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Mobile slaughterhouses February 3rd, 2019 by

A recent article on the BBC News reminded me of how policy-makers can look at narrow technical solutions (how to kill an animal) while ignoring broader, yet largely undebated issues about how we organise our food system. I will illustrate this by giving an example of my former neighbour, René, a farmer who lives in the east of Belgium.

René inherited the farm from his father. EU subsidies in the 1980s encouraged farmers to increase the number of livestock, so by the time his father handed over the farm there were around 1000 pigs. But René of course had to pay his brothers for their share of the inheritance. By the time he was in his early 50s he was still paying off loans to the bank. With the low price he got from selling to supermarkets, René realised he had to find a way to earn more money. He decided to take a butchery course and soon after he started selling meat products directly to the public on his farm.

By 2010, René had reduced his herd to some 200 pigs. He still sells some pigs to supermarkets, but his main income is now derived from selling meat from his own animals to people who visit his farm butchery. Every Monday morning René takes 2 pigs to the slaughterhouse, spends the week processing the meat into more than 20 products ranging from salamis to smoked hams and pâtés, and then he and his wife Marij open the shop from Friday to Sunday.

With a great sense of pride, René told me a few years back that he had finally paid off all his debts. But just a year later, the farm family had to take another main decision. The nearest slaughterhouse in Genk, some 20 kilometres from his farm, had closed down, so René was forced to drive over 50 kilometres to have his animals slaughtered.

Regulations required that for longer distances live and slaughtered animals had to be transported in special vehicles. René told me this would cost the family around 10,000 Euro, not counting the extra distance to be traveled each week. One has to sell a lot of sausages to pay for this extra cost. Closing the farm and going to work in a factory was not an option, so they kept their heads high, invested in a trailer and the family continued with their farm and food business.

It seemed that the slaughterhouse in Genk that René relied on had closed down under pressure of certain lobby groups in favour of more industrial agriculture. When supermarkets rule the food system, policies change to reflect the concerns of consumerss. Little thought is given to how changes work to the detriment of smallholder farmers and local food initiatives.

At least for the red meat sector, mobile abbatoirs could offer a great alternative to centralised slaughterhouses. Under the supervision of the farmer and the professional slaughterer who drives the mobile abattoir, animals can be spared the stress of long transport and be slaughtered humanely at home. We can learn from countries where such initiatives are in use, such as those in Scandinavia, France, Australia and New Zealand.

Food is power, and a democratic food system is one that is owned and controlled by as many people as possible instead of by a few giant companies. While community-supported agriculture can give people a sense of ownership over their food, more is required to fundamentally change our food system with due respect given to the people who produce the bulk of our food: professional and passionate smallholder farmers. Mobile abattoirs deserve more attention to enhance the welfare of animals and to keep farmers crafting food in a business they are proud to run.

Further reading

BBC News. Research into benefits of mobile abattoirs. 23 January 2019. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-46958906

Related blog

In an earlier blog I wrote about the challenges of regulating the slaughtering of animals, with public debates in Belgium mainly focusing on how to deal with religious rituals (see: Forgotten food rites).

Wind erosion and the great quinoa disaster December 30th, 2018 by

vea la versión en español a continuación

Bolivian agronomist Genaro Aroni first told me how quinoa was destroying the southwest Bolivian landscape some 10 years ago, when he came to Cochabamba for a writing class I was teaching. Ever since then I wanted to see for myself how a healthy and fashionable Andean grain was eating up the landscape in its native country.

I recently got my chance, when Paul and Marcella and I were making videos for Agro-Insight. Together with Milton Villca, an agronomist from Proinpa, we met Genaro in Uyuni, near the famous salt flats of Bolivia. Genaro, who is about to turn 70, but looks like he is 55, told us that he had worked with quinoa for 41 years, and had witnessed the dramatic change from mundane local staple to global health food. He began explaining what had happened.

When Genaro was a kid, growing up in the 1950s, the whole area around Uyuni, in the arid southern Altiplano, was covered in natural vegetation. People grew small plots of quinoa on the low hills, among native shrubs and other plants. Quinoa was just about the only crop that would survive the dry climate at some 3,600 meters above sea level. The llamas roamed the flat lands, growing fat on the native brush. In April the owners would pack the llamas with salt blocks cut from the Uyuni Salt Flats (the largest dry salt bed in the world) and take the herds to Cochabamba and other lower valleys, to barter salt for maize and other foods that can’t be grown on the high plains. The llama herders would trade for potatoes and chuño from other farmers, supplementing their diet of dried llama meat and quinoa grain.

Then in the early 1970s a Belgian project near Uyuni introduced tractors to farmers and began experimenting with quinoa planted in the sandy plains. About this same time, a large-scale farmer further north in Salinas also bought a tractor and began clearing scrub lands to plant quinoa.

More and more people started to grow quinoa. The crop thrived on the sandy plains, but as the native brushy vegetation grew scarce so the numbers of llamas began to decline.

Throughout the early 2000s the price of quinoa increased steadily. When it reached 2500 Bolivianos for 100 pounds ($8 per kilo) in 2013, many people who had land rights in this high rangeland (the children and grandchildren of elderly farmers) migrated back—or commuted—to the Uyuni area to grow quinoa. Genaro told us that each person would plow up to 10 hectares or so of the scrub land to plant the now valuable crop.

But by 2014 the quinoa price slipped and by 2015 it crashed to about 350 Bolivianos per hundredweight ($1 per kilo), as farmers in the USA and elsewhere began to grow quinoa themselves.

Many Bolivians gave up quinoa farming and went back to the cities. By then the land was so degraded it was difficult to see how it could recover. Still, Genaro is optimistic. He believes that quinoa can be grown sustainably if people grow less of it and use cover crops and crop rotation. That will take some research. Not much else besides quinoa can be farmed at this altitude, with only 150 mm (6 inches) of rain per year.

Milton Villca took us out to see some of the devastated farmland around Uyuni. It was worse than I ever imagined. On some abandoned fields, native vegetation was slowly coming back, but many of the plots that had been planted in quinoa looked like a moonscape, or like a white sand beach, minus the ocean.

Farmers would plow and furrow the land with tractors, only to have the fierce winds blow sand over the emerging quinoa plants, smothering them to death.

Milton took us to see one of the few remaining stands of native vegetation. Not coincidentally, this was near the hamlet of Lequepata where some people still herd llamas. Llama herding is still the best way of using this land without destroying it.

Milton showed us how to gather wild seed of the khiruta plant; each bush releases clouds of dust-like seeds, scattered and planted by the wind. Milton and Genaro are teaching villagers to collect these seeds and replant, and to establish windbreaks around their fields, in an effort to stem soil erosion. I’ve met many agronomists in my days, but few who I thought were doing such important work, struggling to save an entire landscape from destruction.

Acknowledgement

Genaro Aroni and Milton Villca work for the Proinpa Foundation. Their work is funded in part by the Collaborative Crop Research Program of the McKnight Foundation.

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Scientific names

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DESTRUYENDO EL ALTIPLANO SUR CON QUINUA

Jeff Bentley, 30 de diciembre del 2018

El ingeniero agrónomo boliviano Genaro Aroni me contó por primera vez cómo la quinua estaba destruyendo los suelos del suroeste boliviano hace unos 10 años, cuando vino a Cochabamba para una clase de redacción que yo enseñaba. Desde aquel entonces quise ver por mí mismo cómo el afán por un sano grano andino podría comer el paisaje de su país natal.

Recientemente tuve mi oportunidad, cuando Paul, Marcella y yo hacíamos videos para Agro-Insight. Junto con Milton Villca, un agrónomo de Proinpa, conocimos a Genaro en Uyuni, cerca de las famosas salinas de Bolivia. Genaro, que está a punto de cumplir 70 años, pero parece que tiene 55, nos dijo que había trabajado con la quinua durante 41 años, y que había sido testigo del cambio dramático de un alimento básico local y menospreciado a un renombrado alimento mundial. Empezó a explicar lo que había pasado.

Cuando Genaro era un niño en la década de 1950, toda el área alrededor de Uyuni, en el árido sur del Altiplano, estaba cubierta de vegetación natural. La gente cultivaba pequeñas parcelas de quinua en los cerros bajos, entre arbustos nativos (t’olas) y la paja brava. La quinua era casi el único cultivo que sobreviviría al clima seco a unos 3.600 metros sobre el nivel del mar. Las llamas deambulaban por las llanuras, engordándose en el matorral nativo. En abril los llameros empacaban los animales con bloques de sal cortados del Salar de Uyuni (el más grande del mundo) y los llevaban en tropas a Cochabamba y otros valles más bajos, para trocar sal por maíz y otros alimentos que no se pueden cultivar en las altas llanuras. Los llameros intercambiaban papas y chuño de otros agricultores, complementando su dieta con carne de llama seca y granos de quinua.

Luego, a principios de la década de 1970, un proyecto belga cerca de Uyuni introdujo tractores a los agricultores y comenzó a experimentar con quinua sembrada en las pampas arenosas. Por esa misma época, un agricultor a gran escala más al norte, en Salinas, también compró un tractor y comenzó a talar los matorrales para sembrar quinua.

Cada vez más gente empezó a cultivar quinua. El cultivo prosperó en las llanuras arenosas, pero a medida que la vegetación nativa de arbustos se hizo escasa, había cada vez menos llamas.

A lo largo de los primeros años de la década de 2000, el precio de la quinua aumentó constantemente. Cuando llegó a 2500 bolivianos por 100 libras ($8 por kilo) en 2013, muchas personas que tenían derechos sobre la tierra en esta pampa alta (los hijos y nietos de los agricultores viejos) retornaron a la zona de Uyuni para cultivar quinua. Genaro nos dijo que cada persona araba hasta 10 hectáreas de t’ola para plantar el ahora valioso cultivo.

Pero para el 2014 el precio de la quinua comenzó a bajar y para el 2015 se colapsó a cerca de 350 bolivianos por quintal ($1 por kilo), a medida que los agricultores en los Estados Unidos y en otros lugares comenzaron a cultivar quinua ellos mismos.

Muchos bolivianos dejaron de cultivar quinua y regresaron a las ciudades. Para entonces la tierra estaba tan degradada que era difícil ver cómo podría recuperarse. Sin embargo, Genaro es optimista. Él cree que la quinua puede ser cultivada de manera sostenible si la gente la cultiva menos y usa cultivos de cobertura y rotación de cultivos. Eso requerirá investigación. No se puede cultivar mucho más que además de la quinua a esta altitud, con sólo 150 mm de lluvia al año.

Milton Villca nos llevó a ver algunas de las parcelas devastadas alrededor de Uyuni. Fue peor de lo que jamás imaginé. En algunas parcelas abandonados, la vegetación nativa regresaba lentamente, pero muchas de las chacras que habían sido sembradas en quinua parecían la luna, o una playa de arena blanca, menos el mar.

Los agricultores araban y surcaban la tierra con tractores, sólo para que los fuertes vientos soplaran arena sobre las plantas emergentes de quinua, ahogándolas y matándolas.

Milton nos llevó a ver uno de los pocos manchones de vegetación nativa que queda. No por casualidad, esto estaba cerca de una pequeña comunidad de llameros, que queda en Lequepata. El pastoreo de llamas sigue siendo la mejor manera de usar esta tierra sin destruirla.

Milton nos mostró cómo recolectar semillas silvestres de la planta khiruta; cada arbusto libera nubes de semillas parecidas al polvo, dispersas y sembradas por el viento. Los Ings. Milton y Genaro están enseñando a los comuneros a recolectar estas semillas y replantar, y a establecer barreras contra el viento alrededor de sus campos, en un esfuerzo por detener la erosión del suelo. He conocido a muchos agrónomos a través de los años, pero pocos que en mi opinión hacían un trabajo tan importante en comunidades remotas, luchando para salvar un paisaje entero de la destrucción.

Agradecimiento

Genaro Aroni y Milton Villca trabajan para la Fundación Proinpa. Su trabajo es auspiciado en parte por el Programa Colaborativo de Investigación de Cultivos de la Fundación McKnight.

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Veterinarians and traditional animal health care August 19th, 2018 by

It is unfortunate that not more is done to safeguard and value traditional knowledge.

In Pune, Maharastra, the Indian NGO Anthra has devoted a great part of its energy in documenting traditional animal health knowledge and practices across India. Dr. Nitya Ghotge along with a team of women veterinarians founded Anthra in 1992 to address the problems faced by communities who reared animals, particularly peasants, pastoralists, adivasis (indigenous peoples of South Asia), dalits (formerly known as untouchables – people outside the caste system), women and others who remained hidden from the gaze of mainstream development.

In their encyclopaedia Plants Used in Animal Care, Anthra has compiled an impressive list of plants used for veterinary purposes and fodder.

To ensure that local communities across the global south benefit from this indigenous knowledge, Anthra started collaborating with one of Access Agriculture’s trained video partners (Atul Pagar) to gradually develop a series of farmer-to-farmer training videos on herbal medicines (see: the Access Agriculture video category on animal health).

While Indian cities are booming and the agro-industry continues its efforts to conquer lucrative markets, many farmers and farmer organisations across the country treasure India’s rich cultural and agricultural heritage. Unfortunately, this is not the case everywhere. In many countries, local knowledge is quickly eroding as the older generation of farmers and pastoralists disappear.

 

A few years ago, I was thrilled to work with traditional Fulani herders in Nigeria, only to discover that none of them still made use of herbal medicines. Even to treat something as simple as ticks, the young herders confidently turned to veterinary drugs. Although the elder people could still readily name the various plants they used to treat various common animal diseases, the accessibility and ease of application of modern drugs meant that none of the herders still used herbal medicines. The risks of such drastic changes quickly became apparent. As we were making a series of training videos on quality milk, which should have no antibiotics or drug residues, we visited a hospital to interview a local doctor.

“If people are well they are not supposed to take antibiotics. If such a person is sick in the future and the sickness requires the use of antibiotics, it would be difficult to cure because such drugs will not work. It can even make the illness more severe,” doctor Periola Amidu Akintayo from the local hospital confided in front of the camera.

Later on, we visited a traditional Fulani cattle market. For years, these markets have been bustling places where the semi-nomadic herders meet buyers from towns. People exchange news on latest events and the weather, but above all assess the quality of the animals and negotiate prices. Animals that look unhealthy or have signs of parasites obviously fetch a lower price. Given that the cattle market is where the Fulani herders meet their fellow herders and clients, I quickly realized why the entire market was surrounded by small agro vet shops. Competition was fierce, and demand for animal drugs was high.

Modern drugs come with an enclosed instruction sheet, but as with pesticides nobody in developing countries reads this advice. To keep costs down, many herders and farmers administer drugs to their own animals, to avoid spending money on a veterinary doctor. Perhaps even more worrying: few people are aware of the risks that modern drugs pose to human health, whether it be from developing resistance to antibiotics or drug residues in food. In organisations like Anthra, socially engaged veterinary doctors merge local knowledge with scientific information, thus playing an undervalued role that deserve more attention. The training videos made with these veterinarians and their farmer allies will hopefully show more people that it is important to bring the best of both worlds together.

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Big chicken, little chicken April 22nd, 2018 by

vea la versión en español a continuación

In her 2017 book Big Chicken, Maryn McKenna tells the story of antibiotic abuse in agriculture. In the 1940s the US military used antibiotics to treat soldiers suffering from infectious disease, one of the first large-scale uses of these drugs. Penicillin had been placed in the public domain, and the world was in an optimistic mood at having a widely available treatment for common infections. Soon after the war, in 1948, British-American scientist Thomas Jukes, working at Lederle Laboratories in New Jersey, showed that chickens gained more weight when their food included antibiotics, even on a poor diet. This was a crucial discovery for industrializing chicken rearing. Until then, poultry in the USA were mostly reared in small batches, allowed to range freely in fields, where they scratched a natural diet of plants and bugs, sometimes supplemented with fish meal. Chickens are by nature highly omnivorous. Discovering that antibiotics helped to fatten chickens meant that the birds could be fed cheap, low-grade maize and soybean.

The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approved antibiotics as a growth regulator in the USA in 1951. By the 1950s, a successful chicken farmer in Georgia, Jesse Dixon Jewell, began to expand his operation by selling chicks and feed to other farmers, and buying their finished birds. The feed was laced with antibiotics, partly to boost growth but also to control bacterial diseases. Industry would soon follow this twin example of farming out the birds to contract growers, and including the antibiotics in their prepared rations.

By 2001, Americans were taking 3 million pounds (1.4 million kilos) of antibiotics, while US livestock was being dosed with 24.6 million pounds (11.2 million kilos).

For many years there were few if any concerns about this unprecedented use of a human drug to boost food production, and cheap meat was certainly popular. But this relaxed attitude began to change when research showed that much of the antibiotics ended up in the meat and eggs that consumers ate. This widespread use meant that once valuable drugs began to be compromised as bacteria that caused disease in humans became resistant to the antibiotics.

Under pressure from pharmaceutical companies, the US government was slow to restrict antibiotics as animal growth promotors. Finally, the large poultry companies began to self-regulate. By about 2009 they realized that they could produce birds without antibiotics, simply by using vaccines and improving farm hygiene. By 2014 some of the largest producers in the US, like Foster Farms and Perdue Farms, had stopped feeding antibiotics to chickens. Various grocery stores and fast food chains soon banned chicken raised on antibiotics.

In September 2016 the UN moved to curb non-prophylactic antibiotic use in animals, which was linked to an estimated 700,000 human deaths worldwide, per year. In North America and Western Europe antibiotic abuse was by then largely solved, thanks to improved industry standards, government regulations and public awareness. But McKenna cautions that livestock antibiotic abuse remains a worrying problem in much of South America, South Asia and China.

As soon as I finished reading Big Chicken, Ana and I visited La Cancha, the vast, open air market that still functions in Cochabamba, where we bought a little grey hen and a big red one.

Feeding the hens was a chance to learn what smallholder farmers have always known: that chickens are as omnivorous as people. Chickens prefer meat to vegetables. Ours preferred the smaller, denser grains like sorghum to corn.

Chickens especially like sow bugs, the little roly-poly crustaceans that live in leaf litter worldwide. Our hens learned to knock the seeds off of amaranth plants and then eat the seeds from the ground. Chickens also like table scraps, including meat, but especially eggs.

The longer we keep these birds, now named Oxford and Cambridge, the bigger their eggs get. They both lay an egg every day; clearly the hunter-gatherer diet agrees with them.

The problem, as McKenna explains, is that factory farming made chicken as cheap as bread in the USA and Europe. People living in low income countries now want their chance at cheap meat. Chicken is cheap in Bolivia and easily affordable. In the open air market it sells for just 10 Bs. ($1.40) per kilo and fried chicken restaurants have sprung up all over the city.

Rearing chickens has become a new industry in Bolivia. Farmers can make a barn with cheap lumber and plastic sheeting, buy the day-old chicks and purchase the feed by the bag or the ton. No doubt many of the poultry producers in Bolivia are careful and conscientious. But many growers raise their birds on feed blended with antibiotics, labelled as a growth promotor, and there is little public awareness of the risk of antibiotics in animal feed. While there are compelling reasons to reduce the cost of food in low income countries, the global South also needs to consider the risks of animal antibiotics.

Further reading

Maryn 2017 Big Chicken: The Incredible Story of how Antibiotics Created Modern Agriculture and Changed the Way the World Eats. Washington DC: National Geographic. 400 pp.

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BIG CHICKEN, POLLO GRANDE

por Jeff Bentley, 22 de abril del 2018

En su libro Big Chicken de 2017, Maryn McKenna cuenta la historia del abuso de antibióticos en la agricultura. En la década de 1940, el ejército de los Estados Unidos usó los antibióticos para tratar a los soldados que se padecían de enfermedades infecciosas, uno de los primeros usos a gran escala de estas drogas. La penicilina se había colocado en el dominio público, y el mundo estaba optimista de tener un tratamiento ampliamente disponible para infecciones comunes. Poco después de la guerra, en 1948, el científico británico-americano Thomas Jukes, que trabajaba en Lederle Laboratories en Nueva Jersey, demostró que los pollos ganaban más peso cuando sus alimentos incluían antibióticos, incluso con una dieta pobre. Este fue un descubrimiento crucial para la industrialización de la crianza de pollos. Hasta entonces, las aves de corral en los Estados Unidos se criaban principalmente en pequeños lotes; se les permitía ir libremente a los campos, donde arañaban una dieta natural de plantas e insectos, a veces complementada con harina de pescado. Los pollos son por naturaleza altamente omnívoros. Descubrir que los antibióticos ayudaban a engordar pollos significaba que las aves podrían ser alimentadas con maíz y soya baratos.

La FDA (Administración de Alimentos y Medicamentos) aprobó los antibióticos como un regulador de crecimiento en los Estados Unidos en 1951. En la década de 1950, un exitoso granjero de pollos en Georgia, Jesse Dixon Jewell, comenzó a expandir su operación vendiendo pollos y alimento concentrado a otros granjeros, y comprando sus aves terminadas. El concentrado se mezclaba con antibióticos, en parte para estimular el crecimiento, pero también para controlar las enfermedades bacterianas. La industria pronto seguiría este doble ejemplo de criar las aves por contrato e incluir los antibióticos en sus raciones preparadas.

En 2001, los estadounidenses tomaron 1,4 millones de kilos de antibióticos, mientras que el ganado estadounidense se dosificó con 11,2 millones de kilos.

Durante muchos años hubo poca o ninguna preocupación sobre este uso sin precedentes de una droga humana para impulsar la producción de alimentos, y sin duda la carne barata fue popular. Pero esta actitud relajada comenzó a cambiar cuando la investigación mostró que gran parte de los antibióticos quedaban en la carne y los huevos que consumían los consumidores. Este uso generalizado significó que las bacterias que causan enfermedades humanas se volvieron resistentes a los antibióticos por su uso excesivo en los animales.

Bajo la presión de las compañías farmacéuticas, el gobierno estadounidense hizo poco para restringir los antibióticos como promotores del crecimiento animal. Finalmente, las grandes compañías avícolas comenzaron a autorregularse. Alrededor de 2009 se dieron cuenta de que podían producir aves sin antibióticos, simplemente usando vacunas y mejorando la higiene de la granja. Para 2014, algunos de los productores más grandes de Norteamérica, como Foster Farms y Perdue Farms, habían dejado de alimentar con antibióticos a los pollos. Varios supermercados y cadenas de comida rápida pronto prohibieron el pollo criado con antibióticos.

En septiembre de 2016, la ONU actuó para frenar el uso de antibióticos no profilácticos en animales, lo que se relacionó con unas estimadas 700,000 muertes humanas en todo el mundo, por año. En América del Norte y Europa occidental, el abuso de antibióticos se resolvió en gran medida, gracias a la mejora de los estándares de la industria, las regulaciones gubernamentales y la conciencia pública. Pero McKenna advierte que el abuso de antibióticos en los animales sigue siendo un problema preocupante en gran parte de Sudamérica, el sur de Asia y China.

Tan pronto como terminé de leer Big Chicken, Ana y yo visitamos La Cancha, el vasto mercado al aire libre que todavía funciona en Cochabamba, donde compramos una gallinita gris y una roja grande.

Alimentar a las gallinas fue una oportunidad de aprender lo que los pequeños agricultores siempre han sabido: que los pollos son tan omnívoros como las personas. Los pollos prefieren la carne a las verduras. Prefieren los granos más pequeños y densos como el sorgo al maíz.

A las gallinas les encantan los llamados chanchitos, los pequeños crustáceos redondos que viven en la hojarasca en todo el mundo. Nuestras gallinas aprendieron a sacudir las semillas de las plantas de amaranto y luego a comer las semillas del suelo. A los pollos también les gustan los restos de comida, incluida la carne, pero especialmente los huevos.

Mientras más tiempo tengamos estas aves, ahora llamadas Oxford y Cambridge, más grandes son sus huevos. Cada una pone un huevo todos los días; claramente la dieta de los cazadores-recolectores les hace bien.

El problema, como explica McKenna, es que las granjas industriales hacían que el pollo fuera tan barato como el pan en los Estados Unidos y Europa. La gente en los países de bajos ingresos ahora quiere la carne barata; les toca. El pollo es barato en Bolivia y es fácilmente asequible. En la Cancha se vende por solo 10 Bs. ($ 1.40) por kilo y restaurantes de pollo frito han surgido por toda la ciudad.

La cría de pollos se ha convertido en una nueva industria en Bolivia. Los agricultores pueden hacer un granero con madera barata y hojas de plástico, comprar los pollitos de un día y comprar el alimento por bolsa o por tonelada. Sin duda, muchos de los productores avícolas en Bolivia son cuidadosos y concienzudos. Sin embargo, muchos crían a sus aves con alimentos mezclados con antibióticos, vendidos como promotores del crecimiento, y hay poca conciencia pública sobre el riesgo de los antibióticos en la alimentación animal. Si bien existen razones convincentes para reducir el costo de los alimentos en los países de bajos ingresos, el Sur Global también debe considerar los riesgos de los antibióticos en los animales.

Lectura adicional

Maryn 2017 Big Chicken: The Incredible Story of how Antibiotics Created Modern Agriculture and Changed the Way the World Eats. Washington DC: National Geographic. 400 pp.

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To fence or not to fence February 25th, 2018 by

Fences reveal a lot about rural communities. They show  how farmers make good use of available materials, but they can also uncover social tensions. Reading fences and understanding what they do and represent tells you a lot about how people work and live.

In the country-side of Kenya, farmers have a long tradition of fencing their farm with wooden poles. While this practice stems from a time where trees were abundant, competition with fuel wood is gradually changing this practice towards more inclusion of living plants.

In some parts of East Africa, fences contain the so-called pencil plant (Euphorbia tirucalli), grown in Europe as an ornamental. The aim is to discourage potential intruders, particularly those trying to steal livestock.  The fragile branches of pencil plants break easily, releasing a white sap that can blind people when the juice gets into their eyes.

In Egypt, farmers protect their maize from grazing animals by surrounding the field with a row of nightshade (from the same plant genus as potato and tomato). As with Euphorbia, the nightshade’s leaves contain a toxic juice. Farmers can restrain their own animals from grazing afar, but can’t be sure their neighbours do the same. And once cattle get into your maize field, the damage can be huge. A small investment in fences prevents disputes with your neighbours about who pays for the losses.

But fences often do more than keep animals out. Stone walls in Guatemala often contain sisal plants. Without reducing the land available for grazing animals, the space taken up by the fence is used to grow this valuable plant that provides farmers with fibre to make ropes. By diversifying crop, livestock and plant species on farm, farmers ensure a steady supply of what they need to live from their land.

At the highlands of southwest Uganda, a local farmer, James Kabareebe, showed us how he plants Calliandra around his fields, an agroforestry practice widely promoted by projects in the 1990s. Prunings of this leguminous tree are used as mulch to enrich his soil with nitrogen. And above all, it provides the necessary organic matter to soils on sloping land that are highly vulnerable to erosion caused by tropical downpours.

At times, living fences also point to a level of social injustice. Customary land rights benefit male community members, while women are often left to struggle to grow food on smaller plots or on less fertile soils.

In parts of Mali, women have negotiated with their men to grow a high value crop along the border of the field. The juicy, red flower heads of the roselle or bissap plant (Hibiscus sabdariffa), which is native to West Africa, provide a good source of additional revenue for rural women.

Fences across the world give us insights into how people manage their land. They are like a signature, revealing a little about how people relate to the land, and to each other.

 

Further reading

Tripp, A.M. 2004. Women’s Movements, Customary Law, and Land Rights in Africa: the case of Uganda. African Studies Quarterly. http://www.africa.ufl.edu/asq/v7/v7i4a1.htm

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