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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 ‚Äúfeed the world‚ÄĚ. 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.

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Improved pasture for fertile soil

Rotational grazing

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Rotational grazing

Moveable pasture

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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 versi√≥n en espa√Īol a continuaci√≥n

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 J√°come of SWISSAID told me, ‚Äúyou can‚Äôt 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.‚ÄĚ

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

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.

‚ÄúWell, 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,‚ÄĚ 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, ‚Äúyou are an inspiration to other cities of the world.‚ÄĚ

Watch the video

Creating agroecological markets

Related video

Home delivery of organic produce

Related blogs

Marketing as a performance

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Home delivery of organic produce


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


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 orientaci√≥n a los peque√Īos productores para que produzcan alimentos sin productos qu√≠micos, los envasen de forma atractiva y los distribuyan a los consumidores exigentes de la ciudad. Esto suele tener subvenciones ocultas: el personal t√©cnico con formaci√≥n universitaria que se encarga ayudar con la venta de los alimentos, de su promoci√≥n y de su transporte en veh√≠culos, tambi√©n pagados con el presupuesto del proyecto. Es una forma de demostrar que hay demanda de alimentos agroecol√≥gicos, 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 empez√≥ hace 13 a√Īos a ense√Īar agroecolog√≠a a 600 agricultores y due√Īos de huertos, seg√ļn el actual director nacional, Oscar Quillupangui. El segundo a√Īo, SWISSAID organiz√≥ a los agricultores para que vendieran sus productos en una feria en la ciudad. Esto s√≥lo fue posible gracias al alcalde de la √©poca, que comprendi√≥ la importancia de un mercado para los productos locales y ecol√≥gicos. Como me dijo Fernando J√°come, de SWISSAID, “no se puede hacer un mercado sin el apoyo del gobierno local. Si montas una feria de alimentos en un espacio p√ļblico, el alcalde puede pedir a la polic√≠a que te boten. De hecho, las ferias agr√≠colas de otras ciudades ecuatorianas no prosperaron por esta falta de apoyo municipal”.

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

Cuando Paul, Marcella y yo visitamos la feria agroecol√≥gica semanal de Pelileo, el jueves 10 de febrero, nos encant√≥ ver un mercado vivo, apoyado por toda una estructura social. El espacio en s√≠ tiene el tama√Īo 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 agr√≠colas, 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 ayud√≥ a las mujeres organizadas (con algo de ayuda de un par de polic√≠as 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.

‚ÄúBueno, es que, por la salud ¬Ņno? Siempre tenemos que estar a lo natural. Sabe que ahora hay tantas enfermedades por los qu√≠micos que ponen a las frutas, a las legumbres. Entonces, para nosotros, para m√≠, 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 m√ļsica 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 degustaci√≥n gratuita de comida (papas con una rodaja de huevo, salsa de man√≠ 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 √ďscar, mantienen un perfil bajo. Se mantienen al margen, pero son observadores, y me habr√≠a perdido una de las partes m√°s importantes de la feria si no me la hubieran se√Īalado. 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 d√≥lar de cada miembro, para hacer frente a los gastos de la asociaci√≥n.

Autofinanciado, organizado y apoyado por los clientes que pagan y por el gobierno local, este mercado podr√≠a 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 inspiraci√≥n para otras ciudades del mundo”.

Vea el video

Creando ferias agroecológicas

Otro video relacionado

Previamente en el blog de Agro-Insight

Marketing as a performance

Algo bonito para vender

Home delivery of organic produce


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



Look me in the eyes September 25th, 2022 by

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

In Ecuador recently, I saw some of the best extension work I have ever seen. Fernando Jácome, an agronomist with SWISSAID took us to meet farmers, almost all women, who have been working with him and his colleagues for over ten years. 85 smallholders from different communities of Pelileo, in Tungurahua, in the Andes, are organized into seven small associations. They have learned to produce an impressive assortment of fruits and vegetables, from tomatoes to strawberries, cabbage, lettuce, avocadoes, lemons, blackberries and many more, as well as rabbits and guinea pigs. It’s all grown ecologically.

With Paul and Marcella, filming a video on agroecological fairs, we accompanied Ing. Alex Recalde, an agronomist working for the Pelileo municipality, as he inspected farms to make sure that they were really producing ecologically. Alex’s visits are largely about teaching and encouraging, with little policing, since the women all seem convinced about agroecology.

First, Alex registers what the farmers are growing. That way he knows what each one will harvest, to later verify in the fair that they are only selling their own produce, and in plausible amounts.

During the farm visits, often accompanied by leaders of the Agroecological Associations of Pelileo, Alex looks for signs of chemicals, such as discoloration on the leaves, or residues of synthetic fertilizer on the soil, or discarded chemical containers. He also looks at the insects on the farm. A diverse insect community with many beneficials and few pests is a sign that toxic chemicals have not been used.

If the farmer has any pests and diseases, Alex advises her on what to do. We were with him while he explained to farmer Korina Quille that the unsightly scabs on her avocados were not actually a disease at all, but they were simply scars formed because the wind had rubbed the tender fruits against a branch. Realizing that cosmetic damage is not caused by a pathogen can also reassure farmers that agroecology is working for them. It also helps them explain to customers that there is nothing wrong with their avocados.

Later that afternoon, we attended a meeting of the agroecological association. The organized women began by taking attendance (roll call). They had brought samples of their produce, for an exercise on displaying it attractively and in standard sized pots and baskets, so they could all sell the same measure at the same price, one that would be fair for farmers and consumers.

SWISSAID‚Äôs Mario Porres led a lively discussion, asking the audience: ‚ÄúHow can you have a standard measure, if the customers all insist on the yapa (a little bit extra)?‚ÄĚ He held up a basket of berries and said ‚Äúmeasure it, take a few out, and when the customer asks for the yapa, put them back in.‚ÄĚ The audience laughed in appreciation.

The meeting ended with a drama coach, Ver√≥nica L√≥pez, who used theatrical exercises to build the women‚Äôs self-confidence. Poor, peasant and indigenous women can be afraid to be assertive, but Ver√≥nica was teaching them to be bold and to have fun at the same time. The women knew Ver√≥nica, and as soon as she took the floor, everyone stood up. ‚ÄúWalk angry!‚ÄĚ Ver√≥nica shouted, ‚Äúyour husband has been telling you what to do!‚ÄĚ The women stomped around the courtyard, arms swinging, recalling their anger, over-acting and loving every minute of it.

‚ÄúNow, imagine that you bring that anger to the market, and you are angry with the customers. Will they want to buy from you?‚ÄĚ Ver√≥nica asked.

In another exercise, on love, the women hugged each other, and they learned to walk happy, not angry. The drama coach also had the women shout, part of an exercise where they learned to speak loudly, but kindly, looking customers in the eye, to win them over.

This training, encouragement and organization has opened a space where indigenous women can sell their beautiful produce in the local, open-air markets, in small cities like Pelileo, and in big ones like Ambato.

Later, we found out how well the training had paid off. One morning before dawn, I was with Paul and Marcella in the wholesale market in Ambato. This is the biggest market in Ecuador, a sprawling complex of pavilions with roofs, but no walls, where trucks loaded and unloaded produce. Fernando J√°come, the extensionist had brought us here, to the heart of the country‚Äôs commercial food system, but he left us for a while with Anita Quille, one of the women leaders of the association. When a local official approached us to ask why we were there with a big camera, do√Īa Anita stepped forward, and looked him in the eye. She spoke gently but firmly, in a self-confident tone of voice, explaining who we were, and that we were there making a video on local farmers, and markets.

All of the organization, training and acting classes on assertiveness had paid off.

Related Agro-Insight blogs

Marketing as a performance

When local authorities support agroecology

Watch the video

Creating agroecological markets


Thanks to Fernando J√°come and Paul Van Mele for their helpful comments on a previous version of this blog.


Jeff Bentley, 25 de septiembre del 2022

Hace poco, en Ecuador, vi uno de los mejores trabajos de extensi√≥n que he visto jam√°s. Fernando J√°come, agr√≥nomo de SWISSAID, nos llev√≥ a conocer a los agricultores, casi todas mujeres, que trabajan con √©l y sus colegas desde hace m√°s de diez a√Īos. 85 peque√Īas propietarias de diferentes comunidades de Pelileo, en Tungurahua, en los Andes, est√°n organizados en siete peque√Īas asociaciones. Han aprendido a producir un impresionante surtido de frutas y verduras, desde tomates a fresas, repollo, lechugas, aguacates, limones, moras y muchas m√°s, as√≠ como conejos y cuyes. Todo se cultiva de forma ecol√≥gica.

Con Paul y Marcella, filmando un video sobre ferias agroecol√≥gicas, acompa√Īamos al Ing. Alex Recalde, un agr√≥nomo que trabaja para el municipio de Pelileo, mientras inspeccionaba las granjas para asegurarse de que realmente produc√≠an de forma ecol√≥gica. Las visitas de Alex consisten en gran medida en ense√Īar y animar, no como polic√≠a sino como profesor, ya que todas las mujeres parecen convencidas de la agroecolog√≠a.

En primer lugar, Alex registra los cultivos que las agriculturas tienen en sus granjas. Así sabe lo que cada una va a cosechar, para luego verificar en la feria que solo se venda productos cultivados por ellas, y en cantidades creíbles.

En sus visitas, Alex a menudo es acompa√Īado por dirigentas de las Asociaciones Agroecol√≥gicas de Pelileo. Buscan signos de productos qu√≠micos, como decoloraci√≥n en las hojas, o residuos de fertilizantes sint√©ticos en el suelo, o envases de qu√≠micos desechados. Tambi√©n se fija en los insectos en la parcela. Una diversa comunidad de insectos, muchos ben√©ficos y pocas plagas, es se√Īal de que no se han usado qu√≠micos t√≥xicos.

Si la productora tiene alguna plaga o enfermedad, Alex le aconseja qu√© hacer. Estuvimos con √©l mientras explicaba a Korina Quille que las desagradables costras de sus aguacates no eran en realidad una enfermedad, sino que eran simplemente cicatrices formadas porque el viento hab√≠a rozado los tiernos frutos contra una rama. Darse cuenta de que los da√Īos est√©ticos no est√°n causados por un pat√≥geno tambi√©n puede tranquilizar a las agricultoras, y confirmar que las pr√°cticas agroecol√≥gicas les est√°n funcionando. Tambi√©n les ayuda a explicar a los clientes que no hay nada malo en sus aguacates.

Esa misma tarde, asistimos a una reuni√≥n de la asociaci√≥n agroecol√≥gica local. Las mujeres organizadas empezaron pasando lista. Hab√≠an tra√≠do muestras de sus productos, para hacer un ejercicio de exposici√≥n atractiva, en macetas y cestas de tama√Īo est√°ndar, de manera que todas pudieran vender la misma medida al mismo precio, uno que fuera justo para productoras y consumidores.

Mario Porres, de SWISSAID, dirigi√≥ un animado debate, preguntando a las asistentes: “¬ŅC√≥mo se puede tener una medida est√°ndar, si todos los clientes insisten en la yapa (un poco m√°s)?”. Levant√≥ una cesta de bayas y dijo: “m√≠dela, quita algunas y cuando el cliente pida la yapa, vuelve a ponerlas”. El p√ļblico se rio en se√Īal de empat√≠a.

La reuni√≥n termin√≥ con una lecci√≥n de una maestra de teatro, Ver√≥nica L√≥pez, que us√≥ varios ejercicios para aumentar la confianza de las mujeres en s√≠ mismas. Las mujeres pobres, campesinas e ind√≠genas pueden tener miedo de ser asertivas, pero Ver√≥nica les ense√Īaba a ser audaces y a divertirse al mismo tiempo. Las se√Īoras conoc√≠an a Ver√≥nica y, en cuanto tomaba la palabra, todas se pusieron de pie. “¬°Caminen enfadadas!” grit√≥ Ver√≥nica, “¬°tu marido te ha dicho lo que tienes que hacer!”. Las mujeres caminaban por el patio, moviendo los brazos, recordando su enojo, sobreactuando y disfrutando de cada minuto.

“Ahora, imagina que llevas ese enfado al mercado y te enfadas con los clientes. ¬ŅQuerr√°n comprarte?” pregunt√≥ Ver√≥nica.

En otro ejercicio, sobre el amor, las mujeres se abrazaron y aprendieron a caminar felices, no enfadadas. La teatrera también hizo que las mujeres gritaran, parte de un ejercicio en el que aprendieron a hablar en voz alta, pero con amabilidad, mirando a los clientes a los ojos, para ganárselos.

Esta formaci√≥n, el est√≠mulo y la organizaci√≥n, han abierto un espacio en el que las mujeres campesinas pueden vender sus hermosos productos en los mercados locales al aire libre, en ciudades peque√Īas como Pelileo, y en las grandes como Ambato.

M√°s tarde, nos dimos cuenta de lo bien que hab√≠a dado resultado la formaci√≥n. Una ma√Īana, antes del amanecer, estaba con Paul y Marcella en el mercado mayorista de Ambato. Es el mercado m√°s grande de Ecuador, un complejo de pabellones con techo, pero sin paredes, donde los camiones cargan y descargan productos. Fernando J√°come, el extensionista, nos hab√≠a tra√≠do hasta aqu√≠, al coraz√≥n del sistema comercial de alimentos del pa√≠s, pero nos dej√≥ un rato con Anita Quille, una de las mujeres l√≠deres de la asociaci√≥n. Cuando un funcionario local se acerc√≥ a preguntarnos por qu√© est√°bamos all√≠ con una c√°mara grande, do√Īa Anita se adelant√≥ y le mir√≥ a los ojos. Habl√≥ con suavidad, pero con firmeza, con un tono de voz seguro de s√≠ misma, explicando qui√©nes √©ramos, y que est√°bamos all√≠ haciendo un video sobre los agricultores locales, y los mercados.

Toda la organización, el entrenamiento y las clases de actuación sobre asertividad habían dado sus frutos.

Previamente en el blog de Agro-Insight

Marketing as a performance

When local authorities support agroecology

Vea el video

Creando ferias agroecológicas


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

Making farmers anonymous July 24th, 2022 by

Nederlandse versie hieronder

Short food chains narrow the gap between producers and consumers, but when food is traded through wholesalers and when supermarkets sell their own brands, active efforts are undertaken to make farmers anonymous. This never really occurred to me until Vera Kuijpers, from the organic farm and farm shop Het Eikelenhof in north-eastern Limburg, told me about her latest experience with Biofresh, one of the major organic wholesalers in Belgium.

Every Thursday at 4.30 am, Vera and her husband Johan Hons, load their van with their freshly harvested vegetables and other produce and drive about 100 km to sell to Biofresh among a few other places. Last week they also took over 60 crates of new potatoes. Their red Aloette is a firm and delicious potato variety that withstands the common Phytophthora disease. Each crate is nicely labelled with the family name of Johan (Hons), and the variety. ‚ÄúThe moment we deliver our crates, staff at Biofresh remove the labels and attach their own, so that other people who come and buy organic produce will not know who has produced it. But this time, they also removed the name of the variety,‚ÄĚ Vera says, ‚Äúthey just put ‚Äėred potato‚Äô. I really wonder why they would do that?‚ÄĚ

Vera and Johan strongly disagree with this new development, as one cannot compare one red variety with all the others. ‚ÄúIf customers in a supermarket want to buy the delicious Aloette, one week it may be this variety, but if the next week it is a different red variety that has a very different taste or is not tasty, they may stop buying red potatoes all together, and then the farmer who grows Aloette will no longer be able to sell their potatoes,‚ÄĚ Johan says. From a producer‚Äôs perspective he surely has a point.

When discussing this matter with my wife, Marcella, she points out that the contrast of how Oxfam markets Fairtrade products is very stark. On almost all packaging, you see the face of a farmer and often a personal story that goes with it. Supermarkets also sell Fairtrade products, and seemingly have no problem with an occasional personal touch. A coffee drinker in Europe is unlikely to meet many coffee growers in the distant African highlands or Latin America. The photo and the blurb on the coffee package are a mere virtual connection. There is no risk of consumers buying directly from producers, whereas a Belgian retailer or consumer would be able to contact a farmer in Belgium.

Naming the farmers and the varieties is important when selling produce, as it helps consumers relate to the food they eat and the people who produce it. As consumers increasingly turn to farm shops, farmers’ markets and other short food chains, wholesalers and supermarkets are now taking steps to make farmers and varieties anonymous. The farmers are potential competitors, and the big buyers want to make sure the customers never meet the farmers. It is like a trade secret to stay in business, but also yet another tactic whereby farmers’ ability to negotiate prices with middlepersons and supermarkets are undermined.

Related blogs

Food for outlaws

The next generation of farmers

Grocery shops and farm shops

Marketing something nice

The joy of business

Fighting farmers

Related videos

Creating agroecological markets

Home delivery of organic produce

Inspiring platforms

Access Agriculture: hosts over 230 training videos in over 95 languages on a diversity of crops and livestock, soil and water management, food processing etc. Each video describes underlying principles, as such encouraging people to experiment and adapt new ideas to their context.

EcoAgtube: a social media video platform where anyone from across the globe can upload their own videos related to natural farming and circular economy.


Landbouwers anoniem maken

Korte voedselketens verkleinen de kloof tussen producent en consument, maar als voedsel via de groothandel wordt verhandeld en als supermarkten hun eigen merken verkopen, wordt er actief geprobeerd om boeren anoniem te maken. Dit was nooit echt bij me opgekomen totdat Vera Kuijpers, van de biologische boerderij en boerderijwinkel Het Eikelenhof in Noordoost-Limburg, me vertelde over haar laatste ervaring met Biofresh, een van de grote biologische groothandels in Belgi√ę.

Elke donderdag om 4.30 uur laden Vera en haar man Johan Hons hun bestelwagen vol met hun vers geoogste groenten en andere producten en rijden dan zo’n 100 km om te verkopen aan onder andere Biofresh. Vorige week namen ze ook meer dan 60 kratten nieuwe aardappelen mee. Hun rode Aloette is een vast en lekker aardappelras dat bestand is tegen de veel voorkomende schimmelziekte Phytophthora. Elke krat is mooi ge√ętiketteerd met de familienaam van Johan (Hons), en het ras. “Op het moment dat wij onze kratten afleveren, verwijderen de medewerkers van Biofresh de etiketten en plakken hun eigen etiketten erop, zodat andere mensen die biologische producten komen kopen, niet weten wie ze heeft geproduceerd. Maar deze keer hebben ze ook de naam van het ras verwijderd,” zegt Vera, “ze hebben er alleen ‘rode aardappel’ op gezet. Ik vraag me echt af waarom ze dat doen?”

Vera en Johan zijn het absoluut niet eens met deze nieuwe ontwikkeling, want je kunt het ene rode ras niet vergelijken met alle andere. “Als klanten in een supermarkt de lekkere Aloette willen kopen, kan dat de ene week dit ras zijn, maar als het de volgende week een ander rood ras is dat heel anders smaakt of niet lekker is, zullen ze misschien helemaal geen rode aardappelen meer kopen, en dan kan de boer die Aloette teelt zijn aardappelen niet meer verkopen”, zegt Johan. Vanuit het oogpunt van de teler heeft hij zeker een punt.

Als ik deze kwestie met mijn vrouw Marcella bespreek, wijst zij erop dat het contrast met de manier waarop Oxfam Fairtrade-producten op de markt brengt, erg groot is. Op bijna alle verpakkingen zie je het gezicht van een boer en vaak een persoonlijk verhaal dat erbij hoort. Supermarkten verkopen ook Fairtrade-producten, en lijken geen probleem te hebben met af en toe een persoonlijk tintje. Een koffiedrinker in Europa zal waarschijnlijk niet veel koffietelers in de verre Afrikaanse hooglanden of Latijns-Amerika ontmoeten. De foto en de verhaaltjes op de koffieverpakking zijn niet meer dan een virtuele verbinding. Er is geen risico dat de consument rechtstreeks bij de producent koopt, terwijl een Belgische detailhandelaar of consument wel contact kan opnemen met een boer in Belgi√ę.

Het noemen van de boeren en de rassen is belangrijk bij de verkoop van producten, omdat het de consumenten helpt een band te krijgen met het voedsel dat zij eten en de mensen die het produceren. Nu consumenten zich steeds meer wenden tot boerderijwinkels, boerenmarkten en andere korte voedselketens, nemen groothandelaren en supermarkten maatregelen om boeren en rassen anoniem te maken. De boeren zijn potenti√ęle concurrenten, en de grote inkopers willen er zeker van zijn dat de klanten de boeren nooit ontmoeten. Het is als een handelsgeheim om in business te blijven, maar ook de zoveelste tactiek waardoor het vermogen van boeren om met tussenpersonen en supermarkten over prijzen te onderhandelen wordt ondermijnd.

What is a women’s association about? March 20th, 2022 by

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

When you write a story, you should know what it is about. According to this good old advice, if you know what your story is about, you’ll know what to put in and what to leave out.

In Ecuador, community organizer, Ing. Guadalupe Padilla, has told me that belonging to a group can help women gain leadership experience. Women become leaders as they work in a group, not in isolation. Guadalupe has helped to organize several such groups. Like a story, the group has to be about something. It has to have a purpose. And that purpose can easily be related to agriculture.

In Cotopaxi, Ecuador recently, while working with Paul and Marcella to film a video on women‚Äôs organizations, we met Juan Chillagana, vice-president of the parish (town) council. As an elected, local official, Mr. Chillagana has mentored several women‚Äôs organizations, each one organized around a specific product. We caught up with him on 4 February as he met with a group of women who were growing and exporting goldenberries. The fruit buyer was there, a man in a hair net explaining, ‚ÄúAll we ask is that you don‚Äôt apply agro-chemicals.‚ÄĚ The association members and the buyer weighed big, perfect goldenberries in clean, plastic trays, to take to the packing plant.

We talked with one of the members, Josefina Astudillo, who seemed pleased to be trying this new fruit crop. She guided us to her field, about a kilometer from the community center where the meeting was held. Do√Īa Josefina proudly showed us her field where the fruit was ripening to a golden perfection. One woman could grow goldenberries by herself, but it takes a group to meet the buyer‚Äôs demand: 1,000 kilos a week, at a quality ready to export.

We also met Beatriz Padilla (Guadalupe‚Äôs sister), a small-scale dairy farmer, who leads 20 households as they pool their milk. The association sends a truck to each farm, collects the milk in big cans, transfers it to the group‚Äôs cold tank. Twice a day, about 1500 liters of milk is collected by two different buyers, including one who comes at 3 AM. It‚Äôs a lot of work. Do√Īa Beatriz explained that she couldn‚Äôt do it without the group. She needs the other families so they can get a better price for their milk. A farmer with two cows has to take whatever price the dairy will give her. But an association can negotiate a price.

Margoth Naranjo is a woman in her 60s who has worked her whole adult life in associations, often in groups that included men as well. She started in her local parent-teachers‚Äô association, helping to organize the children‚Äôs breakfast. Later, she was the secretary of a farmers‚Äô insurance group, until she became the treasurer and then the president. Now, with the Corporation of Indigenous and Peasant Organizations (COIC), do√Īa Margoth is helping several women‚Äôs organizations, which sell their own agroecological vegetables, to band together for added strength. Sadly, this work came to a standstill during the Covid lockdown, but do√Īa Margoth has recently started organizing again.

All of the women’s leaders we met in Ecuador were part of a group. And each group was formed for a concrete purpose, whether for goldenberries, milk or vegetables. Like a good story, the groups were each about something, related to a dream they share: to have a quality product to sell, to improve their livelihoods.

And just as writing improves with practice, leadership sharpens with experience. The influential people we met said that any woman could be a leader if she joined a group and participated long enough.

Previous Agro-Insight blogs

Listening to what women don’t say

The goldenberry

Related videos

Women in extension

Farmers’ rights to seed: Experiences from Guatemala

Working together for healthy chicks

Helping women recover after childbirth


Thanks to Guadalupe Padilla and Sonia Zambrano for introducing us the farmers in Cotopaxi, and for sharing her knowledge with us. Thanks to Guadalupe and to Paul Van Mele for their valuable comments on a previous version of this blog. Guadalupe and Sonia work for EkoRural, an NGO. Our work was funded by the McKnight Foundation’s Collaborative Crop Research Program (CCRP).


Por Jeff Bentley, 20 de marzo del 2022

Cuando escribes una historia, debes saber de qu√© trata. Seg√ļn este viejo consejo, si sabes de qu√© trata tu historia, sabr√°s qu√© incluir y qu√© dejar fuera.

La Ing. Guadalupe Padilla organiza comunidades  en Ecuador, y me ha dicho que pertenecer a un grupo puede ayudar a las mujeres a adquirir experiencia de liderazgo. Las mujeres se convierten en lideresas cuando trabajan en grupo, no de forma aislada. Guadalupe ha ayudado a organizar varios grupos de este tipo. Al igual que una historia, el grupo tiene que tratar de algo. Tiene que tener un propósito, que puede estar tranquilamente relacionado con la agricultura.

Hace poco, en Cotopaxi, Ecuador, mientras yo trabajaba con Paul y Marcella para filmar un video sobre las organizaciones de mujeres, conocimos ¬†a Juan Chillagana, vicepresidente de la junta parroquial. Como funcionario local electo, el Sr. Chillagana ha sido mentor de varias organizaciones de mujeres, cada una de ellas organizada en torno a un producto espec√≠fico. Nos reunimos con √©l el 4 de febrero, en un encuentro con un grupo de mujeres que cultivan y exportan uvillas (uchuvas, o chiltos). El comprador de la fruta estaba all√≠, un hombre con su cabellera bien cubierta por una red. Explic√≥: “Todo lo que pedimos es que no apliquen agroqu√≠micos”. Los miembros de la asociaci√≥n y el comprador pesaron grandes y perfectas uvillas en bandejas de pl√°stico limpias, para llevarlas a la planta de envasado.

Hablamos con una de las socias, Josefina Astudillo, que parec√≠a encantada de probar este nuevo cultivo de fruta. Nos llev√≥ hasta su campo, a un kil√≥metro de la sede comunitaria donde se celebraba la reuni√≥n. Do√Īa Josefina nos mostr√≥ con orgullo su campo, donde su dorada fruta estaba madur√°ndose a la perfecci√≥n. Una sola mujer podr√≠a cultivar uvillas por s√≠ sola, pero se necesita un grupo para satisfacer la demanda de los compradores: 1.000 kilos a la semana, con una calidad lista para exportar.

Tambi√©n conocimos a Beatriz Padilla (hermana de Guadalupe), peque√Īa productora de leche, que lidera 20 hogares que acopian su leche para venderla como grupo. La asociaci√≥n env√≠a un cami√≥n a cada granja, recoge la leche en grandes botes y la traslada al tanque de fr√≠o del grupo. Dos veces al d√≠a, dos distintos compradores recogen unos 1.500 litros de leche, incluido uno que viene a las 3 de la madrugada. Es mucho trabajo. Do√Īa Beatriz explica que no podr√≠a hacerlo sin el grupo. Necesita a las otras familias para poder obtener un mejor precio por su leche. Una persona con dos vacas tiene que aceptar el precio que le d√© la procesadora de leche. En cambio, una asociaci√≥n puede negociar un mejor precio.

Margoth Naranjo es una mujer de 60 a√Īos que ha trabajado toda su vida adulta en asociaciones, a menudo en grupos que inclu√≠an tambi√©n a los hombres. Empez√≥ en la asociaci√≥n local de padres de familia, ayudando a organizar el desayuno escolar. M√°s tarde, fue secretaria del Seguro Campesino, hasta llegar a ser la tesorera y luego la presidenta. Ahora, con la Corporaci√≥n de Organizaciones Ind√≠genas y Campesinas (COIC), do√Īa Margoth est√° ayudando a varias organizaciones de mujeres, que venden sus propias verduras agroecol√≥gicas, a agruparse para tener m√°s fuerza. Lamentablemente, este trabajo se paraliz√≥ durante el cierre de Covid, pero do√Īa Margoth ha vuelto a organizarse recientemente.

Todas las mujeres l√≠deres que conocimos en Ecuador formaban parte de un grupo. Y cada grupo se form√≥ con un prop√≥sito concreto, ya sea para obtener fruta, leche o verduras. Como una buena historia, cada grupo trataba de algo, relacionado a un sue√Īo conjunto: como tener un excelente producto para vender, para vivir mejor.

Y al igual que la redacción mejora con la práctica, el liderazgo es pulida con la experiencia. Las personas influyentes que conocimos decían que cualquier mujer podría llegar a ser líder si se unía a un grupo y participaba el tiempo suficiente.

Previamente en el blog de Agro-Insight

Listening to what women don’t say

El chilto, cultivo y maleza

Videos relacionados

Las mujeres en la extensión

Derechos de los agricultores a la semilla: Guatemala

Trabajando juntos por polillos sanos

Helping women recover after childbirth


Gracias a Guadalupe Padilla y Sonia Zambrano por presentarnos a la gente de Cotopaxi, por compartir su conocimiento con nosotros. Gracias a Guadalupe y a Paul Van Mele por sus valiosos comentarios sobre una versión previa de este blog. Guadalupe y Sonia trabajan para EkoRural, una ONG. Nuestro trabajo fue financiado por Programa Colaborativo de Investigación de Cultivos (CCRP) de la Fundación McKnight.

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