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Strawberry fields once again March 15th, 2020 by

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

Like many Bolivians, Diego Ramírez never thought about remaining in the village where he was born, and starting a business on his family’s small farm. As a kid, he loved picking fruit on his grandparents’ small strawberry patch in the village of Ucuchi, and swimming with his friends in a pond fed with spring water, but he had to leave home at a young age to attend high school in the small city of Sacaba, and then he went on to study computer science at the university (UMSS) in the big city of Cochabamba, where he found work after graduation.

Years later, Diego‚Äôs dad called his seven children together to tell them that he was selling their grandparents‚Äô farm. It made sense. The grandparents had died, and the land had been idle for about 15 years. Yet, it struck Diego as a tragedy, so he said ‚ÄúI‚Äôll farm it.‚ÄĚ Some people thought he was joking. In Ucuchi, people were leaving agriculture, not getting into it. Many had migrated to Bolivia‚Äôs eastern lowlands or to foreign countries, so many of the fields in Ucuchi were abandoned. It was not the sort of place that people like Diego normally return to.

When Diego decided to revive his family farm two years ago, he turned to the Internet for inspiration. Although strawberries have been grown for many years in Ucuchi, and they are a profitable crop around Cochabamba, Diego learned of a commercial strawberry farm in Santo Domingo, Santiago, in neighboring Chile, that gave advice and sold plants. Santo Domingo is 2450 km from Cochabamba, but Diego was so serious about strawberries that he went there over a weekend and brought back 500 strawberry plants. Crucially, he also learned about new technologies like drip irrigation, and planting in raised beds covered with plastic sheeting. Encouraged by his new knowledge, he found dealers in Cochabamba who sold drip irrigation equipment and he installed it, along with plastic mulch, a common method in modern strawberry production.

Diego was inclined towards producing strawberries agroecologically, so he contacted the Agrecol Andes Foundation which was then organizing an association of ecological farmers in Sacaba, the small city where Diego lives (half way between the farm and the big city of Cochabamba). In that way Diego became a certified ecological farmer under the SPG PAS (Participatory Guaranty System, Agroecological Farmers of Sacaba).  Diego learned to make his own biol (a fermented solution of cow dung that fertilizes the soil and adds beneficial microbes to it). Now he mixes biol into the drip irrigation tank, fertilizing the strawberries one drop at a time.

Diego also makes his own organic sprays, like sulfur-lime brew and Bordeaux mix. He applies these solutions every two weeks to control powdery mildew, a common fungal disease, thrips (a small insect pest), red mites, and damping off. I was impressed. A lot of people talk about organic sprays, but few make their own. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs not that hard,‚ÄĚ Diego shrugged, when I asked him where he found the time.

Diego finds the time to do a lot of admirable things. He has a natural flair for marketing and has designed his own packing boxes of thin cardboard, which he had printed in La Paz. His customers receive their fruit in a handsome box, rather than in a plastic bag, where fruit is easily damaged. He sells direct to customers who come to his farm, and at agroecological fairs and in stores that sell ecological products.

Diego still does his day job in the city, while also being active in community politics in Ucuchi. He also tends a small field of potatoes and he is planting fruit trees and prickly pear on the rocky slopes above his strawberry field. Diego has also started a farmers’ association with his neighbors, ten men and ten women, including mature adults and young people who are still in university.

The association members grow various crops, not just strawberries. Diego is teaching them to grow strawberries organically and to use drip irrigation. To encourage people to use these methods he has created his own demonstration plots. He has divided his grandparents’ strawberry field into three areas: one with his modern system, one with local varieties grown the old way on bare soil, with flood irrigation, and a third part with modern varieties grown the old way. The modern varieties do poorly when grown the way that Diego’s grandparents used. And Diego says the old way is too much work, mainly because of the weeding, irrigation, pests and diseases.

Ucuchi is an attractive village in the hills, with electricity, running water, a primary school and a small hospital. It is just off the main highway between Cochabamba and Santa Cruz, an hour from the city of Cochabamba where you can buy or sell almost anything. Partly because of these advantages, some young people are returning to Ucuchi. Organic strawberries are hard to grow, and rare in Bolivia. But a unique product, like organic strawberries, and inspired leadership can help to stem the flow of migration, while showing that there are ways for young people to start a viable business in the countryside. Diego clearly loves being back in his home village, stopping his pickup truck to chat with people passing by on the village lanes. He also brings his own family to the farm on weekends, where he has put a new tile roof on his grandparents’ old adobe farm house.

Agriculture is more than making a profit. It is also about family history, community, and finding work that is satisfying and creative.

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EN EL FRUTILLAR DE NUEVO

Por Jeff Bentley, 15 de marzo del 2019

Como muchos bolivianos, Diego Ram√≠rez nunca pens√≥ en quedarse en la comunidad donde naci√≥, y empezar un emprendimiento agr√≠cola en las peque√Īas chacras de su familia. Diego cuenta que de ni√Īo le encantaba recoger fruta en la peque√Īa parcela de frutillas de sus abuelos en la comunidad de Ucuchi, y nadar con sus amigos en una poza de riego, llena de agua de manantial, pero de joven tuvo que vivir en la ciudad peque√Īa de Sacaba para estudiar en colegio. Luego se fue a estudiar a la Universidad UMSS, la carrera de ingenier√≠a de sistemas. Culminado los estudios, empez√≥ a trabajar en la ciudad de Cochabamba.

A√Īos m√°s tarde, el padre de Diego llam√≥ a sus siete hijos para decirles que estaba vendiendo el terreno de sus abuelos. Ten√≠a sentido. Los abuelos hab√≠an fallecido, y nadie hab√≠a trabajado la tierra durante unos 15 a√Īos. Sin embargo, a Diego le pareci√≥ una tragedia, as√≠ que dijo: “Yo la voy a trabajar”. Algunos pensaron que era un chiste. En Ucuchi, la gente estaba en plan de dejar la agricultura, no meterse en ella. Prefer√≠an emigrar al Oriente de Bolivia y muchos se hab√≠an ido del pa√≠s. Por esta raz√≥n muchas de las parcelas est√°n abandonadas. No es el tipo de lugar al que la gente como Diego normalmente regresa.

Cuando Diego decidi√≥ revivir su finca familiar ya hace dos a√Īos, busc√≥ inspiraci√≥n en el Internet. Aunque la frutilla es un cultivo ancestral de la comunidad de Ucuchi y muy rentable en Cochabamba, Diego se enter√≥ de una empresa productora de frutillas en Santo Domingo, Santiago, en el vecino pa√≠s de Chile, que daba consejos y vend√≠a plantas. Santo Domingo est√° a 2450 km de Cochabamba, pero Diego se tom√≥ tan en serio las frutillas que fue all√≠ un fin de semana y trajo 500 plantas de frutillas. Crucialmente, tambi√©n aprendi√≥ sobre el cultivo tecnificado de frutillas, aplicando el riego por goteo y plantado en camas tapadas con pl√°stico. Movido por sus nuevos conocimientos, busc√≥ distribuidores en Cochabamba que vend√≠an equipos de riego por goteo y los instal√≥, junto con el mulch pl√°stico, un m√©todo com√ļn en la producci√≥n moderna de fresas.

Diego se inclin√≥ m√°s en la producci√≥n agroecol√≥gica para producir frutillas, as√≠ que se contact√≥ con la Fundaci√≥n Agrecol Andes que estaba organizando una asociaci√≥n de productores ecol√≥gicos en Sacaba, la peque√Īa ciudad donde Diego vive, a medio camino entre su terreno y la ciudad grande de Cochabamba. Diego ya tiene certificaci√≥n de productor ecol√≥gico con SPG PAS (Sistema Participativo de Garant√≠a Productores Agroecol√≥gicos Sacaba), Diego aprendi√≥ a hacer su propio biol (una soluci√≥n fermentada de esti√©rcol de vaca que fertiliza el suelo mientras a√Īade microbios buenos). Ahora mezcla el biol en el tanque de riego por goteo, fertilizando las frutillas una gota a la vez.

Diego tambi√©n hace sus propias soluciones org√°nicas, como el sulfoc√°lcico y el caldo bordel√©s. Fumiga estas preparaciones cada dos semanas para controlar el o√≠dium, los thrips (un peque√Īo insecto), la ara√Īuela roja, y la pudrici√≥n de cuello. Me impresion√≥. Mucha gente habla de aplicaciones org√°nicos, pero pocos hacen las suyas. “No es tan dif√≠cil”, Diego dijo cuando le pregunt√© de d√≥nde hallaba el tiempo.

Diego encuentra tiempo para hacer muchas cosas admirables. Tiene un talento natural para el marketing y ha dise√Īado sus propias cajas de cart√≥n delgado, que ha hecho imprimir en La Paz. Sus clientes reciben la fruta en una bonita caja, en lugar de en una bolsa de pl√°stico, donde la fruta se da√Īa f√°cilmente. Vende directamente a los clientes que vienen a la misma parcela, en las ferias agroecol√≥gicas y en tiendas que comercializan productos ecol√≥gicos.

Diego todav√≠a hace su trabajo normal en la ciudad, mientras que tambi√©n tiene una cartera en la comunidad de Ucuchi. Tambi√©n cultiva una peque√Īa chacra de papas y est√° plantando √°rboles frutales y tunas en las laderas pedregosas arriba de su frutillar. Diego tambi√©n ha iniciado una asociaci√≥n de agricultores con sus vecinos, diez hombres y diez mujeres, incluidos adultos mayores y j√≥venes que todav√≠a est√°n en la universidad.

Los miembros de la asociaci√≥n cultivan diversos cultivos, no s√≥lo frutillas. Diego les ense√Īa a cultivar frutillas org√°nicamente y a usar el riego por goteo. Para animar a la gente a usar estos m√©todos, ha creado sus propias parcelas de demostraci√≥n. Ha dividido el frutillar de sus abuelos en tres √°reas: una con su sistema moderno, tecnificado, otra con variedades locales cultivadas al estilo antiguo en suelo desnudo, con riego por inundaci√≥n, y una tercera parte con variedades modernas cultivadas a la manera antigua. Las variedades modernas no rinden bien cuando se cultivan al estilo de los abuelos. Y Diego dice que la forma antigua es mucho trabajo, principalmente por el desmalezado, el riego y las enfermedades adem√°s de las plagas.

Ucuchi es una atractiva comunidad en las faldas del cerro, con electricidad, agua potable, una escuela primaria y un peque√Īo hospital. Est√° justo al lado de la carretera principal a Santa Cruz, a una hora de la ciudad de Cochabamba donde se puede comprar o vender casi cualquier cosa. En parte por estas ventajas, algunos j√≥venes se est√°n volviendo a la comunidad de Ucuchi. Las frutillas org√°nicas son dif√≠ciles de cultivar, y son raras en Bolivia. Pero un producto √ļnico, como las frutillas org√°nicas, y un liderazgo inspirado pueden ayudar a frenar el flujo de la migraci√≥n, al mismo tiempo de mostrar que hay maneras viables para que los j√≥venes empiecen con un emprendimiento personal en el campo. A Diego le encanta estar de vuelta en su comunidad: para su camioneta para charlar con la gente que pasa por los caminos del pueblo. Tambi√©n trae a su propia familia a la finca los fines de semana, donde ha puesto un nuevo techo de tejas en la vieja casa de adobe de sus abuelos.

La agricultura es m√°s que la b√ļsqueda de lucro. Tambi√©n se trata de la tradici√≥n familiar, la comunidad y de sentirse realizado con un trabajo satisfactorio y creativo.

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What counts in agroecology August 18th, 2019 by

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

Measuring the costs and benefits of a small farm can be harder than on a large one, especially if the small farm includes an orchard and makes many of its own inputs, as I saw on a recent visit to Sipe Sipe, near Cochabamba, Bolivia, where a faith-based organization, Agroecología y Fe (Agroecology and Faith) is setting up ecological orchards.

The director of Agroecology and Faith, Germ√°n Vargas, explained that a forest creates soil, gradually building up rich, black earth under the trees, while agriculture usually exposes the soil to erosion. A farm based on trees, with organic fertilizer, and with vegetables growing beneath the trees, should be a way to make a profit while conserving the soil. 

Extensionist Marcelina Alarcón showed us the apple trees that she and local farmers planted in August, 2018. They started by terracing the one hectare of gently sloping land. In one week of hard work they built a 200,000 liter, circular water reservoir of stone and concrete (gravity-fed with stream water) to irrigate the terraces and three additional hectares. The cost was 64,000 Bs. ($9,275), which seems like a big investment, but similar reservoirs built 30 years ago are still working.

Lush beds of lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, wheat, onions (some plants grown for their seed) are thriving beneath the apple trees. When one crop is harvested another takes its place, in complex rotations over small spaces. No chemicals are used, but the group makes calcium sulphate spray and liquid organic fertilizers to improve the soil, prevent crop diseases and enhance the production and quality of the apples and vegetables.

The group has harvested vegetables four times and sold them directly to consumers at fairs organized by Agroecology and Faith for a total gross receipt of 4,380 Bolivianos ($635).

I was visiting the farm at Sipe Sipe with a small group organized by Agroecology and Faith and some of their allies. Some of the lettuce, onions and tomatoes from the farm end up in a tub during our visit, to make a salad for the visitors‚ÄĒpart of a fabulous lunch (complete with fresh potatoes and mutton cooked underground) offered at a modest cost. Produce cooked on site and sold informally on the farm are probably not counted when estimating profitability. After the tour of the farm and before the lunch, Marcelina set up a table with some vegetables for sale. She was kept quite busy writing down each transaction as we bought small bags of tomatoes and other produce for amounts less than a dollar each.

The sale of half a kilo of tomatoes is as much work to document as the sale of twenty tons of rice. A small farm has many more sales than a large farm and it takes a lot of administrative work to keep track of produce that is not sold because it goes into seed, feed or onto the family table.

The cost:benefit of a conventional field is simpler to tabulate: so much labor, machinery, seed and chemicals, all purchased, and single crop yields measured with relative ease. Yet this doesn‚Äôt tell the whole story. Loss of soil due to erosion, or carbon and nitrogen to the atmosphere, or pollution from fertilizer run-off all have a cost, even if they are often dismissed as ‚Äúexternalities.‚ÄĚ

An agroforestry system like the hectare of apples and vegetables we visited starts with a large investment in irrigation and terracing. Many of the inputs are labor, or home-made fertilizers, and their cost is not always counted. The apple trees have not yet borne fruit, and some of the vegetables may escape the bookkeeper‚Äôs tally. Yet here the ‚Äúexternalities‚ÄĚ have a positive and valuable contribution: soil is being created, chemical pollution is nil, and livelihoods are enriched as local farmers, mostly women, learn to work together to produce healthy food to sell. Classical economic comparisons with conventional farms fail to take account of these benefits.

Even a small farm can have a lot to consider in estimating returns, with many crops and activities and environmental services. Until we learn to measure the environmental efficiency as well as financial profitability of agroforestry or agroecological farms properly, they will never look as good as they really are.

Further reading

A recent report from the FAO (the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization) concludes that yield data is too poor a parameter to compare conventional (over-plowed, chemical intensive) agriculture with agroecology, a beyond-organic agriculture with soil conservation and respect for local communities.

HLPE Report on Agroecological and other innovative approaches for sustainable agriculture and food systems that enhance food security and nutrition. Extract from the Report: Summary and Recommendations (19 June 2019). Rome: FAO http://www.csm4cfs.org/summary-recommendations-hlpe-report-agroecology-innovations/

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LO QUE CUENTA EN LA AGROECOLOG√ćA

Por Jeff Bentley, 18 de agosto del 2019

Medir los costos y los beneficios de una peque√Īa finca puede ser m√°s dif√≠cil que en una grande, especialmente si la peque√Īa incluye √°rboles y produce muchos de sus propios insumos, como vi en una reciente visita a Sipe Sipe, cerca de Cochabamba, Bolivia, donde la organizaci√≥n eclesial ‚ÄúAsociaci√≥n Agroecolog√≠a y Fe‚ÄĚ (AAF) est√° estableciendo huertos ecol√≥gicos agroforestales.

El director de la AAF, Germ√°n Vargas, explic√≥ que un bosque crea suelo, acumulando gradualmente tierra negra y rica bajo los √°rboles, mientras que la agricultura suele exponer el suelo a la erosi√≥n. Una finca basada en √°rboles, con abonos org√°nicos, y con hortalizas que crecen debajo de los √°rboles, deber√≠a ser una forma de obtener beneficios al mismo tiempo que se conserva el suelo. 

La extensionista Marcelina Alarc√≥n nos mostr√≥ los manzanos que ella y la gente local plantaron en agosto del 2018. Comenzaron haciendo terrazas en una hect√°rea en suave pendiente. En una semana de trabajo duro construyeron un reservorio circular de agua de 200.000 litros de piedra y concreto (llenado por gravedad de agua de riachuelo) para regar las terrazas y tres hect√°reas adicionales. El costo fue de 64.000 Bs. ($9,275), que parece una inversi√≥n grande, pero reservorios similares construidos hace 30 a√Īos siguen funcionando.

Camellones exuberantes de lechuga, repollo, br√≥coli, trigo, cebollas (algunas cultivadas para su semilla) prosperan bajo los manzanos. Cuando se cosecha un cultivo, otro ocupa su lugar, en complejas rotaciones sobre peque√Īos espacios. No aplican productos qu√≠micos, pero el grupo fabrica caldo mineral sulfoc√°lcico y abonos org√°nicos l√≠quidos para mejorar el suelo, prevenir las enfermedades de los cultivos y mejorar la producci√≥n y calidad de los manzanos y de las hortalizas.

El grupo ha cosechado verduras cuatro veces y las ha vendido directamente a los consumidores en ferias organizadas por la AAF (en una canasta solidaria y saludable) por un total de 4.380 bolivianos (635 dólares).

Yo visitaba la finca agroforestal de Sipe Sipe con un peque√Īo grupo organizado por la AAF y algunos de sus aliados. Algunas de las lechugas, cebollas y tomates de la finca terminaron en una ba√Īera durante nuestra visita, para hacer una ensalada para los visitantes, parte de un fabuloso almuerzo (con papas frescas y cordero cocido bajo tierra en un pampaku) ofrecido a un precio modesto. Los productos cocinados en el sitio y vendidos informalmente en la finca probablemente no se contabilizan. Despu√©s del recorrido por la finca y antes del almuerzo, Marcelina organiz√≥ una mesa para vender algunas verduras. Se mantuvo ocupada apuntando cada transacci√≥n mientras compr√°bamos peque√Īas bolsas de tomates y otros productos por cantidades menos de un d√≥lar cada una.

La venta de medio kilo de tomates es tanto trabajo como la venta de veinte toneladas de arroz. Una finca peque√Īa tiene muchas m√°s ventas que una grande y se requiere mucho trabajo administrativo para hacer un seguimiento de los productos que no se venden porque van a parar como semilla, para alimentar a los animales o a la mesa de la familia.

El costo:beneficio de un campo convencional es m√°s simple de tabular: tanta mano de obra, maquinaria, semillas y productos qu√≠micos, todos comprados, y el rendimiento de un solo cultivo medido con relativa facilidad. Sin embargo, esto no cuenta toda la historia. La p√©rdida de suelo debido a la erosi√≥n, o el carbono y nitr√≥geno a la atm√≥sfera, o la contaminaci√≥n por la escorrent√≠a de los fertilizantes, todos ellos tienen un costo, aunque a menudo se desestimen como “externalidades”.

Un sistema agroforestal, como la hect√°rea de manzanas y hortalizas que visitamos comienza con una gran inversi√≥n en riego y terrazas. Muchos de los insumos son mano de obra, o abonos caseros, y su costo no siempre se cuenta. Los manzanos a√ļn no han dado fruto, y algunas de las verduras pueden escaparse de la cuenta del contable. Sin embargo, aqu√≠ las “externalidades” tienen una contribuci√≥n positiva y valiosa: se est√° creando el suelo, la contaminaci√≥n qu√≠mica es nula y los medios de subsistencia se enriquecen a medida que los agricultores locales, en su mayor√≠a mujeres, aprenden a trabajar juntas para producir alimentos saludables para vender. Las comparaciones econ√≥micas cl√°sicas con las explotaciones convencionales no tienen en cuenta estos beneficios.

Incluso una peque√Īa granja puede tener mucho que considerar al estimar los rendimientos, con muchos cultivos y actividades y servicios ambientales. Hasta que no aprendamos a medir la eficiencia ambiental y la rentabilidad financiera de las granjas agroforestales o agroecol√≥gicas de manera adecuada, nunca se ver√°n tan bien como realmente son.

Para leer m√°s

Un informe reciente de la FAO (Organización de las Naciones Unidas para la Alimentación y la Agricultura) concluye que los datos sobre el rendimiento son muy pobres para poder comparar la agricultura convencional (sobre arado, con uso intensivo de químicos) con la agroecología, una agricultura que vas más allá de la orgánica, con conservación del suelo y respeto para las comunidades locales.

Resumen y recomendaciones del informe del GANESAN sobre Agroecología y otras innovaciones (19 de junio 2019). Roma: FAO. http://www.csm4cfs.org/es/summary-recommendations-hlpe-report-agroecology-innovations/

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Enlightened Agroecology August 4th, 2019 by

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

Francisco ‚ÄúPacho‚ÄĚ Gangotena grew up in the countryside of Ecuador and decided that the best way to help smallholder farmers was to get an education. So, he went abroad for a Ph.D. in anthropology. He came home feeling like ‚Äúthe divine papaya‚ÄĚ, he says, thinking that he could change the world with his doctorate.

After a year of teaching at the university, Pacho wanted do something more practical, so he and his wife Maritza sold the house and the car and bought four hectares of land for farming not too far from Quito. But making this work was going to be a huge challenge. The land had no trees and the soil was degraded.

From day one, the family decided that they would use no agrochemicals. They gradually improved the soil by recycling the crop residues and manure back into the soil. Pacho estimates that in this way the family has applied the equivalent of 4000 truckloads of compost since he first began farming here over 35 years ago.

I met Pacho recently on his farm in Puembo, in the Ecuadorian Andes, where he happily showed me and a few other visitors his four dairy cows. He puts sawdust in their stall to absorb their manure and urine. Each cow eats 90 kilos of feed daily and produces about 70 kilos of waste every day, equivalent to 25 tons of organic fertilizer each year for every cow. A single cow can fertilize one hectare of crops. All the manure goes onto the farm, along with all of the composted crop residues.

Pacho rotates his vegetable crops on his four-hectare farm. Potatoes are followed by broccoli, lettuce, radishes and green beans. He employs ten people and is proud that his small farm can give jobs to local families by producing healthy vegetables to sell direct to consumers in the local markets.

His grown son and daughter have also found work on the farm. Pacho jokes that he has retired and that now his daughter is his boss‚ÄĒand a pretty demanding one.

Besides recycling organic matter, Pacho also has some more unusual strategies for building up the soil. He enriches it with wood ash from pizzerias and with powdered rock from quarries. As the quarries cut stone, they leave behind a lot of powdered rock, as waste, which Pacho collects. Rocks are rich in minerals (with up to 80 elements) and are one of nature’s main components of soil.

Pacho is up front about his limitations, which adds to his credibility. A new phytoplasma disease (punta morada) is sweeping Ecuador, wiping out potato fields, including his. He also has to import vegetable seed from the USA and Europe.

But Pacho‚Äôs vegetable fields are lush, like gardens, and now surrounded by trees that the family has planted ‚Äúproviding room, board and employment for the birds and for beneficial insects,‚ÄĚ Pacho explains. An ornithologist friend counted 32 bird species on the farm, including 22 insectivores. Pacho is convinced that the birds help him to control pests without the need for insecticides. Predatory insects also provide a natural biological control of pests.

He also thinks that it is important to share what he has learned, welcoming around 32,000 smallholders to visit his farm over the years. It helps that he was the director of Swiss Aid in Ecuador for 20 years and has built a large network of collaborating farmers. Many come in groups, and some stay for several days to learn about organic farming and agroecology.

The farm’s family and staff feed us a big lunch of kale salad, potato soup and a lasagna made with green leaves instead of pasta. All vegetarian and delicious. The farm has a clear emphasis on nutritious food and produces lots of it. By intercropping and rotating crops, they get 92 tons of vegetables and other crops per hectare each year, a more than respectable yield by any standard. Since buying the farm, the organic matter, or carbon held in the soil has increased from 2% to 12% or more. In a hectare that is at least 500 tons of carbon.

Not everyone is in favor of organic, biological agriculture. For example, in an otherwise excellent book, Enlightenment Now, Steven Pinker argues that organic agriculture is not sustainable, because it supposedly uses more land that conventional agriculture.

In fact, in developing countries organic agriculture yields 80% more than conventional agriculture, but without the yield stagnation or decline that occurs with the high use of external inputs (see Uniformity in Diversity by IPES Food).

But Pinker, in his characteristic optimism, also writes that even though climate change is the world’s most serious problem, it can be solved if we really work on it.

That brings us back to the Gangotena family farm, which is providing jobs, and lots of healthy food, while removing carbon from the air where it is harmful and putting it underground where it is useful.  Organic agriculture may be one of the world‚Äôs greatest techniques for sequestering carbon from the atmosphere, storing in the soil as rich, black earth for productive farming.

Further reading

Pinker, Steven 2018 Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress. London: Penguin Books.

IPES Food 2016 From Uniformity to Diversity: A paradigm shift from industrial agriculture to diversified agroecological systems. International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems.

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Acknowledgements

Thanks to Pacho Gangotena and his family for their generosity of spirit and for the example they set, to Ross Borja and Pedro Oyarz√ļn of EkoRural for organizing the visit to the farm. EkoRural is supported in part by the McKnight Foundation. Thanks to Ross Borja, Pedro Oyarz√ļn, Claire Nicklin, Pacho Gangotena, Paul Van Mele and Eric Boa for reading an earlier draft of this story.

LA LUZ DE LA AGROECOLOG√ćA

Por Jeff Bentley, 4 de agosto del 2019

Francisco “Pacho” Gangotena creci√≥ en el campo en Ecuador y decidi√≥ que la mejor manera de ayudar a los campesinos era obtener una educaci√≥n. As√≠ que, se fue al exterior para hacer un doctorado en antropolog√≠a. Lleg√≥ a casa sinti√©ndose como “la divina papaya “, dice, pensando que podr√≠a cambiar el mundo con su doctorado.

Despu√©s de un a√Īo de ense√Īar en la universidad, Pacho quer√≠a hacer algo m√°s pr√°ctico, as√≠ que √©l y su esposa Maritza vendieron la casa y el auto y compraron cuatro hect√°reas de tierra cerca de Quito. Pero la agricultura iba a ser un gran desaf√≠o. La tierra no ten√≠a √°rboles y el suelo estaba degradado.

Desde el primer d√≠a, la familia decidi√≥ que no usar√≠a agroqu√≠micos. Poco a poco mejoraron el suelo volviendo a incorporar los rastrojos y el esti√©rcol. Pacho estima que de esta manera la familia ha aplicado el equivalente a 4000 camiones de compost desde que empezaron a trabajar la tierra hace 35 a√Īos.

Conoc√≠ a Pacho hace poco en su finca en Puembo, en los Andes ecuatorianos, donde con toda felicidad √©l mostr√≥ a m√≠ y a algunos otros visitantes sus cuatro vacas lecheras. Pone aserr√≠n en su establo para absorber el esti√©rcol y la orina. Cada vaca come 90 kilos de alimento al d√≠a y produce unos 70 kilos de esti√©rcol al dia, unas 25 toneladas de abono org√°nico por vaca, al a√Īo. Cada vaca fertiliza una hect√°rea. Todo el esti√©rcol fertiliza el suelo junto con los rastrojos del campo convertidos en compost.

Pacho rota sus cultivos en sus cuatro hect√°reas de cultivo que constituyen su finca. Despu√©s de las papas pone br√≥coli, lechuga, r√°banos y arvejas. Emplea a diez personas y est√° orgulloso de que su peque√Īa finca d√© empleo a las familias locales, produciendo verduras sanas para venderlas directamente a los consumidores en los mercados locales.

Su hijo y su hija también traban en la finca. Pacho bromea que se ha jubilado y que ahora su hija es su jefa, y que es muy dura.

Adem√°s de reciclar la materia org√°nica, Pacho tambi√©n tiene algunas estrategias m√°s originales para crear suelo. La enriquece con ceniza de le√Īa de pizzer√≠as y con el polvo de roca de las canteras. Como las canteras cortan piedra, dejan mucha roca en polvo, como desecho, que Pacho recoge. La rocas son ricas en minerales (hasta 80 elementos) y constituyen uno de los principales componentes naturales del suelo.

Pacho admite francamente sus limitaciones, lo cual le da m√°s credibilidad. Un nuevo fitoplasma (una enfermedad‚ÄĒpunta morada) est√° arrasando con las papas del Ecuador, incluido las suyas. Tambi√©n tiene que importar varias de sus semillas de hortalizas de los Estados Unidos y Europa.

Pero las hortalizas de Pacho son exuberantes, como jardines, y ahora est√°n rodeados de √°rboles que la familia ha plantado “para dar ‚Äėroom and board‚Äô y trabajo a los p√°jaros e insectos ben√©ficos”, explica Pacho. Un amigo ornit√≥logo cont√≥ 32 especies de aves en la granja, incluyendo 22 insect√≠voros. Pacho est√° convencido de que las aves le ayudan a controlar las plagas sin necesidad de usar insecticidas. Los insectos depredadores tambi√©n hacen un control biol√≥gico natural de las plagas.

Tambi√©n cree que es importante compartir lo que ha aprendido y 32.000 campesinos han visitado su granja a lo largo de los a√Īos. Es una ventaja haber sido director de Swiss Aid en Ecuador durante 20 a√Īos y ha creado una amplia red de agricultores colaboradores. Muchos vienen en grupos, y algunos se quedan varios d√≠as para aprender sobre la agricultura org√°nica y la agroecolog√≠a.

La familia y el personal de la granja nos alimentan con un gran almuerzo de ensalada de col rizada, sopa de papas y una lasa√Īa de hojas verdes sin pasta. Todo vegetariano y delicioso. La finca tiene un claro √©nfasis en la comida nutritiva, la cual produce en abundancia. A trav√©s del policultivo y la rotaci√≥n de cultivos, obtienen 92 toneladas de hortalizas y productos agr√≠colas por a√Īo en las cuatro hect√°reas, por a√Īo, m√°s que respetables bajo cualquier sistema. Desde que compr√≥  la finca, la materia org√°nica o carbono retenido en el suelo ha subido del 2% al 12% o m√°s. En una hect√°rea de al menos 500 toneladas de carbono.

No todos están a favor de la agricultura orgánica y biológica. Por ejemplo, en un libro por lo demás excelente, Enlightenment Now, Steven Pinker argumenta que la agricultura orgánica no es sostenible, porque supuestamente usa más tierra que la agricultura convencional.

De hecho, en los países en desarrollo la agricultura orgánica rinde un 80% más que la agricultura convencional, pero sin los rendimientos estancados o en disminución que sucede con el alto uso de insumos externos (véase Uniformity in Diversity por IPES Food).

Pero Pinker, con su caracter√≠stico optimismo, a√Īade que aunque el cambio clim√°tico es el problema m√°s grave del mundo, puede resolverse si realmente trabajamos en eso.

Esto nos lleva de nuevo a la granja de la familia Gangotena, que crea puestos de trabajo y produce abundantes alimentos saludables, a la vez que extrae el carbono del aire donde hace da√Īo y lo pone bajo tierra donde hace bien.  

Leer m√°s

Pinker, Steven 2018 Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress. London: Penguin Books.

IPES Food 2016 From Uniformity to Diversity: A paradigm shift from industrial agriculture to diversified agroecological systems. International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems.

Historia de blog relacionada

Out of space

Agradecimientos

Gracias a Pacho Gangotena y su familia por su esp√≠ritu generoso y por el ejemplo que nos dan, a Ross Borja y Pedro Oyarz√ļn de EkoRural por organizar la visita a la granja. EkoRural recibe apoyo de la Fundaci√≥n McKnight. Gracias a Ross Borja, Pedro Oyarz√ļn, Claire Nicklin, Pacho Gangotena, Paul Van Mele y Eric Boa por leer una versi√≥n anterior de esta relaci√≥n.

When ants and microbes join hands June 23rd, 2019 by

When I recently attended the 1st International Conference on Agroecology – Transforming Agriculture & Food Systems in Africa, one of the research posters on display drew my attention. Effective microorganisms¬ģ are a commercial mix of beneficial bacteria, yeast and other living things. A team in Mozambique had found that the microorganisms not only controlled Oidium, a serious fungal disease in cashew, but also managed the devastating sap-sucking bug that deforms nuts and causes their premature fall. Or at least that is what the title said.

Professor Panfilo Tabora had been working for many years with cashew. Not knowing that I was an avid fan of the weaver ant, Oecophylla, a tree-dwelling predator, Panfilo gently explained to me that the microorganisms attracted the weaver ant to the cashew trees. ‚ÄúThe ants were a bonus,‚ÄĚ he said with a smile. I knew that weaver ants effectively control bugs, but now I was completely intrigued: how on earth would microorganisms attract ants?

‚ÄúEarlier, farmers helped the weaver ants to colonize new trees by putting ropes between trees so the ants could colonise new trees and attack bugs and other pests,‚ÄĚ Panfilo explained me. ‚ÄúBut when farmers started spraying fungicides the ants disappeared.‚ÄĚ

For several years, Panfilo and his colleagues began to teach villagers to make their own liquid molasses from dried and stored cashew apples as a source of sugar, minerals and amino acids to feed and multiply the microorganisms. So the farmers made molasses to feed the effective microorganisms, which controlled the Oidium. But even when the fermented solution was ready to spray on the trees it was still sweet. ‚ÄúWhen farmers spray their trees with the solution, the sweet liquid and amino acids attracts the ants.‚ÄĚ

Although the poster did not tell the full story, there was still truth in saying that microorganisms controlled the fungal disease and the pest, in reality it was the fermented solution that attracted the ants, which controlled the bugs. Still, even such a roundabout pest control is worth having.  

I felt reassured to know that valuable ancient technologies of biological control, such as weaver ant husbandry, have a future when combined with modern agroecological technologies that restore rather than kill ecosystems.

‚ÄúAnd we discovered a few more unintended benefits,‚ÄĚ Professor Panfilo continued. ‚ÄúBy spraying the tree canopies with microorganisms, farmers are no longer exposed to pesticides and can reduce the cost of pruning.‚ÄĚ As pesticides are expensive and harmful, farmers need to move quickly from one tree to the next to spray the outside canopy of the trees, or else they will get covered with chemicals. But as these effective microorganisms are safe for people, farmers can actually spray the under-canopies from below. The tree canopies often touch one another, which also helps the ants to move between trees. Instead of pruning every year, Prof Panfilo‚Äôs team tells farmers to just prune once every other year, or even every three years so as to have more terminals for flowering and fruiting and to let the ants move from tree to tree. All of this adds up to more yield.

At that stage, I was so impressed that I had a hard time absorbing yet another unintended benefit of this organic technology. In Mozambique, as in many other countries, farmers use the fallen cashew apples to make cashew apple juice. ‚ÄúBy spraying cashew trees with effective microorganisms, it acts as an anti-oxidant so the juice retains its clear colour for at least 2 months,‚ÄĚ said Panfilo.

Quite a few of the presentations at the conference had nicely illustrated the benefits of organic agriculture to people and the environment, but Prof Panfilo and his team stood out because they illustrated how the introduction of even a single, modern eco-technology can have such a wide range of benefits.

Not all microorganisms are bad, as people in the industry, schools and media often wants us to make believe. Thanks to the work of practical researchers, we learn that this healthy mix of microscopic flora can cure mildew, attract ants that kill pests, provide a safe alternative to pesticides and stop cashew fruit juice from oxidizing for months.

Related blogs

Effective micro-organisms

The smell of ants

Ants in the kitchen

Related videos

Good microbes for plants and soil

Promoting weaver ants in your orchard

Weaver ants against fruit flies

Preparing cashew apple juice

Gardening against all odds May 26th, 2019 by

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

All over the tropics, from Lima to Lagos, from Mumbai to Manila, the big cities are overflowing with migrants. In some regions, like the Andes, parts of the countryside are emptying out, with whole villages boarded up.

The new neighborhoods ringing the cities are often described as crowded eyesores. Ana and I visited one recently, on the edge of Cochabamba, a city that has long been divided into a fashionable north side, hemmed in by mountains, and by a working-class south side. But in the past 10 years or so the south side has mushroomed out of the valley bottom, to grow over the hills south of town. At night the lights on the hills are a reminder of how much the city has changed.

In one of the newest of these poor neighborhoods, we met some of the 80 members of a women’s group, Nueva Semilla (New Seed). Migration has been intense after the mining industry crumbled in the 1980s, but even in the past 10 years people have continued to leave villages in the provinces of Cochabamba and in Northern Potosí, the poorest region of Bolivia, to seek a better life in the city.

Nueva Semilla is in a tough neighborhood where people have to look after themselves. Families live on small plots of land, where they slowly build their brick and cement houses with their own hands, in their limited free time, usually just Sundays and national holidays. The streets are unpaved and dusty, laid out on square grids (or in curves on some of the steeper slopes). The government has built schools and hospitals. There is electricity, but no running water. People buy water from tanker trucks for a dollar a barrel.

The women’s group started in 2014, when some of them were taking a catechism class. They were impressed with the garden in the churchyard and this set them thinking. They had all been farmers in the places they had come from; why not establish their own gardens in their new homes?

But the women were used to growing potatoes, maize and barley, not garden vegetables. Fortunately, an NGO, the Agroecology and Faith Association, helped them with seed and some training, and some fabric to make semi-shade to protect the young plants against the fierce sun.

Do√Īa Betty, one of the leaders, showed us the plot with her house, a small square of rocky hillside with no soil. Do√Īa Betty bought a truckload of loamy soil, which she mixes with leaf-litter she collects from beneath mesquite trees on the surrounding hills. She puts the mixture in old tires, and irrigates with water she buys. She has created a delightful garden, with a dozen different vegetables, including healthy, organic tomatoes and celery which she is growing for seed to share with the members of her group.

A neighbor, do√Īa Ernestina, is also in the group, and she has a lush garden of about 10 by 10 meters. She has a small hydroponic garden of PVC tubes filled with thriving lettuce plants, an investment paid for by the local municipality. Agroecology and Faith has a strong organic ethos and frowns on the hydroponic gardens because they rely on mineral fertilizer. Yet the NGO is also flexible enough to tolerate the hydroponic gardens, which the women seem to genuinely like. The women‚Äôs group is also independent and free to make links with more than one institution.

We paid a small fee, along with a small group of other visitors, for lunch which the women made. They were eager to sell their vegetables. Four heads of lettuce went for about 65-dollar cents, cheaper than in the market. The families eat a lot of their own produce and the kids we saw appeared healthy and well-fed. The women’s small vegetable gardens are surprisingly productive, even if they have to make their own soil and buy their water. The families even have surplus produce to sell.

The NGO is planning a seed exchange fair to ‚Ķ Once a month they also have a solidarity fair, where the women sell ‚Äėsolidarity‚Äô baskets of vegetables they produce themselves.  

The women and their families have left their farms behind, but they have also brought the best of country values with them: hard-work and creativity. These adaptive people have taken their personal development into their own hands, and have decided that a home garden is one of the tickets out of poverty.

Related blog stories

Agroecology and Faith’s solidarity baskets are modeled on an experience in Ecuador, which (as luck would have it) I have reported on in a previous blog: Donating food with style

For a story on hydroponic gardening: No land, no water, no problem

Related videos

For videos on seed fairs, and farmers’ rights to seed, see:

Farmers‚Äô rights to seed ‚Äď Guatemala

Farmers’ rights to seed – Malawi

UN MEJOR FUTURO CON JARDINES

Por Jeff Bentley

26 de mayo del 2019

Por todo el trópico, desde Lima hasta Lagos, desde Mumbai hasta Manila, las grandes ciudades están repletas de migrantes. En algunas regiones, como los Andes, partes del campo se están vaciando, con aldeas enteras tapiadas.

Los nuevos barrios que rodean las ciudades se describen a menudo como ‚Äúcinturones de miseria‚ÄĚ. Hace poco, Ana y yo visitamos a una, en las afueras de Cochabamba, una ciudad que ha estado dividida por mucho tiempo en un lado norte de moda, rodeada de monta√Īas, y por un lado sur de la clase trabajadora. Pero en los √ļltimos 10 a√Īos, m√°s o menos, el lado sur ha salido del piso del valle, para crecer sobre los cerros al sur de la ciudad. Por la noche, las luces de las colinas son un recordatorio de lo mucho que ha cambiado la ciudad.

En uno de los m√°s nuevos de estos barrios pobres, conocimos a algunas de los 80 miembros de un grupo de mujeres, llamado Nueva Semilla. Ellas han migrado de las provincias de Cochabamba y del norte de Potos√≠, la regi√≥n m√°s pobre de Bolivia. La miner√≠a colaps√≥ en los a√Īos 1980, pero la gente sigue llegando para buscar una vida mejor en la ciudad.

Nueva Semilla est√° en un barrio duro de gente habilosa. Las familias viven en peque√Īas parcelas de tierra, donde lentamente construyen sus casas de ladrillo y cemento con sus propias manos, los domingos y feriados. Las calles est√°n sin pavimentar y polvorientas, pero dispuestas en cuadr√≠culas (o en curvas en algunas de las pendientes m√°s empinadas). El gobierno ha construido escuelas y hospitales. Hay electricidad, pero no hay agua corriente. La gente compra agua de camiones cisternas por 8 Bs. el turril de 200 litros.

El grupo de mujeres comenz√≥ en 2014, cuando algunas de ellas estaban tomando una clase de catecismo. Quedaron impresionados con el jard√≠n de la iglesia y se pusieron a pensar. Ellas hab√≠an sido agricultoras en sus lugares de origen ¬Ņpor qu√© no establecer huertos familiares en su nuevo lugar?

Pero ellas estaban acostumbradas a cultivar papas, maíz y cebada, no hortalizas. Afortunadamente, una ONG, la Asociación de Agroecología y Fe, les ayudó con semillas y algo de capacitación, y algunas telas para hacer semisombra para proteger las plantitas contra el feroz sol.

Do√Īa Betty, una de las l√≠deres, nos mostr√≥ su casa, en un peque√Īo lote de ladera rocosa sin suelo. Do√Īa Betty compr√≥ una camionada de lama, que mezcla con las hojarascas que recoge debajo de los √°rboles de algarrobo (thaqo) en las colinas circundantes. Ella pone esta mezcla en llantas viejas, y riega con agua que ella compra. Ella ha creado un jard√≠n encantador, con una docena de diferentes verduras, incluyendo tomates org√°nicos y apio que est√° cultivando para compartir las semillas con los miembros de su grupo.

Una vecina, do√Īa Ernestina, tambi√©n est√° en el grupo, y tiene un exuberante jard√≠n de unos 10 por 10 metros. Tiene un peque√Īo jard√≠n hidrop√≥nico de tubos de PVC llenos de plantas de lechuga, una inversi√≥n pagada por la municipalidad local. La Agroecolog√≠a y la Fe prefiere lo org√°nico, y no est√° muy de acuerdo con los jardines hidrop√≥nicos, porque usan fertilizantes minerales. Pero la ONG es suficientemente flexible para tolerar los huertos hidrop√≥nicos, que a las mujeres les gustan. El grupo de mujeres es independiente y libre de establecer v√≠nculos con m√°s de una instituci√≥n.

Junto con un peque√Īo grupo de otros visitantes, pagamos un poquito para un almuerzo que las mujeres nos prepararon. Estaban ansiosas por vender sus verduras. Cuatro cabezas de lechuga costaron 5 Bs., m√°s barato que en el mercado. Las familias comen mucho de sus propios productos y sus hijos parecen limpios, sanos y bien alimentado). Los peque√Īos huertos de las mujeres son sorprendentemente productivos, a pesar de que tienen que hacer su propio suelo y comprar su agua. Las familias tambi√©n tienen excedentes de hortalizas para vender.

Agroecolog√≠a y Fe est√° planeando una feria de intercambio de semillas, y una vez al mes tienen una feria solidaria, donde las mujeres venden canastas solidarias de verduras que ellas mismas producen. 

Las mujeres y sus familias han dejado atr√°s sus granjas, pero trajeron consigo lo mejor de los valores rurales: el trabajo duro y la creatividad. Esta gente vers√°til ha tomado su desarrollo personal en sus propias manos, y han decidido que un huerto familiar es uno de los boletos para salir de la pobreza.

Otras historias del blog

Las canastas de solidaridad de Agroecología y Fe se inspiraron de una experiencia en el Ecuador, que (por pura casualidad) he descrito en un blog previo: Donaciones de comida, con estilo

Para una historia sobre la producción hidropónica de hortalizas: Sin tierra, sin agua, no hay problema

Videos que le podrían interesar

Para videos sobre las semillas de semillas, y de los derechos populares a las semillas, vea:

Derechos de los agricultores a las semillas ‚ÄĒ Guatemala

Farmers’ rights to seed – Malawi

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