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Experiments with trees October 24th, 2021 by

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

Farmers find their peers exceptionally convincing, and good extensionists know this.

My wife, Ana, and I joined a farmer exchange visit this past 22 September. It was a chance for smallholders to see what their peers are doing on their farms. We went with about 20 farmers from around Tiquipaya, a small town in the valley of Cochabamba, Bolivia. Except for two older men and two children, the group was made up only of women, organized by María Omonte (agronomist) and Mariana Alem (biologist), both of Agrecol Andes.

Half an hour after our chartered, Bluebird bus left the town square of Tiquipaya we were climbing up a gravel road in first gear. The farmers stopped chatting among themselves, and began looking out the window, at the arid hillsides and a panoramic view of the city of Cochabamba, on the far end of the valley. The passengers’ sudden interest in the scenery made it clear that even this close to home, this was their first trip to these steep hillsides above the community of Chocaya.

When the bus stopped, we were met by Serafín Vidal, an agronomist, also with Agrecol Andes. Serafín took the group to see an agroforestry site, an orchard belonging to a farmer who Serafín advises. The farmer wasn’t there, but Serafín explained that in this system, 200 apple trees are planted in lines with 200 forest trees, like chacatea (blue sorrel) and aliso (alder), mostly native species. The idea is to mimic the forest, which builds its own soil, with no plowing, no pesticides (not even organic ones), and no fertilizer, not even manure or compost.

‚ÄúDon‚Äôt bury anything‚ÄĚ Seraf√≠n said, ‚Äúnot even leaves. They decompose too quickly if you bury them. Just prune the forest trees and line up their branches in between the apples and the other trees.‚ÄĚ

The farmers were quiet, too quiet. They seemed unconvinced by this radical idea. Finally, one farmer was bold enough to give a counter-example. He said that far away, in the lowlands of La Paz Department, farmers dig a trench and fill it with logs and branches. They bury it and plant coca, a shrub with marketable leaves. Because of the buried logs, the land stays fertile for so long that even the grandchildren of the original farmer will not need to fertilize their soil.

‚ÄúCoca,‚ÄĚ Seraf√≠n murmured, and then he paused. Growing the coca shrub is not like planting apples, but a talented, veteran extensionist like Seraf√≠n often prefers a demonstration to an argument. He dug his hand into the soil between the trees, under the leafy mulch. ‚ÄúThis used to be poor, red soil. But see how the soil between the trees has become so soft that I can dig it up with my hand, and it‚Äôs rich and black, even though it has not been plowed.‚ÄĚ Seraf√≠n spread out a couple of dozen small bags of seed of different plants: maize, beans, vegetables ‚Ķ all crops that you can plant in between the rows of trees, like the plants that grow on the forest floor.

The audience was respectfully silent, and still unconvinced, but Seraf√≠n had another trick up his sleeve. He handed the floor over to a local farmer, Franz D√°valos, who led us uphill to his own agroforestry plot, with alder, and the native qhewi√Īa (Polylepsis spp.), a tree with papery, reddish bark and twisted branches.

The group was mostly bilingual in Spanish and in Quechua, the local language, and had been switching back and forth between both languages.  But now Franz began to speak only in Quechua. The simple act of speaking in the local language can let the audience feel that the speaker is confiding in them, and Franz soon had them laughing as he explained how his neighbors grew flowers, like chrysanthemum, to cut for the urban market. In the dry season they irrigate with sprinklers. The neighbors were baffled that Franz didn’t irrigate during the two driest winter months, June and July. He didn’t want to fool the apple trees into flowering too early. It meant that for a couple of months, his patch looked dry and bare. But now his three-year-old apple trees were blooming and looking healthy, as were his other trees, bushes, aromatic plants, tomatoes and beans.

The visiting farmers were from the floor of the valley, practically in sight of this rocky hillside, but it might as well have been a different country. The flat fields of the valley bottom have flood irrigation and deep soil, but exhausted by centuries of constant cultivation.

One of the visitors explained that she was a vegetable farmer and that ‚Äúwe have already made big changes. I apply chicken manure to my soil and I have to spray something (like a homemade sulfur-lime mix) because the aphids just won‚Äôt leave us alone.‚ÄĚ

In other words, these people from the valley bottom were commercial, family farmers, far into their transition to agroecology, based on natural pesticides and organic fertilizers to restore the degraded soil. And they had to build up the soil quickly, because they were growing vegetables year-round. They couldn’t just give up applying organic fertilizer and wait for years until trees improved the soil.

Franz understood completely. He said that he also sprayed sulfur-lime but then he said ‚Äújust try it. Try agroforestry on a small area, even if you just start with one tree.‚ÄĚ

It was a cheerful group that boarded the bus to go down the mountain. They liked Franz’s suggestion of experimenting on a small scale, even with such a startling new idea as agroforestry.

Paleontologist Richard Fortey says that scientists are usually so reluctant to accept the ideas of younger colleagues that ‚Äúscience advances, one funeral at a time.‚ÄĚ (Fortey was quoting Max Planck). Smallholders are a little more open to new ideas. As farmers continue to contribute to agroecology, they will discuss and experiment. It is not reasonable to expect all of them to accept the same practices, especially when they are working in different places, with different crops and soils.

But a word from an innovative farmer can help to make even radical ideas seem worth testing.

Related Agro-Insight blogs

Apple futures (where we’ve met Ing. Serafín Vidal before)

Farming with trees

Training trees

Related videos

SLM03 Grevillea agroforestry

SLM08 Parkland agroforestry

SLM10 Managed regeneration

EXPERIMENTOS CON √ĀRBOLES

Por Jeff Bentley, el 24 de octubre del 2021

Lo que m√°s convence a los agricultores, es otro agricultor, y los buenos extensionistas lo saben.

Con mi esposa, Ana, participamos el pasado 22 de septiembre en una visita de intercambio de agricultores, una oportunidad para que vean lo que hacen sus compa√Īeros en sus terrenos. Fuimos con unos 20 agricultores de los alrededores de Tiquipaya, una peque√Īa ciudad del valle de Cochabamba, Bolivia. Con la excepci√≥n de dos hombres mayores y dos ni√Īos, el grupo estaba formado s√≥lo por mujeres, organizado por Mar√≠a Omonte (agr√≥noma) y Mariana Alem (bi√≥loga), ambas de Agrecol Andes.

Media hora despu√©s de que nuestro viejo bus saliera de la plaza del pueblo de Tiquipaya, est√°bamos subiendo a 10 km la hora por un camino ripiado, pero bien inclinado. Las compa√Īeras dejaron de charlar entre ellas y empezaron a mirar por las ventanas a las √°ridas laderas y una vista panor√°mica de la ciudad de Cochabamba, en el otro extremo del valle. El repentino inter√©s de los pasajeros por el paisaje dejaba claro que, incluso tan cerca de casa, era la primera vez que viajaban a estas inclinadas laderas de Chocaya Alta.

Cuando el micro se detuvo, nos recibió Serafín Vidal, ingeniero agrónomo, también de Agrecol Andes. Serafín llevó al grupo a ver un sitio agroforestal, un huerto que pertenece a un agricultor al que asesora. El agricultor no estaba allí, pero Serafín explicó que en este sistema se plantan 200 manzanos en línea con 200 árboles forestales, como la chacatea y el aliso, con énfasis en especies nativas. La idea es imitar al bosque, que construye su propio suelo, sin arar, sin fumigar (ni siquiera con plaguicidas orgánicos) y sin estiércol.

“No entierren nada”, dice Seraf√≠n, “ni siquiera las hojas. Se descomponen demasiado r√°pido si las entierran. S√≥lo poden los √°rboles del bosque y alineen sus ramas entre los manzanos y los otros √°rboles”.

La gente estaba callada, demasiado callada. Parecían no estar convencidos de esta idea radical. Finalmente, un agricultor se atrevió a dar un contraejemplo. Dijo que muy lejos, en Los Yungas de La Paz, los cocaleros cavan una zanja y la llenan con troncos y ramas. Lo entierran y plantan coca, un arbusto comercial. Gracias a los troncos enterrados, la tierra se mantiene fértil durante tanto tiempo que incluso los nietos del agricultor original no necesitarán fertilizar su suelo.

“Coca”, murmur√≥ Seraf√≠n, y paus√≥. Cultivar arbustos de coca no es como plantar manzanos, pero un veterano y talentoso extensionista como Seraf√≠n suele preferir una demostraci√≥n a una discusi√≥n. Meti√≥ la mano en la tierra entre los √°rboles, bajo el grueso mulch, el mantillo, el sach‚Äôa wanu. “Antes, esto era un suelo pobre y rojo. Pero miren c√≥mo el suelo entre los √°rboles se ha vuelto tan blando que puedo cavarlo con la mano, y es rico y negro, aunque no haya sido arado”. Seraf√≠n extendi√≥ unas 20 bolsitas de semillas de diferentes plantas: ma√≠z, frijol, hortalizas … todos los cultivos que se pueden sembrar entre las hileras de los √°rboles, tal como las plantas que crecen en el piso del bosque.

El p√ļblico guardaba un respetuoso silencio, y todav√≠a no estaba convencido, pero Seraf√≠n ten√≠a otro as en la manga. Cedi√≥ la palabra a un agricultor de la zona, Franz D√°valos, que nos condujo cuesta arriba hasta su propio sistema agroforestal, con alisos y la nativa qhewi√Īa (Polylepsis spp.), un √°rbol de corteza rojiza, como papel, con ramas retorcidas.

La mayor√≠a del grupo era biling√ľe en espa√Īol y en quechua, el idioma local, y hab√≠a alternado entre ambas lenguas.¬† Pero ahora Franz empez√≥ a hablar s√≥lo en quechua. El simple hecho de hablar en el idioma local puede dar confianza al p√ļblico, y r√°pidamente Franz los hac√≠a re√≠r mientras explicaba c√≥mo sus vecinos cultivaban flores, como el crisantemo, para vender como flor cortada al mercado urbano. En la √©poca seca riegan por aspersi√≥n. Los vecinos se preguntaban porque Franz no regaba durante los dos meses m√°s secos del invierno, junio y julio. Es que √©l no quer√≠a que los manzanos florezcan demasiado temprano. Por eso, durante un par de meses, su parcela parec√≠a seca y desnuda. Pero ahora sus manzanos de tres a√Īos florec√≠an y estaban obviamente sanos, al igual que sus otros √°rboles, arbustos, y otras plantas como arom√°ticas, tomates y frijoles.

Las agricultoras visitantes eran del fondo del valle, prácticamente a la vista de esta ladera rocosa, pero bien podría haber sido otro país. Las chacras planas del fondo del valle tienen riego por inundación y un suelo profundo, pero agotado por siglos de cultivo constante.

Una de las visitantes explic√≥ que ella era agricultora de hortalizas y que “ya hemos hecho muchos cambios. Aplico gallinaza a mi suelo y tengo que fumigar algo (como sulfoc√°lcico) porque los pulgones no nos dejan en paz”.

En otras palabras, estas personas del piso del valle eran agricultores comerciales y familiares, que estaban en plena transici√≥n hacia la agroecolog√≠a, basada en plaguicidas naturales y fertilizantes org√°nicos, para restaurar el suelo degradado. Y ten√≠an que recuperar el suelo r√°pidamente, porque cultivaban verduras todo el a√Īo. No pod√≠an dejar de aplicar abono org√°nico y esperar a√Īos hasta que los √°rboles mejoraran el suelo.

Franz lo entend√≠a perfectamente. Dijo que √©l tambi√©n fumigaba sulfoc√°lcico, pero luego dijo “pru√©benlo. Prueben la agroforester√≠a en una peque√Īa superficie, aun si empiezan con un solo √°rbol”.

Fue un grupo alegre el que subi√≥ al micro para bajar del cerro. Les gust√≥ la sugerencia de Franz de experimentar a peque√Īa escala, incluso con una idea tan nueva y sorprendente como la agroforester√≠a.

El paleont√≥logo Richard Fortey dice que los cient√≠ficos suelen ser tan reacios a aceptar las ideas de los colegas m√°s j√≥venes que “la ciencia avanza, un funeral a la vez”. (Fortey citaba a Max Planck). En cambio, los agricultores familiares est√°n un poco m√°s abiertos a las nuevas ideas. A medida que los agricultores sigan contribuyendo a la agroecolog√≠a y la agroforester√≠a, discutir√°n y experimentar√°n. No es razonable esperar que todos ellos acepten las mismas pr√°cticas, sobre todo cuando trabajan en lugares diferentes, con cultivos y suelos distintos.

Pero una palabra de un agricultor innovador puede ayudar a que incluso las ideas radicales parezcan dignas de ser probadas.

Blogs previos de Agro-Insight blogs

Manzanos del futuro (donde ya conocimos al Ing. Serafín Vidal)

La agricultura con √°rboles

Training trees

Videos sobre la agroforestería

SLM 03 Agroforestería con grevillea

SLM08 Agroforestería del bosque ralo

SLM10 Regeneración manejada

Teaching the farmers of tomorrow with videos May 23rd, 2021 by

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

Youth around the world are leaving agriculture, but many would stay on the farm if they had appropriate technologies and better social services, as Professor Alejandro Bonifacio explained to me recently.

Dr. Bonifacio is from the rural Altiplano, the high plains of Bolivia. At 4,000 meters above sea level, it is some of the highest farmland in the world. Bonifacio has a PhD in plant breeding, and besides directing an agricultural research station in Viacha on the Altiplano, he teaches plant breeding part-time at the public university in La Paz (Universidad Mayor de San Andrés).

The university attracts many rural youths. Every year Bonifacio asks his new class of students to introduce themselves one-by-one and to tell where they come from, and to talk about their parents and their grandparents.

This year about 20% of the students in Bonifacio’s class are still living on the farm, and taking their classes online. Another 50% are the children or grandchildren of farmers, but are now living in the city. Many of these agronomy students would be more interested in taking over their parents’ farm, if not for a couple of problems.

One limitation is the lack of services in the rural areas: poor schools, bad roads, the lack of clinics, and no electricity or running water. While this is slowly improving, Covid has added a new twist, locking young people out of many of the places they liked to go to, and not just bars and restaurants. One advantage of city life is having access to medical attention, but this past year the students said it was as though the cities had no hospitals, because they were full of Covid patients. Classes were all on-line, and so the countryside began to look like a nicer place to live than the city. Many students went home to their rural communities, where there was much more freedom of movement than in the city.

Dr. Bonifacio told me that even when the youth do go home, they don’t want to farm exactly like their parents did. The youngsters don’t go in for all the backbreaking work with picks and shovels, but there is a lack of appropriate technology oriented towards young, family farmers, such as small, affordable machinery. Young farmers are also interested in exploiting emerging markets for differentiated produce, such as food that is free of pesticides. Organic agriculture also helps to save on production costs, as long as farmers have practical alternatives to agrochemicals.

Fortunately, there are videos on appropriate technologies, and Professor Bonifacio shows them in class. Today‚Äôs youth have grown up with videos, and find them convincing. Every year, Bonifacio organizes a forum for about 50 students on plant breeding and crop disease. He assigns the students three videos to watch, to discuss later in the forum. One of his favorites is Growing lupin without disease, which shows some organic methods for keeping the crop healthy. Bonifacio encourages the students to watch the video in Spanish, and Quechua or Aymara. Many of the students speak Quechua or Aymara, or both, besides Spanish. Some feel that they are forgetting their native language. ‚ÄúThe videos help the students to learn technical terms, like the names of plant diseases, in their native languages,‚ÄĚ Bonifacio says.

During the Covid lockdown, Prof. Bonifacio moved his forum online and sent the students links to the videos. In the forum, some of the students said that while they were home they could identify the symptoms of lupine disease, thanks to the video.

Bonifacio logs onto Access Agriculture from time to time to see which new videos have been posted in Spanish, to select some to show to his students, so they can get some of the information they need to become the farmers of tomorrow.

Kids who grow up on small farms often go to university as a bridge to getting a decent job in the city. But others study agriculture, and would return to farming, if they had appropriate technology for family farming, and services like electricity and high-speed internet.

Related Agro-Insight blogs

Awakening the seeds

Quinoa, lost and found

Videos to teach kids good attitudes

No land, no water, no problem

Videos from Access Agriculture

Check out these youth-friendly videos with appropriate technology. Besides videos in English, www.accessagriculture.org has:

104 videos in Spanish

Eight videos in Aymara

And eight in Quechua

ENSE√ĎAR A LOS AGRICULTORES DEL MA√ĎANA CON VIDEOS

Por Jeff Bentley, 23 de mayo del 2021

Por todas partes del mundo, los jóvenes abandonan la agricultura, pero muchos seguirían cultivando si tuvieran tecnologías apropiadas y mejores servicios sociales, como me explicó recientemente el docente Alejandro Bonifacio.

El Dr. Bonifacio es originario del Altiplano de Bolivia. A 4.000 metros sobre el nivel del mar, es una de las tierras agr√≠colas m√°s altas del mundo. Bonifacio tiene un doctorado en fitomejoramiento y, adem√°s de ser jefe de una estaci√≥n de investigaci√≥n agr√≠cola en Viacha, en el Altiplano, ense√Īa fitomeoramiento a tiempo parcial en la universidad p√ļblica de La Paz (Universidad Mayor de San Andr√©s).

La universidad atrae a muchos j√≥venes rurales. Cada a√Īo, Bonifacio pide a su nueva clase de estudiantes que se presenten uno por uno y digan de d√≥nde vienen, y que hablen de sus padres y sus abuelos.

Este a√Īo, alrededor del 20% de los estudiantes de la clase de Bonifacio siguen viviendo en el √°rea rural, desde donde se conectan a las clases virtuales. Otro 50% son hijos o nietos de agricultores, pero ahora viven en la ciudad. Muchos de estos estudiantes de agronom√≠a estar√≠an m√°s interesados en trabajar el terreno sus padres, si no fuera por un par de problemas.

Una limitaci√≥n es la falta de servicios en las zonas rurales: colegios deficientes, carreteras en mal estado, la falta de cl√≠nicas, luz y agua potable. Aunque esto est√° mejorando poco a poco, Covid ha introducido cambios, porque los j√≥venes ya no pueden ir a muchos de los lugares que les gustaban, y no s√≥lo las discotecas y los restaurantes. Una de las ventajas de la vida urbana es tener acceso a la atenci√≥n m√©dica, pero este √ļltimo a√Īo los estudiantes dijeron que era como si las ciudades no tuvieran hospitales, porque estaban llenos de pacientes de Covid. Las clases eran todas en l√≠nea, por lo que el campo empez√≥ a parecer un lugar m√°s agradable para vivir que la ciudad. Muchos estudiantes se fueron a sus comunidades rurales, donde hab√≠a m√°s libertad de movimiento que en la ciudad.

El Dr. Bonifacio me dijo que, incluso cuando los j√≥venes vuelven a casa, no quieren trabajar la tierra tal como lo hac√≠an sus padres. Los j√≥venes no se dedican al trabajo agotador con palas y picotas, pero hace falta la tecnolog√≠a adecuada orientada a los j√≥venes agricultores familiares, por ejemplo, la maquinaria peque√Īa y asequible. Los j√≥venes agricultores tambi√©n quieren explotar los mercados emergentes de productos diferenciados, como los alimentos libres de plaguicidas. La agricultura org√°nica tambi√©n ayuda a ahorrar costes de producci√≥n, siempre que los agricultores tengan alternativas pr√°cticas a los productos agroqu√≠micos.

Afortunadamente, existen videos sobre tecnolog√≠as adecuadas, y el Dr. Bonifacio los muestra en clase. Los j√≥venes de hoy conocen los videos desde su infancia, y los encuentran convincentes. Cada a√Īo, Bonifacio organiza un foro para unos 50 estudiantes sobre el fitomejoramiento y las enfermedades. Asigna a los alumnos tres videos para que los vean y los discutan despu√©s en el foro. Uno de sus favoritos es Producir tarwi sin enfermedad, que muestra algunos m√©todos org√°nicos para mantener el lupino sano. Bonifacio anima a los estudiantes a ver el video en espa√Īol y en quechua o aymara. Muchos de los estudiantes hablan quechua o aymara, o ambos, adem√°s del castellano. Algunos sienten que est√°n olvidando su lengua materna. “Los videos ayudan a los alumnos a aprender t√©rminos t√©cnicos, como los nombres de las enfermedades de las plantas, en sus idiomas nativos”, dice Bonifacio.

Durante la cuarentena de Covid, el Dr. Bonifacio trasladó su foro a Internet y envió a los estudiantes enlaces a los videos. En el foro, algunos de los estudiantes dijeron que mientras estaban en casa podían identificar los síntomas de la enfermedad del tarwi (lupino), gracias al video.

Bonifacio entra en la p√°gina web de Access Agriculture de vez en cuando para ver qu√© nuevos videos se han publicado en espa√Īol, para seleccionar algunos y ense√Ī√°rselos a sus alumnos, para que aprendan algo de la informaci√≥n que necesitan para ser los agricultores del futuro.

Los hijos de agricultores suelen usar a la universidad como puente para conseguir un buen trabajo en la ciudad. Pero otros estudian agronomía, y volverían al agro, si tuvieran tecnología apropiada para la agricultura familiar, y servicios como electricidad e Internet de alta velocidad.

Historias relacionadas en el blog de Agro-Insight

Despertando las semillas

Quinoa, lost and found

Videos to teach kids good attitudes

Sin tierra, sin agua, no hay problema

Videos de Access Agriculture

Vea algunos de estos videos apropiados para agricultores jóvenes en https://www.accessagriculture.org/es. Incluso, Access Agriculture tiene:

104 videos en castellano

Ocho videos en aymara

Y ocho en quechua

 

Staying grounded while on the air in Ghana March 21st, 2021 by

It’s a simple matter to play a soundtrack about farming on the radio. The tricky part is making sure that the program connects with the audience, as I learned recently from Gideon Kwame Sarkodie Osei at ADARS FM, a commercial station in Kintampo, a town in central Ghana.

Since 2010 Gideon has been pleased to be part of an effort by Farm Radio International (FRI) that supported radio stations in Ghana, including ADARS FM, to reach out to farmers. With encouragement from FRI, Gideon started a weekly magazine show for farmers, where he plays Access Agriculture audio tracks. The magazine, Akuafo Mo, means ‚ÄúThank You Farmers‚ÄĚ in the Twi language. Before he started the show, Gideon (together with FRI) did a baseline study of the farmers in his audience. He found that they had more time on Monday evenings. Farm women do more work and have less time than most people, but they told Gideon that they were usually done with their chores by 8 PM, so that‚Äôs when he airs Akuafo Mo, every Monday for an hour.

The show starts with recorded interviews, where farmers explain their own knowledge of a certain topic, like aflatoxin, which is so important that Gideon had several episodes on this hidden toxin that can contaminate stored foodstuffs. After the interviews, Gideon plays an audio track, to share fresh ideas with his audience. Gideon has played Access Agriculture audios so often he can‚Äôt remember how many he has played. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs a lot more than 50,‚ÄĚ he explains.

Gideon plays a portion of the audio in English, and then he stops to translate that part into Twi, the language of the Ashanti people. Every week there is a guest on the show, an extension agent who can discuss the topic and take questions from listeners who call in.

Gideon‚Äôs experience with the magazine inspired him to start listener groups, in coordination with FRI. Visiting listener communities, Gideon found that some did not have a radio set. So, with project support, he bought them one. ‚ÄúWe give them radio sets so they can come together weekly and listen to the magazine,‚ÄĚ Gideon told me. He has 20 groups, each with 12 to 30 people. Five groups are only for women, especially in areas where males and females don‚Äôt casually mingle. The other listener groups have men and women.

Gideon visits at least some of the groups every week. Because of these visits, Gideon is now downloading videos as well as audio from Access Agriculture. ‚ÄúSometimes I see if they have electricity, and I rent a projector, to show them the video they have heard on the air.‚ÄĚ Gideon says. ‚ÄúThis is my initiative, going the extra mile.‚ÄĚ

Some of the farmers are learning to sell their groundnuts, maize and other cereals as a group, netting them extra money and helping them to be self-sustaining.

Gideon is also a trainer for FRI. Before Covid, he would travel to other towns and cities in Ghana, meet other broadcasters, and go to the field with them to show them how to improve their interview skills and to craft their own magazine shows. Now he continues to train broadcasters, but online.

Working with the farmer listening groups gives Gideon insights into farmers’ needs and knowledge, making his magazine so authentic that 60,000 people tune in. That experience gives Gideon the confidence to train other broadcasters all over Ghana.

When I was in Ghana a few years ago, I met excellent extension agents who told me how frustrated they were to be responsible for reaching 3,000 farmers. It was impossible to have a quality interaction with all those farmers.

However, there are ways to communicate a thoughtful message with a large audience, for example with a good radio magazine.

Gideon has creatively blended his own expertise with resources from two communication-oriented non-profit organisations: Farm Radio International and Access Agriculture. Hopefully, his experience will inspire other broadcasters.

Videos in the languages of Ghana

Find videos and soundtracks in these languages of Ghana: Buli, Dagaari, Dagbani, Ewe, Frafra, Gonja, Hausa, Kabyé, Kusaal, Moba, Sisaala, Twi, Zarma and English.

Writing tips from Marco Polo February 21st, 2021 by

If Covid has idled you, this might be the time to take a tip from Marco Polo, and write a book or an article.

In 1271, a 17-year-old Marco set out for China and Mongolia with his father, Niccolò and his uncle, Maffeo Polo. At the court of Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, Niccolò presented Marco as the great Khan’s servant. The Khan liked Marco right away, and sent him to various cities in China, perhaps as a tax collector, or as an official in the royal salt monopoly, or maybe just to report back.

Even then, Marco had a gift for storytelling, and he reported back to the Khan in detail of the people and things he had seen. Marco kept notes to remind him of what to tell the Khan.

Twenty-four years after leaving Venice, the three Polos arrived back home again, but they were soon dragged into a pointless war with Genoa. As a noble, Marco was obliged to outfit a galley. But when he and his sailors ventured into the Adriatic Sea they were captured by the Genoese, who took him to prison. For centuries, Genoa had been competing with Venice for the trade in salt and other goods in the Mediterranean, so the city states were arch rivals.

The Genoese recognized Marco as a noble (in no small part because he would tell anyone who would listen that he was a Venetian nobleman). So, Marco was placed into a reasonable comfortable captivity, for at least a year, and perhaps as long as three, waiting for his family to ransom him.

Marco beguiled his fellow jail mates with tales of exotic lands, and soon came to the attention of another prisoner of war, Rustichello da Pisa, a notary and a romance writer.

Rustichello realized the power of Marco’s story and the two became collaborators. Marco sent for, and received the notes he had written to report back to the Khan, and he dictated his story to Rustichello, who wrote it up (in French, oddly enough). In the words of historian Laurence Bergreen, in prison, Marco Polo found the freedom to write his story.

Hand-written copies of the book slowly appeared all over Europe, in English, Spanish, Italian and other languages. Marco himself, who had returned from Asia with a fortune in pearls and jewels sewed into the hems of his clothing, also hired scribes to copy his book. Each one was a bit different; Marco may have kept adding to his book each time he had it copied. At a time before the printing press, when a book could cost as much as a house, and a library might have only 100 volumes, a copy of Marco Polo’s Travels was a valuable gift. Marco would give copies to important people he wanted to impress.

Marco died in 1324, but his book lived on, and it was one of the first books (after the bible) to come off the printing press, almost two centuries after it had been written. The Travels appeared in print first in German, in 1477 and Christopher Columbus owned a Latin version, in which he wrote detailed notes in the margins.

China had thrown off Mongol rule not long after Kublai Khan died in 1294, and then closed itself off from the west for centuries. But Marco’s book inspired voyagers like Columbus and Magellan to seek a sea route to China.

Marco Polo was not the only European to visit Asia. His own father and uncle went not once, but twice, yet they appear as minor characters in Marco’s story.

Traveling and writing have both changed a lot since Marco stepped onto the Silk Road to China, but some principles remain the same: keep good notes and be observant; report back in a narrative style and write it up. It may be helpful to have a collaborator. Take advantage of any time or space you get, to write.

If Marco had merely travelled to China and not met Rustichello, the Polos would have been largely forgotten. Marco Polo is famous not because of his trip, but because of his book about his trip, in spite of all the technical limitations of publishing in the 13th and 14th century.

Further reading

Bergreen, Laurence 2009 Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu. London: Quercus. 415 pp.

Related Agro-Insight blogs

A history worth its salt

Illustrations

Caravana de Marco Polo, from the Atlas Catal√°n of Carlos V, 1375.

Map, The Route of Marco Polo’s Journey, by SY.

A convincing gesture January 31st, 2021 by

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

In last week’s blog (We think with our hands), I wrote that people use gestures intentionally to convey meaning, while many other hand movements are unconscious. Moving our hands helps us to grasp the right words. But human speech is also much more than words and hand gestures.

Tone and volume of voice (screaming, whispering), facial expression, head movements (like nodding) and body language (slouching vs standing ramrod straight) all help to reinforce meaning and to convey emotion. We also make humming and clicking noises, which are sounds, but not speech. This non-verbal communication is convincing because it’s natural. We can spot the difference; a phony smile is made with the lips only, while you use your whole face for a sincere one.

At Agro-Insight, when we make videos with farmers, we never tell them what to say. We ask them questions, and film their answers, which we transcribe and translate into other languages. For example, if the farmer is speaking Arabic, we will use her voice in the Arabic version of the video, but we will dub over her voice for the English, French and other versions.

In these learning videos, the farmers’ non-verbal communication is typical of unscripted, sincere speech. For example, in a video filmed in India, farmer Maran explained that he had a problem with the neighbors’ turtles coming into his fish pond to eat their feed. As he said that, he moved his hands as if to suggest movement from one place to another. After hiring professional turtle catchers to remove the unwanted guests, everything was fine, an idea he reinforced by patting both hands downwards in a comforting gesture. The film crew didn’t tell him to do that. Unless you watch the Tamil version of the video, you will hear a voice artist dubbing Mr. Maran’s words, but you can still tell that his gestures go with his narrative.

In the final cut of the video, we usually leave in some of farmers‚Äô original voice, before starting the voiceover. This lets the audience hear some of the emotion. For instance, in our video on feeding dairy goats, Teresia Muthumbi explains that when she gives her goats banana stems with sweetpotato vines and a little grass, ‚ÄúThey give a lot of milk.‚ÄĚ She is speaking from experience: you can hear the sound of authority in her voice, even if you don‚Äôt understand Swahili.

In one video from Togo, farmer Filo Kodo tells how the maize harvest had increased a lot after rotating the corn with velvet bean (mucuna). One neighbor even asked her what magic she had used. ‚ÄúI told him it was with mucuna magic,‚ÄĚ she said, and you can see the smile in her eyes as well as on her lips.

I‚Äôve written before how smallholders in Malawi called people on the farmer learning videos their ‚Äúfriends‚ÄĚ, even though they had never met (Friends you can trust). Farmers in Uganda referred to their ‚Äúbrothers and sisters‚ÄĚ in West Africa, who they had only seen on the videos.

When people speak from the heart, their tone, gestures, expressions and body language convey conviction, even if the words themselves are translated into another language, and spoken by another person. Non-verbal communication adds a richness, a sincerity that is hard to fake. This is one reason why realistic farmer-to-farmer training videos are a far richer experience than fully animated videos.

Further reading

Bentley, Jeffery, Paul Van Mele, and Grace Musimami 2013. The Mud on Their Legs ‚Äď Farmer to Farmer Videos in Uganda. Agro-Insight. MEAS Case Study # 3.

Watch the videos mentioned in this blog

Stocking fingerlings in a nursery pond

Dairy goat feeding

Reviving soils with mucuna

GESTOS QUE CONVENCEN

Por Jeff Bentley, 31 de enero del 2021

En el blog de la semana pasada (Pensamos con las manos), escribí que las personas usan los gestos a propósito para transmitir un significado, mientras que muchos otros movimientos de las manos son inconscientes. Mover las manos nos ayuda a captar las palabras que buscamos. Pero la comunicación humana es también mucho más que palabras y gestos con las manos.

El tono y el volumen de la voz (gritos, susurros), la expresión facial, los movimientos de la cabeza (como para asentir) y el lenguaje corporal (ponerse cómodo o mantenerse erguido) ayudan a reforzar el significado y a transmitir emociones. También emitimos zumbidos y chasquidos, que son sonidos, pero no son palabras. Esta comunicación no verbal es convincente porque es natural. Podemos notar la diferencia; una sonrisa falsa se hace sólo con los labios, mientras una sincera es con toda la cara.

En Agro-Insight, cuando hacemos videos con agricultores, nunca les decimos lo que tienen que decir. Les hacemos preguntas y filmamos sus respuestas, que transcribimos y traducimos a otros idiomas. Por ejemplo, si la agricultora habla en árabe, usamos su voz de ella en la versión árabe del video, pero la doblamos para las versiones en inglés, francés y otras.

En estos videos de aprendizaje, la comunicaci√≥n no verbal de los agricultores es la t√≠pica del habla sincera y sin guion. Por ejemplo, en un video grabado en la India, el agricultor Maran explic√≥ que ten√≠a un problema con las tortugas de los vecinos que entraban en su estanque de peces para comer su alimento. Mientras lo dec√≠a, mov√≠a las manos como si quisiera sugerir un movimiento de un lugar a otro. Despu√©s de contratar a cazadores profesionales para eliminaran a las tortugas, todo estaba bien, idea que reforz√≥ dando palmaditas con ambas manos hacia abajo en un gesto de satisfacci√≥n. El equipo de filmaci√≥n no le dijo que hiciera eso. A menos que se vea la versi√≥n en tamil del video, se oir√° a un locutor doblando las palabras del Sr. Maran, pero aun as√≠ se nota que sus gestos realmente acompa√Īan su narraci√≥n.

En la edici√≥n final del v√≠deo, solemos dejar algo de la voz original de la gente, antes de empezar el doblaje. Esto permite al p√ļblico escuchar parte de la emoci√≥n. Por ejemplo, en nuestro video sobre la alimentaci√≥n de las cabras lecheras, Teresia Muthumbi explica que cuando da a sus cabras tallos de pl√°tano con hojas de camote y un poco de pasto, “Dan mucha leche”. Habla por experiencia: se puede o√≠r el sonido de la autoridad en su voz, aunque no se entienda el suajili.

En un video de Togo, la agricultora Filo Kodo cuenta c√≥mo la cosecha de ma√≠z ha aumentado mucho despu√©s de rotar el ma√≠z con el frijol terciopelo (mucuna). Un vecino incluso le pregunt√≥ qu√© magia hab√≠a usado. “Le dije que era con la magia de la mucuna”, dijo, y se puede ver la sonrisa en sus ojos adem√°s de en sus labios.

Ya he escrito antes c√≥mo los campesinos de Malawi llamaban “amigos” a las personas que aparec√≠an en los v√≠deos de aprendizaje, aunque no se conocieran (Amigos confiables). Los agricultores de Uganda se refer√≠an a sus “hermanos y hermanas” de √Āfrica Occidental, a los que s√≥lo hab√≠an visto en los videos.

Cuando la gente habla con el coraz√≥n, su tono, sus gestos, sus expresiones y su lenguaje corporal transmiten convicci√≥n, aunque las palabras mismas est√©n traducidas a otro idioma y sean pronunciadas por otra persona. La comunicaci√≥n no verbal a√Īade una riqueza, una sinceridad que es dif√≠cil de fingir. Esta es una de las razones por las que los videos realistas de agricultor-a-agricultor son una experiencia mucho m√°s rica que los videos de pura animaci√≥n.

Lectura adicional

Bentley, Jeffery, Paul Van Mele, y Grace Musimami 2013. The Mud on Their Legs ‚Äď Farmer to Farmer Videos in Uganda. Agro-Insight. MEAS Case Study # 3.

Vea los videos mencionados en este blog

Estanque vivero para criar alevines

Alimentando a cabras lecheras

Revivir el suelo con la mucuna

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