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Earthworms from India to Bolivia March 29th, 2020 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

A few weeks ago, I met a young Bolivian journalist, Edson Rodríguez, who works on an environmental program at the university (UMSS) television channel in Cochabamba called TVU. He helps to produce a show called Granizo Blanco (white hail), a dramatic name in this part of the Andes, where hail can devastate crops in a moment. The show covers all environmental issues, not just agriculture. For example, the program recently featured mud slides that have destroyed homes, and the impacts of a new metro train system in the valley.

I first met Edson in the field, where he was filming the tree seedling distribution that I wrote about earlier in this blog. Later, I told him about the agroecological videos on Access Agriculture.

Edson wondered if some of the videos on Access Agriculture might be suitable for the TV show. After watching some of the videos, he downloaded one on making compost with earthworms. The video was filmed in India, and it had recently been translated into Spanish, crucial for making videos more widely available. Without a Spanish version it wouldn’t be possible to consider showing a video from Maharashtra in Cochabamba. The two places are physically far apart, but they have much in common, such as a semi-arid climate, and small farms that produce crop residues and other organic waste that can be turned into compost.

Edson asked me to take part in an episode of Granizo Blanco that included a short interview followed by a screening of the compost and earthworm video. He was curious to know why Access Agriculture promotes videos of farmers in one country to show to smallholders elsewhere. I said that the farmers may differ in their skin color, clothing and hair styles, but they are working on similar problems. For example, farmers worldwide are struggling with crops contaminated with aflatoxins, poisons produced by fungi on improperly dried products like peanuts and maize.

I told Edson that farmer learning videos filmed in Bolivia are being used elsewhere. My colleagues and I made a video on managing aflatoxins in groundnuts, originally in Spanish, but since been translated into English, French and various African languages. The same aflatoxin occurs in Bolivia and in Burkina Faso, so African farmers can benefit from experience in South America. In this case the video shows simple ways to reduce aflatoxins in food, using improved drying and storage techniques developed by Bolivian scientists and farmers in Chuquisaca.

“What other kinds of things can Bolivian farmers learn from their peers in other countries?” Edson asked me, as he realized that good ideas can flow in both directions. I explained that soil fertility is a problem in parts of Bolivia and elsewhere; Access Agriculture has videos on cover crops, compost, conservation agriculture and may other ways to improve the soil, all freely available for programs such as Granizo Blanco to screen.

Many older people, especially those who work for governments, feel that videos have to be made in each country, and cannot be shared across borders. This closed vision makes little sense. The same civil servants happily organize and attend international conferences on agriculture and many other topics to share their own ideas across borders. If government functionaries can gain insights from foreign peers, farmers should be able to do so as well.

Fortunately, younger people like Edson are able to see the importance of media, such as learning videos that enable farmers to share knowledge and experience cross-culturally. Smallholders can swap ideas and stimulate innovations as long as the sound track is translated into a language they understand. It costs much less to translate a video than to make one.

Related blog

The right way to distribute trees

Translate to innovate

Aflatoxin videos for farmers

Related videos

Making a vemicompost bed (The earthworm video from India)

Managing aflatoxins in groundnuts during drying and storage

See also the links to soil conservation videos at the end of last week’s story: A revolution for our soil

Acknowledgment

The McKnight Foundation has generously funded many video translations, including the earthworm video, besides the filming of the aflatoxin video and its translation into several languages. For many years, SDC has offered crucial support that enabled Access Agriculture to become a global leader in South-South exchange through quality farmer-to-farmer training videos.

LOMBRICES DE TIERRA DE LA INDIA A BOLIVIA

Por Jeff Bentley 29 de marzo del 2020

Hace unas semanas conocí a un joven periodista boliviano, Edson Rodríguez, que trabaja en un programa de medio ambiente en el canal de televisión, TVU, de la Universidad (UMSS) en Cochabamba. Él ayuda a producir un programa llamado Granizo Blanco, un nombre dramático en esta parte de los Andes, donde el granizo puede arrasar los cultivos en un momento. El programa cubre todos los temas ambientales, no sólo la agricultura. Por ejemplo, el programa recientemente presentó los deslizamientos de mazamorra que han destruido varias casas, y los impactos de un nuevo sistema de tren metropolitano en el valle.

Conocí a Edson por primera vez en el campo, donde él estaba filmando la distribución de plantines de árboles, el tema de un blog previo. Más tarde, le hablé de los videos agroecológicos en Access Agriculture.

Edson se preguntaba si algunos de los videos de Access Agriculture podrían servir para el programa de televisión. Después de ver algunos de los videos, descargó uno sobre cómo hacer abono con lombrices de tierra. El vídeo se filmó en la India y recientemente se había traducido al español, lo que era imprescindible para hacer los vídeos más disponibles. Sin una versión en español sería imposible mostrar un video de Maharashtra en Cochabamba. Los dos lugares están físicamente alejados, pero tienen mucho en común, como un clima semiárido y pequeñas granjas que producen residuos de cultivos y otros desechos orgánicos que pueden convertirse en abono.

Edson me pidió que participara en un episodio de Granizo Blanco que incluía una breve entrevista seguida de una proyección del vídeo de lombricultura. Él quería saber por qué Access Agriculture promueve videos de los agricultores de un país para mostrarlos a los campesinos de otros países. Dije que los agricultores pueden diferir en el color de su piel, su ropa y peinado, pero están trabajando en problemas similares. Por ejemplo, hay agricultores de todo el mundo que luchan con la contaminación de aflatoxinas, venenos producidos por hongos en productos mal secados como el maní y el maíz.

Expliqué que los videos filmados con agricultores en Bolivia se están usando en otros países. Mis colegas y yo hicimos un video sobre el manejo de las aflatoxinas en el maní, originalmente en español, pero luego se ha traducido al inglés, al francés y a varios idiomas africanos. La misma aflatoxina se produce en Bolivia y en Burkina Faso, por lo que los agricultores africanos pueden beneficiarse de la experiencia en América del Sur. En este caso, el vídeo muestra formas sencillas de reducir las aflatoxinas en los alimentos secos, desarrolladas por científicos y agricultores bolivianos en Chuquisaca.

“¿Qué otro tipo de cosas pueden aprender los agricultores bolivianos de sus homólogos de otros países?” Edson me preguntó, al darse cuenta de que las buenas ideas pueden fluir en ambas direcciones. Le expliqué que la fertilidad del suelo es un problema en algunas partes de Bolivia y que afecta a muchos otros agricultores en otros lugares; Access Agriculture tiene videos sobre cultivos de cobertura, compost, agricultura de conservación y muchas otras técnicas para mejorar el suelo, todos disponibles gratuitamente para que programas como Granizo Blanco los proyecten.

Muchas personas mayores, especialmente las que trabajan para los gobiernos, consideran que los videos tienen que hacerse en cada país y no pueden compartirse a través de las fronteras. Esta visión cerrada tiene poco sentido. Los mismos funcionarios públicos organizan y asisten con gusto a conferencias internacionales sobre agricultura y diversos temas para compartir sus propias ideas a través de las fronteras. Si los funcionarios del gobierno pueden obtener ideas de sus colegas extranjeros, los agricultores también deberían poder hacerlo.

Afortunadamente, los jóvenes como Edson ven la importancia de los medios de comunicación, como los vídeos, que permiten a los agricultores compartir conocimientos y experiencias entre culturas. Los pequeños agricultores pueden intercambiar ideas y estimular innovaciones siempre que la banda sonora se traduzca a un idioma que entiendan. Cuesta mucho menos traducir un video que hacer uno.

Historias relacionadas del blog

La manera correcta de distribuir los árboles

Translate to innovate

Aflatoxin videos for farmers

Videos relacionados

Hacer una lombricompostera (el video de la lombriz de tierra de la India)

Manejo de aflatoxinas en maní (también disponible en quechua y en aymara)

Vea también los enlaces a los videos de conservación del suelo al final de la historia de la semana pasada: Una revolución para nuestro suelo

Agradecimiento

La Fundación McKnight ha financiado generosamente muchas traducciones de video, incluyendo el video de la lombriz, además de la filmación del video de la aflatoxina y su traducción a varios idiomas. Durante muchos años, la Cosude ha ofrecido un apoyo crucial que ha permitido a Access Agriculture convertirse en un líder mundial en el intercambio Sur-a-Sur a través de vídeos agricultor a agricultor.

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.

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