Most recent stories ›
AgroInsight RSS feed

A climate film November 13th, 2022 by

A movie about rural people, filmed with them, in their communities, is rare, even more so when it touches on important topics like climate change.

In the Bolivian film Utama, directed by Santiaga Loayza, the main characters, Virgilio and Sisa are an elderly couple living on the Bolivian Altiplano, in a two-room adobe house. They still love each other, after many years together. Virgilio has never forgiven his son, for moving to the city, years ago. When the couple´s grandson, Cléver, comes to visit, the old man is angry. He feels that Cléver’s father has sent him to take Virgilio and Sisa to the city.

The stunning photography shows the stark beauty of the hills and mountains rising from the high plains. The characters are believable and authentic. The title, Utama, means “our home” in the Aymara language.

The story takes place near the end of a long drought, exacerbated by climate change. Virgilio, Cléver and some of the neighbors hike to a mountain top to perform a ritual to bring the rain, which never comes. Some families leave for the city. Virgilio develops an agonizing cough, refuses to let Cléver take him to the hospital, and dies at home.

The elderly couple is played by José Calcina and Luisa Quispe, who are married in real life, and are from the community where the movie was filmed, Santiago de Chuvica, in Potosí, Bolivia. They were cast because of their obvious affection for each other. This realism is accentuated when the couple speak to each other in Quechua, a native language of Bolivia.

Loayza had previously visited Santiago de Chuvica while making a documentary film. In reality, the village is an outpost for travelers visiting the famous Salar de Uyuni, a giant salt flat, an ancient lake bed surrounded by sparse vegetation.

This is one of the most remote parts of Bolivia, and one of the most marginal environments for agriculture in the world. Quinoa is the only crop that will grow here. Until the mid-twentieth century, local farmers made their living by packing out quinoa on the backs of llamas, to trade for food in other parts of Bolivia. It was an ingenious, and unusual cropping system, based on one crop and one animal.

But as the world gets hotter and dryer, places like Chuvica will only become more stressed.

Although not shown in the movie, some parts of Bolivia are far more favorable to farming, with spring-like weather much of the year, where many crops will grow. People are also leaving these areas for the city. Whole communities are emptying out. In the provincial valleys of Cochabamba it is common to see few homes except for ruined, empty farm houses. The grandparents who lived there may have died, but their heirs are still tilling the fields, commuting from town. Farming is often the most resilient part of rural life, and the last to be abandoned.

Climate change is a real problem, and will turn some people into environmental refugees. But villagers are also leaving more favorable farm country, pulled by the opportunities for jobs, education, health care and commerce in the cities. If rural-to-urban migration is seen as a problem, then country life needs to be made more comfortable, with roads, electricity, potable water, schools and clinics.

At the 2022 Sundance Film Festival Utama won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic Competition.  Hopefully other filmmakers will make more movies on climate change, and on rural life. There are lots more stories to tell.

Previous Agro-Insight blogs

High Andean climate change

Recovering from the quinoa boom

Videos on climate

Recording the weather, also available in Spanish, Quechua and Aymara

Forecasting the weather with an app, also available in Spanish, Quechua and Aymara

Additional reading

Sagárnaga, Rafael 2022 Alejandro Loayza: Hay que hacer que el mundo escuche tus historias. Los Tiempos 13 Feb pp. 2-3.

El País 2022 ‘Utama’, la historia de amor frente al olvido en el Altiplano que sorprendió en Sundance

Recovering from the quinoa boom October 30th, 2022 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

In southwestern Bolivia, a whole ecosystem has been nearly destroyed, to export quinoa, but some people are trying to save it.

Bolivia’s southern Altiplano is a harsh place to live. Although it is in the tropical latitudes it is so high, over 3800 meters, that it often freezes. Its climax forest, the t’ular, is only a meter tall, made up of native shrubs, grasses and cactuses.

For centuries on the southern Altiplano, farmers grew quinoa, an annual plant with edible seeds, in the shelter of little hills. No other crop would grow in this high country. People herded llamas on the more exposed plains of the Altiplano. The farmers would take quinoa in packs, carried by llamas, to other parts of Bolivia to trade for maize, fruit and chuño (traditional freeze-dried potatoes) as well as wool, salt and jerky.

In about 2010 quinoa became a fad food, and export prices soared. Bolivian plant breeder, Alejandro Bonifacio, who is from the Altiplano, estimates that 80% of the t’ular was plowed under to grow quinoa from 2010 to 2014.This was the first time that farmers cleared the dwarf forest growing on the open plains.

After the brief quinoa boom ended, in some places, only 30% of the lands cleared on the t’ular were still being farmed. The rest had simply been turned into large patches of white sand. The native plants did not grow back, probably because of drought and wind linked to climate change.

At the start of the quinoa boom, Dr. Bonifacio and colleagues at Proinpa, a research agency, realized the severity of the destruction of the native ecosystem, and began to develop a system of regenerative agriculture.

In an early experience, they gathered 20 gunny bags of the seed heads of different species of t’ulas, the native shrubs and grasses. They scattered the seeds onto the sandy soil of abandoned fields. Out of several million seeds, only a dozen germinated and only four survived. After their first unsuccessful experience with direct seeding, the researchers and their students learned to grow seeds of native plants in two nurseries on the Altiplano, and then transplant them.

So much native vegetation has been lost that it cannot all be reforested, so researchers worked with farmers in local communities to experiment with live barriers. These were two or three lines of t’ula transplanted from the nurseries to create living barriers three meters wide. The live barriers could be planted as borders around the fields, or as strips within the large ones, spaced 30 to 45 meters apart. This helped to slow down soil erosion caused by wind, so farmers could grow quinoa (still planted, but in smaller quantities, to eat at home and for the national market, after the end of the export boom). Growing native shrubs as live barriers also gave farmers an incentive to care for these native plants.

By 2022, nearly 8000 meters of live barriers of t’ula have been planted, and are being protected by local farmers. The older plants are maturing, thriving and bearing seed. Some local governments and residents have started to drive to Proinpa, to request seedlings to plant, hinting at a renewed interest in these native plants.

The next step in creating a new regenerative agriculture was to introduce a rotation crop into the quinoa system. But on the southern Altiplano, no other crop has been grown, besides quinoa (and a semi-wild relative, qañawa). In this climate, it was impossible even to grow potatoes and other native roots and tubers.

NGOs suggested that farmers rotate quinoa with a legume crop, like peas or broad beans, but these plants died every time.

Bonifacio and colleagues realized that a new legume crop would be required, but that it would have to be a wild, native plant. They began experimenting with native lupines. The domesticated lupine, a legume, produces seeds in pods which remain closed even after the plant matures. When ancient farmers domesticated the lupine, they selected for pods that stayed closed, so the grains would not be lost in the field. But the pods of wild legumes shatter, scattering their seeds on the ground.

Various methods were tried to recover the wild lupine seed, including sifting it out of the sand. Researchers eventually learned that the seed was viable before it was completely dry, before the pod burst. After the seed dried, it went into a four-year dormancy.

In early trials with farmers, the wild lupines have done well as a quinoa intercrop. Llamas will eat them, and the legumes improve the soil. When the quinoa is harvested in March, April and May, the lupine remains as a cover crop, reaching maturity the following year, and protecting the soil.

The quinoa boom was a tragedy. A unique ecosystem was nearly wiped out in four years. The market can provide perverse incentives to destroy a landscape. The research with native windbreaks and cover crops is also accompanied by studies of local cactus and by breeding varieties of quinoa that are well-adapted to the southern Altiplano. This promises to be the basis of a regenerative agriculture, one that respects the local plants, including the animals that eat them, such as the domesticated llama and the wild vicuña, while also providing a livelihood for native people.

Further reading

Bonifacio, Alejandro, Genaro Aroni, Milton Villca & Jeffery W. Bentley 2022 Recovering from quinoa: regenerative agricultural research in Bolivia. Journal of Crop Improvement, DOI: 10.1080/15427528.2022.2135155

Previous Agro-Insight blogs

Awakening the seeds

Wind erosion and the great quinoa disaster

Slow recovery

Related videos

Living windbreaks to protect the soil

The wasp that protects our crops


Dr. Alejandro Bonifacio works for the Proinpa Foundation. This work was made possible with the kind support of the Collaborative Crop Research Program (CCRP) of the McKnight Foundation.


Por Jeff Bentley, 30 de octubre del 2022

En el suroeste de Bolivia, todo un ecosistema casi se ha destruido para exportar quinua, pero algunas personas intentan salvarlo.

Es difícil vivir en el Altiplano sur de Bolivia. Aunque está en latitudes tropicales, está tan alto, a más de 3.800 metros, que a menudo se congela. Su bosque clímax, el t’ular, sólo tiene un metro de altura, formado por arbustos, hierbas y cactus nativos.

Durante siglos, en el Altiplano sur, los agricultores cultivaron quinua (una planta de ciclo anual y tallo herbáceo) con semillas comestibles, al abrigo de las pequeñas colinas. Ningún otro cultivo crecía en esta zona alta. En las llanuras más expuestas del Altiplano, la gente arreaba llamas. Los campesinos llevaban la quinua cargados por las llamas, a otras partes de Bolivia para intercambiarla por maíz, frutas, chuño, lana, sal, y charqui.

Hacia 2010, la quinua se convirtió en un alimento de moda y los precios de exportación se dispararon. El fitomejorador boliviano Alejandro Bonifacio, originario del Altiplano, calcula que entre 2010 y 2014 se aró el 80% del t’ular para cultivar quinua.

Tras el breve auge de la quinua, en algunas zonas solo el 30% de las tierras desmontadas en el t’ular seguían siendo cultivadas. El resto simplemente se había convertido en grandes manchas de arena blanca. Las plantas nativas no volvieron a crecer, probablemente por la sequía y el viento atribuible al cambio climático).

Al comienzo del boom de la quinua, el Dr. Bonifacio y sus colegas de Proinpa, una agencia de investigación, se dieron cuenta de la gravedad de la destrucción del ecosistema nativo, y comenzaron a desarrollar un sistema de agricultura regenerativa.

En una de las primeras experiencias, reunieron 20 gangochos conteniendo frutos con las diminutas semillas de diferentes especies de t’ulas, los arbustos nativos y pastos. Esparcieron las semillas en el arenoso suelo de los campos abandonados. De varios millones de semillas, sólo germinaron una decena que al final quedaron cuatro plantas sobrevivientes. Tras su primera experiencia frustrante con la siembra directa, los investigadores y sus estudiantes aprendieron a cultivar semillas de plantas nativas en dos viveros del Altiplano con fines de trasplantarlos.

Se ha perdido tanta vegetación nativa que no se puede reforestarla toda, así que los investigadores trabajaron con los agricultores de las comunidades locales para experimentar con barreras vivas. Se trataba de dos o tres líneas de t’ula trasplantadas desde los viveros para crear barreras vivas de tres metros de ancho. Las barreras vivas podían plantarse como bordes alrededor de las parcelas, o como franjas dentro de los campos grandes, con una separación de 30 a 45 metros. Esto ayudó a frenar la erosión del suelo causada por el viento, para que los agricultores pudieran cultivar quinua (que aún se siembra, pero en menor cantidad, para comer en casa y para el mercado nacional, tras el fin del boom de las exportaciones). El cultivo de arbustos nativos como barreras vivas también incentivó a los agricultores a cuidar estas plantas nativas.

En 2022, se han plantado casi 8.000 metros de barreras vivas de t’ula, que se protegen por los agricultores locales. Las plantas más antiguas están madurando, prosperando y formando semilla. Algunos residentes y gobiernos locales han comenzado a llegar a Proinpa, para pedir plantines para plantar, lo que indica un renovado interés en estas plantas nativas.

El siguiente paso en la creación de una nueva agricultura regenerativa era introducir un cultivo de rotación en el sistema de la quinua. Pero en el Altiplano sur no se ha cultivado ningún otro cultivo, aparte de la quinua (y un pariente semi-silvestre, la qañawa). En este clima, era imposible incluso cultivar papas y otras raíces y tubérculos nativos.

Las ONGs sugirieron a los agricultores que rotaran la quinoa con un cultivo de leguminosas, como arvejas o habas, pero estas plantas morían siempre.

Bonifacio y sus colegas se dieron cuenta de que sería necesario tener un nuevo cultivo de leguminosas, pero que tendría que ser una planta silvestre y nativa. Empezaron a experimentar con lupinos nativos. El lupino domesticado es el tarwi, una leguminosa, produce semillas en vainas que permanecen cerradas incluso después de que la planta madure. Cuando los antiguos agricultores domesticaron el lupino, seleccionaron las vainas que permanecían cerradas, para que los granos no se perdieran en el campo. Pero las vainas de las leguminosas silvestres se rompen, esparciendo sus semillas por el suelo.

Se intentaron varios métodos para recuperar la semilla de lupinos silvestre, incluido tamizando la arena. Los investigadores descubrieron que la semilla era viable antes de estar completamente seca, antes de que la vaina reventara. Una vez seca, la semilla entraba en un periodo de dormancia de cuatro años.

En los primeros ensayos con agricultores, los lupinos silvestres han funcionado bien como cultivo intermedio de la quinoa. Las llamas los comen y las leguminosas mejoran el suelo. Cuando se cosecha la quinoa en marzo, abril y mayo, el lupino permanece como cultivo de cobertura, alcanzando la madurez al año siguiente y protegiendo el suelo.

El boom de la quinoa fue una tragedia. Un ecosistema único estuvo a punto de desaparecer en cuatro años. El mercado puede ofrecer incentivos perversos para destruir un paisaje. La investigación con barreras vivas nativas y cultivos de cobertura también va acompañada de estudios de cactus locales y del fitomejoramiento de variedades de quinua bien adaptadas al Altiplano sur. Esto promete ser la base de una agricultura regenerativa, que respete las plantas locales, incluidos los animales que se alimentan de ellas, como la llama domesticada y la vicuña silvestre, y al mismo tiempo proporcionando un medio de vida a la gente nativa.

Lectura adicional

Bonifacio, Alejandro, Genaro Aroni, Milton Villca & Jeffery W. Bentley 2022 Recovering from quinoa: regenerative agricultural research in Bolivia. Journal of Crop Improvement, DOI: 10.1080/15427528.2022.2135155

Previamente en el blog de Agro-Insight

Despertando las semillas

Destruyendo el altiplano sur con quinua

Recuperación lenta

Videos sobre el tema

Barreras vivas para proteger el suelo

La avispa que protege nuestros cultivos


El Dr. Alejandro Bonifacio trabaja para la Fundación Proinpa. Este trabajo se hizo con el generoso apoyo del Programa Colaborativo de Investigación de Cultivos (CCRP) de la Fundación McKnight.

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

From soil fertility to cheese September 4th, 2022 by

From soil fertility to cheese

Nederlandse versie hieronder

More than 10 years ago, a project in the high Andes in Peru set out to improve soil fertility with local communities. So, during a recent visit to the community of Colpar, in Quilcas municipality, we were surprised to hear rural women talk about how they had established a women’s association selling cheese and yoghurt. It seemed a long leap at first, but as we spent more time with the community we were reminded once more how development impacts can divert from initial intentions.

Jeff, Marcella and I had a chance to work with the local NGO Yanapai on a video about improved pastures. Farmers traditionally left their fields fallow for 10 years or more after they had planted potatoes for a year, followed by a year of oca, ulluco, broad beans or another crop. With increased pressure on the land, fallow periods shortened and soil fertility declined. The initial idea of the researchers was that by broadcasting seeds of legume fodder crops and improved grasses, such as rye grass after the last harvest, would help the  soil recover its fertility faster. This idea, as creative it was, never quite worked out.

But the researchers and NGO staff did not give up and kept on engaging the farmers in their trials. Farmers gradually started to drive the agenda. Especially in areas where farmers had access to irrigation water, they began experimenting with mixed pastures, containing a mix of annual and perennial fodder legumes and grasses, such as oats, barley, rye grass, clover, alfalfa and vetch.

All farmers in Quilcas now have semi-permanent fields of fodder, which they establish at different times of the year to have feed all year round, as Ricardina Rodríguez, one of the local women tells us: “Natural pasture dries up in the dry season, and there is nothing for the cows to eat. Planted fodder is there all year. We cut it every two months, and it maintains our cows.”

When we interview Herminio Rodríguez, he explains how their animals prefer a mix of fodder: “When you have a mix of pastures, they eat everything. And when you feed a mix with clover and alfalfa, the cows also give more milk.”

The farmers we meet all confirm that after 3 to 4 years the mixed pastures have improved the fertility of the soil, as the grasses with their abundant roots make the soil looser, while the legumes fix nitrogen from the air and as such benefit the subsequent potato crop. The farmers also add a bit of kitchen ash or composted manure after they cut fodder, which also improves the soil fertility.

The project had evolved from enriching native fallow vegetation with improved fodder species, to one where farmers installed and cared for their pasture as if it were a crop, fertilizing, irrigating and harvesting it. Some farmers may even keep some of their fields under permanent fodder, as they feel the benefits of having good fodder outweighs the benefits of harvesting more potatoes.

With additional support of two other projects, including a local government project, that focused on livestock, fodder and irrigation, life in the community steadily improved, and women made the most of it. While they used to sell all their fresh milk to a buyer from the nearby town, they realized that they could make more money by making and selling their own cheese and yoghurt.

“We used to heat the milk with firewood, but now we use gas. We have our big pots, our cheese press. We improve all the time. And once a week we prepare cheese and yoghurt to take to the weekly market,” says Ricardina Rodríguez.

Lucía Ávila, another member of the association who we interview on camera, summarises it well: “I would tell all farmers that we should plant pasture to have better animals, and to have a little money. If you have a bigger guinea pig, they pay you well. If your bull is bigger or fatter, they pay you well. Cultivated fodder is better to improve our quality of life.”

By having an open mindset, a certain degree of flexibility and long-term support to work with farming communities, researchers working with local NGOs can have tremendous impact that goes way beyond what they had anticipated initially.


Watch the video on the Access Agriculture video platform:
Improved pasture for fertile soil

Related Agro-Insight blogs

Farming as a lifestyle


The visit to Peru to film various farmer-to-farmer training videos with farmers like doña Ricardina, doña Lucía and don Herminio was made possible with the kind support of the Collaborative Crop Research Program (CCRP) of the McKnight Foundation. Thanks to Edgar Olivera from Grupo Yanapai for introducing us to the community, and to Erik Córdova Ramos for the photo of the Agro-Insight team with colleagues from Yanapai.


Van bodemvruchtbaarheid tot kaas

Meer dan 10 jaar geleden werd een project in de hoge Andes in Peru opgezet om samen met de plaatselijke gemeenschappen de vruchtbaarheid van de bodem te verbeteren. Tijdens een recent bezoek aan de gemeenschap van Colpar, in de gemeente Quilcas, waren we dan ook verrast toen we plattelandsvrouwen hoorden vertellen over hoe ze een vrouwenvereniging hadden opgericht die kaas en yoghurt verkoopt. Het leek eerst een lange sprong, maar toen we meer tijd met de gemeenschap doorbrachten, werden we er weer eens aan herinnerd hoe de gevolgen van ontwikkeling kunnen afwijken van de oorspronkelijke bedoelingen.

Jeff, Marcella en ik hadden de kans om met de plaatselijke NGO Yanapai te werken aan een video over verbeterde weidegronden. Traditioneel lieten boeren hun akkers 10 jaar of langer braak liggen nadat ze een jaar lang aardappels hadden geplant, gevolgd door een jaar oca, ulluco, tuinbonen of een ander gewas. Door de toenemende druk op het land werden de braakperiodes korter en ging de bodemvruchtbaarheid achteruit. Het oorspronkelijke idee van de onderzoekers was dat door na de laatste oogst zaden van voederleguminosen en verbeterde grassen, zoals raaigras, uit te strooien, de bodem zijn vruchtbaarheid sneller zou herstellen. Dit idee, hoe creatief het ook was, heeft nooit helemaal gewerkt.

Maar de onderzoekers en de NGO-medewerkers gaven niet op en bleven de boeren bij hun proeven betrekken. Geleidelijk aan begonnen de boeren de agenda te bepalen. Vooral in gebieden waar de boeren toegang hadden tot irrigatiewater, begonnen zij te experimenteren met gemengde weidegronden, met een mix van eenjarige en meerjarige voederleguminosen en grassen, zoals haver, gerst, raaigras, klaver, alfalfa en wikke.

Alle boeren in Quilcas hebben nu semi-permanente voedergewassenvelden, die ze op verschillende tijdstippen van het jaar aanleggen, zodat ze het hele jaar door voedergewassen hebben, zoals Ricardina Rodríguez, een van de plaatselijke vrouwen, ons vertelt: “Natuurlijke weiden drogen op in het droge seizoen, en er is niets te eten voor de koeien. Geplant veevoer is er het hele jaar. We maaien het om de twee maanden, en het onderhoudt onze koeien.”

Als we Herminio Rodríguez interviewen, legt hij uit hoe hun dieren de voorkeur geven aan een mix van voedergewassen: “Als je een mix van voedergewassen hebt, eten ze alles. En als je een mix met klaver en luzerne voert, geven de koeien ook meer melk.”

De boeren die we ontmoeten, bevestigen allemaal dat de gemengde weiden na 3 tot 4 jaar de vruchtbaarheid van de bodem hebben verbeterd, omdat de grassen met hun overvloedige wortels de grond losser maken, terwijl de peulvruchten stikstof uit de lucht vastleggen en als zodanig ten goede komen aan de daaropvolgende aardappeloogst. De boeren voegen ook een beetje keuken-as of gecomposteerde mest toe nadat zij het voeder hebben gemaaid, wat de bodemvruchtbaarheid eveneens verbetert.

Het project is geëvolueerd van het verrijken van inheemse braakvegetatie met verbeterde voedergewassen tot een project waarbij de boeren hun weiland installeren en verzorgen alsof het een gewas is, bemesten, irrigeren en oogsten. Sommige boeren houden zelfs een deel van hun akkers permanent met voedergewassen bedekt, omdat zij vinden dat de voordelen van goed voedergewas opwegen tegen de voordelen van het oogsten van meer aardappelen.

Met extra steun van twee andere projecten, waaronder een project van de plaatselijke overheid, die zich richtten op vee, veevoeder en irrigatie, verbeterde het leven in de gemeenschap gestaag, en de vrouwen haalden daar het meeste uit. Terwijl ze vroeger al hun verse melk verkochten aan een opkoper uit de nabijgelegen stad, realiseerden ze zich dat ze meer geld konden verdienen door hun eigen kaas en yoghurt te maken en te verkopen.

“Vroeger verwarmden we de melk met brandhout, maar nu gebruiken we gas. We hebben onze grote potten, onze kaaspers. We verbeteren de hele tijd. En één keer per week maken we kaas en yoghurt om mee te nemen naar de wekelijkse markt,” zegt Ricardina Rodríguez.

Lucía Ávila, een ander lid van de vereniging die we voor de camera interviewen, vat het goed samen: “Ik zou tegen alle boeren willen zeggen dat we weiland moeten planten om betere dieren te hebben, en om een beetje geld te hebben. Als je een grotere cavia hebt, betalen ze je goed. Als je stier groter of vetter is, betalen ze je goed. Gekweekt voer is beter om de kwaliteit van ons leven te verbeteren.”

Door een open mentaliteit, een zekere mate van flexibiliteit en steun op lange termijn om met boerengemeenschappen samen te werken, kunnen onderzoekers die met lokale NGO’s samenwerken een enorme impact hebben die veel verder gaat dan wat ze aanvankelijk hadden voorzien.

Bekijk de video op het Access Agriculture video platform:
Improved pasture for fertile soil

Creativity of the commons August 28th, 2022 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

Farmers and scientists should be able to work together to create practical, new technologies, but it’s easier said than done. So, I was pleased to see a clear example recently, in Peru.

Peruvian agronomists, Edgar Olivera and Raúl Ccanto, have been working in the municipality of Quilcas near Huancayo since about 2002. The farmers were poor, and the land couldn’t sustain them. Farmers would grow potatoes for a year, followed by some other crop like ulluco, or broad beans or oats. Then the soil fertility would be exhausted and the land would remain fallow for several years, producing a poor-quality fodder that left the cows hungry.

I was lucky enough to go to Quilcas in 2013, nearly ten years ago, when two soil scientists, Steve Vanek and Steve Fonte teamed up with Edgar and Raúl and the farmers of Quilcas.

Raúl and Edgar convened a community workshop and (thanks to the goodwill that they had established with the farmers) many people from Quilcas attended. Steve and Steve proposed that after farmers harvested their second crop, instead of leaving it fallow, they could plant a mix of pastures: grasses and legumes—annuals and perennials. In the experiment, some of the plots would be fertilized and others would not be. The farmers responded enthusiastically, and they agreed to lend some of their land and their time to the experiments.

Edgar and Raúl continued to work in Quilcas and other highland communities. The Steves kept making visits from the universities where they taught in the United States. They often brought graduate students. Meanwhile, after years of hard work and some government support, the community managed to dig an irrigation canal into Quilcas, which was finished in 2018.

I never went back to Quilcas until this year (2022) and I was pleasantly surprised. Many of the farmers in the village of Collpar (part of Quilcas) were using some version of the new fodder mix. After harvesting their potatoes, they plant a second crop. Then they plant a mix of several kinds of grasses (like oats and rye grass) and legumes (such as vetch and alfalfa). The oats and the vetch are annuals, while the rye grass and the alfalfa are perennials. The oats and the vetch are harvested first, while the rye grass and the alfalfa live for another three to five years. A little irrigation helps the plants to thrive, as does a bit of guinea pig manure or some wood ash from the kitchen. The fodder is cut and taken to the animals, which do not graze on the small plots.

Local farmer Marcelo Tiza showed us the rich, dark soil beneath the fodder crops, full of earthworms and other life. Another farmer, Ricardina Rodríguez explained that the fodder allowed the women to have healthier cows and to start a cheese-making group. Most of the farmers are now raising guinea pigs and dairy cows commercially.

The success with animals is built on the community’s efforts with irrigation and new fodder systems. Along the way the farmers have adapted new ideas to their own context, selecting the fodder species that work for them, and figuring out how to water, and fertilize the fodder crop, and how to turn it into products they can eat or sell. When farmers and scientists collaborate well, they each contribute ideas. In this case, the agricultural scientists proposed new fodder species, and a new style of mixing them, but they wanted to plant the fodder in large, unirrigated lands at the start of a long period of several years’ fallow. The farmers added the idea of irrigating the new crops, fertilizing them, and planting them in small plots. In other words, the collaboration yielded an idea that neither party may have thought of on their own.

“Our original concept was to address the outlying, degradation-prone areas as well,” says Steve Vanek. Unfortunately, the fodder plants that thrived near the farmsteads didn’t do well in the distant plots. “Farmers are also sensitive to the idea that for larger, outlying plots erosion and degradation are a real risk. They understood that species such as orchardgrass can complement the slower establishment of native grasses and legumes to better protect the soils.” This is a topic that researchers and farmers hope to tackle in future.

Fodder plants perform well in mixed communities, protecting and supporting each other. In the same way, a mix of farmers, agronomists, and soil scientists can stimulate each other with new ideas, eventually reaching solutions that none of the groups would have thought of alone. Given with slow rhythms of crops and livestock, this meaningful collaboration may take several years to pay off, but it is worth it.

Watch the video

Improved pasture for fertile soil

Further reading

Meza, Katherin, Steven J. Vanek, Yulissa Sueldo, Edgar Olivera, Raúl Ccanto, María Scurrah, and Steven J. Fonte 2022 Grass-legume mixtures show potential to increase above-and belowground biomass production for Andean forage-based fallows. Agronomy 12(1): 142.

Meza, Katherin, Steven J. Vanek, Raúl Ccanto Retamozo, María Scurrah, Edgar Olivera Hurtado, and Steven J. Fonte 2017 Importancia de los servicios ecosistémicos en un paisaje andino de la Sierra Central del Perú. Revista LEISA 33(1): 15.

Vanek, Steven J., Katherin Meza, Raul Ccanto, Edgar Olivera, Maria Scurrah, and Steven J. Fonte 2020 Participatory design of improved forage/fallow options across soil gradients with farmers of the Central Peruvian Andes. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 300: 106933.

Related Agro-Insight blogs

Rotational grazing

The committee of the commons

Moveable pasture

A better way to make holes

Scientific names

Oat (Avena sativa), ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum), vetch (Vicia dasycarpa), alfalfa (Medicago sativa), orchard grass (Dactylis glomerata),


The visit to Peru to film various farmer-to-farmer training videos, including this one, was made possible with the kind support of the Collaborative Crop Research Program (CCRP) of the McKnight Foundation. Thanks to Edgar Olivera, Raúl Ccanto, Jhon Huaraca and colleagues of the Grupo Yanapai for introducing us to Quilcas and for sharing their knowledge with us. Steve Vanek and Paul Van Mele read and made valuable comments on an earlier version of this story.


Jeff Bentley, 21 de agosto del 2022

Lógicamente, los agricultores y los científicos deberían poder trabajar juntos para crear nuevas tecnologías prácticas, pero es más fácil decirlo que hacerlo. Por eso, me encantó ver un claro ejemplo recientemente, en el Perú.

Los agrónomos peruanos Edgar Olivera y Raúl Ccanto trabajan en el municipio de Quilcas, cerca de Huancayo, desde el 2002. Los agricultores eran pobres y la tierra no podía mantenerlos. Los agricultores cultivaban papas un año, seguidas de otro cultivo como el ulluco, las habas o la avena. Luego, la fertilidad del suelo se agotaba y dejaban la tierra en descanso por varios años, produciendo un forraje de mala calidad que dejaba a las vacas flacas.

Tuve la suerte de ir a Quilcas en el 2013, hace casi diez años, cuando dos científicos de suelo, Steve Vanek y Steve Fonte, se unieron con Edgar y Raúl y los agricultores de Quilcas.

Raúl y Edgar convocaron un taller comunitario y (gracias a la buena voluntad que habían establecido con la gente local) y asistieron muchas personas de Quilcas. Steve y Steve propusieron que después de que se recogiera la segunda cosecha, en lugar de dejarla en descanso, plantaran una mezcla de pastos: gramíneas y leguminosas, anuales y perennes. En el experimento, algunas de las parcelas se abonarían y otras no. Los agricultores respondieron con entusiasmo y aceptaron prestar parte de sus tierras y su tiempo para los experimentos.

Edgar y Raúl siguieron trabajando en Quilcas y otras comunidades de la Sierra. Los Steve siguieron visitando desde las universidades donde enseñaban en los Estados Unidos. A menudo traían estudiantes de posgrado. Mientras tanto, tras años de duro trabajo y algo de apoyo gubernamental, la comunidad logró cavar un canal de riego en Quilcas, que se terminó en el 2018.

Yo no volví a Quilcas hasta este año (2022) y era una sorpresa agradable. Muchas de las familias de la comunidad de Collpar (que forma parte de Quilcas) usaban alguna versión de la nueva mezcla forrajera. Después de cosechar las papas, sembraban otro cultivo. Luego sembraban una mezcla de varios tipos de gramíneas (como la avena y el ray gras) y leguminosas (como la vicia y la alfalfa). La avena y la vicia son anuales, mientras que el ray gras y la alfalfa son perennes. La avena y la vicia se cosechan primero, mientras que el ray gras y la alfalfa viven de tres a cinco años más. Un poco de riego ayuda a las plantas a prosperar, así como un poco de estiércol de cuy o algo de ceniza de leña de la cocina. El forraje se corta y se lleva a los animales, que no pastorean en las pequeñas parcelas.

El agricultor local Marcelo Tiza nos mostró la rica tierra negra que hay donde los cultivos de forraje, llena de lombrices y otros seres vivos. Otra agricultora, Ricardina Rodríguez, explicó que el forraje permitió a las mujeres tener vacas más sanas y crear un grupo que hace queso. La mayoría de los agricultores se dedican ahora a la cría comercial de cuyes y vacas lecheras.

El éxito con los animales se basa en los esfuerzos de la comunidad con el riego y los nuevos sistemas de forraje. Ajustando la carga sobre el camino, los agricultores han adaptado las nuevas ideas a su propio contexto, seleccionando las especies de forraje que les funcionan, y averiguando cómo regar y fertilizar el cultivo de forraje, y cómo convertirlo en productos que puedan comer o vender. Cuando los agricultores y los científicos colaboran bien, cada uno aporta ideas. En este caso, los científicos agrícolas propusieron nuevas especies forrajeras y un nuevo estilo de mezclarlas, pero querían sembrar el forraje en grandes tierras de secano al comienzo de un largo período de varios años de descanso. Los agricultores añadieron la idea de regar los nuevos cultivos, abonarlos y sembrarlos en parcelas pequeñas. En otras palabras, la colaboración dio lugar a una idea que a ninguna de las partes se le habría ocurrido por sí sola.

“Nuestro concepto original era abordar también las zonas lejanas, sujetas a la degradación”, dice Steve Vanek. Por desgracia, las plantas forrajeras que prosperaban cerca de las viviendas no funcionaban bien en las parcelas lejanas. “Los agricultores también son sensibles a la idea de que para las parcelas más grandes y alejadas la erosión y la degradación son un riesgo real. Comprendieron que especies como la dactilis pueden complementar el establecimiento más lento de las gramíneas y leguminosas para proteger mejor los suelos.” Este es un tema que investigadores y agricultores esperan abordar en el futuro.

Las plantas forrajeras se comportan bien en comunidades mixtas, protegiéndose y apoyándose mutuamente. Del mismo modo, una mezcla de agricultores, agrónomos y científicos de suelo puede estimularse mutuamente con nuevas ideas, llegando finalmente a soluciones que ninguno de los grupos habría pensado por sí solo. Dado el lento ritmo de los cultivos y el ganado, esta colaboración puede tardar varios años en dar sus frutos, pero vale la pena.

Ver el video

Suelos fértiles con pastos mejorados

Lectura adicional

Meza, Katherin, Steven J. Vanek, Yulissa Sueldo, Edgar Olivera, Raúl Ccanto, María Scurrah, y Steven J. Fonte 2022 Grass-legume mixtures show potential to increase above-and belowground biomass production for Andean forage-based fallows. Agronomy 12(1): 142.

Meza, Katherin, Steven J. Vanek, Raúl Ccanto Retamozo, María Scurrah, Edgar Olivera Hurtado, y Steven J. Fonte 2017 Importancia de los servicios ecosistémicos en un paisaje andino de la Sierra Central del Perú. Revista LEISA 33(1): 15.

Vanek, Steven J., Katherin Meza, Raul Ccanto, Edgar Olivera, Maria Scurrah, y Steven J. Fonte 2020 Participatory design of improved forage/fallow options across soil gradients with farmers of the Central Peruvian Andes. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 300: 106933.

Previamente en el blog de Agro-Insight

Rotational grazing

Comité campesino

Pasto movible

Mejores agujeros para sembrar pasto

Nombres científicos

Avena (Avena sativa), ray grass (Lolium multiflorum), vicia (Vicia dasycarpa), alfalfa (Medicago sativa), dactilis (Dactylis glomerata)


Nuestra visita al Perú para filmar varios videos, incluso este, fue posible gracias al generoso apoyo del Programa Colaborativo de Investigación de Cultivos (CCRP) de la Fundación McKnight. Gracias a Edgar Olivera, Raúl Ccanto, Jhon Huaraca y colegas del Grupo Yanapai por presentarnos a Quilcas y por compartir su conocimiento con nosotros. Steve Vanek y Paul Van Mele hicieron comentarios valiosos sobre una versión previa de este relato.

Design by Olean webdesign