peru, enlightened educators are trying new ways to teach children to be proud of their communities, their native Quechua language, farming skills and food culture. Faculty members of the Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina, and staff from the Instituto de Desarrollo y Medio Ambiente and other NGOs work with selected schools to set up a “seed house”. Known by its Quechua name of muru wasi, the seed house is a classroom with books, posters, videos and other educational materials about local farming and culture. The kids plant a garden together on the school grounds, under the guidance of experienced community members, who also work with local teachers and parents to hold events where they can share traditional meals, made with Andean crops. Quechua is spoken at every opportunity. It’s an excellent innovation: using plants to sow the seeds of self-esteem in the minds of the children

It is too soon to say if such an approach will help to save local languages or to slow the flow of youth to the cities, but the educators are optimistic.

The global languages taught at school and the local languages and dialects acquired at home can and do co-exist. It is normal for people to speak several languages. When schools discourage local languages they also – often inadvertently – teach kids to be ashamed of their parents. When this happens, the real devils are intolerance, ignorance and indifference towards rural people, their culture and their ways of life. There are no excuses for letting this happen and it’s good to see people reclaiming and reviving local dialects and languages.

Watch videos in local languages

Access Agriculture has a large collection of agricultural videos in local languages of Africa, Asia and Latin America, which you can download for free.

Acknowledgements

Information about the Seed Houses in Peru is courtesy of Ana Dorrego Carlón, and Aldo Justino Cruz Soriano of UNALM and Wilmar Fred León Plasencia of IDMA.

No word for legume September 1st, 2019 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

I remember a story from grad school about a people in the Amazon Basin who had no word for “parrot”, because they knew the names of all the individual species of parrots.

I was reminded of that this week in Peru, where I was teaching a course on how to write fact sheets and video scripts for a popular audience.

My students are seasoned professionals, and one group was writing a fact sheet about planting legumes to fix nitrogen from the air, as a non-chemical way to improve the soil, a crucial concept for ecological agriculture. Along with the students, I struggled to say “nitrogen-fixing legumes” in words that everyone knows. “Nitrogen” was the easy part, it’s like urea fertilizer, which most smallholders know about.

But “legume” was trickier. It’s a botanical term. Like the parrot-watchers in the Amazon, smallholders in many parts of the world have a word for each species of legume, but no one word for all legumes.

“We could say ‘plants that produce pods.’” I suggested helpfully.

“No,” one of my students said, rejecting my idea out of hand.

That’s one of the advantages of teaching adults, the students know more than the teacher about a lot of topics. In this case, the student is an agronomist who has worked with farmers and legumes in northern Peru for a full career. He explained that some of the best legumes for fixing nitrogen, like alfalfa or the wild garrotilla, have pods so small that people fail to see them.

In the end, we wrote “legume” and then followed it with examples like beans and peas.

Then we drove out to the prosperous village of Piuray, about an hour from Cusco on the road to the Sacred Valley. The smallholders of Piuray value formal education. They are proud of their large, two-story school. Some of the local people work in the city as lawyers and engineers.

But after asking several local people to read our fact sheet, they often looked up and said “What’s a legume?”

Our examples had not been good enough to explain the concept. And there is no simpler word for legume. The simplest word for legume is “legume.”

This matters when writing for a global audience, because people all over the world, from Peru to Pakistan grow legumes, but different species.

In the end, the authors of this fact sheet realized that there was no short and simple way to say “nitrogen fixing legumes.” So they said “Legumes are plants like clover, lupin, vetch and alfalfa that capture nitrogen from the air in little nodules, which are pink or white balls or in the roots. The nitrogen is then used by the rest of the plant.”

Some terms have no simpler synonym, but they can be defined and explained, in words that everyone knows.  

Scientific names

Garrotilla is Medicago hispida

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Edgar Olivera and Ing. Alfredo Tito, both of the Grupo Yanapai, and to Dr. Ana Dorrego of the Centro de Investigación de Zonas Áridas (CiZA) of the Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina and of LEISA, la Revista de Agroecología. They are writing a script for a video on pasture management. I have learned a lot from them in a week of working and writing together.  Our script writing course was generously supported by The McKnight Foundation’s Collaborative Crop Research Program (CCRP).

HACE FALTA UNA PALABRA PARA LEGUMINOSAS

por Jeff Bentley, 1 de septiembre del 2019

Recuerdo una historia de la universidad de posgrado sobre un pueblo en la Amazonía que no tenía una palabra para “loro”, porque conocían los nombres de cada especie de loro.

Me acordé de eso esta semana en el Perú, donde enseñaba un curso sobre cómo escribir hojas volantes y guiones de video para una audiencia popular.

Mis estudiantes son profesionales experimentados, y un grupo estaba escribiendo una hoja volante sobre el sembrar leguminosas para fijar el nitrógeno del aire, como una forma no química de mejorar el suelo, un concepto crucial para la agricultura ecológica. Junto con los estudiantes, luché para decir “leguminosas que finan nitrógeno” en palabras que todo el mundo conoce. El “nitrógeno” fue la parte fácil; es como la urea, que la mayoría de los campesinos conocen.

Pero “leguminosa” era más difícil. Es un término botánico. Al igual que los observadores de loros en la Amazonía, los pequeños agricultores en muchas partes del mundo tienen una palabra para cada especie de leguminosa, pero ninguna para todas ellas.

Sugerí “Podríamos decir ‘plantas que producen vainas'”.

“No”, dijo uno de mis estudiantes, rechazando de frente mi idea.

Esa es una de las ventajas de enseñar a los adultos; frecuentemente los estudiantes saben más que el profesor. En este caso, el estudiante es un ingeniero agrónomo que ha trabajado con agricultores y leguminosas en el norte del Perú durante toda su carrera. Explicó que algunas de las mejores legumbres para fijar el nitrógeno, como la alfalfa o la garrotilla silvestre, tienen vainas tan pequeñas que la gente no las ve.

Al final, escribimos “leguminosa” y luego la seguimos con ejemplos como frijoles y arvejas.

Luego nos dirigimos a la próspera comunidad rural de Piuray, a una hora de Cusco en el camino hacia el Valle Sagrado. Los pequeños agricultores de Piuray valoran la educación formal. Están orgullosos de su gran escuela de dos pisos. Algunos de los habitantes locales trabajan en la ciudad como abogados e ingenieros.

Pero después de pedirle a varias personas locales que leyeran nuestra hoja volante, a menudo levantaban la vista y decían “¿Qué es una leguminosa?”

Nuestros ejemplos no habían sido suficientes para explicar el concepto. Y no hay una palabra más sencilla para leguminosas. La palabra más simple para leguminosas es ” leguminosas”.

Esto es importante cuando se escribe para una audiencia global, porque gente de todo el mundo, desde Perú hasta Pakistán, cultiva leguminosas, pero especies diferentes.

Al final, los autores de esta hoja volante se dieron cuenta de que no había una forma corta y sencilla de decir “leguminosas que fijan nitrógeno”. Así que dijeron: “Las leguminosas son plantas como el trébol, el tarwi, la vicia, y la alfalfa que capturan el nitrógeno del aire a través de nódulos, que son bolitas rosadas o blancas en las raíces. Luego el nitrógeno es aprovechado por el resto de la planta.”

Algunos términos no tienen sinónimos más sencillos, pero pueden ser definidos y explicados, en palabras que todo el mundo conoce. 

Nombre científico

Garrotilla es Medicago hispida

Agradecimientos

Agradezco al Ing. Edgar Olivera y al Ing. Alfredo Tito, ambos, del Grupo Yanapai, y a la Dra. Ana Dorrego del Centro de Investigación de Zonas Áridas (CiZA) de la Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina y de LEISA, la Revista de Agroecología. Ellos están escribiendo un guion para un video sobre el manejo de los pastos. En una semana de convivencia y redacción he aprendido bastante de ellos.  Nuestro curso de redacción de guiones recibió el apoyo generoso del Programa Colaborativo de Investigación sobre Cultivos (CCRP) de la Fundación McKnight.

Eating and talking about it November 25th, 2018 by

Rachel Herz, a neuroscientist, explains in a recent book about food that people perceive just a handful of basic tastes with our tongues: bitter, sweet, salt and sour. But our nose can sense many thousands of distinct scents. When we exhale, our nose smells the food in our mouths. Taste in the mouth and aroma in the nose combine to form the endless variety of flavor.

Other creatures cannot savor their food this way, because only humans have a glottis (vocal chords), covered by a flap that opens and closes to let air pass between our throats and our windpipe. This allows only humans to breathe in and out of our mouths, which is why we can speak (and unfortunately, why we can choke to death as well).

In all fairness, animals seem to enjoy their food, too. A dog will beg for a pancake and chickens get excited when they find a fat grub in the moist earth, but people go much further. As Richard Wrangham explains, humans have been adapting to cooked food at least since Homo erectus times. Cooking allowed us to evolve smaller guts and larger brains, which made speech possible.

And of course, one of the favorite topics of conversation is food. Whether it is fish curry in Bangladesh, millet and groundnut sauce in Uganda or chicken and tortillas in Guatemala, humans will sit down together to eat and talk, and sometimes to laugh.

Animals communicate, but only humans speak, compulsively spinning little stories for each other. Certainly discussing food is at the heart of the human experience. Whether eating, cooking or producing food, there is always something to say about it.

Further reading

Herz, Rachel 2018 Why You Eat What You Eat: The Science behind Our Relationship with Food. New York: W.W. Norton and Company. 352 pp.

Wrangham, Richard 2009 Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human. London: Profile Books. 309 pp.

Alligators in your vegetables October 28th, 2018 by

Something caught my eye recently when I was reading a video script. Crawling insects that look like little alligators are actually the offspring of ladybird beetles. I thought nothing of this the first time I read the script by some colleagues in Bangladesh. But the second time I read it, it occurred to me how strange this was, comparing a common, garden insect with an alligator, an animal not found in Bangladesh and which few people have seen.

Years ago, colleagues in Honduras used the same alligator analogy to familiarize farmers with the red and black ladybird larvae, which eat aphids in vegetable gardens. The Honduran farmers knew what alligators looked like, even if they had never seen the reptiles in real life, and the analogy worked. There are no alligators in Bangladesh, but I’m sure that the analogy will work, for a couple of reasons.

First, humans are inherently interested in large vertebrates. Even children that grow up in big cities know the names of African wildlife before they can name the electrical appliances in their own home. Second, the increasing reach of mass media has made animals familiar to people who don’t see them in the wild. I remember years ago, sitting with an elderly Portuguese farmer engrossed in a TV show about walruses. She had never been to the Arctic, but was fascinated by the strange creatures. Today Animal Planet, the Discovery Channel and others have regular programming in Bengali, Portuguese, Spanish and other major languages, bringing large (and often threatened) species into our homes.

So smallholders in the tropics watch TV, engage with images of large, strange animals, which then become common knowledge, while the creatures running around in one’s own garden need some explaining. So you can indeed tell a rural audience that ladybird larvae look like alligators. Oddly enough, the analogy works.

And analogies really do help to make the strange seem familiar. Ladybird larvae lack the powerful tail and the long head of alligators. But like the alligator, ladybird larvae do have a long body and small legs. When all is said and done, ladybird larvae do look a bit more like alligators that like their parents, the shiny, round ladybird beetles.

The smart phone generation September 30th, 2018 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación.

Colleagues from the Public University of San Andrés in La Paz have been teaching groups of farmers to use a free app called Weather Underground, which allows users to forecast the weather in their location. This week my colleagues wrote a fact sheet for farmers on how to use Weather Underground. I went with one of the agronomists, Alex Borda, to validate his fact sheet in the farm community of Choquenaira, on the Bolivian Altiplano.

Young farmers in Bolivia have smart phones, and like young people in the city, they use Facebook and other applications. So, farmers should be eager to download and use apps from the web to predict the weather, which is so important for agriculture.

First we met with Pascual Choque, 80, who was sitting with his friends in the shade of a large stack of bricks. Don Pascual was born at a time when many rural communities lived in the semi-slavery of the haciendas, large farms managed by powerful landlords. The Revolution of 1952 brought many social changes and new freedoms, including access to education and information. Don Pascual went to school, became a teacher and now, among other things, works in a radio station. He interviews agronomists and PhDs on his morning show, broadcast at five o’clock, when rural people are eating breakfast and listening to the news.

Don Pascual read the fact sheet. As a retired school teacher, he read out loud quite quickly, but he said that the only thing he understood from the fact sheet was that the climate is changing. “That is true,” he said, “the rains used to come at the same time each year. Not anymore.”

Alex read the fact sheet with some other farmers, but they also struggled to make sense of the text. It had unfamiliar terms like “click”, “select an option” and “close the app”. I started to feel frustrated, just like Alex. I have helped to validate many fact sheets and this was the first time that the people said that they understood almost nothing.

We kept walking until we reached a small station of the Agricultural School of the Public University of San Andrés. I was surprised find this outpost in the immensity of the Altiplano, with no houses nearby. The station was small—some llama corrals, tractors and sun burnt buildings and there were few people around. We managed to speak with some professors. As we were about to leave I saw two young women dressed in work clothes. They were agronomy students. “Let them read your fact sheet” I suggested to Alex. He came back pleased a few minutes later. The students liked his fact sheet and said that “there was nothing difficult to understand about it”. The youth understood his fact sheet. They have smart phones, and know how to discuss these magical pocket computers.

Today from the Andes to Africa one hears that the youth are leaving the countryside. To attract the ones who are staying, it will be necessary to try new digital options to help manage agricultural information. The older generation took advantage of the new technology of their times, like schools and radio. This generation is also looking for new information technologies, even some that support agriculture. I have little doubt they will be interested in a free way to predict the weather using their cell phones.

LA GENERACIÓN SMART PHONE

30 de septiembre del 2018, por Jeff Bentley

Compañeros de la Universidad Mayor de San Andrés en La Paz han estado enseñando a grupos de agricultores a usar una aplicación gratis llamada el Weather Underground, que permite a los usuarios pronosticar el tiempo para su ubicación. Esta semana mis colegas han escrito una hoja volante sobre para agricultores sobre cómo usar el Weather Underground. Fui con uno de los ingenieros, Alex Borda, a validad su hoja volante en la comunidad campesina de Choquenaira, en el Altiplano de Bolivia.

Los jóvenes campesinos en Bolivia tienen smart phones, e igual que en la ciudad, usan Facebook y otras aplicaciones. Entonces, a los campesinos les debería gustar bajar y usar aplicaciones del web para pronosticar el tiempo, ya que la agricultura depende del clima.

Primero nos encontramos con Pascual Choque, de 80 años, sentado con sus amigos en la sombra de un gran bulto de ladrillos, para construir una nueva casa. Don Pascual nació cuando muchas comunidades rurales vivían en la semi-esclavitud de las haciendas, fincas grandes manejadas por poderosos terratenientes. La Revolución del 1952 trajo muchos cambios sociales, incluso el acceso a la educación y la información. Don Pascual asistió al colegio y llegó a ser docente y, entre otras cosas, trabajó en una radio.  El se entrevista con ingenieros y doctores en su programa por la mañana, a las 5, cuando la gente rural desayuna y escucha las noticias.

Don Pascual leyó la hoja volante. Como profesor jubilado lee muy bien y muy rápido en voz alta, pero dijo que lo único que entendió de la hoja volante era que el clima está cambiando. “Es cierto,” dijo, “antes las lluvias venían en su debido día. Ya no.”

Alex leyó su hoja volante con otras campesinas, pero tampoco entendían muy bien la hoja volante. Tenía vocabulario desconocido como “hacer clic”, “seleccionar una opción” y “cerrar la aplicación”. Yo empecé a frustrarme, junto con Alex. He acompañado a muchas hojas volantes y esa era la primera vez que la gente decía que no entendía casi nada.

Seguimos caminando hasta llegar a la pequeña estación de la Facultad de Agronomía de la Universidad Mayor de San Andrés. Era para mí una enorme sorpresa ver la estación en la inmensidad del Altiplano, pero no había más casas. La estación era pequeña—unos corrales de llama, tractores y edificios tostados por el sol. Había poca gente. Logramos hablar con algunos profesores. Estábamos pot irnos cuando vi a dos jóvenes vestidas en ropa de trabajo. Eran estudiantes de agronomía. “Que ellas lean tu hoja volante” sugería a Alex. El volvió unos minutos después todo contento. A ellas les gustó la hoja volante y dijeron que “no tenía nada difícil de entender”. Las jóvenes entendían su hoja volante. Ellos tienen teléfonos inteligentes, y saben discutir esas computadoras de bolsillo.

Hoy en día desde los Andes hasta Africa se oye que todos los jóvenes quieren abandonar el campo. Para atraer a los que quieren quedarse, será necesario probar nuevas opciones de tecnología digital para manejar información agrícola. Sus abuelos aprovecharon de las nuevas opciones de sus tiempos, como el colegio y la radio. Esta generación también busca nuevas tecnologías de información, incluso para el apoyo del agro. Les debe interesar una forma gratis de pronosticar el clima con su celular.

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