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Proinpa: Agricultural research worth waiting for May 21st, 2023 by

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

Agricultural research is notoriously slow. It takes years to bear fruit, and donor-funded agencies don’t always last very long. But Bolivia got lucky with one organization that survived.

It started in 1989, when the Swiss funded a project to do potato research, the Potato Research Program (Proinpa), working closely with a core staff of four scientists from the International Potato Center (CIP). Most of the other staff were young Bolivians, including many thesis students.

Ten years later, in 1998, it was time to fold up the project, but some visionary people from Proinpa, with enthusiastic support of Swiss and CIP colleagues, decided to give Proinpa a new life as a permanent agency or foundation.

By then ‚ÄúProinpa‚ÄĚ had some name-brand recognition, so they wisely kept the acronym, but changed the full name to ‚ÄúPromotion and Research of Andean Products.‚ÄĚ Proinpa‚Äôs leaders were not going to limit themselves to potatoes any more. The Swiss provided an endowment to pay for core costs, but it was not enough to run the whole organization.

Proinpa went through some rough times. When they stopped being a project, they had to give up their spacious offices in the city of Cochabamba. For a while they rented an aging building far from the city that had been used as a government rabies control center. Later, they could only afford one floor of that building. I remember being there on moving day, years ago, when they were all cramming into the smaller space, happily carrying boxes of files to squeeze together into shared offices. They were surviving.

Survival was important. Public-sector agricultural research in Bolivia was going through some rough times. The Bolivian Institute of Agricultural and Livestock Research (IBTA) closed in 1997 and its replacement died a few years later. Government agricultural research only started again In 2008, when the National Institute of Agricultural and Livestock and Forestry Innovation (INIAF) was created. During those years, Proinpa was an outstanding center for agricultural research in Bolivia, and curated priceless collections of potatoes and quinoas.

That potato seedbank was kept at Toralapa, in the countryside some 70 km from the city of Cochabamba. Over the years, Proinpa had expanded the collection from 1000 accessions to 4000. This biodiversity is the source of genetic material that plant breeders need to create new varieties. In 2010, the government, which owned the station at Toralapa, turned it over to INIAF. Proinpa worked with INIAF for a year, to ensure a stable transition, and the government of Bolivia still maintains that collection of potatoes and other Andean crops.

Proinpa recently asked me to join them for their 25th anniversary event, held at their small campus, built after 2005. The celebration started with tours of stands, where Proinpa highlighted their most important research.

Dr. Ximena Cadima, member of the Bolivian Academy of Science, explained how Proinpa has used its knowledge of local crops to breed 69 officially released new varieties, of the potato, quinoa and seven other crops. They also encouraging farmers to grow native potatoes on their farms, which is also crucial for keeping these unique crops alive.

Luis Crespo, entomologist, and Giovanna Plata, plant pathologist, explained their research to develop ecological alternatives to pest control. Luis talked about his work with insect sex pheromones. One of the many things he does is to dissect female moths and remove their scent glands, which he sends to a company in the Netherlands that isolates the sex pheromone from the glands. The company synthesizes the pheromone, makes more of it, and Proinpa uses it to bait traps. Male moths smell the pheromone, think it is a receptive female and fly to it. The frustrated males die in the trap. The females can’t lay eggs without mating, eliminating the next generation of pests before they are born.

Giovana showed us how they study the microbes that kill pathogens. She places different fungi and bacteria in petri dishes to see which microorganisms can physically displace the germs that cause crop diseases. She also isolates plant growth hormones, produced by the good microbes.

This background work on the ecology of microbes has informed Proinpa’s efforts to create a new industry of benign pest control. Jimmy Ciancas, an engineer, led us around Proinpa’s new plant, where they produce tons of beneficial bacteria and fungi to replace the chemicals that farmers use to control pests and diseases.

Proinpa also shows off the research by Dr. Alejandro Bonifacio and colleagues who are developing windbreaks of native plants and sowing wild lupines as a cover crop. This research aims to save the high Andes from the devastating erosion unleashed when the Quinoa Boom of 2010-2014 stripped away native vegetation. The soil simply blew away.

Later, we moved to Proinpa’s comfortable lunch room, which is shaded, but open to the air on three sides, perfect for Cochabamba’s climate. The place had been set up as a formal auditorium, where, for over an hour, Proinpa gave plaques to honor some of the many organizations that had helped them over the years: universities, INIAF, small-town mayors in the municipalities where Proinpa does field work. Many organizations reciprocated, giving Proinpa an award right back. Proinpa has survived because of good leadership, and because of its many friends.

In between the speeches, I got a chance to meet the man sitting next to me, Lionel Ichazo, who supervises three large, commercial farms for a food processing company in the lowlands of Eastern Bolivia. They grow soya in the summer and wheat and sorghum in the winter. Lionel confirmed what Proinpa says, that the use of natural pesticides is exploding on the low plains. Lionel uses Proinpa’s natural pesticides as a seed dressing to control disease. Lionel, who is also an agronomist and a graduate of El Zamorano, one of Latin America’s top agricultural universities (in Honduras), said that he noticed how the soil has been improving over the four years that he has used the microbes. The microorganisms were break down the crop stubble into carbon that the plants can use. Lionel added that most of the large-scale farmers are still treating their seeds with agrochemicals. But they are starting to see that the biological products work, at affordable prices, and are often even cheaper than the chemicals. Of course, the biologicals are safer to handle, and environmentally friendly. And that is key to their success. Demand is skyrocketing.

It has taken many years of research to produce environmentally-sound, biological pesticides that can convince large-scale commercial farmers to start to transition away from agrochemicals. I thought back to a time about 15 years earlier, when I saw Proinpa doing trials with farmers near Cochabamba. That was an early stage of these scientifically-sound natural products. Agricultural research is slow by nature, but like a fruit tree that takes years to mature, the wait is worth the while.

Related Agro-Insight blogs

Don’t eat the peels

Commercializing organic inputs

The best knowledge is local and scientific

Recovering from the quinoa boom

Related videos

Making enriched biofertilizer

Living windbreaks to protect the soil

The wasp that protects our crops

Managing the potato tuber moth

Acknowledgements

Paul Van Mele, Graham Thiele, Rolando Oros, Jorge Blajos and Lionel Ichazo read and commented on an earlier version of this blog.

PROINPA: INVESTIGACI√ďN AGR√ćCOLA QUE VALE LA PENA ESPERAR

Jeff Bentley, 21 de mayo del 2023

La investigaci√≥n agr√≠cola es notoriamente lenta. Tarda a√Īos en dar frutos, y los programas financiados por donantes suelen durar poco tiempo. Pero Bolivia tuvo suerte con una organizaci√≥n que sobrevivi√≥.

Empezó en 1989, cuando los suizos financiaron un proyecto nuevo, el Proyecto de Investigación de la Papa (Proinpa), en colaboración con cuatro científicos del Centro Internacional de la Papa (CIP). Casi todo el resto del personal eran jóvenes bolivianos, entre ellos muchos tesistas.

Diez a√Īos despu√©s, en 1998, lleg√≥ el momento de cerrar el proyecto, pero algunas personas visionarias de Proinpa, con el apoyo entusiasta de colegas suizos y del CIP, decidieron dar a Proinpa una nueva vida como agencia o fundaci√≥n permanente.

Para entonces “Proinpa” ya ten√≠a cierto reconocimiento como marca, as√≠ que sabiamente mantuvieron el acr√≥nimo, pero cambiaron el nombre completo a “Promoci√≥n e Investigaci√≥n de Productos Andinos”. Los dirigentes de Proinpa ya no iban a limitarse a las papas. Los suizos aportaron una dotaci√≥n para cubrir los gastos b√°sicos, pero no era suficiente para hacer funcionar toda la organizaci√≥n.

Proinpa pas√≥ por momentos dif√≠ciles. Cuando dejaron de ser un proyecto, tuvieron que abandonar sus amplias oficinas de la ciudad de Cochabamba. Durante un tiempo alquilaron un viejo edificio alejado de la ciudad que hab√≠a sido un centro gubernamental de control de la rabia. M√°s tarde, s√≥lo pudieron pagar una planta de ese edificio. Recuerdo estar all√≠ el d√≠a de la mudanza, hace a√Īos, cuando todos se dieron modos para entrar en el espacio m√°s peque√Īo, cargando alegremente cajas de archivos para apretarse en oficinas compartidas. Estaban sobreviviendo.

Sobrevivir era importante. La investigaci√≥n agraria p√ļblica en Bolivia atravesaba tiempos dif√≠ciles. El Instituto Boliviano de Investigaci√≥n Agropecuaria (IBTA) cerr√≥ en 1997 y su sustituto muri√≥ pocos a√Īos despu√©s. La investigaci√≥n agropecuaria estatal no se reanud√≥ hasta 2008, cuando se cre√≥ el Instituto Nacional de Innovaci√≥n Agropecuaria y Forestal (INIAF). Durante esos a√Īos, Proinpa fue un destacado centro de investigaci√≥n agr√≠cola en Bolivia, y conserv√≥ invaluables colecciones de papa y quinua.

Ese banco de semillas de papa se manten√≠a en Toralapa, en el campo, a unos 70 km de la ciudad de Cochabamba. Con los a√Īos, Proinpa hab√≠a ampliado la colecci√≥n de 1000 accesiones a 4000. Esta biodiversidad es la fuente de material gen√©tico que necesitan los fitomejoradores para crear nuevas variedades. En 2010, el Gobierno, que era propietario de la estaci√≥n de Toralapa, la cedi√≥ al INIAF. Proinpa trabaj√≥ con el INIAF durante un a√Īo para garantizar una transici√≥n estable, y el Gobierno de Bolivia sigue manteniendo esa colecci√≥n de papas y otros cultivos andinos.

Hace poco, Proinpa me pidi√≥ que me uniera a ellos en el acto de su 25 aniversario, celebrado en su peque√Īo campus, construido despu√©s de 2005. La celebraci√≥n comenz√≥ con visitas a los stands, donde Proinpa destac√≥ sus investigaciones m√°s importantes.

La Dra. Ximena Cadima, miembro de la Academia Boliviana de Ciencias, explic√≥ c√≥mo Proinpa ha usado su conocimiento de los cultivos locales para obtener 69 nuevas variedades oficialmente liberadas de papa, quinua y siete cultivos m√°s. Tambi√©n animan a los agricultores a cultivar papas nativas en sus chacras, lo que tambi√©n es crucial para mantener vivos estos cultivos √ļnicos.

Luis Crespo, entomólogo, y Giovanna Plata, fitopatóloga, explicaron sus investigaciones para desarrollar alternativas ecológicas al control de plagas. Luis habló de su trabajo con las feromonas sexuales de los insectos. Una de las muchas cosas que hace es disecar polillas hembras y extraerles las glándulas de olor, que envía a una empresa en Holanda que aísla la feromona sexual de las glándulas. La empresa sintetiza la feromona, fabrica más y Proinpa la usa para cebo de trampas. Las polillas machos huelen la feromona, piensan que se trata de una hembra receptiva y vuelan hacia ella. Los machos frustrados mueren en la trampa. Las hembras no pueden poner huevos sin aparearse, lo que elimina la siguiente generación de plagas antes de que nazcan.

Giovana nos mostró cómo estudian los microbios que matan a los patógenos. Coloca diferentes hongos y bacterias en placas Petri para ver qué microorganismos pueden desplazar físicamente a los gérmenes que causan enfermedades en los cultivos. También aísla hormonas de crecimiento de plantas, producidas por los microbios buenos.

Este trabajo sobre la ecología de los microbios ha permitido a Proinpa crear una nueva industria de control natural de plagas. Jimmy Ciancas, ingeniero, nos guio por la nueva planta de Proinpa, donde producen toneladas de bacterias y hongos benéficos para sustituir a los químicos que los agricultores fumigan para controlar plagas y enfermedades.

Proinpa también nos mostró las investigaciones del Dr. Alejandro Bonifacio y sus colegas, que están desarrollando rompevientos con plantas nativas y sembrando tarwi silvestre como cultivo de cobertura. Esta investigación tiene como objetivo salvar a los altos Andes de la devastadora erosión desatada cuando el boom de la quinua de (2010-2014) arrasó con la vegetación nativa. El suelo simplemente se voló.

M√°s tarde, nos trasladamos al confortable comedor de Proinpa, sombreado pero abierto al aire por tres lados, perfecto para el clima de Cochabamba. El lugar hab√≠a sido acondicionado como un auditorio formal, donde, durante m√°s de una hora, Proinpa entreg√≥ placas en honor a algunas de las muchas organizaciones que les hab√≠an ayudado a lo largo de los a√Īos: universidades, INIAF, alcaldes de municipios donde Proinpa hace trabajo de campo. Muchas organizaciones reciprocaron, entregando a Proinpa premios que ellos trajeron. Proinpa ha sobrevivido gracias a un buen liderazgo y a sus muchos amigos.

Entre los discursos, tuve la oportunidad de conocer al hombre sentado a mi lado, Lionel Ichazo, que supervisa tres fincas comerciales para una empresa molinera en las tierras bajas del este de Bolivia. Cultivan soya en verano y trigo y sorgo en invierno. Lionel confirm√≥ lo que Proinpa dice, que el uso de plaguicidas naturales se est√° disparando en las llanuras bajas. Lionel usa los plaguicidas naturales de Proinpa como tratamiento de semillas para controlar las enfermedades. Lionel, que tambi√©n es ingeniero agr√≥nomo y graduado de El Zamorano, una de las mejores universidades agr√≠colas de Am√©rica Latina (en Honduras), dijo que not√≥ c√≥mo el suelo ha ido mejorando durante los cuatro a√Īos que ha usado los microbios. Los microorganismos descompon√≠an los rastrojos en carbono que las plantas pod√≠an usar. Lionel a√Īadi√≥ que la mayor√≠a de los agricultores a gran escala siguen usando agroqu√≠micos en el tratamiento de semillas. Sin embargo, se est√° viendo que los productos biol√≥gicos funcionan, con precios accesibles y hasta m√°s baratos que los qu√≠micos. Por supuesto son m√°s sanos para el manipuleo y amigables con el medio ambiente. Y eso es la clave del √©xito de los productos. La demanda se est√° disparando.

Ha tomado muchos a√Īos de investigaci√≥n para producir plaguicidas biol√≥gicos que cuidan el medio ambiente y que puedan convencer a los agricultores comerciales para que empiecen a abandonar los productos agroqu√≠micos. Me acord√© de una √©poca, unos 15 a√Īos antes, cuando vi a Proinpa haciendo ensayos con agricultores cerca de Cochabamba. Aquella fue una etapa temprana de estos productos naturales con base cient√≠fica. La investigaci√≥n agr√≠cola es lenta por naturaleza, pero como un √°rbol frutal que tarda a√Īos en madurar, la espera vale la pena.

Previamente en el blog de Agro-Insight

No te comas las c√°scaras

Commercializing organic inputs

El mejor conocimiento es local y científico

Recuper√°ndose del boom de la quinua

Videos relacionados

Cómo hacer un abono biofoliar

Barreras vivas para proteger el suelo

La avispa que protege nuestros cultivos

Manejando la polilla de la papa

Agradecimientos

Paul Van Mele, Graham Thiele, Rolando Oros, Jorge Blajos y Lionel Ichazo leyeron e hicieron comentarios valiosos sobre una versión previa de este blog.

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No more pink seed January 8th, 2023 by

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

Vegetable seed from the shop is usually covered in a pink or orange dust, a fungicide. Since I was a kid, I have associated the color pink with seed.

Farmers and gardeners in tropical countries often buy imported, pink seed. So when Bolivian seed companies appeared, I was glad to be able to buy envelopes of local garden seed. It was better than importing seed from the USA or Europe.  I barely noticed that the Bolivian seed was pink. Then on a visit to some agroecological farmers, they told me that they were buying the pink seed, but then rearing it out, to produce their own, natural seed.

Recently I have begun to notice artisanal seed growers, offering untreated vegetable seed at some of the fairs around Cochabamba, Bolivia. I was tempted to buy some, but I still had seed at home.

A few days ago I opened some of my seed envelopes, which I bought several months ago. The package says they are viable for two years. I was pleased to see that the envelopes were full of natural seed, untainted by fungicides. I planted cucumbers, lettuce and arugula, and the natural seed has all sprouted nicely.

I was so pleased that I decided to call the seed manufacturers and congratulate them. Some positive feedback might encourage them to keep selling natural, uncoated seed.

I picked up a seed packet to look for the company‚Äôs phone number, when I noticed that it said ‚ÄúWarning!‚ÄĚ in big red letters, and in fine print: ‚ÄúProduct treated with Thiram, not to be used as feed for poultry or other animals.‚ÄĚ

Thiram is a fungicide. I wondered if the seed had been treated with fungicide, but not dyed, or if the company was avoiding pesticides, but was still using up its supply of old envelopes.

I called the company, and a friendly voice answered the phone. I introduced myself as a customer, and said that I liked the pesticide-free seed. Then I asked if this lot of seed had fungicide or not.

The seed man said that no, the seed had not been treated with fungicide, but that it should have been. That is a requirement of the government agencies Senasag (National Service for Agricultural and Livestock Health and Food Safety) and INIAF (National Institute of Agricultural, Livestock and Forestry Innovation).

I asked why this seed was untreated.

‚ÄúThe girl must have forgotten to put it on,‚ÄĚ the seed man said. This may strike readers in northern countries as casual sloppiness. But sometimes regulations are lightly enforced in Bolivia. My cucumber seeds were packed in May, 2021, during the height of the Covid lockdown. I was impressed that they were able to keep producing seeds at all.

The seed man didn’t seem to mind that the seed was untreated, and he repeated that he applied the pink stuff because it was required by law. He didn’t seem convinced that it was necessary. He seemed sympathetic to people who preferred natural seed. He added that he did sell untreated seed to customers who wanted it. He had some customers who ate sprouted lettuce seed for their gastritis, and he made them special batches of untreated seed.

Before we got off the call, the seed man offered to make me a batch of untreated seed in the future. I just had to order it.

I think I will.

It is important that seed consumers look for untreated seed. But governments also need to do more to help make it available.

Previous Agro-Insight blogs

An exit strategy

Homegrown seed can be good

Some videos on seed

Farmers’ rights to seed: experiences from Guatemala

Farmers’ rights to seed: experiences from Malawi

Succeed with seeds

Managing seed potato

Organic coating of cereal seed

Making a good okra seeding

Better seed for green gram

Making a chilli seedbed

Maintaining varietal purity of sesame

Harvesting and storing soya bean seed

Storing cowpea seed

ADIOS A LA SEMILLA ROSADA

Jeff Bentley, 8 de enero del 2023

Las semillas de hortalizas de la tienda suelen estar cubiertas de un polvillo rosado o color naranja, un fungicida. Desde que era ni√Īo, he asociado el color rosado con las semillas.

Los agricultores y jardineros de los países tropicales suelen comprar semillas rosadas importadas. Por eso, cuando aparecieron las empresas bolivianas de semillas, me alegré de poder comprar sobres de semillas locales para el huerto. Era mejor que importar semillas de los Estados Unidos o Europa.  Apenas me di cuenta de que las semillas bolivianas eran rosadas. Luego, en una visita a unos agricultores agroecológicos, me contaron que compraban la semilla rosada, pero que luego la criaban para producir su propia semilla natural.

Recientemente he empezado a fijarme en los cultivadores artesanales de semillas, que ofrecen semillas de hortalizas sin qu√≠micos en algunas de las ferias de los alrededores de Cochabamba, Bolivia. Ten√≠a ganas de comprar algunas, pero a√ļn ten√≠a semillas en casa.

Hace unos d√≠as abr√≠ algunos de mis sobres de semillas, que compr√© hace varios meses. Seg√ļn el paquete, son viables durante dos a√Īos. Me alegr√≥ ver que los sobres estaban llenos de semillas naturales, no contaminadas por fungicidas. Sembr√© pepinos, lechugas y r√ļcula, y todas las semillas naturales han brotado muy bien.

Estaba tan contenta que decidí llamar a los fabricantes de semillas y felicitarles. Una respuesta positiva podría animarles a seguir vendiendo semillas naturales sin recubrimiento.

Cog√≠ un paquete de semillas para buscar el n√ļmero de tel√©fono de la empresa, cuando me di cuenta de que dec√≠a “¬°Precauci√≥n!” en grandes letras rojas, y en letra peque√Īa: “Producto tratado con Thiram, no utilizar como alimento para aves u otro animal”.

Thiram es un fungicida. Me pregunt√© si la semilla hab√≠a sido tratada con fungicida, pero no te√Īida, o si la empresa estaba evitando los plaguicidas, pero segu√≠a usando sus sobres viejos.

Llamé a la empresa y una voz amable contestó al teléfono. Me presenté como cliente y dije que me gustaban las semillas sin plaguicidas. Luego pregunté si este lote de semillas tenía fungicida o no.

El encargado me dijo que no, que la semilla no había sido tratada con fungicida, pero que debería haberlo sido. Es una exigencia de las agencias gubernamentales SENASAG (Servicio Nacional de Sanidad Agropecuaria e Inocuidad Alimentaria) e INIAF (Instituto Nacional de Innovación Agropecuaria y Forestal).

Pregunté por qué esta semilla no estaba tratada.

“Se habr√° olvidado la muchacha”, me dijo el semilleristya. A los lectores de los pa√≠ses del norte les puede parecer un descuido. Pero, a veces, en Bolivia los reglamentos se aplican con cierta flexibilidad. Mis semillas de pepino se empaquetaron en mayo de 2021, en plena cuarentena de Covid. Me impresion√≥ que pudieran seguir produciendo semillas.

Al semillero no pareci√≥ importarle que las semillas no estuvieran tratadas, y repiti√≥ que aplic√≥ el producto rosado porque se lo exig√≠a la ley. No parec√≠a convencido de que fuera necesario. Se solidarizaba con los que prefieren las semillas naturales. A√Īadi√≥ que vende semillas sin tratar a los clientes que la desean. Ten√≠a algunos clientes que com√≠an semillas pregerminadas de lechuga para la gastritis y les preparaba lotes especiales de semillas sin tratar.

Antes de terminar la llamada, el semillero se ofreció a hacerme un lote de semillas sin tratar en el futuro. Sólo tenía que pedirlo.

Creo que lo haré.

Es importante que los consumidores busquen semillas no tratadas. Pero los gobiernos también tienen que hacer más para ayudar a que estén disponibles.

Previamente en el blog de Agro-Insight

Una estrategia de salida

Homegrown seed can be good

Algunos videos sobre la semilla

Derechos de los agricultores a la semilla: Guatemala

Derechos de los agricultores a la semilla: Malawi

Succeed with seeds

Cuidando la semilla de papa

Organic coating of cereal seed

Buena semilla de ocra

Better seed for green gram

Making a chilli seedbed

Maintaining varietal purity of sesame

Harvesting and storing soya bean seed

Storing cowpea seed

Recovering from the quinoa boom October 30th, 2022 by

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading

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

Previous Agro-Insight blogs

Awakening the seeds

Wind erosion and the great quinoa disaster

Slow recovery

Related videos

Living windbreaks to protect the soil

The wasp that protects our crops

Acknowledgements

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

RECUPER√ĀNDOSE DEL BOOM DE LA QUINUA

Por Jeff Bentley, 30 de octubre del 2022

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

Es dif√≠cil vivir en el Altiplano sur de Bolivia. Aunque est√° en latitudes tropicales, est√° tan alto, a m√°s de 3.800 metros, que a menudo se congela. Su bosque cl√≠max, el t’ular, s√≥lo tiene un metro de altura, formado por arbustos, hierbas y cactus nativos.

Durante siglos, en el Altiplano sur, los agricultores cultivaron quinua (una planta de ciclo anual y tallo herb√°ceo) con semillas comestibles, al abrigo de las peque√Īas colinas. Ning√ļn otro cultivo crec√≠a en esta zona alta. En las llanuras m√°s expuestas del Altiplano, la gente arreaba llamas. Los campesinos llevaban la quinua cargados por las llamas, a otras partes de Bolivia para intercambiarla por ma√≠z, frutas, chu√Īo, lana, sal, y charqui.

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

Tras el breve auge de la quinua, en algunas zonas solo el 30% de las tierras desmontadas en el t’ular segu√≠an siendo cultivadas. El resto simplemente se hab√≠a convertido en grandes manchas de arena blanca. Las plantas nativas no volvieron a crecer, probablemente por la sequ√≠a y el viento atribuible al cambio clim√°tico).

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

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

Se ha perdido tanta vegetaci√≥n nativa que no se puede reforestarla toda, as√≠ que los investigadores trabajaron con los agricultores de las comunidades locales para experimentar con barreras vivas. Se trataba de dos o tres l√≠neas de t’ula trasplantadas desde los viveros para crear barreras vivas de tres metros de ancho. Las barreras vivas pod√≠an plantarse como bordes alrededor de las parcelas, o como franjas dentro de los campos grandes, con una separaci√≥n de 30 a 45 metros. Esto ayud√≥ a frenar la erosi√≥n del suelo causada por el viento, para que los agricultores pudieran cultivar quinua (que a√ļn se siembra, pero en menor cantidad, para comer en casa y para el mercado nacional, tras el fin del boom de las exportaciones). El cultivo de arbustos nativos como barreras vivas tambi√©n incentiv√≥ a los agricultores a cuidar estas plantas nativas.

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

El siguiente paso en la creaci√≥n de una nueva agricultura regenerativa era introducir un cultivo de rotaci√≥n en el sistema de la quinua. Pero en el Altiplano sur no se ha cultivado ning√ļn otro cultivo, aparte de la quinua (y un pariente semi-silvestre, la qa√Īawa). En este clima, era imposible incluso cultivar papas y otras ra√≠ces y tub√©rculos nativos.

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

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

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

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

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

Lectura adicional

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

Previamente en el blog de Agro-Insight

Despertando las semillas

Destruyendo el altiplano sur con quinua

Recuperación lenta

Videos sobre el tema

Barreras vivas para proteger el suelo

La avispa que protege nuestros cultivos

Agradecimiento

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

The chaquitaclla June 26th, 2022 by

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

When the Spanish conquered Peru, they found native people working the soil with a tool built around a long pole, called the chaquitaclla. Usually rendered into English as the ‚ÄúAndean foot plow,‚ÄĚ the chaquitaclla doesn‚Äôt quite plow a furrow, but in the hands (and feet) of a skilled operator it¬† does neatly loosen one large block of sod at a time, which is then turned over by a helper.

We met one such person recently in the mountains of Hu√°nuco, in the community of Tres de Mayo, Huayllacay√°n. Francisco Poma, a local farmer, took time off one day to demonstrate the foot plow for a group of school children.

The potato harvest was just ending, but one farmer, Eustaquio Hilario Ponciano and his family had graciously waited to harvest one small field of native potatoes, so that Paul, Marcella and I could film it.

Although it was not planting season, don Francisco and don Eustaquio next demonstrated how to plant with a chaquitaclla using a minimum tillage system called ‚Äúchiwi‚ÄĚ in which potatoes are planted without completely disturbing the soil. Don Francisco put the blade of the tool on the soil, stepped on the jaruna (foot pedal) while holding onto the uysha (the handle), and the metal blade sunk into the earth. Don Francisco turned over the chunk of soil, while don Eustaquio nestled a seed potato into the hole and then covered it up with the sod, grassy side down, patting it into place with the palms of his hands.

Modern Peru has tractors and the whole array of contemporary farm implements, but the ancient foot plow survives because it fits a purpose. It can work steep slopes, small fields, and it can reach right up to the edge of the field, taking advantage of precious land that a tractor misses.

Like any other technology, the chaquitaclla survives because it fills a function, and no better tool has yet been invented to replace it. It gently works steep, fragile soils, while keeping large chunks of earth intact.

Like other technologies, even old ones, the chaquitaclla also continues to evolve. The blade of pre-Hispanic ones were made of stone. Don Francisco explains that this one is made by a local blacksmith from a steel strip recycled from a truck‚Äôs shock absorber. The main pole of the chaquitaclla is now often made of eucalyptus, a strong, straight and light wood that was unknown to pre-Columbian Peruvians. The hand and foot holds were once tied to the main pole with llama rawhide. Sometimes they still are, but don Francisco shows me several chaquitacllas, including one tied together with nylon twine. He explained ‚Äúwhen we leave the chaquitaclla in the field, sometimes the dogs eat the rawhide. They don‚Äôt eat this one made from synthetic twine.‚ÄĚ

Ancient tools are kept not out of nostalgia, but because they fill a niche, and because local people adapt them, incorporating new materials into old devices.

Previous Agro-Insight blogs

The school garden

The enemies of innovation

Acknowledgements

The visit to Peru to film various farmer-to-farmer training videos with farmers like don Feliciano was made possible with the kind support of the Collaborative Crop Research Program (CCRP) of the McKnight Foundation. Thanks to Dante Flores of the Instituto de Desarrollo y Medio Ambiente (IDMA) and to Aldo Cruz of the Centro de Investigaciones de Zonas √Āridas (CIZA) for introducing us to the community and for sharing their knowledge with us. Dante Flores and Paul Van Mele read a previous version of this blog and made valuable comments.

LA CHAQUITACLLA

Jeff Bentley, 26 de junio del 2022

Cuando los espa√Īoles conquistaron al Per√ļ, encontraron a la gente trabajando la tierra con una herramienta de madera larga llamada ‚Äúchaquitaclla‚ÄĚ, que suele traducirse al espa√Īol como “arado de pie,” no llega a arar un surco, pero en manos (y pies) de un operador habiloso, afloja limpiamente un gran bloque de tierra ¬†que luego es volteado a mano por un ayudante

Hace poco conocimos a un experto en la chaquitaclla en la sierra de Huánuco, en la comunidad de Tres de Mayo, Huayllacayán. Francisco Poma, un agricultor del lugar, se tomó un día para demostrar el arado de pie a un grupo de estudiantes de primaria.

La cosecha de papas se estaba acabando, pero un agricultor, Eustaquio Hilario Ponciano, y su familia amablemente hab√≠an esperado a cosechar una peque√Īa chacra de papas nativas para que Paul, Marcella y yo pudi√©ramos filmarles.

Aunque no era √©poca de siembra, don Francisco y don Eustaquio demostraron a continuaci√≥n c√≥mo se siembra con una chaquitaclla en el sistema de siembra llamada ‚Äúchiwi‚ÄĚ una especie de labranza m√≠nima que no remueve todo el terreno). Don Francisco puso la hoja de la herramienta sobre la tierra, pis√≥ la jaruna (pedal) mientras se sujetaba a la uysha (la agarradera), y la punta met√°lica se hundi√≥ en la tierra. Don Francisco volc√≥ el terr√≥n, mientras que don Eustaquio meti√≥ una papa semilla en el hoyo y luego la cubri√≥ con el pedazo de tierra, d√°ndole golpecitos con las palmas de las manos.

El Per√ļ moderno tiene tractores y todos los implementos agr√≠colas contempor√°neos, pero el antiguo arado de pie sobrevive porque tiene un prop√≥sito. Puede trabajar en laderas empinadas, en campos peque√Īos y puede preparar hasta el borde de la chacra, aprovechando el espacio mejor que un tractor.

Como cualquier otra tecnología, la chaquitaclla sobrevive porque cumple una función, y todavía no se ha inventado ninguna herramienta mejor para sustituirla. Trabaja suavemente los suelos inclinados y frágiles, manteniendo intactos grandes trozos de tierra.

Como otras tecnolog√≠as, incluso las m√°s antiguas, la chaquitaclla tambi√©n sigue evolucionando. En tiempos prehisp√°nicos, la punta era de piedra. Don Francisco explica que la suya la ha fabricado un herrero local con acero reciclado de un muelle de cami√≥n. Hoy en d√≠a el palo principal de la chaquitaclla se hace de eucalipto, una madera fuerte, recta y ligera que era desconocida para los peruanos precolombinos. La jaruna y la uysha se ataban al palo con cuero crudo de llama. A veces todav√≠a lo est√°n, pero don Francisco me muestra varias chaquitacllas, incluida una atada con hilo de nylon. Me explica que “cuando dejamos la chaquitaclla en el campo, a veces los perros se comen el cuero. No se comen esta, hecha con cuerda sint√©tica”.

Las herramientas antiguas se conservan no por nostalgia, sino porque funcionan, y porque la gente local las adapta, incorporando nuevos materiales a los dispositivos antiguos.

Previamente en el blog de Agro-Insight

The school garden

The enemies of innovation

Agradecimiento

Nuestra visita al Per√ļ para filmar varios videos agricultor-a-agricultor con agricultores como don Feliciano fue posible gracias al generoso apoyo del Programa Colaborativo de Investigaci√≥n de Cultivos (CCRP) de la Fundaci√≥n McKnight. Gracias a Dante Flores del Instituto de Desarrollo y Medio Ambiente (IDMA) y a Aldo Cruz del Centro de Investigaciones de Zonas √Āridas (CIZA) por presentarnos a la comunidad y por compartir su conocimiento con nosotros. Dante Flores y Paul Van Mele leyeron una versi√≥n previa de este relato, e hizo comentarios valiosos.

Sowing experiments April 24th, 2022 by

For nearly a century, from 1839 to 1924, the US government distributed free seeds to any citizen who wanted them. As told in First the Seed, by Jack Kloppenburg, seeds of field crops, vegetables and even flowers were sourced from around the world (often by the US Navy). The seed was multiplied in the USA, and mailed through the post by members of Congress to their constituents. The program was wildly popular and by 1861, the first year of the American Civil War, almost two and a half million seed packages (each with five packets of seed) were being shipped each year to farmers and gardeners.

As Kloppenburg explains, given the botanical knowledge of the time, and the limited ability of formal agricultural research in the United States, the free seed for farmers ‚Äúwas the most efficient means of developing adapted and improved crop varieties.‚ÄĚ

I recently saw a little window into this seed program. On 7 April 2022, The Times-Independent (a newspaper in Moab, Utah), published a replica of their page one from exactly 100 years earlier. One short story, ‚ÄúSeeds Go Quickly‚ÄĚ showed just how much people loved free seed. The little story reads:


SEEDS GO QUICKLY

In last Thursday’s issue, The Times-Independent announced that a quantity of government seeds had been received by this office for distribution to the people of Moab, and inviting those who wanted some of the seeds to call for them. Within a few minutes after the paper was delivered to the post office, local people commenced to call for the seeds, and there was a continuous demand until the supply was entirely exhausted.


I hadn‚Äôt realized that newspapers also helped to distribute the seed. In 1922, Moab‚Äôs local newspaper did not bother telling its readers what the ‚Äúgovernment seed‚ÄĚ was. They knew it well, even though today the program is forgotten. Kloppenburg says that the government seed was not only free, but of high quality, better than what private companies were then able to supply. This partly explains the rush of townspeople clamoring seed at The Times-Independent office, but farmers‚Äô love of innovation was also a reason for the excitement. The farmers and gardeners who swung open the glass door of the newspaper office didn‚Äôt know what kind of seed was in the little packages. There was some mystery there: each package contained several packets of different seed. Each packet was just a handful of seed, enough to try out, but not enough to plant a field.

The free seed sparked thousands of farmer experiments over decades, which formed the basis of modern, North American agriculture.

The development of the adapted base of germplasm on which American agriculture was raised is the product of thousands of experiments by thousands of farmers committing millions of hours of labor in thousands of diverse ecological niches over a period of many decades.

Jack Kloppenburg, First the Seed, page 56

In the early 1800s seed companies were small, but they were growing. By 1883 these companies organized as the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA) and immediately began to lobby against government seed. Free seed was so popular that it took ASTA forty years, until 1924, to finally convince Congress to kill the program, at the height of its popularity.

Since 1922, companies have largely wrested control of seed from farmers, who once produced and exchanged all of the seed of field crops. It’s worth remembering that small gifts of seed sparked farmer experiments that shaped American agriculture.

Further reading

Kloppenburg, Jack Ralph, Jr. 1990 First the Seed: The Political Economy of Plant Biotechnology, 1492-2000. Cambridge University Press.

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