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The struggle to sell healthy food January 22nd, 2023 by

Nederlandse versie hieronder

Consumers are increasingly realizing the need to eat healthy food, produced without agrochemicals, but on our recent trip to Bolivia we were reminded once more that many organic farmers struggle to sell their produce at a fair price.

The last few days Jeff, Marcella and I have been filming with a group of agroecological farmers in Cochabamba, a city with 1.4 million inhabitants at an altitude of about 2,400 meters. Traditionally, local demand for flowers was high, to use as gifts and decorations at the many festivities, weddings, funerals and family celebrations. When we interview doña Nelly in front of the camera, she explains how many of the women of her agroecological group were into the commercial cut flower business until 5 years ago: “The main reason we abandoned the flower business was that various people in our neighbourhood became seriously sick from the heavy use of pesticides.”

As the women began to produce vegetables instead of flowers, they also took training on ecological farming. They realized that the only way to remain in good health is to care for the health of their soil and the food they consume. All of them being born farmers, the step to start growing organic food seemed a logical one. With the support of a Agrecol Andes, a local NGO that supports agroecological food systems, a group of 16 women embarked on a new journey, full of new challenges.

“Over these past years, we have seen our soil improve again, earthworms and other soil creatures have come back. But I think it will take 10 years before the soil will have fully recovered from the intense misuse of flower growing,” says Nelly.

On Friday morning, we visit the house of one of the members of the group. Various women arrive, carrying their produce in woven bags on their back. Their fresh produce was harvested the day before, washed, weighed, packed and labelled with their group certificate. Internationally recognized organic certification is costly and most farmers in developing countries cannot afford it. So, they use an alternative, more local certification scheme, called Participatory Guarantee System or PGS, whereby member producers evaluate each other. More recently, the group also gets certification from the national government, SENASAG.

Agrecol staff supports the women as they prepare food baskets for their growing number of customers that want their food delivered either at their home or office. Some customers also come and collect their weekly basket at the Agrecol office. Jeff’s wife, Ana, shows us one evening how every week she receives a list of about 4 pages with all produce available that week, and the prices. Until Wednesday noon, the 150 clients are free to select if and what they want to buy. The demand is processed, farmers harvest on Thursday and the fresh food is delivered on Friday morning: a really short food chain with food that has only been harvested the day before it was delivered.

Organizing personalised food baskets weekly is time-consuming. Most farmers also need institutional support as they lack a social network of potential clients in urban centres. Agrecol has invested a lot in sensitising consumers about the need to consume healthy food, using leaflets, social media, fairs and farm visits for consumers. Without support from Agrecol or someone who takes it up as a full-time business, it is difficult for farmers to sell their high-quality produce.

In her interview, Nelly explains that the home delivery was a recent innovation they introduced when the Covid crisis hit, as local markets had closed down, yet people still needed food. Now that public markets re-opened, demand strongly fluctuates from one week to the next, and with the tight profit margins, it might be a challenge to turn it into profitable business. NGOs like Agrecol play a crucial role in helping farmers produce healthy food, and raising the awareness of consumers, who learn to appreciate organic produce.

As Cochabamba is a large city, Agrecol has over the years helped agroecological farmer groups to negotiate with the local authorities to ensure they have a dedicated space on the weekly markets in various parts of the city.

Local authorities have a crucial role to play in supporting ecological and organic farmers that goes way beyond providing training and inspecting fields. Farmers need a fair price and a steady market to sell their produce. Being given a space at conventional, urban markets and dedicated agroecological markets is helping, but in low-income countries very few consumers are willing to pay a little extra for food that is produced free of chemicals. Public procurements by local authorities to provide schools with healthy food may provide a more stable source of revenue. It is no surprise that global movements such as the Global Alliance of Organic Districts (GAOD) have put this as a central theme.

Agroecological farmers who go the extra mile to nurture the health of our planet and the people who live on it, deserve a stable, fair income and peace of mind.

As Nelly concluded in her interview: “It is a struggle, but we have to fight it for the good of our children and those who come after them.”

Related blogs

Better food for better farming

Marketing as a performance

Choosing to farm

An exit strategy

Exit strategy 2.0

Look me in the eyes

Related training videos

Creating agroecological markets

Home delivery of organic produce

 

De strijd om gezond voedsel te verkopen

Consumenten worden zich steeds meer bewust van de noodzaak om gezond voedsel te eten, geproduceerd zonder landbouwchemicaliën, maar tijdens onze recente reis naar Bolivia werden we er opnieuw aan herinnerd dat veel biologische boeren moeite hebben om hun producten tegen een eerlijke prijs te verkopen.

De afgelopen dagen hebben Jeff, Marcella en ik gefilmd met een groep agro-ecologische boeren in Cochabamba, een stad met 1,4 miljoen inwoners op een hoogte van ongeveer 2.400 meter. Traditioneel was de lokale vraag naar bloemen groot, om te gebruiken als geschenk en decoratie bij de vele festiviteiten, bruiloften, begrafenissen en familiefeesten. Als we doña Nelly voor de camera interviewen, legt ze uit hoe veel van de vrouwen van haar agro-ecologische groep tot 5 jaar geleden in de commerciële snijbloemenhandel zaten: “De belangrijkste reden dat we de bloemenhandel hebben opgegeven was dat verschillende mensen in onze buurt ernstig ziek werden door het zware gebruik van pesticiden.”

Toen de vrouwen groenten begonnen te produceren in plaats van bloemen, volgden ze ook een opleiding ecologisch tuinieren. Ze beseften dat de enige manier om gezond te blijven, is te zorgen voor de gezondheid van hun grond en het voedsel dat ze consumeren. Omdat ze allemaal geboren boeren zijn, leek de stap om biologisch voedsel te gaan verbouwen een logische. Met de steun van Agrecol Andes, een lokale NGO die agro-ecologische voedselsystemen ondersteunt, begon een groep van 16 vrouwen aan een nieuwe reis, vol nieuwe uitdagingen.

“De afgelopen jaren hebben we onze grond weer zien verbeteren, regenwormen en andere bodemorganismen zijn teruggekomen. Maar ik denk dat het 10 jaar zal duren voordat de grond volledig hersteld is van het intensieve misbruik van de bloementeelt,” zegt Nelly.

Op vrijdagochtend bezoeken we het huis van een van de leden van de groep. Verschillende vrouwen arriveren, met hun producten in geweven zakken op hun rug. Hun verse producten zijn de dag ervoor geoogst, gewassen, gewogen, verpakt en voorzien van hun groepscertificaat. Internationaal erkende biologische certificering is duur en de meeste boeren in ontwikkelingslanden kunnen zich dat niet veroorloven. Daarom gebruiken ze een alternatief, meer lokaal certificeringssysteem, het zogenaamde Participatory Guarantee System of PGS, waarbij de aangesloten producenten elkaar controleren. Sinds kort wordt de groep ook gecertificeerd door de nationale overheid, SENASAG.

De medewerkers van Agrecol ondersteunen de vrouwen bij het samenstellen van de voedselpakketten voor hun groeiende aantal klanten die hun voedsel thuis of op kantoor geleverd willen krijgen. Sommige klanten komen ook hun wekelijkse mand ophalen in het kantoor van Agrecol. Jeff’s vrouw, Ana, laat ons op een avond zien hoe zij elke week een lijst van ongeveer 4 pagina’s ontvangt met alle producten die die week beschikbaar zijn, en de prijzen. Tot woensdagmiddag zijn de 150 klanten vrij om te kiezen of en wat ze willen kopen. De vraag wordt verwerkt, de boeren oogsten op donderdag en het verse voedsel wordt op vrijdagochtend geleverd: een echt korte voedselketen met voedsel dat pas de dag voor de levering is geoogst.

Het wekelijks organiseren van gepersonaliseerde voedselmanden is tijdrovend. De meeste boeren hebben ook institutionele steun nodig omdat ze geen sociaal netwerk van potentiële klanten in stedelijke centra hebben. Agrecol heeft veel geïnvesteerd in het sensibiliseren van consumenten over de noodzaak van gezonde voeding, met behulp van folders, sociale media, beurzen en boerderijbezoeken voor consumenten. Zonder steun van Agrecol of iemand die er fulltime mee bezig is, is het voor boeren moeilijk om hun kwaliteitsproducten te verkopen.

In haar interview legt Nelly uit dat de thuisbezorging een recente innovatie was die ze introduceerde toen de Covid-crisis toesloeg, omdat de lokale markten gesloten waren, maar de mensen toch voedsel nodig hadden. Nu de openbare markten weer geopend zijn, schommelt de vraag sterk van week tot week, en met de krappe winstmarges kan het een uitdaging zijn om er een winstgevend bedrijf van te maken. NGO’s als Agrecol spelen een cruciale rol door de boeren te helpen gezond voedsel te produceren, en door de consumenten bewuster te maken van biologische producten.

Omdat Cochabamba een grote stad is, heeft Agrecol in de loop der jaren groepen agro-ecologische boeren geholpen bij de onderhandelingen met de lokale autoriteiten om ervoor te zorgen dat zij een speciale plaats krijgen op de wekelijkse markten in verschillende delen van de stad.

Lokale autoriteiten spelen een cruciale rol bij de ondersteuning van ecologische en biologische boeren, die veel verder gaat dan het geven van trainingen en het inspecteren van velden. Boeren hebben een eerlijke prijs en een vaste markt nodig om hun producten te verkopen. Een plaats krijgen op conventionele, stedelijke markten en speciale agro-ecologische markten helpt, maar in lage-inkomenslanden zijn maar weinig consumenten bereid een beetje extra te betalen voor voedsel dat zonder chemicaliën is geproduceerd. Openbare aanbestedingen door lokale overheden om scholen te voorzien van gezond voedsel kunnen een stabielere bron van inkomsten opleveren. Het is geen verrassing dat wereldwijde bewegingen zoals de Global Alliance for Organic Districts (GAOD) dit als een centraal thema stellen.

Agro-ecologische boeren die een stapje extra zetten om de gezondheid van onze planeet en de mensen die erop leven te voeden, verdienen een stabiel, eerlijk inkomen en gemoedsrust.

Zoals Nelly zei in haar interview: “het is een strijd, maar we moeten deze voeren voor het welzijn van onze kinderen en zij die na hen komen.”

No more pink seed January 8th, 2023 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

Vegetable seed from the shop is usually covered in a pink or orange dust, a fungicide. Since I was a kid, I have associated the color pink with seed.

Farmers and gardeners in tropical countries often buy imported, pink seed. So when Bolivian seed companies appeared, I was glad to be able to buy envelopes of local garden seed. It was better than importing seed from the USA or Europe.  I barely noticed that the Bolivian seed was pink. Then on a visit to some agroecological farmers, they told me that they were buying the pink seed, but then rearing it out, to produce their own, natural seed.

Recently I have begun to notice artisanal seed growers, offering untreated vegetable seed at some of the fairs around Cochabamba, Bolivia. I was tempted to buy some, but I still had seed at home.

A few days ago I opened some of my seed envelopes, which I bought several months ago. The package says they are viable for two years. I was pleased to see that the envelopes were full of natural seed, untainted by fungicides. I planted cucumbers, lettuce and arugula, and the natural seed has all sprouted nicely.

I was so pleased that I decided to call the seed manufacturers and congratulate them. Some positive feedback might encourage them to keep selling natural, uncoated seed.

I picked up a seed packet to look for the company’s phone number, when I noticed that it said “Warning!” in big red letters, and in fine print: “Product treated with Thiram, not to be used as feed for poultry or other animals.”

Thiram is a fungicide. I wondered if the seed had been treated with fungicide, but not dyed, or if the company was avoiding pesticides, but was still using up its supply of old envelopes.

I called the company, and a friendly voice answered the phone. I introduced myself as a customer, and said that I liked the pesticide-free seed. Then I asked if this lot of seed had fungicide or not.

The seed man said that no, the seed had not been treated with fungicide, but that it should have been. That is a requirement of the government agencies Senasag (National Service for Agricultural and Livestock Health and Food Safety) and INIAF (National Institute of Agricultural, Livestock and Forestry Innovation).

I asked why this seed was untreated.

“The girl must have forgotten to put it on,” the seed man said. This may strike readers in northern countries as casual sloppiness. But sometimes regulations are lightly enforced in Bolivia. My cucumber seeds were packed in May, 2021, during the height of the Covid lockdown. I was impressed that they were able to keep producing seeds at all.

The seed man didn’t seem to mind that the seed was untreated, and he repeated that he applied the pink stuff because it was required by law. He didn’t seem convinced that it was necessary. He seemed sympathetic to people who preferred natural seed. He added that he did sell untreated seed to customers who wanted it. He had some customers who ate sprouted lettuce seed for their gastritis, and he made them special batches of untreated seed.

Before we got off the call, the seed man offered to make me a batch of untreated seed in the future. I just had to order it.

I think I will.

It is important that seed consumers look for untreated seed. But governments also need to do more to help make it available.

Previous Agro-Insight blogs

An exit strategy

Homegrown seed can be good

Some videos on seed

Farmers’ rights to seed: experiences from Guatemala

Farmers’ rights to seed: experiences from Malawi

Succeed with seeds

Managing seed potato

Organic coating of cereal seed

Making a good okra seeding

Better seed for green gram

Making a chilli seedbed

Maintaining varietal purity of sesame

Harvesting and storing soya bean seed

Storing cowpea seed

ADIOS A LA SEMILLA ROSADA

Jeff Bentley, 8 de enero del 2023

Las semillas de hortalizas de la tienda suelen estar cubiertas de un polvillo rosado o color naranja, un fungicida. Desde que era niño, he asociado el color rosado con las semillas.

Los agricultores y jardineros de los países tropicales suelen comprar semillas rosadas importadas. Por eso, cuando aparecieron las empresas bolivianas de semillas, me alegré de poder comprar sobres de semillas locales para el huerto. Era mejor que importar semillas de los Estados Unidos o Europa.  Apenas me di cuenta de que las semillas bolivianas eran rosadas. Luego, en una visita a unos agricultores agroecológicos, me contaron que compraban la semilla rosada, pero que luego la criaban para producir su propia semilla natural.

Recientemente he empezado a fijarme en los cultivadores artesanales de semillas, que ofrecen semillas de hortalizas sin químicos en algunas de las ferias de los alrededores de Cochabamba, Bolivia. Tenía ganas de comprar algunas, pero aún tenía semillas en casa.

Hace unos días abrí algunos de mis sobres de semillas, que compré hace varios meses. Según el paquete, son viables durante dos años. Me alegró ver que los sobres estaban llenos de semillas naturales, no contaminadas por fungicidas. Sembré pepinos, lechugas y rúcula, y todas las semillas naturales han brotado muy bien.

Estaba tan contenta que decidí llamar a los fabricantes de semillas y felicitarles. Una respuesta positiva podría animarles a seguir vendiendo semillas naturales sin recubrimiento.

Cogí un paquete de semillas para buscar el número de teléfono de la empresa, cuando me di cuenta de que decía “¡Precaución!” en grandes letras rojas, y en letra pequeña: “Producto tratado con Thiram, no utilizar como alimento para aves u otro animal”.

Thiram es un fungicida. Me pregunté si la semilla había sido tratada con fungicida, pero no teñida, o si la empresa estaba evitando los plaguicidas, pero seguía usando sus sobres viejos.

Llamé a la empresa y una voz amable contestó al teléfono. Me presenté como cliente y dije que me gustaban las semillas sin plaguicidas. Luego pregunté si este lote de semillas tenía fungicida o no.

El encargado me dijo que no, que la semilla no había sido tratada con fungicida, pero que debería haberlo sido. Es una exigencia de las agencias gubernamentales SENASAG (Servicio Nacional de Sanidad Agropecuaria e Inocuidad Alimentaria) e INIAF (Instituto Nacional de Innovación Agropecuaria y Forestal).

Pregunté por qué esta semilla no estaba tratada.

“Se habrá olvidado la muchacha”, me dijo el semilleristya. A los lectores de los países del norte les puede parecer un descuido. Pero, a veces, en Bolivia los reglamentos se aplican con cierta flexibilidad. Mis semillas de pepino se empaquetaron en mayo de 2021, en plena cuarentena de Covid. Me impresionó que pudieran seguir produciendo semillas.

Al semillero no pareció importarle que las semillas no estuvieran tratadas, y repitió que aplicó el producto rosado porque se lo exigía la ley. No parecía convencido de que fuera necesario. Se solidarizaba con los que prefieren las semillas naturales. Añadió que vende semillas sin tratar a los clientes que la desean. Tenía algunos clientes que comían semillas pregerminadas de lechuga para la gastritis y les preparaba lotes especiales de semillas sin tratar.

Antes de terminar la llamada, el semillero se ofreció a hacerme un lote de semillas sin tratar en el futuro. Sólo tenía que pedirlo.

Creo que lo haré.

Es importante que los consumidores busquen semillas no tratadas. Pero los gobiernos también tienen que hacer más para ayudar a que estén disponibles.

Previamente en el blog de Agro-Insight

Una estrategia de salida

Homegrown seed can be good

Algunos videos sobre la semilla

Derechos de los agricultores a la semilla: Guatemala

Derechos de los agricultores a la semilla: Malawi

Succeed with seeds

Cuidando la semilla de papa

Organic coating of cereal seed

Buena semilla de ocra

Better seed for green gram

Making a chilli seedbed

Maintaining varietal purity of sesame

Harvesting and storing soya bean seed

Storing cowpea seed

Listen before you film December 4th, 2022 by

Listen before you film

Vea la versión en español a continuación

Smallholder farmers always have something thoughtful to say. At Agro-Insight when we film videos, we often start by holding a workshop where we write the scripts with local experts. We write the first draft of the script as a fact sheet. Then we share the fact sheet with communities, so they can validate the text, but also to criticize it, like a peer review.

This week in a peri-urban community on the edge of Cochabamba, Bolivia, we met eight farmers, seven women and a young man, who grow organic vegetables. Their feedback was valuable, and sometimes a little surprising.

For example, one fact sheet on agroecological marketing stressed the importance of trust between growers and consumers, who cannot tell the difference between organic and conventional tomatoes just by looking at them. But these practiced farmers can. They told us that the organic tomatoes have little freckles, and are a bit smaller than conventional tomatoes. That’s the perspective that comes from a lot of experience.

The fact sheet on the potato tuber moth, a serious global pest, had background information and some ideas on control. The moth can be controlled by dusting seed potatoes with chalk (calcium carbonate), a natural, non-metallic mineral. The chalk contains small crystals that irritate and kill the eggs and larvae of the moth. This idea caught the farmers’ imagination. They wanted to know more about the chalk, and where to get it and how to apply it. (It is a white powder, that is commonly sold in hardware stores, as a building material). Our video will have to make carefully explain how to use chalk to control the tuber moth.

The reaction that surprised me the most was from the fact sheet on soil analysis. The fact sheet described two tests, one to analyze pH and another to measure soil carbon. The tests were a bit complex, and a lot to convey in one page. I was prepared for confusion, but instead, we got curiosity. The women wanted to know more about the pH paper, where could they buy it? What would pH tell them about managing their soils? Could we come back and give them a demonstration on soil analysis? Smallholders are interested in soil, and interested in learning more about it.

As we were leaving, we thanked the farmers for their time and help.

They replied that they also wanted to thank us: for listening to them, for taking them into account. “It should always be like this.” They said “New ideas should be developed with farmers, not in the office.”

Paul and Marcella and I will be back later to make videos on these topics, to share with farmers all over the world. Listening to smallholders early in the video-making, before getting out the camera, helps to make sure that other farmers will find the videos relevant when they come out.

 

ESCUCHAR ANTES DE FILMAR

Jeff Bentley, 4 de diciembre del 2022

Los pequeños agricultores siempre tienen algo interesante que decir. En Agro-Insight, cuando filmamos vídeos, solemos empezar por celebrar un taller donde escribimos los guiones con expertos locales. Escribimos el primer borrador del guion en forma de hoja volante. Luego compartimos la hoja volante con las comunidades, para que puedan validar el texto, pero también para que lo critiquen, como una revisión por pares.

Esta semana, en una comunidad periurbana de las afueras de Cochabamba, Bolivia, nos reunimos con ocho agricultores, siete mujeres y un joven, que cultivan verduras orgánicas. Sus comentarios fueron valiosos, y a veces un poco sorprendentes.

Por ejemplo, una hoja volante sobre la comercialización agroecológica destacaba la importancia de la confianza entre los productores y los consumidores, que no pueden diferenciar los tomates ecológicos de los convencionales con sólo mirarlos. Pero estas agricultoras experimentadas sí pueden. Nos dijeron que los tomates ecológicos tienen pequeñas pecas y son un poco más pequeños que los convencionales. Esa es la perspectiva que da la experiencia.

La hoja informativa sobre la polilla de la papa, una grave plaga a nivel mundial, tenía información de fondo y algunas ideas sobre su control. La polilla puede controlarse cubriendo las papas de siembra con tiza (carbonato cálcico), un mineral natural no metálico. La tiza contiene pequeños cristales que irritan y matan los huevos y las larvas de la polilla. Esta idea llamó la atención de los agricultores. Querían saber más sobre la tiza, dónde conseguirla y cómo aplicarla. (Se trata de un polvo blanco que se vende en las ferreterías como material de construcción). Nuestro video tendrá que explicar cuidadosamente cómo usar la tiza para controlar la polilla del tubérculo.

La reacción que más me sorprendió fue la de la hoja volante sobre el análisis del suelo. La hoja volante describía dos pruebas, una para analizar el pH y otra para medir el carbono del suelo. Las pruebas eran un poco complejas, y mucho para transmitir en una página. Yo estaba preparado para la confusión, pero en lugar de eso, obtuvimos curiosidad. Las mujeres querían saber más sobre el papel de pH, ¿dónde podían comprarlo? ¿Qué les diría el pH sobre el manejo de sus suelos? ¿Podríamos volver y hacerles una demostración sobre el análisis del suelo? Los pequeños agricultores se interesan por el suelo y quieren aprender más sobre ello.

Cuando nos íbamos, dimos las gracias a las agricultoras por su tiempo y su ayuda.

Ellas respondieron que también querían darnos las gracias a nosotros: por escucharles, por tenerles en cuenta. “Siempre debería ser así”. Dijeron: “Las nuevas ideas deben desarrollarse con los agricultores, no en la oficina”.

Paul, Marcella y yo volveremos más tarde a hacer videos sobre estos temas, para compartirlos con los agricultores de todo el mundo. Escuchar a los pequeños agricultores al principio de la realización del vídeo, antes de sacar la cámara, ayuda a asegurarse de que otros agricultores encontrarán los videos pertinentes cuando se publiquen.

Gabe Brown, agroecology on a commercial scale October 16th, 2022 by

Gabe Brown describes himself as a city boy from Bismarck, North Dakota, whose only dream was to be a farmer. As a young couple, Gabe and his wife, Shelly, bought her parent’s farm. Gabe followed in his father-in-law’s footsteps, with regular plowing and lots of chemical fertilizer. For four years in a row the family lost their crop to the weather: hail, and drought and once all their calves died in a blizzard. Gabe and Shelly both had to take full-time jobs to pay for the farm that they worked on weekends. After four years of failure, by 1998, Gabe planted his corn with very little chemical fertilizer, simply because he was out of money.

Gabe was surprised at how high the yields were. In the four years of crop failure, the soil had been improved by not being plowed, by having the covering of plants remain on the surface of the earth.

An avid learner and experimenter, Gabe attended talks, listened to other innovative farmers and to agricultural scientists. He tried planting mixes of many different plants as cover crops, always combining legumes and grasses. He learned to rotate the cattle in pastures, using electric fences.

Gabe’s cattle graze for a few days or sometimes for just a few hours on one small paddock, before being moved to another. Gabe estimates that the cows eat 25% of the plants and trample the rest. In recent years, Gabe and his son, Paul, have begun grazing sheep, pigs and chickens in the fields after the cattle have left the paddock.

The livestock defecate into the field, manuring it, and the plants respond to the impact of the animals by exuding metabolites (products used by, or made by an organism: usually a small molecule, such as alcohol, amino acids or vitamins). The metabolites from plants enrich the soil. Gabe’s system avoids the need to spread manure, or to cut fodder for the animals, cutting costs for fuel and labor, to save on transportation expenses. The soils on neighboring farms are yellow and lifeless. After some 20 years of practicing regenerative agriculture, Gabe compares the soil on Brown’s Ranch (as he calls his farm) to a crumbly, chocolate cake, and it is full of earthworms and other life.

Gabe openly questions the model taught to US farmers, that they should produce more to “feed the world”. The world already produces enough food to feed 10 billion people, but 30% of it is wasted and many people do not receive enough food because of social and political problems, not agronomic ones.

Gabe doesn’t claim to produce more per acre of land than conventional farmers, but his diverse farm of 5,000 acres (2,000 hectares) yields meat, maize, vegetables, eggs and honey, and more profits than the farms around him. The Browns have earned a local reputation as producers of quality food, which they sell directly to consumers at top prices, at a farm shop on Brown’s Ranch.

American youth are getting out of agriculture, because it doesn’t pay. Avoiding chemicals saves the Browns so much money that Gabe’s son, Paul, is happy to take over the farm, innovating along the way. He invented a mobile chicken coop for free-range hens, for example.

Farmers should be able to make a living while improving the soil that supports the farm. Brown’s Ranch is a large, commercial farm, that earns an income for the family that runs it. This farm is proof of concept: agroecology is not hippie science. Regenerative agriculture can be used to grow high-quality food on a commercial scale, at a profit.

Further reading

Brown, Gabe 2018 Dirt to Soil: One Family’s Journey into Regenerative Agriculture. White River Junction, Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing.

Related videos

Improved pasture for fertile soil

Rotational grazing

Related Agro-Insight blogs

Rotational grazing

Moveable pasture

Soil for a living planet

From soil fertility to cheese

Creativity of the commons

Killing the soil with chemicals (and bringing it back to life)

The nitrogen crisis

A revolution for our soil

The times they are a changing

Exit strategy 2.0 October 2nd, 2022 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

I’ve written before that a program to support a network of local food producers and consumers needs an exit strategy (An exit strategy). I’ve seen various projects that do a good job at mentoring smallholders, to produce chemical-free food, package it attractively and distribute it to discriminating consumers in the city. This usually relies on hidden subsidies: the university-educated technical staff who broker the food, promote it and transport it in cars, also paid for out of the project budget. It’s a way to show that there is demand for agroecological food, but not a business model.

In the Tungurahua province of Ecuador, last February, I saw what it takes for farmers and consumers to come together in a robust, self-sustaining way.

In the municipality of Pelileo, a city of about 50,000 people, the NGO SWISSAID started 13 years ago to teach 600 farmers and gardeners about agroecology, according to the current country director, Oscar Quillupangui. The second year, SWISSAID organized the farmers to sell their produce in a fair in the city. This was only possible thanks to the mayor at the time, who understood the importance of a market for local, organic produce. As Fernando Jácome of SWISSAID told me, “you can’t run a market without local government support. If you set up a food fair in a public space, the mayor can ask the police to throw you out. In fact, farmer fairs in some other Ecuadorian cities did not thrive, because of this lack of municipal support.”

The current mayor, Ing. Leonardo Maroto, has a vision for healthy food systems: “the countryside gives life to the city.”

When Paul and Marcella and I visited the weekly agroecological fair in Pelileo, on Thursday, 10 February, we were delighted to see a living market, supported by a whole social structure. The space itself is the size of a large basketball court, with a cement floor and a high, awning roof, no walls, but with a stage on one end and step-like seats on the other. Seventy-seven farmer-sellers, almost all women (with two or three supportive husbands), set out their fresh produce on tables in neat rows. Each table was covered with an orange tablecloth. The sellers wore green smocks and orange caps, which helped the organized women (with some help from a couple of municipal cops) to keep out free riders trying to sell conventional food in the market.

The food is of great diversity: potatoes and other Andean roots and tubers, leafy vegetables, pulses like peas and broad beans, giant squash, butchered ducks, rabbits, chickens and guinea pigs. It’s all fresh off the farm and of the highest quality, attracting a steady stream of middle-class consumers who appreciate the value of local feed, free of toxic chemicals.

“Well, it is for our health, right? We always have to be natural. Because you know that now there are so many illnesses because of the chemicals that they put in the fruits and the vegetables. So, for us, for me, and for everyone it is very good that the food is natural, to avoid illnesses,” says Maricela Herrera, one of the consumers.

There are some touches of local personality, like the ten-man brass band, from the municipal government. They don’t play every week, but they come about once a month to attract customers with their beat. There is some free food tasting (potatoes with a slice of egg, peanut sauce and a bit of boiled pork skin).

Mayor Maroto makes an appearance, offering encouraging words over the loudspeaker. The band starts again and people begin to dance, eventually dragging Paul and I onto the dance floor as well.

Through all of this, the staff from SWISSAID, including Fernando and Oscar, keep a low profile. They stand on the sidelines, but they are observant, and I would have missed one of the most important parts of the fair, if they had not pointed it out to me. The farmers who sell at the fair have elected a president, vice-president, secretary and treasurer, Martha Cunalata who quietly goes from one table to the next, collecting one dollar from each member, to meet the association’s expenses.

Self-financed, organized and supported by paying customers and the local government, this market could survive even without an NGO to nurture it. This is what a healthy, local food system looks like. Hopefully it will grow and plant seeds in other cities. As Paul told mayor Maroto of Pelileo, “you are an inspiration to other cities of the world.”

Watch the video

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Acknowledgement

Thanks to Oscar Quillupangui and Paul Van Mele for their helpful comments on a previous version of this blog.

ESTRATEGIA DE SALIDA 2.0

Jeff Bentley, 2 de octubre del 2022

Ya he escrito antes que un programa de apoyo a una red de productores y consumidores de alimentos locales necesita una estrategia de salida (Una estrategia de salida). He visto varios proyectos que hacen un buen trabajo de orientación a los pequeños productores para que produzcan alimentos sin productos químicos, los envasen de forma atractiva y los distribuyan a los consumidores exigentes de la ciudad. Esto suele tener subvenciones ocultas: el personal técnico con formación universitaria que se encarga ayudar con la venta de los alimentos, de su promoción y de su transporte en vehículos, también pagados con el presupuesto del proyecto. Es una forma de demostrar que hay demanda de alimentos agroecológicos, pero no un modelo de negocio.

En la provincia ecuatoriana de Tungurahua, el pasado mes de febrero, vi lo que hace falta para que agricultores y consumidores se unan de forma sólida y autosostenible.

En el municipio de Pelileo, una ciudad de unos 50.000 habitantes, la ONG SWISSAID empezó hace 13 años a enseñar agroecología a 600 agricultores y dueños de huertos, según el actual director nacional, Oscar Quillupangui. El segundo año, SWISSAID organizó a los agricultores para que vendieran sus productos en una feria en la ciudad. Esto sólo fue posible gracias al alcalde de la época, que comprendió la importancia de un mercado para los productos locales y ecológicos. Como me dijo Fernando Jácome, de SWISSAID, “no se puede hacer un mercado sin el apoyo del gobierno local. Si montas una feria de alimentos en un espacio público, el alcalde puede pedir a la policía que te boten. De hecho, las ferias agrícolas de otras ciudades ecuatorianas no prosperaron por esta falta de apoyo municipal”.

El actual alcalde, Ing. Leonardo Maroto, tiene una visión de los sistemas alimentarios saludables: “el campo da vida a la ciudad”.

Cuando Paul, Marcella y yo visitamos la feria agroecológica semanal de Pelileo, el jueves 10 de febrero, nos encantó ver un mercado vivo, apoyado por toda una estructura social. El espacio en sí tiene el tamaño de una gran cancha de baloncesto, con un piso de cemento y un techo alto de calamina, sin paredes, pero con un escenario en un extremo y asientos escalonados en el otro. Setenta y siete vendedores de productos agrícolas, casi todas mujeres (con dos o tres maridos colaboradores), colocaban sus productos frescos en mesas en hileras ordenadas. Cada mesa estaba cubierta con un mantel naranja. Las vendedoras usaban batas verdes y gorras naranjas, lo que ayudó a las mujeres organizadas (con algo de ayuda de un par de policías municipales) a mantener alejados a los que intentaban vender alimentos convencionales en el mercado.

La comida es muy variada: papas y otras raíces y tubérculos andinos, verduras de hoja, legumbres como frijoles y habas, calabazas gigantes, patos, conejos, pollos y cuyes. Todo está recién salido de la granja y es de la primera calidad, lo que atrae a un flujo constante de consumidores de clase media que aprecian el valor de los alimentos locales, libres de productos químicos tóxicos.

“Bueno, es que, por la salud ¿no? Siempre tenemos que estar a lo natural. Sabe que ahora hay tantas enfermedades por los químicos que ponen a las frutas, a las legumbres. Entonces, para nosotros, para mí, y para todos, es muy bueno que sea natural. Porque nos evitamos de muchas enfermedades”, dice Maricela Herrera, una de las consumidoras.

Hay algunos toques de personalidad local, como la banda de música de diez hombres, del gobierno municipal. No tocan todas las semanas, pero vienen una vez al mes para atraer a los clientes con su ritmo. Hay una degustación gratuita de comida (papas con una rodaja de huevo, salsa de maní y un poco de piel de cerdo hervida).

El alcalde Maroto hace su aparición, ofreciendo palabras de aliento por la megafonía. La banda vuelve a sonar y la gente empieza a bailar, arrastrándonos a Paul y a mí a la pista de baile.

Durante todo esto, el personal de SWISSAID, incluidos Fernando y Óscar, mantienen un perfil bajo. Se mantienen al margen, pero son observadores, y me habría perdido una de las partes más importantes de la feria si no me la hubieran señalado. Los agricultores que venden en la feria han elegido un presidente, un vicepresidente, un secretario y un tesorero, Martha Cunalata, que va tranquilamente de una mesa a otra, recogiendo un dólar de cada miembro, para hacer frente a los gastos de la asociación.

Autofinanciado, organizado y apoyado por los clientes que pagan y por el gobierno local, este mercado podría sobrevivir incluso sin una ONG que lo alimente. Este es el aspecto de un sistema alimentario local saludable. Esperemos que crezca y siembre semillas en otras ciudades. Como dijo Paul al alcalde Maroto de Pelileo, “ustedes son una inspiración para otras ciudades del mundo”.

Vea el video

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Agradecimientos

Gracias a Oscar Quillupangui y Paul Van Mele por sus valiosos comentarios sobre una versión previa de este blog.

 

 

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