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

Vea la versión en español a continuación

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

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

In Cotopaxi, Ecuador recently, while working with Paul and Marcella to film a video on women’s organizations, we met Juan Chillagana, vice-president of the parish (town) council. As an elected, local official, Mr. Chillagana has mentored several women’s organizations, each one organized around a specific product. We caught up with him on 4 February as he met with a group of women who were growing and exporting goldenberries. The fruit buyer was there, a man in a hair net explaining, “All we ask is that you don’t apply agro-chemicals.” The association members and the buyer weighed big, perfect goldenberries in clean, plastic trays, to take to the packing plant.

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

We also met Beatriz Padilla (Guadalupe’s sister), a small-scale dairy farmer, who leads 20 households as they pool their milk. The association sends a truck to each farm, collects the milk in big cans, transfers it to the group’s cold tank. Twice a day, about 1500 liters of milk is collected by two different buyers, including one who comes at 3 AM. It’s a lot of work. Doña Beatriz explained that she couldn’t do it without the group. She needs the other families so they can get a better price for their milk. A farmer with two cows has to take whatever price the dairy will give her. But an association can negotiate a price.

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

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

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

Previous Agro-Insight blogs

Listening to what women don’t say

The goldenberry

Related videos

Women in extension

Farmers’ rights to seed: Experiences from Guatemala

Working together for healthy chicks

Helping women recover after childbirth

Acknowledgements

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

¿DE QUÉ SE TRATA UNA ASOCIACIÓN DE MUJERES?

Por Jeff Bentley, 20 de marzo del 2022

Cuando escribes una historia, debes saber de qué trata. Según este viejo consejo, si sabes de qué trata tu historia, sabrás qué incluir y qué dejar fuera.

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

Hace poco, en Cotopaxi, Ecuador, mientras yo trabajaba con Paul y Marcella para filmar un video sobre las organizaciones de mujeres, conocimos  a Juan Chillagana, vicepresidente de la junta parroquial. Como funcionario local electo, el Sr. Chillagana ha sido mentor de varias organizaciones de mujeres, cada una de ellas organizada en torno a un producto específico. Nos reunimos con él el 4 de febrero, en un encuentro con un grupo de mujeres que cultivan y exportan uvillas (uchuvas, o chiltos). El comprador de la fruta estaba allí, un hombre con su cabellera bien cubierta por una red. Explicó: “Todo lo que pedimos es que no apliquen agroquímicos”. Los miembros de la asociación y el comprador pesaron grandes y perfectas uvillas en bandejas de plástico limpias, para llevarlas a la planta de envasado.

Hablamos con una de las socias, Josefina Astudillo, que parecía encantada de probar este nuevo cultivo de fruta. Nos llevó hasta su campo, a un kilómetro de la sede comunitaria donde se celebraba la reunión. Doña Josefina nos mostró con orgullo su campo, donde su dorada fruta estaba madurándose a la perfección. Una sola mujer podría cultivar uvillas por sí sola, pero se necesita un grupo para satisfacer la demanda de los compradores: 1.000 kilos a la semana, con una calidad lista para exportar.

También conocimos a Beatriz Padilla (hermana de Guadalupe), pequeña productora de leche, que lidera 20 hogares que acopian su leche para venderla como grupo. La asociación envía un camión a cada granja, recoge la leche en grandes botes y la traslada al tanque de frío del grupo. Dos veces al día, dos distintos compradores recogen unos 1.500 litros de leche, incluido uno que viene a las 3 de la madrugada. Es mucho trabajo. Doña Beatriz explica que no podría hacerlo sin el grupo. Necesita a las otras familias para poder obtener un mejor precio por su leche. Una persona con dos vacas tiene que aceptar el precio que le dé la procesadora de leche. En cambio, una asociación puede negociar un mejor precio.

Margoth Naranjo es una mujer de 60 años que ha trabajado toda su vida adulta en asociaciones, a menudo en grupos que incluían también a los hombres. Empezó en la asociación local de padres de familia, ayudando a organizar el desayuno escolar. Más tarde, fue secretaria del Seguro Campesino, hasta llegar a ser la tesorera y luego la presidenta. Ahora, con la Corporación de Organizaciones Indígenas y Campesinas (COIC), doña Margoth está ayudando a varias organizaciones de mujeres, que venden sus propias verduras agroecológicas, a agruparse para tener más fuerza. Lamentablemente, este trabajo se paralizó durante el cierre de Covid, pero doña Margoth ha vuelto a organizarse recientemente.

Todas las mujeres líderes que conocimos en Ecuador formaban parte de un grupo. Y cada grupo se formó con un propósito concreto, ya sea para obtener fruta, leche o verduras. Como una buena historia, cada grupo trataba de algo, relacionado a un sueño conjunto: como tener un excelente producto para vender, para vivir mejor.

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

Previamente en el blog de Agro-Insight

Listening to what women don’t say

El chilto, cultivo y maleza

Videos relacionados

Las mujeres en la extensión

Derechos de los agricultores a la semilla: Guatemala

Trabajando juntos por polillos sanos

Helping women recover after childbirth

Agradecimientos

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

From potatoes to cows December 26th, 2021 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

Last week I wrote about women farmers who felt a need to take a more active role in decision-making.

During the script-writing workshop, besides validating fact sheets, the writers went back to the field to share their ideas for scripts with the communities. Because once is not enough: you have to talk to several people to get a more complete vision of your topic.

In Carrillo, Cotopaxi, Ecuador, some of our script writers had interacted with the community for years. This village had a lot of experience with organization. The writers in our workshop managed to bring together a large group of women who had held leadership roles for years.

It was raining and even though we were almost on the equator, in the high Andes it soon became chilly. I was in Carrillo with Diego Montalvo, agronomist, and Guadalupe Padilla, environmental engineer, who works in the community. As we clustered on the porch of the community center, a local woman, doña Verónica, told her story. She left Carrillo to study agronomy. After graduation she lived in the city for two years, but she came home when her dad became ill. Because of her education, she was assigned a leading role in a local organization, one she has kept for years. Not that it’s always easy; the men in the group tend to listen more to male leaders, and at times they make noise to disrupt the meeting when women leaders are speaking.

At the end of a frank and useful meeting, the women farmers spontaneously began discussing another topic among themselves, something more interesting: animal health.

The whole group wanted to learn how to vaccinate, give medicines and even do minor surgery on dairy cattle.  Verónica explained that she had learned almost all there was to know about cattle at university, even artificial insemination, and she would like to help this group receive training on livestock.

The women’s group had demanded that Guadalupe prepare more information for them on how to make their own cattle feed.

It caught my attention that these outspoken, well-organized women wanted to talk so much about cows.

Later I realized why, when I spoke with some of our other writers in the workshop. Israel, Nancy, Mishel and Mayfe had met with a group of women to talk about how to manage seed potatoes.

Israel was kind of surprised when he came out of the meeting. These farmers, whose ancestors had grown potatoes for centuries, wanted to abandon the crop, to raise cattle.

The potatoes were being destroyed by a mysterious new disease called purple top, still poorly understood by scientists. The disease ruins the potatoes. The farmers have fought back against purple top by spraying insecticides every week to kill the psyllid, a small insect which may vector the disease. But even by spending a thousand dollars a year, per farm, the disease was out of control.

On the other hand, the rolling fields of Carrillo are perfect for alfalfa and other fodder crops. And cities like Quito, growing explosively, buy all the milk that Ecuador’s farmers can provide. The weekly payment from the dairy would allow the women farmers to buy food for their families.

This is why the women leaders are so interested in cattle.

Smallholders, ever adaptable, are willing to change from one farming system to another, completely different one. From potatoes to cows, to adapt to changes in the natural environment. Women farmers often value training on leadership, but farming constantly requires new technical information, which smallholders want to receive.

Related Agro-Insight blogs

It takes a family to raise a cow

Videos on dairy cows

Pure milk is good milk

Keeping milk free from antibiotics

Keeping milk clean and fresh

Hand milking of dairy cows

Taking milk to the collection centre

Making balanced feed for dairy cows

Calcium deficiency in dairy cows

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Guadalupe Padilla, Diego Montalvo, Israel Navarrete and Paul Van Mele for their comments on an earlier version of this story. Our work was supported by the Collaborative Crop Research Program (CCRP) of the McKnight Foundation.

DE PAPAS A VACAS

Por Jeff Bentley, 26 de diciembre del 2021

La semana pasada escribí que las agriculturas sienten la necesidad de jugar un rol más grande en la toma de decisiones.

Dos días después de leer las hojas volantes en una comunidad, los escritores volvieron al campo y compartieron sus ideas para los guiones con las comunidades. Porque una sola vez no es suficiente: hay que hablar con varias personas para tener una visión más completa de cualquier tema.

En Carrillo, Cotopaxi, Ecuador, algunos de nuestros escritores de guiones habían interactuado con la comunidad durante años. Esta comunidad tenía mucha experiencia con la organización. En Carrillo, nuestros escritores lograron reunir un grupo grande de mujeres quienes hace años habían ejercido roles de liderazgo.

Llovía, y a pesar de que estábamos casi en la línea ecuatorial, hace frío en los altos Andes. Estuve con Diego Montalvo, ingeniero agrónomo, y Guadalupe Padilla, ingeniera ambiental, quien trabaja en Carillo. Nos reunimos en el corredor de una sede comunitaria, mientras una comunera, doña Verónica, nos contó su historia. Ella dejó Carrillo para estudiar agronomía. De ingeniera vivía en la ciudad por dos años, pero volvió a su comunidad cuando su papá se enfermó. Debido a su escolaridad, ella fue asignada un rol de lideresa en una organización local, y lo ha ejercido durante años. No siempre le toca muy fácil; los hombres en el grupo suelen escuchar a los líderes varones, y a veces hacen bulla, para molestar cuando las lideresas hablan.

Al final de nuestra conversación franca y útil con las agricultoras, ellas mismas espontáneamente pasaron a otro tema, aún más interesante: la salud animal.

El grupo entero quería aprender sobre vacunar, dar medicamentos y hasta hacer cirugía menor en el ganado lechero. Verónica explicó que ella aprendió casi todo sobre el ganado en la universidad, hasta la inseminación artifició, y que le gustaría ayudar al grupo a recibir capacitación pecuaria.

El grupo de mujeres ha demandado que Guadalupe las prepare más información sobre cómo hacer su propio concentrado para el ganado.

Me llamó la atención que estas mujeres expresivas, y bien organizadas quieren hablar tanto sobre las vacas.

Luego me di cuenta porque, al hablar con otros escritores en el taller, Israel, Nancy, Mishel y Mayfe se reunieron con un grupo de mujeres para hablar sobre el buen manejo de la semilla de papa.

Israel estaba un poco sorprendido cuando salió de la reunión. Estas agricultoras que han cultivado la papa durante siglos querían abandonar el cultivo, para criar ganado.

Las papas se están destruyendo por una misteriosa nueva enfermedad llamada punta morada, todavía poco comprendida por los científicos. La enfermedad arruina la papa. Los agricultores luchan contra la punta morada fumigando insecticida cada semana para matar al psílido, un pequeño insecto que posiblemente es el vector de la enfermedad. Pero aun gastando más de mil dólares al año, por finca, la enfermedad estaba afuera de control.

Por otro lado, los ondulados campos de Carrillo son perfectos para alfalfa y otros forrajes. Y las ciudades como Quito, en crecimiento explosivo, compran toda la leche que se puede producir. El pago semanal de la lechería permite a las agricultoras comprar comida para sus familias.

Es por eso que las lideresas locales están tan interesadas en el ganado.

Los campesinos, siempre adaptándose, están dispuestos a cambiar de un sistema de producción a otro completamente diferente. De papas a vacas, para adaptarse a los cambios en su ambiente natural. Las agricultoras sí aprecian la capacitación sobre el liderazgo, pero la agricultura constantemente requiere de nueva información técnica, la cual ellas también demandan.

Related Agro-Insight blogs

It takes a family to raise a cow

Videos sobre las vacas lecheras

La leche pura es leche buena

Mantener la leche libre de antibióticos

Mantener la leche limpia y fresca

El ordeño manual de vacas

Taking milk to the collection centre

Making balanced feed for dairy cows

Calcium deficiency in dairy cows

Agradecimientos

Gracias a Guadalupe Padilla, Diego Montalvo, Israel Navarrete y Paul Van Mele por sus comentarios sobre una versión anterior de este relato. Nuestro trabajo ha sido auspiciado por el Programa Colaborativo de Investigación sobre Cultivos (CCRP) de la Fundación McKnight.

A positive validation December 19th, 2021 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

To “validate” extension material means to show an advanced draft of one’s work to people from one’s target audience, to gauge their reaction. The validations work like magic to fine-tune vocabulary and often to improve the content of the message.

In our script-writers’ workshop at Agro-Insight, we validate our fact sheets, taking them to the field and asking farmers to read them. It is a great way to learn to write for our audience. But on 23 November, in Pujilí, in the Ecuadorian Andes, we saw that validation can also highlight the value of a whole topic.

My colleagues Diego Mina and Mayra Coro work in the mountains above the small city of Pujilí. So they kindly took eight of us from the course to a community where they work. Fact sheets in hand, we all spread out, ready to get constructive criticism from farmers.

One of the fact sheets explained that wasps, many flies and other insects need flowering plants to survive. Crops and even weeds that blossom with flowers can attract the right insects to kill pests. I loved the topic at first sight and I encouraged Diego and Mayra to write a fact sheet about it.

So with great optimism we approached a young couple working on a stalled motorcycle. The couple took the fact sheet and read it. Then we asked them to comment.

“It’s fine. It would be good to have a project here on medicinal plants,” the young man said.

That was off topic. The fact sheet wasn’t about a medicinal plant project, so Mayra gently asked them to say more. The young man grew quiet and the young woman wouldn’t say a word. Then they got on their motorcycle and rode off.

Diego thought we might get a more considered response from someone he knew, so he took us to meet one of his collaborating farmers, doña Alicia.

We found doña Alicia hanging up the wet laundry at home. She was reluctant to even hold the fact sheet. “My husband knows about these things”, she said. “Not me”. It was sad to hear her say that, before she even knew what the topic was.

Doña Alicia added that she did not know how to read, so Mayra read her the fact sheet. But when she finished, doña Alicia didn’t have much to say.

Fortunately, some of our other colleagues were writing a fact sheet on helping women to assume leadership roles in local organizations.  Diego Mina said “I think that doña Alicia would be interested in that fact sheet.”

As if on cue, our colleagues Diego Montalvo and Guadalupe Padilla walked around the bend in the road, with their fact sheet on women leaders. Diego Mina introduced them to doña Alicia.

I wasn’t sure that doña Alicia would be any more interested in women and organizations than she was in insects and flowers. But within minutes she was having an animated conversation with Diego and Guadalupe. Doña Alicia even shared a personal experience: the men tend to assume the community’s formal leadership positions, but once, when most of the men were working away from home, they asked doña Alicia and some of the other village women to take leading roles in some local organizations. When the men came back, they started to make all the decisions, and the women became leaders in name only.

In this community, the women had received no training in leadership. There were no women’s groups, which may have contributed to their shyness. As we will see in next week’s blog, organized women may have more self-confidence.

Diego and Guadalupe told me that on that day they got good, relevant comments from five different women, on their fact sheet about female leaders.

I have written before that some topics, like insect ecology, are difficult for local people to observe. Folks may not realize that many insects are beneficial. It may take a lot of work to spark people’s interest in topics like insect ecology. But the effort is worthwhile, because people who do not know about good insects are often too eager to buy insecticides.

Further reading

Bentley, Jeffery W. & Gonzalo Rodríguez 2001 “Honduran Folk Entomology.” Current Anthropology 42(2):285-301.

Related Agro-Insight blog stories

A hard write

A spoonful of molasses

Guardians of the mango

Learning from students

Nourishing a fertile imagination

On the road to yoghurt

Spontaneous generation

The curse of knowledge

The rules and the players

The vanishing factsheet

Turtles vs snails

Related videos

The wasp that protects our crops

Women in extension

Acknowledgements

Mayra Coro and Diego Mina work for the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD). Guadalupe Padilla and Diego Montalvo work for EkoRural. Thanks to all, and to Paul Van Mele, for reading and commenting on a previous draft of this story. Our work was supported by the Collaborative Crop Research Program (CCRP) of the McKnight Foundation.

Photo credits

First photo by Jeff Bentley. Second photo by Diego Mina

UNA VALIDACIÓN POSITIVA

Por Jeff Bentley,

“Validar” el material de extensión significa mostrar un borrador avanzado del trabajo a personas del público meta, para ver su reacción. Las validaciones son la clave para afinar el vocabulario y, a menudo, para mejorar el contenido del mensaje.

En nuestro taller de guionistas de Agro-Insight, validamos nuestras hojas volantes, llevándolas al campo y pidiendo a los agricultores que las lean. Es una buena manera de aprender a escribir para nuestro público. Pero el 23 de noviembre, en Pujilí, en los Andes ecuatorianos, vimos que la validación también puede resaltar el valor de todo un tema.

Mis colegas Diego Mina y Mayra Coro trabajan en la sierra arriba de la pequeña ciudad de Pujilí. Así que gentilmente nos llevaron a ocho personas del taller a una comunidad donde trabajan. Hojas volantes en mano, nos separamos en grupitos para recibir críticas constructivas de los agricultores.

Una de las hojas volantes explicaba que las avispas, muchas moscas y otros insectos necesitan de las plantas en flor para sobrevivir. Los cultivos e incluso las malezas que florecen pueden atraer a los insectos que matan a las plagas. El tema me encantó a primera vista y animé a Diego y a Mayra a que escribieran una hoja volante sobre el tema.

Así que, con gran optimismo, nos acercamos a una joven pareja que arreglaba su moto en el camino. Tomaron la hoja volante y la leyeron. Luego les pedimos que comentaran.

“Está bien. Sería bueno tener un proyecto aquí sobre las plantas medicinales”, dijo el joven.

Eso estaba fuera de tema. La hoja volante no trataba sobre un proyecto de plantas medicinales, así que Mayra les pidió amablemente que dijeran algo más. El joven se quedó callado y la joven no quiso decir nada. Luego se subieron a la moto y se fueron.

Diego pensó que podríamos obtener una respuesta más considerada de alguien que conocía, así que nos presentó a una de sus agricultoras colaboradoras, doña Alicia, que vivía cerca.

Encontramos a doña Alicia tendiendo la ropa mojada en su casa. Era reacia incluso a agarrar la hoja volante. “Mi marido sabe de estas cosas”, dijo. “Yo no”. Fue triste oírla decir eso, antes incluso de saber qué era el tema.

Doña Alicia añadió que no sabía leer, entonces Mayra le leyó la hoja volante. Pero cuando terminó, doña Alicia no tenía mucho que decir.

Afortunadamente, algunos de nuestros otros colegas estaban escribiendo una hoja volante sobre cómo ayudar a las mujeres a asumir funciones de liderazgo en las organizaciones locales.  Diego Mina dijo: “Creo que a doña Alicia le interesaría esa hoja volante”.

Como si fuera una señal, nuestros colegas Diego Montalvo y Guadalupe Padilla aparecieron en la curva del camino con su hoja volante sobre lideresas. Diego Mina les presentó a doña Alicia.

Yo dudaba de que doña Alicia estuviera más interesada en las lideresas y las organizaciones que en los insectos y las flores. Pero en pocos minutos estaba metida en una animada conversación con Diego y Guadalupe. Doña Alicia incluso compartió una experiencia personal: los hombres tienden a asumir los puestos de liderazgo formal de la comunidad, pero una vez, cuando la mayoría de los hombres estaban trabajando fuera de casa, pidieron a doña Alicia y a algunas de las otras mujeres de la comunidad que asumieran papeles de liderazgo en algunas organizaciones locales. Cuando los hombres volvieron, empezaron a tomar todas las decisiones, y las mujeres se convirtieron en líderes sólo de nombre.

En esta comunidad, las mujeres no habían recibido ninguna formación sobre el liderazgo. No había grupos de mujeres, lo que puede haber contribuido a su timidez. Como veremos en el blog de la próxima semana, las mujeres organizadas pueden tener más confianza en sí mismas.

Diego y Guadalupe me contaron que ese día obtuvieron buenos y relevantes comentarios de cinco mujeres diferentes, sobre su hoja informativa acerca de las mujeres líderes.

Ya he escrito antes que algunos temas, como la ecología de los insectos, son difíciles de observar para los campesinos. La gente raras veces se da cuenta de que muchos insectos son buenos. Puede costar mucho trabajo despertar el interés de la gente por temas como la ecología de los insectos. Pero el esfuerzo merece la pena, porque la gente que no conoce los insectos buenos suele estar demasiado dispuesta a comprar insecticidas.

Lectura adicional

Bentley, Jeffery W. & Gonzalo Rodríguez 2001 “Honduran Folk Entomology.” Current Anthropology 42(2):285-301.

Bentley, Jeffery W. & Peter Baker 2006 “Comprendiendo y Obteniendo lo Máximo del Conocimiento Local de los Agricultores,” pp. 67-75. In Julian Gonsalves, Thomas Becker, Ann Braun, Dindo Campilan, Hidelisa de Chavez, Elizabth Fajber, Monica Kapiriri, Joy Rivaca-Caminade & Ronnie Vernooy (eds.) Investigación y Desarrollo Participativo para la Agricultura y el Manejo Sostenible de Recursos Naturales: Libro de Consulta. Tomo 1. Comprendiendo Investigación y Desarrollo Participativo. Manila: CIP-Upward/IDRC.

Previamente en el blog de Agro-Insight

Aprender de los estudiantes

La Hoja Volante Desaparecida

A hard write

A spoonful of molasses

Guardians of the mango

Nourishing a fertile imagination

On the road to yoghurt

Spontaneous generation

The curse of knowledge

The rules and the players

Turtles vs snails

Videos de interés

La avispa que protege nuestros cultivos

Las mujeres en la extensión

Agradecimientos

Mayra Coro y Diego Mina trabajan para el Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD). Guadalupe Padilla y Diego Montalvo trabajan para EkoRural. Gracias a ellos y a Paul Van Mele por leer y hacer comentarios sobre una versión previa de este relato. Nuestro trabajo ha sido auspiciado por el Programa Colaborativo de Investigación sobre Cultivos (CCRP) de la Fundación McKnight.

Créditos de las fotos

Primera foto por Jeff Bentley. Segunda foto por Diego Mina

Peasants, not princes: the potato finds a home in Europe April 18th, 2021 by

The French philosopher Antoine Parmentier (1730-1815) introduced the potato into his country by having it planted with great fanfare in the king’s gardens. Guards were posted to protect the new crop, ostensibly to prevent thefts, but really to draw attention to it. When the guards were withdrawn overnight from the now mature crop, curious farmers snuck in and dug up the potatoes to plant in their own fields, just as the clever Parmentier had intended.

Some years ago I told this story from the podium of the National Potato Congress in Bolivia. My audience of Andean potato experts loved the tale, which is one reason why I must retract it now, for it is simply a bit of fake history, penned by Parmentier’s friend and biographer, Julien-Joseph Virey.

Perhaps I should have known better, but in the potato story I learned in grad school, European peasants resisted the tuber brought back by Spanish sailors fresh from the conquest of Peru in the 1530s. Europeans were used to eating cereals, and the potato lived underground, like the devil, or so went the story.

In a recent book, British historian Rebecca Earle sets the potato record straight. She points out that European peasants did eat root crops, like carrots and turnips.

Earle also shows that European peasants embraced the potato from the start, often growing it discretely in a home garden, for once a new crop was widely grown and sold, it acquired a market value and could be taxed and tithed.

According to court records from Cornwall in 1768, a clergyman sued one of his flock because she was growing potatoes without paying him a tithe. Witnesses testified that the potato had already been grown for many generations in Cornwall. The potato was also mentioned in Marx Rumpolt’s cookbook published in Frankfurt in 1681. During the Nine Years War (1688-1697) so many potatoes were grown in Flanders that soldiers were able to survive by pilfering potatoes from peasants’ fields.

The potato was widely grown all over Europe (in France, too) before Parmentier was born. Then as now, smallholder farmers were eager to experiment with new crops. Peasants spread the potato across Europe long before the nobles paid it much attention. Earle also writes that potatoes were being grown commercially in the Canary Islands by the 1570s, and shipped to France and the Netherlands.

In Earle’s analysis, after widespread hunger in the mid-1700s fueled popular revolts, kings began to realize that a well-fed, healthy population would be more productive. Rulers finally saw that it was in their own self-interest for the state to assume some responsibility to ensure that their subjects’ had enough food to eat.

Potatoes yielded as much as three times more food per hectare than rye and other grain crops. Monarchs, like King Louis XIV (patron of Parmentier) belatedly began to understand the advantages of potatoes and entered the history books as a promotor of the new crop. Other historical inaccuracies arose. Frederick the Great is erroneously portrayed as introducing Germans to the potato.

The myth that the conservative peasants were afraid to grow and eat potatoes, or that the potato was spread across Europe by emperors and philosophers has proven a pervasive piece of fake history. These stories burnished the reputations of the elites at the expense of the peasants and home gardeners. Many of the true potato promotors were women, who tended the home gardens, ideal spaces for the experiments that helped the potato become the world’s fourth most widely grown crop, now produced in nearly every country of the world. Yet further proof that smallholder farmers have always been eager to try new crops and other innovations.

Further reading

Earle, Rebecca 2020 Feeding the People: The Politics of the Potato. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 306 pp.

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CAMPESINOS, NO PRÍNCIPES: ACOGIENDO LA PAPA EN EUROPA

Por Jeff Bentley, 18 de abril del 2021

El filósofo francés Antoine Parmentier (1730-1815) introdujo la papa en su país haciéndola sembrar a bombo y platillo en los jardines del rey. Se colocaron guardias para proteger el nuevo cultivo, aparentemente para evitar robos, pero en realidad para llamar la atención. Cuando los guardias se retiraron de la noche a la mañana del cultivo ya maduro, los campesinos curiosos se colaron y desenterraron las papas para sembrarlas en sus propios huertos, tal y como pretendía el astuto Parmentier.

Hace algunos años conté esta historia desde el podio del Congreso Nacional de la Papa en Bolivia. A mi público de expertos andinos en la papa le encantó el relato, lo cual es una de las razones por las que debo retractarme ahora, ya que es nada más que una historia falsa, escrita por el amigo y biógrafo de Parmentier, Julien-Joseph Virey.

Tal vez debería haberlo sabido, pero en la historia de la papa que aprendí en la universidad, los campesinos europeos se resistieron al tubérculo traído por los marineros españoles recién llegados de la conquista de Perú en la década de 1530. Los europeos estaban acostumbrados a comer cereales, y la papa vivía bajo tierra, como el diablo, o al menos así me contaban.

En un libro reciente, la historiadora británica Rebecca Earle aclara la historia de la papa. Señala que los campesinos europeos sí comían cultivos de raíces, como zanahorias y nabos.

Earle también demuestra que los campesinos europeos adoptaron la papa desde el principio, a menudo cultivándola discretamente en el jardín de su casa, ya que una vez que un nuevo cultivo se extendía y se vendía, adquiría un valor de mercado y podía ser gravado y diezmado.

Según las actas judiciales de Cornualles de 1768, un clérigo demandó a un miembro de su congregación, porque ella cultivaba papas sin pagarle el diezmo. Los testigos declararon que la papa ya se había cultivado durante muchas generaciones en Cornualles. La papa también se menciona en el libro de cocina de Marx Rumpolt, publicado en Frankfurt en 1681. Durante la Guerra de los Nueve Años (1688-1697) se cultivaron tantas papas en Flandes que los soldados pudieron sobrevivir robando papas de los campos de los campesinos.

La papa se cultivaba ampliamente en toda Europa (también en Francia) antes de que naciera Parmentier. En aquel entonces, igual que hoy en día, a los pequeños agricultores les gusta experimentar con nuevos cultivos. Los campesinos difundieron la papa por toda Europa mucho antes de que los nobles le prestaran mucha atención. Earle también escribe que en la década de 1570 ya se cultivaban papas comercialmente en las Islas Canarias y se enviaban a Francia y los Países Bajos.

Según el análisis de Earle, después de que el hambre generalizada a mediados del siglo XVII alimentara las revueltas populares, los reyes empezaron a darse cuenta de que una población bien alimentada y sana sería más productiva. Los gobernantes finalmente vieron que les interesaba que el Estado asumiera alguna responsabilidad para garantizar que sus súbditos tuvieran suficientes alimentos para comer.

Las papas producían hasta tres veces más alimentos por hectárea que el centeno y otros cultivos de cereales. Los monarcas, como el rey Luis XIV (mecenas de Parmentier), empezaron a comprender tardíamente las ventajas de la papa y entraron en los libros de historia como promotores del nuevo cultivo. Surgieron otras inexactitudes históricas. Federico el Grande es presentado erróneamente como el introductor de la patata para los alemanes.

El mito de que los campesinos conservadores tenían miedo de cultivar y comer papas, o que la papa fue difundida por toda Europa por emperadores y filósofos, ha resultado ser una pieza omnipresente de la historia falsa. Estos relatos han servido para engrosar la reputación de las élites a costa de los campesinos y los jardineros. Muchos de los verdaderos promotores de la papa fueron mujeres, que cuidaban los huertos caseros, espacios ideales para los experimentos que ayudaron a que la papa se convirtiera en el cuarto cultivo más extendido del mundo, que ahora se produce en casi todos los países del globo. Una prueba más de que los pequeños agricultores siempre han estado dispuestos a probar nuevos cultivos y otras innovaciones.

Lectura adicional

Earle, Rebecca 2020 Feeding the People: The Politics of the Potato. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 306 pp.

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The Navajo rug, creating a tradition November 1st, 2020 by

Anthropologists shy away from the word “traditional,” because even traditions that seem ancient may be creatively evolving. In the southwestern USA, nothing says “traditional” louder than a Navajo rug, woven from handspun wool on a hand-made loom.

The Navajo people arrived in the Southwest from the north, sometime between the 1200s and 1400s AD. They probably learned to weave from long-established peoples like the Hopis, and Zuñis. In the 1600s, Spanish colonists brought sheep to New Mexico. Native people soon began herding them and weaving their wool, warmer and more abundant than some of the previous fibers (like human hair, and strips of rabbit fur).

In 1863 the US Army cajoled and bullied much of Navajo Nation to move to Bosque Redondo or Fort Sumner, in New Mexico. The Navajos packed their horse-drawn wagons and herded their sheep to the fort, about 300 miles (480 km) from the heart of Navajo country. The Navajos were given land, but crops failed due to drought, floods and armyworms in the hot, unfamiliar climate. The Navajos ate almost all of their sheep to survive. But while confined, the Navajos also acquired a taste for certain foreign goods, like wool Pendleton blankets, velveteen shirts, metal axes and cooking pots, not to mention coffee, sugar and flour.

When the Navajos were finally allowed to go home in 1868, the army gave two sheep to each man, woman and child. The Navajos were practiced pastoralists, and within a few years they once again had large herds.

White traders began moving onto the reservation, living in isolated “trading posts,” small general stores that sold cloth, tools and groceries with a long shelf life. They also bought wool and crafts from the Navajos. An autobiographical account by one of these traders, Franc Newcomb, explains how in the 1910s and 20s, one of the main trade goods was a wool blanket, known in the Southwest as a “Navajo rug”. Over the years, the traders who bought these rugs gave the Navajos advice on how to make the rugs more attractive for the tourist market. It was in the traders’ enlightened self-interest if their Navajo customers had more money to spend. The rugs gradually became bigger, more carefully woven, with more interesting patterns. http://www.aritearu.com/pic/HosteenKlah1.jpg

Franc Newcomb, and her husband, Arthur, were befriended by their neighbor, Klah, a renowned medicine man and weaver. Klah allowed Franc to attend his healing ceremonies, an art form as complex as the opera. A ceremony takes three or four years to learn. It lasts for as many as nine days and nights and is accompanied by myths, chants and intricate illustrations of divine figures, made by carefully pouring colored sand between one’s fingers.

Most visual arts are made to last a while. Not the sand painting. The patient enters the one-room log house (called a hogan) and sits on the sand painting, destroying it, while absorbing its healing power. Franc would sit up night after night at the ceremonies, and she loved the sand paintings. Franc thought the sand paintings deserved to be recorded. She had a nearly photographic memory, but she gave Klah colored pencils and paper, and he sketched the sand paintings, to make sure every detail was accurate. Franc, a former school teacher, painted Klah’s drawings onto large sheets of heavy-duty wrapping paper from her store.

Eventually Franc suggested that Klah weave the sand painting designs into rugs. He hesitated to weave such a sacred image, but eventually he built several 12-foot by 12-foot (4-meter) looms, using logs he cut in the mountains. He began weaving large rugs of the Yeibichai (spiritual beings). His mother, sister and two-nieces also joined him.

Klah decided that such special rugs had to be made from a soft, tan wool from the belly of the sheep, and Franc’s husband, Arthur, drove Klah to trading posts all over the reservation to buy the rare wool.

Klah and his family couldn’t keep up with the demand for Yeibichai rugs, and soon other weavers were copying the idea. I inherited a small, almost miniature Yeibichai rug from my grandfather, who probably bought it at a trading post. The winter of 1978-79, I lived at a Navajo trading post in Lukachukai, Arizona, and always thought of the Navajo rug as a traditional artform, although I was aware of some changes. Bright colors from chemical dyes were introduced mid-century, only to be replaced again by softer, plant dyes in the 1960s and 70s, when nature became cool. But there was much more innovation than that, especially the creation of large, tapestry-style weavings, illustrating the sand paintings with their spiritual figures. Like much creative change, the Navajo rug has evolved in response to market demand, and thanks to collaboration between people with vastly different experiences.

When Klah was a boy his horse slipped and fell off a canyon wall, kicking Klah a few times on the way down. As Klah’s great-aunt slowly nursed him back to health, she saw that Klah was a hermaphrodite. Instead of subjecting Klah to ridicule or surgery, the Navajos thought he was special and powerful and they encouraged him to do men’s things, and women’s things. The openminded acceptance of his community helped Klah to become a creative artist, as he blended a male artform (sand paintings) with a female one (weaving). When Klah died in 1937, at age 70, he was one of the most respected people in the Navajo Nation.

Some Navajo terms

Hogan. An eight-sided or round house of logs or occasionally stone. From the Navajo hooghan.

Klah. The old Navajo names were sacred, and only the closest family knew a person’s real name. People were known by nicknames, which could change as they aged. Klah (Tł’a, or “left-handed”) was known by this nickname in middle age and beyond. I assume that his real name died with him.

“Navajo” and “Navaho” are both correct spellings. Academics prefer “Navaho”, but folks from the Southwest write “Navajo”, following the Spanish spelling.  The Navajos call themselves “the people” (diné).

Yeibichai. From yé’ii bicheii, maternal grandfather of giant, dreaded spirit people.

Spellings checked against:

Young, Robert W. and William Morgan 1980 The Navajo Language: A Grammar and Colloquial Dictionary. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. 1,069 pp.

Further reading

Newcomb: Franc Johnson 1964 Hosteen Klah: Navaho Medicine Man and Sand Painter. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.  227 pp.

Photos

The photo of Klah was taken before 1923 by an unknown photographer. Source: http://www.aritearu.com/pic/HosteenKlah1.jpg

The mall Yeibichai rug, made with synthetic red dye, was ollected about 1950 by LeRoy Bentley. Photo by Jeff Bentley

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