WHO WE ARE SERVICES RESOURCES




Most recent stories ›
AgroInsight RSS feed
Blog

Against or with nature February 14th, 2021 by

Ask any tourist what comes to mind when they think of the Netherlands and there is a good chance they will say “windmills”. Ask any agricultural professional what the Netherlands is known for and they may mention “water management” and “dairy” (you know, the big round cheeses). Few people may realize how these are all intricately interwoven, and how their interaction over time has created an environmental disaster.

In his thought-provoking book Against the Grain, James Scott draws on earlier work of anthropologists and archaeologists to provide some insights into how early humans changed their environment to source food from closer to home. Through controlled fires, certain plants and wildlife species were favoured, while cooking enabled our ancestors to extract more nutrients from plants and animals than was previously possible. The very act of domesticating plants, animals and fire, in a sense also domesticated us as a species. While modern cows and many of our crops can no longer survive without us, we can no longer survive without them. Besides fire, people also relied heavily on water. In fact, everywhere in the world, ancient peoples first settled near rivers or at the fringes of wetlands which, along with the nearby forests, provided a rich variety of food.

Agricultural technology was fairly stable for centuries, but slowly began to change in medieval times, which brings us back to the windmill. While fixed windmills were found in Flanders by the 11th century, they were mainly used to grind grain. In the 1600s a Dutchman, Cornelis Corneliszoon van Uitgeest, added a crankshaft, an Arab invention, to convert the rotating movement of a windmill into an up-and-down one. Windmills could now also be used to saw wood, and to pump water. Soon the landscape was dotted with thousands of windmills. The now so typical Dutch landscape of peat grasslands and ditches is a manmade ecosystem shaped through drainage by windmills. The new pastures with lowered groundwater tables were especially apt for dairy farming, serving what became the world-renown Dutch dairy sector.

The drainage of the wetlands sounds like a great agronomic achievement, but a Dutch veterinarian Katrien van ‘t Hooft, director of Dutch Farm Experience, recently showed me the other side of the coin. The continuous drainage of surface water and lowered groundwater table, combined with modern dairy farming and use of tractors, has caused a drop in the peatland. The land has been sinking several centimeters per year for a long time, faster than the rise in sea level. Projections are that under current management the peat soils will further sink 2 meters before 2050, and become a major threat to the country. Although the Dutch government is taking urgent measures to restore the groundwater table, the challenges do not stop there.

As drained peat releases CO2, the Dutch government has set up a scheme to reward farmers who help raise the groundwater table. But wet pastures require a very different management, as farmers are now beginning to learn. When collecting hay on wet pasture, overloaded machines risk getting stuck. Maize cannot be grown, because this water-loving crop lowers the groundwater level in the peat land. The typical Holstein-Friesian cow, commonly used in the Netherlands for its high milk production, requires maize and concentrated feed. In the peat lands it is therefore now being crossed with ‘old fashioned’ local cattle breeds, such as Blister Head (Blaarkop) and MRY (Maas-Rijn-Ijssel breed). These so-called dual purpose cows yield milk and meat, perform well on plant-rich pastures and have the benefit that they can produce milk with minimal use of concentrated feed.

However, as the peat pastures need to become wetter again, these cows are increasingly suffering from some ‘old diseases’, including intestinal worms and the liver fluke, which spends part of its life cycle in mud snails. Farmers are using anthelmintics (anti-worm chemicals) to control this, but the anthelmintics to control liver fluke are forbidden in adult cows, for milk safety reasons. Moreover, just as with antibiotics, the internal parasites are quickly building up resistance against anthelminitics, and the dairy sector is forced to rethink its position of always trying to control nature.

Now here comes a twist in the story. As Katrien explained to me, these common animal diseases used to be managed by appropriate grassland management, use of resilient cattle breeds and strategic use of (herbal) medicines.  But most of this traditional knowledge has been lost over the past decades. With a group of passionate veterinary doctors and dairy farmers, Katrien has established a network with colleagues in the Netherlands, Ethiopia, Uganda and India to promote natural livestock farming. Inspired by ethnoveterinary doctors from India, Dutch veterinary doctors and dairy farmers have gained an interest in looking at herbs, both for animal medicine and for enriching grassland pastures to boost the animals’ immune system. Together they have developed the so-called NLF 5-layer approach to reduce the use of antibiotics, anthelmintics and other chemicals in dairy farming.

Resistance to chemical drugs used in livestock, whether against bacteria, fungi, ticks or intestinal worms, will have a dramatic effect on people. For example, the bacteria that gain resistance to antibiotics in animals become ‘superbugs’, that are also resistant to antibiotics in human patients. The abuse of antibiotics in livestock can ruin these life-saving drugs for people.

James Scott describes in his book that when we started intensifying our food production thousands of years ago, we lost an encyclopaedia of knowledge based on living with and from nature. In the same vein, traditional knowledge of agriculture has been eroding since the mid twentieth century, with intensification brought on by machinery and chemicals, like the Dutch dairy farmers who lost most of their folk knowledge about plants and the ‘old’ cattle diseases.

While the challenges are rising, it is fortunate that the 21st century humans are able to learn from each other’s experiences at a scale and speed unseen in history. Dutch dairy farmers are not the only ones to have lost traditional knowledge. It has happened across the globe, and more efforts are needed to help make such worthwhile initiatives of knowledge-sharing go viral (as a matter of speaking).

Credit

Katrien van ‘t Hooft kindly reviewed earlier drafts of this blog and provided photographs.

Related Agro-Insight blogs

Veterinarians and traditional animal health care

Watching videos to become a dairy expert

Trying it yourself

Stuck in the middle

Kicking the antibiotic habit

Why people drink cow’s milk

Big chicken, little chicken

Further information

James C. Scott. 2017. Against The Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States. New Haven: Yale University Press, pp. 312.

The Foundation for Natural Livestock Farming. https://www.naturallivestockfarming.com/

Dutch Farm Experience – Lessons learnt in Dutch Dairy Farming https://www.dutchfarmexperience.com/

Groen Kennisnet wiki: Herbs and herbal medicines for livestock (in Dutch) https://wiki.groenkennisnet.nl/display/KGM/Kruiden+voor+landbouwhuisdieren

https://www.natuurlijkeveehouderij.nl/kennisbank/

Watch Access Agriculture videos on herbal medicine in animal healthcare

Keeping sheep healthy

Deworming goats and sheep with herbal medicines

Herbal treatment for diarrhoea

Herbal medicine against fever in livestock

Herbal medicine against mastitis

Natural ways to manage bloat in livestock

Managing cattle ticks

Keeping milk free from antibiotics

Caring for animals, with plants May 12th, 2019 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

The yapuchiris continue to fascinate me. We’ve written about these expert farmers in the Bolivian Altiplano before, but there’s always something new to learn from them. Take Constantino Franco, for example, who is a jilakata, the highest traditional authority in self-governing rural communities.

In 2015, don Constantino began to teach other farmers about a method to treat the wounds of animals. He would gather several kinds of plants, boil them in fat and let the infusion cool. It made a salve that he could apply to the wounds of livestock.

At Prosuco, the NGO that supports the yapuchiris, agronomist Sonia Laura encouraged don Constantino to teach others about the remedy. She also wondered if it was really effective, so she asked a livestock expert, Elva Vargas, to investigate. Elva contacted a veterinarian, Sefarín Mena, who knew about the active ingredients of the plants used in salves, and who confirmed the value of don Constantino’s ointment.

Validating local knowledge in this way ensures that local treatments can be shared confidently with a wider audience.

I caught up with don Constantino recently and watched how he explained his method to yapuchiris and other farmers attending a workshop held in the remote village of Chigani Alto, on a hillside overlooking Lake Titicaca. Yapuchiris from distant communities had come to work with local farmers. They broke into groups and spent the morning on different farming topics, such as seed, weather, and soil.

Don Constantino had gathered an enthusiastic group around him. His new friends from Chigani Alto went to the nearby hills and returned with a selection of medicinal plants. They ground the plants in a metal hand-cranked grinder. Except for the gel-like aloe vera, which they scraped with a knife.

The group boiled the plants in fat in a new, earthen pot, to avoid adding a bitter taste to someone’s good cooking pot. Then they squeezed the plants in a cloth to obtain the herbal liquid extract. They ladled this into little plastic containers, so everyone at the workshop could take some of the salve away with them. The experiments would continue at home.

It was a simple but valuable exercise, sharing an effective local practice that is widely available to farmers and reduces their dependency on synthetic products. Being able to make inputs instead of buying them from agroinput dealers is important for smallholders who are often making a living on very tight profit margins.

Recipe

Ingredients:

Fresh eucalyptus leaves

Chamomile flowers

An aloe vera leaf

Some mint

Some malva

A kilo of animal fat, petroleum jelly or vegetable lard.

Equipment:

A hand-cranked metal grinder

A knife

A thick cloth

An earthen pot

Preparation:

Scrape off a handful of aloe vera gel.

Grind the other ingredients in the grinder.

Put the earthen pot on the stove.

Add the fat.

When it is melted add a handful of each of the ground plants and stir.

After five minutes remove from the heat.

Strain the mixture through a cloth to remove the solid plants parts.

Pour the mixture into a pot or other suitable container and allow it to cool.

Apply it to the wounds of animals to encourage healing.

Blog stories about yapuchiris

Inspiration from Bangladesh to Bolivia

Three generations of knowledge

Cultivating pride in the Andes

Farmers produce electronic content

Predicting the weather

Related videos

You can catch of glimpse of don Constantino, wearing the red poncho of a jilakata, in the video:

Recording the weather; you can also watch the video in Spanish, and in two Andean languages: Aymara and Quechua.

Videos from India about botanical medicines for animals:

Deworming goats and sheep with herbal medicines

Herbal medicine against fever in livestock

Herbal treatment for diarrhoea

And a video from Egypt about caring for skin ailments of horses and donkeys

Preventing fly-borne illness in donkeys and horses

CUIDANDO A LOS ANIMALES, CON PLANTAS

12 de mayo del 2019, por Jeff Bentley

Los yapuchiris me siguen fascinando. Hemos escrito antes sobre estos agricultores expertos en el Altiplano boliviano, pero siempre hay algo nuevo que aprender de ellos. Por ejemplo, Constantino Franco es jilakata, una autoridad tradicional en las comunidades originarias.

En 2015, don Constantino comenzó a enseñar a otros agricultores un método para curar las heridas de los animales. Reunía varios tipos de plantas, las hervía en grasa y dejaba enfriar la infusión. Hizo una pomada que podía aplicar a las heridas del ganado.

En Prosuco, la ONG que apoya a los yapuchiris, la ingeniera agrónoma Sonia Laura alentó a don Constantino a enseñar a otros sobre el remedio. También se preguntó si era realmente efectivo, así que pidió que una zootecnista Elva Vargas, investigara. Elva se contactó con un doctor veterinario, Sefarín Mena, quien ya sabía de los ingredientes activos de las plantas que se usaban en las pomadas, y confirmó el valor de la pomada de don Constantino.

Validando el conocimiento local de esta manera asegura que las curaciones locales puedan ser compartidas con más confianza con una audiencia más amplia.

Volví a ver a don Constantino recientemente y escuché mientras explicó su método a yapuchiris y a otros agricultores mientras asistían a un taller en la remota comunidad de Chigani Alto, en una ladera con vista al Lago Titicaca. Los yapuchiris de comunidades lejanas habían venido a trabajar con los agricultores locales. Se dividieron en grupos y pasaron la mañana en diferentes temas agrícolas, tales como semillas, clima, y suelo.

Don Constantino había reunido a un grupo entusiasta a su alrededor. Sus nuevos amigos de Chigani Alto fueron a las colinas cercanas y regresaron con una selección de plantas medicinales. Molieron las plantas en un molino metálico de manivela manual. Excepto por el gel de aloe vera, que rasparon con un cuchillo.

El grupo hirvió las plantas en grasa, en una nueva olla de barro, para evitar de añadir un sabor amargo a la buena olla de alguien. Luego exprimieron las plantas en un paño, para obtener el extracto de las plantas. Lo vertieron en pequeños recipientes de plástico, para que todos en el taller pudieran llevarse algo de la pomada. Los experimentos continuarían en casa.

Fue un ejercicio simple pero valioso, compartiendo una práctica local efectiva para hacerla más ampliamente accesible a los agricultores y reducir su dependencia de los productos sintéticos.  El poder hacer insumos en lugar de comprarlos de la tienda agro-pecuaria es importante para los campesinos, que a menudo se ganan la vida con márgenes muy estrechos.

Receta

Ingredientes:

Hojas frescas de eucalipto

Flores de manzanilla

Una hoja de sábila

Menta

Malva

Un kilo de grasa de animal, jalea de petróleo (vaselina) o manteca vegetal

Equipo:

Un molino metálico manual

Un cuchillo

Una tela gruesa

Una olla de barro

Preparación:

Raspe un puñado de gel de aloe vera.

Moler el resto de los ingredientes en el molino.

Ponga la olla de barro sobre el fuego.

Añadir la grasa.

Cuando se derrita, añadir un puñado de cada una de las plantas molidas y remover.

Después de cinco minutos, retirar del fuego.

Colar la mezcla en una tela para eliminar las partes sólidas de la planta.

Vierta la mezcla en una olla u otro recipiente adecuado y deje que se enfríe.

Aplíquelo a las heridas de los animales para favorecer la curación.

Blogs sobre los yapuchiris

Inspiración de Bangladesh a Bolivia

Three generations of knowledge

Cultivando orgullo en los Andes

Agricultores producen contenido electrónico

Prediciendo el clima

Videos que le podrían interesar

En el video se puede ver a don Constantino, vestido con el poncho rojo de un jilakata:

Hacer un registro del clima, disponible también en dos idiomas nativos de los Andes: aymara y quechua.

Videos de la India sobre remedios botánicos para los animales:

Deworming goats and sheep with herbal medicines

Herbal medicine against fever in livestock

Herbal treatment for diarrhoea

Y un video de Egipto sobre el cuidado de enfermedades de piel de caballos y burros

Preventing fly-borne illness in donkeys and horses

Veterinarians and traditional animal health care August 19th, 2018 by

It is unfortunate that not more is done to safeguard and value traditional knowledge.

In Pune, Maharastra, the Indian NGO Anthra has devoted a great part of its energy in documenting traditional animal health knowledge and practices across India. Dr. Nitya Ghotge along with a team of women veterinarians founded Anthra in 1992 to address the problems faced by communities who reared animals, particularly peasants, pastoralists, adivasis (indigenous peoples of South Asia), dalits (formerly known as untouchables – people outside the caste system), women and others who remained hidden from the gaze of mainstream development.

In their encyclopaedia Plants Used in Animal Care, Anthra has compiled an impressive list of plants used for veterinary purposes and fodder.

To ensure that local communities across the global south benefit from this indigenous knowledge, Anthra started collaborating with one of Access Agriculture’s trained video partners (Atul Pagar) to gradually develop a series of farmer-to-farmer training videos on herbal medicines (see: the Access Agriculture video category on animal health).

While Indian cities are booming and the agro-industry continues its efforts to conquer lucrative markets, many farmers and farmer organisations across the country treasure India’s rich cultural and agricultural heritage. Unfortunately, this is not the case everywhere. In many countries, local knowledge is quickly eroding as the older generation of farmers and pastoralists disappear.

 

A few years ago, I was thrilled to work with traditional Fulani herders in Nigeria, only to discover that none of them still made use of herbal medicines. Even to treat something as simple as ticks, the young herders confidently turned to veterinary drugs. Although the elder people could still readily name the various plants they used to treat various common animal diseases, the accessibility and ease of application of modern drugs meant that none of the herders still used herbal medicines. The risks of such drastic changes quickly became apparent. As we were making a series of training videos on quality milk, which should have no antibiotics or drug residues, we visited a hospital to interview a local doctor.

“If people are well they are not supposed to take antibiotics. If such a person is sick in the future and the sickness requires the use of antibiotics, it would be difficult to cure because such drugs will not work. It can even make the illness more severe,” doctor Periola Amidu Akintayo from the local hospital confided in front of the camera.

Later on, we visited a traditional Fulani cattle market. For years, these markets have been bustling places where the semi-nomadic herders meet buyers from towns. People exchange news on latest events and the weather, but above all assess the quality of the animals and negotiate prices. Animals that look unhealthy or have signs of parasites obviously fetch a lower price. Given that the cattle market is where the Fulani herders meet their fellow herders and clients, I quickly realized why the entire market was surrounded by small agro vet shops. Competition was fierce, and demand for animal drugs was high.

Modern drugs come with an enclosed instruction sheet, but as with pesticides nobody in developing countries reads this advice. To keep costs down, many herders and farmers administer drugs to their own animals, to avoid spending money on a veterinary doctor. Perhaps even more worrying: few people are aware of the risks that modern drugs pose to human health, whether it be from developing resistance to antibiotics or drug residues in food. In organisations like Anthra, socially engaged veterinary doctors merge local knowledge with scientific information, thus playing an undervalued role that deserve more attention. The training videos made with these veterinarians and their farmer allies will hopefully show more people that it is important to bring the best of both worlds together.

Related training videos

Herbal medicine against fever in livestock

Herbal treatment for diarrhoea

Managing cattle ticks

Keeping milk free from antibiotics

Related blogs

Trust that works

Big chicken, little chicken

Nourishing a fertile imagination

High in the Arctic September 10th, 2017 by

A large supermarket in Anchorage displays an impressive selection of fruit and vegetables, including organic produce. Unsurprisingly, most of the goods on sale are grown outside Alaska. Farming this far north is challenging, with only a short growing season, unpredictable weather and moderate temperatures. Local initiatives such as the “Alaska Grown” campaign, are encouraging people to develop new agri-businesses. You have to be enterprising to succeed, as I recently discovered.

A popular option is to grow salad crops and soft fruits in high tunnels. Tough polyethylene sheeting is draped over sturdy metal frames, protecting the plants within. Peonies, popular at weddings because of their showy, robust flowers, are also grown. They flourish in Alaska during the summer, which is off-season in the lower 48 states, when it is too hot to grow peonies yet high season for weddings in the US.

Rhodiola, a native medicinal plant and member of the botanical family Crassulacaea, is another commercial success. But the most unexpected crop I came across was cannabis, legal in Alaska since 2014. Some is grown outside in high tunnels, but it is so profitable that many growers have invested in custom-built indoor facilities. Plants are regularly fed and watered using a hydroponic system. Artificial lighting ensures year-round production, whatever the weather outside.

A family friend introduced me to Bruce and Judy Martin on the Kenai Peninsula, who are part of the first wave of cannabis growers. Bruce worked in construction for many years and wanted a change. He originally designed a building to service boats during the winter. Fishing is big business in Alaska, both commercially and for visiting tourists, and the boats need regular maintenance. Bruce’s plan started well, but when a major contract collapsed he and Judy decided to move into cannabis growing.

A kilo of cannabis buds will earn Bruce and Judy between $2500 and $6000 a pound, or around £4500 – £10,000 per kilo, depending on quality. Bruce explained the set up: “We have a total growing area of 2,000 square feet (185 square metres), covering two rooms. In the first room, we take cuttings from the mother plants and suspend them in large tanks, where water and nutrients are regularly sprayed to encourage root development. After about three weeks they are moved to larger pots before being transferred a further three weeks later to the main production facility.”

Although Alaska legalised cannabis growing for medicinal and recreational use and sale in 2015, it wasn’t until 2016 that the legal framework was fully in place for producers to start supplying licensed outlets. Bruce and Judy harvested their first crop in December 2016 and have been regularly producing around ten kilograms per month of buds and leaves. The leaves are less valuable than the buds (around $1500 per kilogram) because they have lower amounts of THC, the psychoactive compound for which cannabis is renowned. Bruce explained that there was still a steady demand for leaves to produce “edibles”, which the Alaska Division of Public Health describes as “foods and drinks … made with marijuana or marijuana oils”, such as “cookies and other treats”.

Growing cannabis even on a modest scale requires major investment. “It cost us around half a million dollars to set up the production facility” said Bruce. Judy mentioned the many certificates they’d had to get before being allowed to start selling and the need to test cannabis batches for potency. “Testing is mandatory and costs us $2000 each month,” said Judy. Plus, Bruce and Judy lose two kilograms of product required for the tests. Costs are high, regulation is intense and official monitoring of operations is relentless. A monitor shows feeds from multiple security cameras, keeping a watchful eye on what happens outside the building and all nooks and crannies within.

I have mixed feelings about commercial cannabis growing for recreational use, but the more I look at the overall trade the more it makes sense. Regulating cannabis reduces criminality, safeguards consumers against adulterated products and also creates jobs. And there are significant numbers of people using cannabis for medicinal reasons, where there are proven benefits. The US’s experience with Prohibition (of alcohol) shows that an outright ban doesn’t work: better to regulate, educate and normalise consumption while advising people of potential and harmful side-effects. It is surely much better to treat adults in a mature way when it comes to cannabis, as clearly shown by the Alaska Division of Public Health.

Alaska has already earned around $2 million in taxes from growers and shops. In a neat political move, Bruce told me that “cannabis taxes on the Kenai Peninsula go straight to supporting schools.” Despite the long and successful campaign to legalise cannabis in Alaska there is already a ballot measure to repeal the 2014 decision, due to be voted on by all registered voters in October 2017. There are still diehards who see cannabis use, even for medicinal purposes, as sinful and leading inevitably to harder drugs, but the evidence for this happening is weak. Maybe the loss of funding for schools – which were facing major budget cuts – will help swing the vote and maintain the hard-won status quo.

The intense regulation of cannabis in Alaska suggests that the state is itself equivocal about legalisation, though the main reason for the tight scrutiny is because the US federal government still prohibits the “use, sale and possession of all forms of cannabis”. Banks are nervous about handling money associated with the trade and all transactions are in cash. Cannabis growers cannot ask for advice from cooperative extension staff, since they are partly funded by the Federal government.

This doesn’t seem to matter, since Bruce and Judy get advice from fellow growers nearby and there is an active online community buzzing with information about all aspects of cannabis production. I admire their hard work and commitment. Bruce and Judy have taken a calculated risk in becoming cannabis growers, but so far, their hard work and diligence has paid off. They’re also bringing a little cheer to fellow Alaskans.

Thanks to
Richard and Linn especially, for making the visit possible. And to Bruce and Judy for their warm  welcome and open discussions.

Read other blogs
Ethical agriculture

The ruffled reefer

Chemical attitude adjustment February 26th, 2017 by

Kannappan, C. Sekar, his wife, Bharathidasan, BagyarajAgricultural extension can work deep changes in farmers’ attitudes. Ironically, the extensionists themselves often think that a change in heart is difficult to achieve, so it was good to meet some inspired farmers last week in Tamil Nadu, India, while teaching a course with Paul Van Mele to agricultural researchers and extension agents.

We wrote four fact sheets with advice for farmers and we wanted to show the papers to real farmers, as a kind of peer review. One of the participants, Mrs. P. Tamilselvi, took us to the village of Seethapappi, where she works as an extensionist. The course participants, mostly agricultural researchers, formed small groups and found farmers to talk to.

We approached a farmhouse, where entomologist K. Bharathidasan called out, asking if anyone was home. When a surprised couple emerged, Bharathidasan introduced himself and soon had the farmers reading a fact sheet in Tamil on groundnut stem rot.

After Mr. C. Sekar read the fact sheet he talked about an organic agricultural concoction he used as a fertilizer and insecticide. He called it pancha kaviya, alluding to five ingredients it contained. Bharathidasan wrote down the recipe:

Mix 1) cow dung, 2) cow urine, 3) ghee, milk and curd, 4) coconut water and 5) jiggery (a candy) or sugarcane juice. Mix the ingredients thoroughly. Keep for 45 days. Filter the liquid directly into a sprayer and spray the crop.

This was only the first of many natural agro-chemicals farmers in this village described to us. Sekar also makes an organic pesticide with eight types of local plants. He adds them to cow urine and keeps them for 20 days. Then he filters the liquid and sprays it on his crops.

When Mrs. Sekar read the fact sheet she mentioned another organic pesticide. Two more farmers had their own recipe for a home brew to spray on plants.

Bagyaraj and farmer Prakash Kanna CROPPEDFarmer Prakash Kanna showed us a batch of pancha kaviya he’d made, a dull brown mix in a plastic drum. It had a strong, sour smell. He put it in irrigation water to fertilize his plants. He called it a growth regulator. (The pancha kaviya adds nutrients and beneficial flora and fauna to the soil).

The farmers said they also used marigold extract and gypsum powder to control various diseases in groundnuts (peanuts). And they enhance the soil with a beneficial bacterium, Pseudomonas, mixed with aged cow dung which helps the bacteria multiply and suppress fungi that cause disease.

That’s quite a lot of innovation.

Bharathidasan later told me that the farmers really liked the fact sheets, except for the references to chemicals. That wasn’t surprising given the many non-chemical options the villagers were using.

Later that week we visited another village, Panayaburam, slightly larger than Seethapappi, with a small cooperative office where the farmers met.

Here we quickly learned of a different set of attitudes. The farmers did mention neem oil and using a net to keep small insect pests out of vegetables, but many said that “here we only use chemicals.” One went so far as to say that if you used a mix made from cow dung on your plants, the other farmers would say that you were insane.

Anthropologists have long known that each village is unique; conclusions drawn in one village may not apply to neighboring ones. Even so, such a big difference in attitudes to chemicals was surprising. Seethapappi farmers said that they liked everything in the fact sheets, except for the chemicals. In Panayaburam farmers only wanted to know about pesticides to manage pests and diseases.

There is one major difference between these two villages. Organic-leaning Seethapappi has a KVK (farm science center), where farmers receive training and get advice. Extension agents in that KVK have generated a lot of excitement about making inputs from local materials. Panayaburam does not have a KVK, and farmers rely on the biased advice of agro-chemical dealers to keep plants healthy.

A KVK is a permanent structure, with a building and staff, working with farmers over the years. Extensionists may become frustrated with the pace of change because farmers seldom adopt a new technique instantly. Smallholders have to try out innovations on their own. Extension agents can and do make a difference in farmers’ attitudes about agrochemicals, even if it takes time.

Design by Olean webdesign