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Grain cows August 22nd, 2021 by

Nederlandse versie hieronder

Marketers are clever people. They know how to pitch things in a way that makes you want to buy their client’s goods or services. Consumers are clever too, but they are also easily lured into believing advertisements that imply that food is healthier than it really is. On a recent visit to a restaurant, my meat-loving brother-in-law ordered Irish “grain-fed” beef. Spelled out on the menu it looked like a specialty.

By emphasising certain features, like sugar-coated cereals or Coke Zero (that has no sugars but its artificial sweeteners may be more harmful), marketing people do what they are expected to do: boost sales. Restaurant menus are just one form of marketing: in just a few words they must make the dish look as appealing as possible. The specification that the cows had been fed on grain made the beef sound really healthy.

Under natural conditions cows eat grass. They have done so for the past 2 million of years from the moment they came on earth. Fish in the ocean feed on algae, phytoplankton and zooplankton. By feeding on plants, fish and beef take up omega-3 fatty acids. Marketers have made us believe that fish is the only source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are crucial in reducing infections, lowering blood pressure and reducing the likelihood of getting a heart attack or a stroke. But milk, butter, cheese and beef from grass-fed cows are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids and are much healthier than foods from grain-fed animals.

In his inspiring book In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan describes how industrial agriculture and the food industry have systematically reduced the levels of omega-3 fatty acids in our food, partly because they easily spoil, but also because it directly benefits industrial capitalism.

Instead of grazing in green pastures, cows on industrial farms are fed on maize and soya beans, grown as monocrops. With 37 million hectares, Brazil accounts for more than one third of the global soya bean production, at the expense of prime rainforest that continues to be cut down. Unlike grass, maize and soya beans are rich in omega-6 fatty acids. While also crucial for our body, too much omega-6 raises our blood pressure, leads to blood clots and the known consequences.

With the shift to highly processed food, grain oils and grain-fed animals, the balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids has become completely distorted with huge consequences for the health of people and planet. The reduction of omega-3 fatty acids in our diet has led to increased levels of obesities, cardio-vascular diseases, depressions, and even learning disorders, such as ADD (attention-deficit disorder).

Michael Pollan does not encourage all people to become vegetarian. He does make it clear though that we need to eat more plants, less refined food (and for some of us to also eat less in general). There is nothing wrong with eating meat occasionally, but eating grain-fed beef, even if it is Irish, is not the best thing to do. Whether at a restaurant or in a supermarket, we are continuously being fooled by marketeers who tell us what is good to eat or drink. While policies that promote healthy farming and food are crucial, we also need to become more conscious consumers. Read about nutrition, or watch informative videos, and don’t believe everything you see in advertisements.

Further reading

Michael Pollan. 2009. In Defense of Food. An Eater’s Manifesto. Large Print Press.

Related blogs

Damaging the soil and our health with chemical reductionism

Formerly known as food

Keep your cows in the family

A brief history of soy

The sugar palms of Angkor Wat

Big chicken, little chicken

Inspiring platforms

Access Agriculture: hosts over 220 training videos in over 90 languages on a diversity of crops and livestock, sustainable soil and water management, basic food processing, etc. Each video describes underlying principles, as such encouraging people to experiment with new ideas.

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

 

Graankoeien

Paul Van Mele, 22 augustus 2021

Marketeers zijn slimme mensen. Ze weten hoe ze dingen zo moeten aanprijzen dat je de goederen of diensten van hun klant wilt kopen. Consumenten zijn ook slim, maar zij laten zich gemakkelijk verleiden tot het geloven van advertenties die suggereren dat voedsel gezonder is dan het in werkelijkheid is. Tijdens een recent bezoek aan een restaurant bestelde mijn vleesminnende zwager Iers “graangevoerd” rundvlees. Op de menukaart leek het wel een specialiteit.

Door bepaalde kenmerken te benadrukken, zoals ontbijtgranen met een laagje suiker of Coke Zero (dat geen suikers bevat maar waarvan de kunstmatige zoetstoffen schadelijker kunnen zijn), doen marketingmensen wat van hen wordt verwacht: de verkoop stimuleren. Restaurantmenu’s zijn slechts één vorm van marketing: in een paar woorden moeten ze het gerecht er zo aantrekkelijk mogelijk laten uitzien. De specificatie dat de koeien graan te eten hadden gekregen, deed het rundvlees echt gezond klinken.

In natuurlijke omstandigheden eten koeien gras. Dat doen ze al 2 miljoen jaar vanaf het moment dat ze op aarde kwamen. Vissen in de oceaan voeden zich met algen, fytoplankton en zoöplankton. Door zich met planten te voeden, nemen vis en rundvlees omega-3-vetzuren op. Marketingmensen hebben ons doen geloven dat vis de enige bron is van omega-3 vetzuren, die cruciaal zijn bij het verminderen van infecties, het verlagen van de bloeddruk en het verkleinen van de kans op een hartaanval of een beroerte. Maar melk, boter, kaas en rundvlees van met gras gevoede koeien zijn ook rijk aan omega-3 vetzuren en zijn veel gezonder dan voedsel van met graan gevoede dieren.

In zijn inspirerende boek In Defense of Food beschrijft Michael Pollan hoe de industriële landbouw en de voedingsindustrie het gehalte aan omega-3 vetzuren in ons voedsel systematisch hebben verlaagd, deels omdat ze gemakkelijk bederven, maar ook omdat het direct ten goede komt aan het industriële kapitalisme.

In plaats van te grazen in groene weiden, worden koeien op industriële boerderijen gevoederd met maïs en sojabonen, geteeld als monocrops. Brazilië is met 37 miljoen hectare goed voor meer dan een derde van de mondiale sojabonenproductie, ten koste van primair regenwoud dat nog steeds wordt gekapt. In tegenstelling tot gras zijn maïs en sojabonen rijk aan omega-6-vetzuren. Hoewel ook die van cruciaal belang zijn voor ons lichaam, verhoogt een teveel aan omega-6 onze bloeddruk, leidt het tot bloedklonters en de bekende gevolgen.

Met de verschuiving naar sterk verwerkt voedsel, graanoliën en met graan gevoede dieren is het evenwicht tussen omega-3- en omega-6-vetzuren volledig verstoord geraakt, met enorme gevolgen voor de gezondheid van mens en planeet. De vermindering van omega-3 vetzuren in onze voeding heeft geleid tot een toename van zwaarlijvigheid, hart- en vaatziekten, depressies en zelfs leerstoornissen, zoals ADD (attention-deficit disorder).

Michael Pollan moedigt niet alle mensen aan om vegetariër te worden. Hij maakt wel duidelijk dat we meer plantaardig en minder geraffineerd voedsel moeten eten (en dat sommigen van ons ook minder moeten eten in het algemeen). Er is niets mis mee om af en toe vlees te eten, maar het eten van graangevoerd rundvlees, zelfs als het Iers is, is niet het beste wat je kunt doen. Of het nu in een restaurant is of in een supermarkt, we worden voortdurend voor de gek gehouden door marketingmensen die ons vertellen wat goed is om te eten of te drinken. Beleidsmaatregelen ter bevordering van gezonde landbouw en voeding zijn weliswaar van cruciaal belang, maar we moeten ook bewustere consumenten worden. Lees over voeding, of bekijk informatieve video’s, en geloof niet alles wat je in reclames ziet.

Meer lezen

Michael Pollan. 2009. In Defense of Food. An Eater’s Manifesto. Large Print Press.

Gerelateerde blogs van Agro-Insight

Damaging the soil and our health with chemical reductionism

Formerly known as food

Keep your cows in the family

A brief history of soy

The sugar palms of Angkor Wat

Big chicken, little chicken

Inspirerende video platformen

Access Agriculture: bevat meer dan 220 trainingvideo’s in meer dan 90 talen over een verscheidenheid aan gewassen en vee, duurzaam bodem- en waterbeheer, basisvoedselverwerking, enz. Elke video beschrijft de onderliggende principes en moedigt mensen zo aan om met nieuwe ideeën te experimenteren.

EcoAgtube: een nieuw social media platform waar iedereen van over de hele wereld zijn eigen video’s kan uploaden die gerelateerd zijn aan natuurlijke landbouw en circulaire economie.

Iron for organic pigs May 16th, 2021 by

Nederlandse versie volgt hieronder.

Organic agriculture is on the rise, but as the sector grows and more farmers convert from conventional to organic farming, regulations are continuously fine-tuned. Finding a balance between animal welfare and the heavy debt burden many conventional farmers have due to past investments in modern pig houses is a delicate exercise, as I recently learned from my friend, Johan Hons, a long-time organic farmer in north-eastern Belgium.

“When some 40 years ago a neighbour farmer offered to let me use one of his vacant stables, I bought my first Piétrain pigs (a Belgian breed of pig) and started rearing. In those early years, I always supplemented iron. A few years later, Vera and I were able to start our own farm. We were convinced that organic farming was the only way food should be produced, so I gave my pigs the space to roam around in the field. Ever since then, they never needed any iron injections and they never got sick,” Johan says.

Iron is an essential mineral for all livestock, especially for piglets. Iron-deficient piglets will suffer from anaemia: they will remain pale, stunted, have chronic diarrhoea and if left untreated they will die. Worldwide, piglets are commonly injected with a 200 milligram dose of iron a few days after birth. Although this intramuscular injection is effective against anaemia, it is very stressful to the piglets.

In a natural environment a sow acquires enough iron from the soil during rooting behaviour, which she passes on to the suckling piglets through her milk. But most pigs in conventional farming in Belgium are raised on slatted floors and have no access to soil. Sows only have enough iron reserves for their first litter. Piglets of the second and third litter would already have a shortage of iron and become sick, unless given supplements.

Under Belgian regulations, organic meat pigs are allowed only one medical treatment for whatever illness. If a second treatment is given, pigs can only be sold in the conventional circuit and hence farmers do not get a premium price. With more conventional farmers eager to convert to organic to earn a higher income, members of Bioforum, the Belgian multi-stakeholder platform for organic agriculture, requested the regulatory authorities whether iron injections could be considered as a non-medical treatment.

As a member of Bioforum, Johan suggested an alternative: “When the sow delivers in the sty, I daily give her piglets a few handfuls of soil from the moment they are one week old. I put it out of reach of the sow, otherwise she would eat it, and continue doing so until the piglets are a few weeks old and allowed outside. Just like human babies, the piglets have a curious nature and by giving them early access to soil, they immediately build up their iron stores and immunity.”

For Johan caring for animals is knowing what they need and providing them with all the comfort throughout their life. This starts at birth-giving.

However, his suggestion initially got a cold reception at the forum, whose members also includes retailers. Most farmers who want to convert to organic do not have the possibility of letting their pigs roam on the land, showing the dire realities of conventional farms in Belgium, where concrete is more abundant around the pig houses than soil.

And however creative they found Johan’s suggestion to provide piglets with soil in the stables, this was not considered a feasible option. Conventional farmers have invested heavily in modern pig houses with slatted floors and automated manure removal systems and bringing in soil would obstruct the system. Adjusting such houses to cater for organic farming is an expense few farmers are willing to make.

Belgian authorities decided that, because of lack of commercial alternatives to iron injections, they would be temporarily accepted in organic agriculture, on the condition that the iron formulation is not mixed with antibiotics.

A sustainable food system is at the heart of the European Green Deal. As the European Commission has set a target under its farm to fork strategy to have 25% of the land under organic agriculture by 2030, it will need to reflect on how far the regulations for organic agriculture can be stretched, as well as on possible measures to support farmers to convert.

If left to the pigs to decide, they would surely opt for more time outdoors and less concrete around their houses, not a tweak in the regulations to declassify iron injection as a medical treatment.

Related blogs

Against or with nature

Smelling is believing

Mobile slaughterhouses

Five heads think better than one

Asking about cows

Kicking the antibiotic habit

Big chicken, little chicken

Related video

Housing for pigs

Inspiring platforms

Access Agriculture: hosts over 220 training videos in over 85 languages on a diversity of crops and livestock, sustainable soil and water management, basic food processing, etc. Each video describes underlying principles, as such encouraging people to experiment with new ideas.

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

 

Ijzer voor biovarkens

Paul Van Mele 16 maart, 2021

De biologische landbouw is in opkomst, en naarmate de sector groeit en meer boeren overschakelen van conventionele op biologische landbouw, wordt de regelgeving voortdurend bijgeschaafd. Het vinden van een evenwicht tussen dierenwelzijn en de zware schuldenlast die veel conventionele boeren hebben door investeringen in moderne varkensstallen in het verleden, is een delicate oefening, zoals ik onlangs vernam van mijn vriend Johan Hons, een bioboer die al lang in het noordoosten van België werkt.

“Toen ik zo’n 40 jaar geleden van een boer uit de buurt een van zijn leegstaande stallen mocht gebruiken, kocht ik mijn eerste Piétrain-varkens (een Belgisch varkensras) en begon ik met de opfok. In die beginjaren heb ik altijd ijzer bijgevoerd. Een paar jaar later konden Vera en ik onze eigen boerderij beginnen. We waren ervan overtuigd dat biologische landbouw de enige manier was om voedsel te produceren, dus gaf ik mijn varkens de ruimte om in het veld rond te lopen. Sindsdien hebben ze nooit meer ijzerinjecties nodig gehad en zijn ze nooit ziek geworden,” vertelt Johan.

IJzer is een essentieel mineraal voor alle vee, vooral voor biggen. Biggen met een ijzertekort lijden aan bloedarmoede: ze blijven bleek, hebben groeiachterstand, chronische diarree en als ze niet behandeld worden, gaan ze dood. Wereldwijd worden biggen enkele dagen na de geboorte geïnjecteerd met een dosis ijzer van 200 milligram. Hoewel deze intramusculaire injectie doeltreffend is tegen bloedarmoede, is zij zeer stresserend voor de biggen.

In een natuurlijke omgeving verwerft een zeug tijdens het wroetgedrag voldoende ijzer uit de bodem, dat ze via haar melk doorgeeft aan de zogende biggen. Maar de meeste varkens in de conventionele landbouw in België worden gehouden op roostervloeren en hebben geen toegang tot de bodem. Zeugen beschikken slechts over voldoende ijzerreserves voor hun eerste worp. Biggen van de tweede en derde worp zouden al een ijzertekort hebben en ziek worden, tenzij ze supplementen krijgen.

Volgens de Belgische regelgeving mogen biologische vleesvarkens slechts één medische behandeling krijgen voor welke ziekte dan ook. Als een tweede behandeling wordt gegeven, kunnen de varkens alleen in het conventionele circuit worden verkocht en krijgen de boeren dus geen extra prijs. Nu steeds meer conventionele boeren willen omschakelen naar biologische landbouw om een hoger inkomen te verdienen, hebben leden van Bioforum, het Belgische multi-stakeholderplatform voor biologische landbouw, de regelgevende instanties gevraagd of ijzerinjecties kunnen worden beschouwd als een niet-medische behandeling.

Als lid van Bioforum stelde Johan een alternatief voor: “Als de zeug in de stal bevalt, geef ik haar biggen dagelijks een paar handjes grond vanaf het moment dat ze een week oud zijn. Ik leg het buiten bereik van de zeug, anders eet ze het op, en blijf dat doen tot de biggen een paar weken oud zijn en naar buiten mogen. Net als mensenbaby’s hebben de biggen een nieuwsgierige aard en door ze vroeg toegang te geven tot aarde, bouwen ze meteen hun ijzerreserves en immuniteit op.”

Voor Johan is zorgen voor dieren weten wat ze nodig hebben en ze hun leven lang alle comfort bieden. Dat begint al bij de geboorte.

Maar zijn suggestie kreeg aanvankelijk een kille ontvangst op het forum, waar ook detailhandelaren lid van zijn. De meeste boeren die willen omschakelen naar biologisch hebben niet de mogelijkheid om hun varkens op het land te laten rondlopen, wat de schrijnende realiteit laat zien van conventionele boerderijen in België, waar rond de varkensstallen meer beton dan grond te vinden is. En hoe creatief ze Johan’s suggestie ook vonden om biggen in de stallen van grond te voorzien, dit werd niet als een haalbare optie beschouwd. Conventionele boeren hebben zwaar geïnvesteerd in moderne varkensstallen met roostervloeren en geautomatiseerde mestafvoersystemen en het binnenbrengen van grond zou het systeem hinderen. Aanpassing van dergelijke stallen aan de biologische landbouw is een uitgave die weinig boeren bereid zijn te doen.

De Belgische autoriteiten hebben besloten dat, bij gebrek aan commerciële alternatieven voor ijzerinjecties, deze tijdelijk in de biologische landbouw zullen worden aanvaard, op voorwaarde dat de ijzerformulering niet wordt gemengd met antibiotica.

Een duurzaam voedselsysteem staat centraal in de Europese Green Deal. Aangezien de Europese Commissie zich in het kader van haar strategie “van boer tot bord” ten doel heeft gesteld om tegen 2030 25% van het landbouwareaal in de biologische landbouw om te zetten, zal zij zich moeten beraden op de vraag hoe ver de regelgeving voor de biologische landbouw kan worden opgerekt en welke maatregelen kunnen worden genomen om de landbouwers te helpen zich om te schakelen.

Als het aan de varkens zou worden overgelaten om te beslissen, zouden zij zeker kiezen voor meer tijd buiten en minder beton rond hun huizen, en niet voor een aanpassing van de regelgeving om ijzerinjectie als een medische behandeling te deklasseren.

Gerelateerde blogs van Agro-Insight

Against or with nature

Smelling is believing

Mobile slaughterhouses

Five heads think better than one

Asking about cows

Kicking the antibiotic habit

Big chicken, little chicken

gerelateerde video

Housing for pigs

Inspirerende video platformen

Access Agriculture: bevat meer dan 220 trainingsvideo’s in meer dan 90 talen over een verscheidenheid aan gewassen en vee, duurzaam bodem- en waterbeheer, basisvoedselverwerking, enz. Elke video beschrijft de onderliggende principes en moedigt mensen zo aan om met nieuwe ideeën te experimenteren.

EcoAgtube: een nieuw social media platform waar iedereen van over de hele wereld zijn eigen video’s kan uploaden die gerelateerd zijn aan natuurlijke landbouw en circulaire economie.

Against or with nature February 14th, 2021 by

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credit

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

Related Agro-Insight blogs

Veterinarians and traditional animal health care

Watching videos to become a dairy expert

Trying it yourself

Stuck in the middle

Kicking the antibiotic habit

Why people drink cow’s milk

Big chicken, little chicken

Further information

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

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

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

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

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

Watch Access Agriculture videos on herbal medicine in animal healthcare

Keeping sheep healthy

Deworming goats and sheep with herbal medicines

Herbal treatment for diarrhoea

Herbal medicine against fever in livestock

Herbal medicine against mastitis

Natural ways to manage bloat in livestock

Managing cattle ticks

Keeping milk free from antibiotics

A convincing gesture January 31st, 2021 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

In last week’s blog (We think with our hands), I wrote that people use gestures intentionally to convey meaning, while many other hand movements are unconscious. Moving our hands helps us to grasp the right words. But human speech is also much more than words and hand gestures.

Tone and volume of voice (screaming, whispering), facial expression, head movements (like nodding) and body language (slouching vs standing ramrod straight) all help to reinforce meaning and to convey emotion. We also make humming and clicking noises, which are sounds, but not speech. This non-verbal communication is convincing because it’s natural. We can spot the difference; a phony smile is made with the lips only, while you use your whole face for a sincere one.

At Agro-Insight, when we make videos with farmers, we never tell them what to say. We ask them questions, and film their answers, which we transcribe and translate into other languages. For example, if the farmer is speaking Arabic, we will use her voice in the Arabic version of the video, but we will dub over her voice for the English, French and other versions.

In these learning videos, the farmers’ non-verbal communication is typical of unscripted, sincere speech. For example, in a video filmed in India, farmer Maran explained that he had a problem with the neighbors’ turtles coming into his fish pond to eat their feed. As he said that, he moved his hands as if to suggest movement from one place to another. After hiring professional turtle catchers to remove the unwanted guests, everything was fine, an idea he reinforced by patting both hands downwards in a comforting gesture. The film crew didn’t tell him to do that. Unless you watch the Tamil version of the video, you will hear a voice artist dubbing Mr. Maran’s words, but you can still tell that his gestures go with his narrative.

In the final cut of the video, we usually leave in some of farmers’ original voice, before starting the voiceover. This lets the audience hear some of the emotion. For instance, in our video on feeding dairy goats, Teresia Muthumbi explains that when she gives her goats banana stems with sweetpotato vines and a little grass, “They give a lot of milk.” She is speaking from experience: you can hear the sound of authority in her voice, even if you don’t understand Swahili.

In one video from Togo, farmer Filo Kodo tells how the maize harvest had increased a lot after rotating the corn with velvet bean (mucuna). One neighbor even asked her what magic she had used. “I told him it was with mucuna magic,” she said, and you can see the smile in her eyes as well as on her lips.

I’ve written before how smallholders in Malawi called people on the farmer learning videos their “friends”, even though they had never met (Friends you can trust). Farmers in Uganda referred to their “brothers and sisters” in West Africa, who they had only seen on the videos.

When people speak from the heart, their tone, gestures, expressions and body language convey conviction, even if the words themselves are translated into another language, and spoken by another person. Non-verbal communication adds a richness, a sincerity that is hard to fake. This is one reason why realistic farmer-to-farmer training videos are a far richer experience than fully animated videos.

Further reading

Bentley, Jeffery, Paul Van Mele, and Grace Musimami 2013. The Mud on Their Legs – Farmer to Farmer Videos in Uganda. Agro-Insight. MEAS Case Study # 3.

Watch the videos mentioned in this blog

Stocking fingerlings in a nursery pond

Dairy goat feeding

Reviving soils with mucuna

GESTOS QUE CONVENCEN

Por Jeff Bentley, 31 de enero del 2021

En el blog de la semana pasada (Pensamos con las manos), escribí que las personas usan los gestos a propósito para transmitir un significado, mientras que muchos otros movimientos de las manos son inconscientes. Mover las manos nos ayuda a captar las palabras que buscamos. Pero la comunicación humana es también mucho más que palabras y gestos con las manos.

El tono y el volumen de la voz (gritos, susurros), la expresión facial, los movimientos de la cabeza (como para asentir) y el lenguaje corporal (ponerse cómodo o mantenerse erguido) ayudan a reforzar el significado y a transmitir emociones. También emitimos zumbidos y chasquidos, que son sonidos, pero no son palabras. Esta comunicación no verbal es convincente porque es natural. Podemos notar la diferencia; una sonrisa falsa se hace sólo con los labios, mientras una sincera es con toda la cara.

En Agro-Insight, cuando hacemos videos con agricultores, nunca les decimos lo que tienen que decir. Les hacemos preguntas y filmamos sus respuestas, que transcribimos y traducimos a otros idiomas. Por ejemplo, si la agricultora habla en árabe, usamos su voz de ella en la versión árabe del video, pero la doblamos para las versiones en inglés, francés y otras.

En estos videos de aprendizaje, la comunicación no verbal de los agricultores es la típica del habla sincera y sin guion. Por ejemplo, en un video grabado en la India, el agricultor Maran explicó que tenía un problema con las tortugas de los vecinos que entraban en su estanque de peces para comer su alimento. Mientras lo decía, movía las manos como si quisiera sugerir un movimiento de un lugar a otro. Después de contratar a cazadores profesionales para eliminaran a las tortugas, todo estaba bien, idea que reforzó dando palmaditas con ambas manos hacia abajo en un gesto de satisfacción. El equipo de filmación no le dijo que hiciera eso. A menos que se vea la versión en tamil del video, se oirá a un locutor doblando las palabras del Sr. Maran, pero aun así se nota que sus gestos realmente acompañan su narración.

En la edición final del vídeo, solemos dejar algo de la voz original de la gente, antes de empezar el doblaje. Esto permite al público escuchar parte de la emoción. Por ejemplo, en nuestro video sobre la alimentación de las cabras lecheras, Teresia Muthumbi explica que cuando da a sus cabras tallos de plátano con hojas de camote y un poco de pasto, “Dan mucha leche”. Habla por experiencia: se puede oír el sonido de la autoridad en su voz, aunque no se entienda el suajili.

En un video de Togo, la agricultora Filo Kodo cuenta cómo la cosecha de maíz ha aumentado mucho después de rotar el maíz con el frijol terciopelo (mucuna). Un vecino incluso le preguntó qué magia había usado. “Le dije que era con la magia de la mucuna”, dijo, y se puede ver la sonrisa en sus ojos además de en sus labios.

Ya he escrito antes cómo los campesinos de Malawi llamaban “amigos” a las personas que aparecían en los vídeos de aprendizaje, aunque no se conocieran (Amigos confiables). Los agricultores de Uganda se referían a sus “hermanos y hermanas” de África Occidental, a los que sólo habían visto en los videos.

Cuando la gente habla con el corazón, su tono, sus gestos, sus expresiones y su lenguaje corporal transmiten convicción, aunque las palabras mismas estén traducidas a otro idioma y sean pronunciadas por otra persona. La comunicación no verbal añade una riqueza, una sinceridad que es difícil de fingir. Esta es una de las razones por las que los videos realistas de agricultor-a-agricultor son una experiencia mucho más rica que los videos de pura animación.

Lectura adicional

Bentley, Jeffery, Paul Van Mele, y Grace Musimami 2013. The Mud on Their Legs – Farmer to Farmer Videos in Uganda. Agro-Insight. MEAS Case Study # 3.

Vea los videos mencionados en este blog

Estanque vivero para criar alevines

Alimentando a cabras lecheras

Revivir el suelo con la mucuna

A lost Alpine agriculture January 10th, 2021 by

As more youth move to cities, in Africa, but also in South Asia and Latin America, development experts worry about the future of rural communities. So, we can learn a lesson by taking a glimpse at a region where most youth left agriculture some three generations ago.

An American anthropologist, Brien Meilleur, studied farming in Les Allues, a village in the French Alps, in the mid-1980s. Meilleur was especially well-qualified for the topic, as decades earlier, his own father had left Les Allues for the USA.

Meilleur interviewed elderly farmers at length about the days of their youth, roughly back in the 1940s. Now retired, they painted a picture of an agriculture in balance with nature, where farm families worked in synchrony. They had large cereal fields, divided into many individual plots. Each year they agreed upon a time to plow, and each household would plow their own small plot, within the big field. By plowing and planting at the same time they avoided trampling each other’s grain crop.  The big fields were on a three-year rotation, beginning with rye, then barley and finally fallow-plus-pulses.

Folks made wine and hard apple cider from fruit they grew themselves. They wintered cows, sheep and goats in stables, moving them in the spring to montagnettes, cabins above the hamlets where the families made their own cheese. Then every year on 11 June, in a grand procession, the whole village would move their livestock to the high Alpine pastures, with cowbells ringing and dogs barking. The animals would graze communally, on named pastures, moving uphill as summer progressed to ever-higher grazing, until they were brought back down on 14 September. Outside specialists were hired to come turn the milk into cheese, mostly a fine gruyere, which they sold.

Barnyard manure provided all the fertilizer the farms needed. To save on firewood, neighbors baked their bread on the same day in ovens in the hamlet square. About 80 or 90% of what people ate came from Les Allues itself. The roots of this rural economy went back to at least the 1300s, if not earlier. But, as Meilleur explains, this farming system had collapsed about 1950, at least in Les Allues. He mourns the loss of this way of life, and as I read his moving account, I couldn’t help but share in his sadness.

The collapse came about in part because of emigration. Young people were leaving Les Allues for the cities as early as the 19th century. But there were other reasons for abandoning agriculture. After the World War II, the villagers sold much of their farmland to the Méribel Ski Resort, established just above the highest of the village’s hamlets. There were now lots of jobs for local people, on the ski slopes, and in the busy hotels, shops and restaurants. The vacationers even visited the beautiful village in the summer, for golf, tennis and mountain biking, so there was employment year-round. The youth of Les Allues no longer had to leave home to find work; the jobs had come to them.

The old agricultural landscape changed quickly, as the pastures became pistes de ski, and the fields grew wild with brush. The livestock were sold off and the apple trees were strangled by mistletoe, as people abandoned a way of living that (in today’s jargon) was sustainable and carbon neutral, and the bedrock of their community.

It is easy to romanticize a healthy rural lifestyle, but the good old days had some rough times, too. The farmers of Les Allues managed erosion in their cereal fields by hand-carrying the earth from the bottom furrow to the top of the field every year, the most back-breaking soil conservation method I’ve ever heard of. For six weeks in July and August, people cut hay for six days a week from 5 AM to 10 PM, to feed their animals over the winter. To save on fuel, the families would spend winter evenings sitting in the barn, where the cows gave off enough heat to keep everyone warm. People ate meat once a week, maybe twice.

Given the amount of hard work, and the low pay, it is understandable that the young people of Les Allues left farming. It happened all over Europe. In England during the Industrial Revolution, many farm workers took factory jobs. While some moved to the cities, others commuted on the train, and stayed in their village (The Common Stream). Northern Portuguese farm laborers, who described their lives as “misery,” did not have the options of working in industry or in tourism. So, after 1964 they left Portugal to take construction jobs in France. The farmers who remained bought tractors to replace their vanished workers.

Just as previous generations of rural Europeans sought paid work off farm, the youth in places like West Africa and South America are now moving to the cities, and quite quickly. Many development experts bemoan this mass migration, even though it is a pro-active way for young people to take their destiny into their own hands, especially if they attend university in the city, before looking for work.

If past experience is any guide, some of the young Africans and South Americans who are now moving to town would stay in their villages, if they could make a decent living, and if they had electricity and other amenities. Life in the countryside will have to provide people with opportunities, or many will simply pack up and leave.

Further reading

Meilleur, Brien A. 1986 Alluetain Ethnoecology and Traditional Economy: The Procurement and Production of Plant Resources in the Northern French Alps. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Washington.

My own mentor, Bob Netting, wrote a classic ethnography of the Swiss Alps. Like Meilleur, Netting was also impressed with the ecological balance of traditional farming.

Netting, Robert McC. 1981 Balancing on an Alp: Ecological Change and Continuity in a Swiss Mountain Community. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

For the changes in Portuguese agriculture, see:

Bentley, Jeffery W. 1992 Today There Is No Misery: The Ethnography of Farming in Northwest Portugal. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

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Photo credits

Photos courtesy of Eric Boa.

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