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Better food for better farming September 5th, 2021 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

Farming and eating go together like writing and reading, like telling a joke and getting a laugh, which Agrecol Andes knows well. During its twenty years of teaching agroecology, this Bolivian non-profit organization realized that farmers would grow more organic food if more people would buy it, and eat it.

In a survey of shoppers in Cochabamba, almost half (46%) told Agrecol Andes that they wanted to eat organic food, but only 15% knew where to buy it.

So, Agrecol Andes recently kicked off a campaign called “Eat Well, Eat Natural, Eat without Chemicals”. Agrecol held the event in the grand, historic hall of the departmental government of Cochabamba, in coordination with local officials.

Agrecol’s Roxana Castellón explained that most people in Cochabamba don’t fully appreciate how much their food has been contaminated. They don’t understand that all of the bread in Cochabamba has bromates (a carcinogen), or that their tomatoes have been doused with insecticides many times. She said that most of the people who seek out ecological products do so after a health crisis, especially after being diagnosed with cancer or some other serious disease.

In many northern countries, organic food is more easily available, and many people are willing to pay a little extra for it. In Bolivia, as in much of the Global South, organic certification is rare and agroecological farmers receive the same price as everyone else. To compensate for the lack of official certification, the farmers tied to Agrecol Andes use a participatory guarantee system (PGS). To remedy the lack of organic food markets, Agrecol also delivers food from some of their farmers to certain subscribers who are signed up on WhatsApp.

This current campaign on tasty, healthy eating will use the press and social media to encourage shoppers to buy at the markets that sell agroecological food.

Agrecol ended the event not with a bang, but with a sandwich. Many events include a snack, where the servers stand invisible behind rows of sticky treats. But at this meeting, Roxana did something I’ve never seen before: she invited the cook to the microphone. Wearing a bright green beret, Erika from the Movement for Mindful Food (Movimiento de Comida Consciente) said that she made her hamburgers from lupine beans from Lake Titicaca, and the sauce was miso from organic soy beans. The snack had become more than a pleasantry; it was an object lesson in eating good, healthy, local food.

Consumers can choose to eat better, just as farmers can choose to farm ecologically. But to do that, they have to find each other, and connect.

Related Agro-Insight blogs

An exit strategy

Choosing to farm

Related link

Agrecol Andes’s campaign “Eat Well, Eat Natural, Eat without Chemicals.”


Por Jeff Bentley, 5 de septiembre del 2021

La agricultura y la alimentación van mano en mano, tal como el escribir y leer, o como un chiste y la risa. La Fundación Agrecol Andes, una organización boliviana sin fines de lucro, valora el vínculo entre la agricultura y la alimentación. Durante sus veinte años de enseñar la agroecología, Agrecol se dio cuenta de que los agricultores cultivarían más alimentos orgánicos si más gente los comprara, y los comiera.

En una encuesta hecha a los compradores de Cochabamba, casi la mitad (46%) dijo a Agrecol Andes que quería comer alimentos ecológicos, pero sólo el 15% sabía dónde comprarlos.

Por eso, hace poco Agrecol Andes lanzó la campaña “Come Rico, Come Natural, Come sin Químicos”. Agrecol celebró el acto en la Casa Departamental de Culturas, el gran salón histórico de la Gobernación de Cochabamba, en coordinación con las autoridades locales.

La Lic. Roxana Castellón, de Agrecol, explicó que la mayoría de los cochabambinos no se dan cuenta de que su comida es contaminada. No entienden que todo el pan de Cochabamba tiene bromato (un carcinógeno), o que sus tomates han sido fumigados con insecticidas muchas veces. Ella dice que la mayoría de las personas que buscan productos ecológicos lo hacen después de una crisis de salud, especialmente tras ser diagnosticadas de cáncer o alguna otra enfermedad grave.

En muchos países del norte, los alimentos ecológicos son más fáciles de conseguir, y mucha gente está dispuesta a pagar un poco más por ellos. En Bolivia, como en gran parte del Sur Global, la certificación orgánica es escasa y los agricultores agroecológicos venden a bajos precios. Para compensar la falta de certificación oficial, los agricultores asociados a Agrecol Andes usan un sistema participativo de garantía (SPG). Para remediar la falta de mercados de alimentos ecológicos, Agrecol también entrega bolsas de alimentos de algunos de sus agricultores a familias inscritas en un grupo de WhatsApp.

Esta campaña actual sobre la comida rica y saludable usará la prensa y las redes sociales para animar a los compradores a acudir a los mercados que venden alimentos agroecológicos.

Agrecol cerró el acto no con broche de oro, sino con un sándwich. Muchos eventos incluyen una merienda, donde los camareros permanecen invisibles tras las bandejas de masitas dulces. Pero en esta reunión, Roxana hizo algo que yo nunca había visto antes: invitó a la cocinera al micrófono. Con una boina verde brillante, Erika, del Movimiento de Comida Consciente, dijo que hacía sus hamburguesas con tarwi del Lago Titicaca y que la salsa era de miso de soya orgánica. El snack se había convertido en algo más que un placer; era una lección viva de cómo se puede comer rico, natural y local.

Los consumidores pueden elegir comer mejor, al igual que los agricultores pueden elegir cultivar de forma ecológica. Pero para hacerlo, tienen que encontrarse y conectarse.


Blogs relacionados de Agro-Insight

Estrategia de salida

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Enlace relacionado

La campaña de Agrecol Andes “Come Rico, Come Natural, Come sin Químicos“.

Grain cows August 22nd, 2021 by

Nederlandse versie hieronder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading

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

Related blogs

Damaging the soil and our health with chemical reductionism

Formerly known as food

Keep your cows in the family

A brief history of soy

The sugar palms of Angkor Wat

Big chicken, little chicken

Inspiring platforms

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

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



Paul Van Mele, 22 augustus 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meer lezen

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

Gerelateerde blogs van Agro-Insight

Damaging the soil and our health with chemical reductionism

Formerly known as food

Keep your cows in the family

A brief history of soy

The sugar palms of Angkor Wat

Big chicken, little chicken

Inspirerende video platformen

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

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

Commercial family farming Bolivian style May 30th, 2021 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

In earlier blogs (Our threatened farmers, Damaging the soil and our health with chemical reductionism) Paul and I have written that farmers are Stuck in the middle between just a few large produce buyers and handful of seed and agrochemical companies. Farmers are forced to take any prices offered by their buyers, and by their suppliers as well. It’s a bind that forces many family farmers out of business.

It doesn’t have to be that way, as I was reminded recently on a stretch of the old highway from Santa Cruz, Bolivia to Cochabamba, at some 3000 meters above sea level. Ana and I noticed all the farmers gathering potatoes into large, blue sacks. They were getting ready for the weekly fair at “El Puente”, the bridge over the Lope Mendoza River.

Seeing the potato growers, I suddenly felt the urge to participate in this robust farmers’ market which has been self-sustaining for decades.

In a flat space in the canyon, every Monday hundreds of smallholder farmers bring fresh produce, mostly potatoes. El Puente is like a small town that leaps into existence with the Monday fair, only to be abandoned for the rest of the week.

This was Sunday. The shop fronts were closed, locks on heavy steel doors. By Monday morning they would be doing a brisk business in farm supplies. One temporary restaurant was open, with chicken roasting on a large charcoal grill, ready to feed the farmers who had arrived early, on Sunday afternoon.

We past an empty space that would soon be full of vendors who travel from fair to fair, selling the things that rural families like and need, soap and salt, cooking oil, tinned sardines, matches and clothing. Today it was still empty, but the potato pavilion was filling up. It’s just a concrete slab with a sheet metal roof and no walls. Farmers bring in their produce, in 100 kilo bags (called a carga), and wait for customers.

Some people come from the city on the bus on Monday to buy a carga to eat at home, or half a dozen of them, to sell. They rent space on a truck to deliver the potatoes to Cochabamba. The largest buyers may load a small truck with six or twelve tons to sell to retailers in the cities. In this lightly regulated market, potatoes may go through as few as four links, from farmer to small-time wholesaler, to retailer, to customer. Each one is a small, family business. It’s Adam Smith’s ideal of capitalism, with many willing buyers and many others eager to sell.

Ana soon met a farmer in early middle age, wearing a long skirt, with a scarf tied over her head.

We asked her for an arroba (25 pounds, or 11.4 kilos) of potatoes. “Take half a carga (50 kilos)” she said, so we did. After all, this was a wholesale market. The farmer led us to her wares, maybe a dozen bags. Each farmer was there with a cluster of potatoes in 100 kilo bags. Each cluster was carefully separated from the other by a space just big enough to squeeze through. The farmer wanted 90 Bolivianos ($13) for her fine, native potatoes, and she wouldn’t take less. She was a price giver, not a taker. We were soon on our way with our 50 kilos, from the epicenter of the Bolivian potato market.

After the Bolivian Revolution of 1952, the large farms (haciendas) were divided and given to the people who worked them. According to fake history, repeated sometimes even in schools, the Agrarian Reform of the Revolution failed because the land was split up into such small parcels that they were uneconomical to produce anything. It’s a racist lie. The Agrarian Reform succeeded, as we saw a few kilometers down the road.

An indigenous Andean farm family was standing next to 20 cargas of potatoes. Two tons of food going to market, neatly dressed in blue. The proud farmer reacted in the most contemporary fashion to his household’s accomplishment. Smart phone in hand, he walked across the highway and snapped a picture of his family and their harvest.

Related Agro-Insight blogs

Peasants, not princes: The potato finds a home in Europe

Native potatoes, tasty and vulnerable


Por Jeff Bentley 30 de mayo del 2021

Antes, en este blog, Paul y yo hemos escrito que los países del norte, los agricultores están atrapados entre unos pocos grandes compradores de productos y un puñado de empresas de semillas y agroquímicos. Los agricultores se ven obligados a aceptar cualquier precio ofrecido por sus compradores, y también por sus proveedores. Es un aprieto que obliga a muchos agricultores familiares a abandonar su terreno.

No tiene por qué ser así, como volví a acordarme hace poco, manejando sobre la antigua carretera de Santa Cruz, Bolivia a Cochabamba, a unos 3.000 metros sobre el nivel del mar. Ana y yo nos fijamos en todos los agricultores que llenaban costales azules con papas. Se estaban alistando para la feria semanal en El Puente de Lope Mendoza.

Al ver a los productores de papas, sentí el impulso de participar en este robusto mercado agrícola, que se auto sostiene desde hace décadas.

En una parte plana en el cañón, cada lunes cientos de pequeños agricultores traen productos frescos, sobre todo papas. El Puente es como un pequeño pueblo que nace con la feria de los lunes, para quedar abandonado el resto de la semana.

Este día fue el domingo. Las fachadas de las tiendas estaban cerradas, con candados en las pesadas puertas de acero. El lunes por la mañana, los comercios de insumos agrícolas se llenarían de clientes. Un restaurante temporal atendía, con pollo asado en una gran parrilla de carbón, listo para alimentar a los agricultores que habían llegado temprano, el domingo por la tarde.

Pasamos por un espacio vacío que la mañana siguiente estaría lleno de vendedores que viajan de feria en feria, vendiendo antojos y artículos de primera necesidad, como jabón y sal, aceite de cocina, sardinas en lata, fósforos y ropa. Hoy todavía no había nadie, pero el pabellón de papas sí se estaba llenando. Es sólo una losa de hormigón con un techo de chapa y sin paredes. Los agricultores traen sus productos, en bolsas de 100 kilos (llamadas “cargas”), y esperan a sus clientes.

Algunas personas vienen desde la ciudad en el bus (el “micro”) el lunes para comprar una carga para comer en casa, o media docena de ellas, para vender. Alquilan espacio en un camión para llevar las papas a Cochabamba. Los que más compran pueden llegar un pequeño camión con seis o doce toneladas para venderlas a los minoristas de las ciudades. En este mercado poco regulado, las papas pueden pasar por apenas cuatro eslabones, desde el agricultor hasta el pequeño mayorista, la minorista y clientes. Cada uno de ellos es una pequeña empresa familiar. Es el ideal de capitalismo de Adam Smith, con mucha gente con ganas de comprar y vender.

Ana pronto conoció a una agricultora de mediana edad, con una falda larga y un pañuelo atado a la cabeza.

Le pedimos una arroba (25 libras, o 11,4 kilos) de papas. “Llévense media carga (50 kilos)”, nos dijo, y así lo hicimos. Al fin y al cabo, se trataba de un mercado mayorista. La agricultora nos condujo hasta sus mercancías, más o menos una docena de costales. Cada agricultor estaba allí con sus papas en sacos de 100 kilos. El producto de cada persona estaba cuidadosamente separado del otro por un espacio angosto donde uno apenas podía pasaba. La agricultora quería 90 bolivianos (13 dólares) por sus hermosas papas nativas, y no aceptaba menos. Ella estaba para dar un precio, no para recibirlo. Pronto nos pusimos en camino con nuestros 50 kilos, desde el epicentro del mercado boliviano de la patata.

Tras la Revolución Boliviana de 1952, las haciendas se dividieron y se repartían entre la gente que las trabajaba. Según la falsa historia, repetida a veces incluso en las escuelas, la Reforma Agraria fracasó porque la tierra se dividió en parcelas tan pequeñas (“surcofundias”) que no era rentable producir nada. Es una mentira racista. La Reforma Agraria tuvo éxito, como vimos unos kilómetros más adelante.

Una familia campesina estaba terminando de arreglar sus 20 cargas de papas. Dos toneladas de alimentos que iban al mercado, cuidadosamente vestidos de azul. El orgulloso agricultor reaccionó de la manera más contemporánea al logro. Teléfono inteligente en mano, cruzó la carretera y sacó una foto de su familia y su cosecha.

Historias relacionadas en el blog de Agro-Insight

Our threatened farmers,

Damaging the soil and our health with chemical reductionism

Stuck in the middle

Peasants, not princes: The potato finds a home in Europe

Papas nativas, deliciosas y vulnerables


An exit strategy April 4th, 2021 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

Development projects often die when the money runs out. Many of these efforts often have no exit strategy in mind, but that’s changing, as I saw on a recent visit to Villa Taquiña, on the mountain slopes above Cochabamba, Bolivia.

Once an independent peasant community, Villa Taquiña has now largely been swallowed by the city of Cochabamba, but until recently, many farmers still managed to grow small plots of cut flowers.

When I lived in Villa Taquiña, years ago, if I caught the bus before dawn I would share the ride with older women taking huge bundles of carnations, gladiolas, and chrysanthemums to sell in the central market. But on my recent visit a local farmer, doña Nelly, explained that when Covid put a stop to big weddings and funerals, it wiped out the demand for cut flowers. Adaptable as ever, the smallholders turned to fresh vegetables, but there was a catch. The flowers had been grown with lots of pesticides. Now the farmers hoped to produce in a more environmentally friendly way, “so we can leave something for our children and grandchildren,” doña Nelly explained.

Two agronomists, Ing. Alberto Cárdenas and Ing. Alexander Espinoza, from Fundación Agrecol Andes, are helping a dozen farm families transition to agroecology. The farmers plant broccoli, cabbage and other vegetables with seeds they buy at the shop. The seeds come dusted in pink fungicide, but the farmers harvest seeds from some of the plants they grow, and are now producing 80% of their own seed. If they need a fungicide, they can make sulfur-lime or Bordeaux mix, which are accepted by most organic agricultural programs. The farmers also plant basil, quilquiña and other aromatic plants among their vegetables to discourage insect pests. Many different plants are grown together; this is called intercropping and it also keeps the pests away. The farmers are also bringing their soils back to life by incorporating compost.

Although the plots are tiny (some farmers have as little as 700 square meters) with hard work even a small piece of land can produce a lot of vegetables. Then the problem becomes where to sell it. Folks could take their produce to the big market in the city, but they would have to compete with conventionally-grown vegetables brought in by the truck load. Alberto and Alex have organized the farmers to work together. They often meet at doña Nelly’s house to package the produce with attractive labels. Besides saving on the costs of agrochemicals, these organic farmers have a close link with consumers, so they listen to what their clients want, and try to offer them a rich diversity of vegetables.

Belonging to a group also helps the farmers to reach customers who appreciate organic produce. In Bolivia the niches for organic food are still in their infancy, so producers and consumers need a little help finding each other. Alberto and Alex have organized the farmers with their consumers. Every week a group of consumers (including my family) gets a WhatsApp message with this week’s menu of what is on offer. We order what we want, everything from crisp vegetables to a perfect whole wheat flour to the best cactus fruit I’ve ever had. Two days later Alberto and Alex cheerfully arrive at our door with the produce.

Unfortunately, this is not sustainable marketing. Vegetable growers can’t always depend on the good graces of a project to sell their produce for them, but Alberto and Alex have an exit strategy.  They are organizing volunteer farmers and consumers to meet occasionally and inspect the farms, to guarantee that they are agroecologically sound. It is called the “participatory guarantee system,” (SPG) a kind of people’s organic certification. With time, Alberto hopes to make the marketing profitable enough that someone, perhaps the farmers themselves, will take it over as a private enterprise.  To that end, the farmers are organizing themselves into a legally-recognized association. Letting the farmers and the consumers get to know each other is also an innovation to make sure that we keep buying and selling.

I visit Villa Taquiña with two-dozen mask-wearing consumers, who were delighted to meet some of the farmers who grow the food we eat. One of those farmers, Elsa Bustamante, has an exit strategy of her own. She is feeding guinea pigs on the vegetable waste from her small plot, and she plans to start a restaurant featuring organic vegetables and homegrown guinea pigs. “You will all be my customers,” Elsa tells us. And then she serves up golden brown quarters of fried guinea pig on a bed of rice, potatoes and salad. The consumers love it.

Related Agro-Insight blog stories

The next generation of farmers

Strawberry fields once again

Further reading

Bentley, Jeffery W. 2015 “Flowers Watered with Beer.” Agriculture for Development 26:20-22.


Thanks to Nelly Camacho, Elsa Bustamante, and her brother Pastor for letting us into their homes and their fields. Doña Nelly is the representative of the SPG Cercado. (Cercado is a province in the Department of Cochabamba. Cercado has only one municipality, which is also called Cochabamba, and it is the Department’s capital). The SPG Cercado is backed up by Law 3525, “Regulation and promotion of ecological production of agriculture, livestock and non-timber forest products” and by the National Technical Norm (NTN) which supports the participatory guarantee systems (SPG) which is used to accredit urban, peri-urban and rural groups of ecological farmers. The SPG Cercado works via an MOU with the municipal government of Cochabamba and the Fundación Agrecol Andes, with funding from the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation. Ing. Alberto Cárdenas and Ing. Alexander Espinoza work for the Fundación Agrecol Andes, in Cochabamba. A big thanks to them for organizing this visit, and thanks as well to Alberto for his comments on an earlier version of this story.

Scientific name

Quilquiña (Porophyllum ruderale) is a pungent herb used for making salsas.

Videos on the agroecological way to produce vegetables

Using sack mounds to grow vegetables

Managing black rot in cabbage

Managing vegetable nematodes

Insect nets in seedbeds


Jeff Bentley, 4 de abril del 2021

Los proyectos de desarrollo suelen morir cuando se acaba el dinero. A muchos de estos esfuerzos les falta una estrategia de salida, pero eso está cambiando, como vi hace poco en una visita a Villa Taquiña, al pie de la cordillera andina, en Cochabamba, Bolivia.

Villa Taquiña, que era una comunidad agrícola independiente, hoy en día ha sido prácticamente tragada por la ciudad de Cochabamba, pero hasta hace poco, muchos agricultores cultivaban pequeñas parcelas de flores cortadas para vender.

Cuando yo vivía en Villa Taquiña, hace algunos años, si salía antes del amanecer compartía el micro (bus) con mujeres mayores de edad que llevaban enormes bultos de claveles, gladiolos y crisantemos para vender en el mercado central. Pero en mi última visita, una agricultora local, doña Nelly Camacho, me explicó que cuando el Covid acabó con las bodas y los funerales bien asistidos, dio fin a la demanda de flores cortadas. Tan bien adaptables como siempre, los pequeños agricultores empezaron a producir verduras frescas, pero había un problemita. Las flores se cultivaban con muchos plaguicidas. Ahora los agricultores esperan producir de forma más ecológica, “porque queremos dejar algo para nuestros hijos, y nietos”, explica doña Nelly.

Los ingenieros agrónomos Alberto Cárdenas y Alexander Espinoza, de la Fundación Agrecol Andes, les están ayudando a una decena de familias en la transición a la agroecología. Los agricultores siembran brócoli, repollo lechugas, vainas y otras hortalizas con semillas que compran en la agropecuaria. Las semillas vienen recubiertas con un fungicida rosado, pero los agricultores guardan algunas de las semillas de las plantas que cultivan, y ahora están produciendo el 80% de sus propias semillas. Si necesitan un fungicida, pueden hacer sulfocálcico o caldo bordelés, que son aceptados por la mayoría de los programas de agricultura orgánica. Los agricultores también siembran albahaca, quilquiña y otras plantas aromáticas entre sus hortalizas para ahuyentar a las plagas insectiles. Cultivan una mezcla de muchas plantas diferentes; esto se llama policultivo y también evita tener plagas. Además, los agricultores están recuperando sus suelos, incorporando compost.

A pesar de que las parcelas que quedan son pequeñas (alguna gente cultiva sólo 700 metros cuadrados), con trabajo se puede producir muchas verduras. Luego viene el problema de dónde venderlas. Los agricultores podrían llevar sus productos al gran mercado, la Cancha de Cochabamba, pero tendrían que competir con las camionadas de hortalizas convencionales. Alberto y Alex han organizado a los agricultores para que trabajen juntos. A menudo se reúnen en la casa de doña Nelly para embolsar los productos con etiquetas atractivas. Además de ahorrarse los costos de los agroquímicos, estos agricultores orgánicos tienen un estrecho vínculo con los consumidores, y saben lo que sus clientes quieren y tratan de ofrecerles una rica diversidad de verduras.

Pertenecer a un grupo también ayuda a los agricultores a encontrar los clientes que aprecian los productos orgánicos. En Bolivia, los nichos de los alimentos orgánicos todavía están en pañales, entonces los productores y consumidores necesitan un poco de ayuda para encontrarse. Alberto y Alex han organizado a los agricultores con sus consumidores. Cada semana, un grupo de consumidores (incluyendo a mi familia) recibe un mensaje de WhatsApp con la oferta semanal. Pedimos lo que queremos, desde verduras súper frescas, una perfecta harina integral, y la mejor tuna que jamás he probado. Dos días después, Alberto y Alex puntualmente nos dejan una “bolsa saludable” (Bolsaludabe) de productos en la puerta.

Lastimosamente, este tipo de comercialización no es sostenible. Los horticultores no siempre pueden depender de la buena voluntad de un proyecto para vender sus productos, pero Alberto y Alex tienen una estrategia de salida. Están organizando a agricultores y consumidores voluntarios para que se reúnan de vez en cuando e inspeccionen las parcelas, a fin de garantizar que son agroecológicas de verdad. Se llama “sistema participativo de garantías” (SPG), y es una especie de certificación orgánica popular. Con el tiempo, Alberto espera que la comercialización sea lo suficientemente rentable como para que alguien, tal vez los mismos productores, se haga cargo de vender la producción de manera particular. Para hacer eso, los productores se están organizando en una asociación con personería jurídica. El hacer que los agricultores y los consumidores nos conozcamos es también una innovación para asegurar que sigamos comprando y vendiendo.

En mi visita a Villa Taquiña éramos dos docenas de consumidores con barbijos, que estábamos encantados de conocer a algunos de los agricultores que producen los alimentos que comemos. Una de esas agricultoras, Elsa Bustamante, tiene su propia estrategia de salida. Ella está alimentando a cuys con los residuos vegetales de su pequeña parcela, y planifica abrir un restaurante con verduras ecológicas y cuys producidos en casa. “Todos ustedes serán mis clientes”, nos dice Elsa. Y luego sirve cuartos de cuy fritos y dorados y aún calientes sobre un lecho de arroz, papas y ensalada. A los consumidores les encanta.

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Lectura adicional

Bentley, Jeffery W. 2015 “Flowers Watered with Beer.” Agriculture for Development 26:20-22.


Gracias a Nelly Camacho, Elsa Bustamante, y su hermano Pastor por recibirnos en sus hogares y sus parcelas. Doña Nelly es la representante del SPG Cercado. (Cercado es una provincia del Departamento de Cochabamba. Cercado tiene un solo municipio, que también se llama Cochabamba, el cual es la capital del Departamento). El SPG Cercado es respaldado por la Ley 3525, “Regulación y promoción de la producción agropecuaria y forestal no maderable ecológica” y por la Norma Técnica Nacional (NTN) que apoya a los sistemas participativos de garantía (SPG) a través de la cual se acredita grupos de productores ecológicos a nivel urbano, periurbano y rural. El SPG Cercado trabaja a través de un convenio entre el gobierno municipal de Cochabamba y la Fundación Agrecol Andes, con financiamiento de la Cooperación Italiana. Los Ing. Alberto Cárdenas y Alexander Espinoza trabajan para la Fundación Agrecol Andes, en Cochabamba. Gracias a ellos por organizar el viaje, y gracias a Alberto por sus comentarios sobre una versión anterior de este blog.


El cuy es el conejillo de las Indias.

La quilquiña es una hierba con un fuerte olor usada para hacer salsas, Porophyllum ruderale.

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Redes contra insectos en almácigo

Staying grounded while on the air in Ghana March 21st, 2021 by

It’s a simple matter to play a soundtrack about farming on the radio. The tricky part is making sure that the program connects with the audience, as I learned recently from Gideon Kwame Sarkodie Osei at ADARS FM, a commercial station in Kintampo, a town in central Ghana.

Since 2010 Gideon has been pleased to be part of an effort by Farm Radio International (FRI) that supported radio stations in Ghana, including ADARS FM, to reach out to farmers. With encouragement from FRI, Gideon started a weekly magazine show for farmers, where he plays Access Agriculture audio tracks. The magazine, Akuafo Mo, means “Thank You Farmers” in the Twi language. Before he started the show, Gideon (together with FRI) did a baseline study of the farmers in his audience. He found that they had more time on Monday evenings. Farm women do more work and have less time than most people, but they told Gideon that they were usually done with their chores by 8 PM, so that’s when he airs Akuafo Mo, every Monday for an hour.

The show starts with recorded interviews, where farmers explain their own knowledge of a certain topic, like aflatoxin, which is so important that Gideon had several episodes on this hidden toxin that can contaminate stored foodstuffs. After the interviews, Gideon plays an audio track, to share fresh ideas with his audience. Gideon has played Access Agriculture audios so often he can’t remember how many he has played. “It’s a lot more than 50,” he explains.

Gideon plays a portion of the audio in English, and then he stops to translate that part into Twi, the language of the Ashanti people. Every week there is a guest on the show, an extension agent who can discuss the topic and take questions from listeners who call in.

Gideon’s experience with the magazine inspired him to start listener groups, in coordination with FRI. Visiting listener communities, Gideon found that some did not have a radio set. So, with project support, he bought them one. “We give them radio sets so they can come together weekly and listen to the magazine,” Gideon told me. He has 20 groups, each with 12 to 30 people. Five groups are only for women, especially in areas where males and females don’t casually mingle. The other listener groups have men and women.

Gideon visits at least some of the groups every week. Because of these visits, Gideon is now downloading videos as well as audio from Access Agriculture. “Sometimes I see if they have electricity, and I rent a projector, to show them the video they have heard on the air.” Gideon says. “This is my initiative, going the extra mile.”

Some of the farmers are learning to sell their groundnuts, maize and other cereals as a group, netting them extra money and helping them to be self-sustaining.

Gideon is also a trainer for FRI. Before Covid, he would travel to other towns and cities in Ghana, meet other broadcasters, and go to the field with them to show them how to improve their interview skills and to craft their own magazine shows. Now he continues to train broadcasters, but online.

Working with the farmer listening groups gives Gideon insights into farmers’ needs and knowledge, making his magazine so authentic that 60,000 people tune in. That experience gives Gideon the confidence to train other broadcasters all over Ghana.

When I was in Ghana a few years ago, I met excellent extension agents who told me how frustrated they were to be responsible for reaching 3,000 farmers. It was impossible to have a quality interaction with all those farmers.

However, there are ways to communicate a thoughtful message with a large audience, for example with a good radio magazine.

Gideon has creatively blended his own expertise with resources from two communication-oriented non-profit organisations: Farm Radio International and Access Agriculture. Hopefully, his experience will inspire other broadcasters.

Videos in the languages of Ghana

Find videos and soundtracks in these languages of Ghana: Buli, Dagaari, Dagbani, Ewe, Frafra, Gonja, Hausa, Kabyé, Kusaal, Moba, Sisaala, Twi, Zarma and English.

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