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Eating the experiment July 25th, 2021 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

Even though farmers and agricultural scientists share the same field of study, they have completely different experimental styles.

This past year in Ecuador, Ph.D. candidate Israel Navarrete was encouraging farmers to experiment, and he was struck by how much time it took them just to pick a research question. While organizing three small groups of farmers in the province of Cotopaxi, Israel found that the local people could take up to three meetings just to pick a topic. Some farmers felt that the other group members weren’t listening to them. (Hurt feelings are as normal in peasant communities as in university departments).

One of Israel’s small groups, made up entirely of women, was dedicated to growing potatoes and black maize. Like the farmers I wrote about recently from Lake Titicaca, the Ecuadorian women had problems with tuber moths destroying their seed potatoes. These farmers from Cotopaxi eventually decided to see if they could control the moths by treating their seed potatoes with garlic extract and with “cementina” (a local type of construction lime).

Israel encouraged them to do multiple replicates of the experiment. Replicates (simultaneous repetitions of the experiment) are a hallmark of the scientific method, and they are especially important in agriculture where each plot of earth, each batch of seed is slightly unique, like snowflakes. An idea has to be tried several times to see if the result is consistent, and is not just a chance occurrence.

But the farmers of Cotopaxi declined to use replicates, and simply tried the lime and garlic on one batch of seed. The solution seemed to work, so Israel encouraged the women to try it again, perhaps in different treatments (such as the lime alone, or the garlic alone, and both together). But the farmers refused. They were satisfied with the results.

As Israel explained this experience, he tried to hide his frustration that the farmers would not work on the experiment in more detail. He was philosophical about the results. He said, “The farmers take a complicated idea and test it in a simple way, while researchers take a simple idea, and test it in a complicated way.”

Much of the scientific method is designed to show universal truth. The experiment has to be replicable and described in numbers and published. After the data is collected, the experiment can be thrown away.

For the farmers, the experiment doesn’t have to be replicable. It only has to achieve results on their farm. It doesn’t need numbers because the farmers are looking for large qualitative differences. You either get rid of the tuber moths, or you don’t. And unlike the scientists, the farmers have to make a living from the actual experiment. In this case, the farmers planted the seed potatoes they had dusted with lime and garlic.

The scientists write up the experiment and publish. It is part of their job. The farmers learn from the experiment and then eat it. It is part of their life.

In spite of having remarkably different experimental styles, collaboration between smallholders and researchers is most valuable for the insights farmers have from years of making a living on the farm. A biologist may never have come up with the idea of fighting the tuber moth with lime and garlic.

People of different professions can have different goals and methods, even when they work on the same topic, which is all the more reason why they should share ideas with each other.

Related blog stories

Zoom to Titicaca

Acknowledgement

Israel Navarrete is an Ecuadorian expert on seed health, and a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Wageningen, in the Netherlands. His research is funded by the International Potato Center (CIP) and the McKnight Foundation’s Collaborative Crop Research Program (CCRP).

Further reading

Bentley, Jeffery W. 1994 “Facts, Fantasies and Failures of Farmer Participatory Research.” Agriculture and Human Values 11(2&3):140-150.

Photo

Photo by Veronika Vogel, courtesy of Israel Navarrete

 

EXPERIMENTOS QUE SE COMEN

Jeff Bentley 25 de julio del 2021

Aunque los agricultores y los cientĂ­ficos agrĂ­colas comparten el mismo campo de estudio, tienen estilos experimentales completamente diferentes.

El año pasado, en Ecuador, el estudiante de doctorado Israel Navarrete animó a los agricultores a experimentar, y le llamó la atención el tiempo que les llevaba sólo elegir una pregunta de investigación. Mientras organizaba tres pequeños grupos de agricultores en la provincia de Cotopaxi, Israel descubrió que los lugareños podían tardar hasta tres reuniones sólo para elegir un tema. Algunos agricultores sentían que los otros miembros del grupo no les escuchaban. (Las roces y resentimientos son tan comunes en las comunidades campesinas como en los departamentos universitarios).

Uno de los pequeños grupos de Israel, formado exclusivamente por mujeres, se dedicaba a cultivar papas y maĂ­z negro. Al igual que los agricultores y agricultoras del Lago Titicaca sobre las que escribĂ­ hace poco, las ecuatorianas tenĂ­an problemas con las polillas de la papa que destruĂ­an su semilla de papa. Estas agricultoras de Cotopaxi decidieron finalmente ver si podĂ­an controlar las polillas tratando su semilla con extracto de ajo y con “cementina” (un tipo de cal para la construcciĂłn).

Israel les animó a hacer múltiples réplicas del experimento. Las réplicas (repeticiones simultáneas del experimento) son un fundamento del método científico, y son especialmente importantes en la agricultura, donde cada parcela de tierra, cada lote de semillas es algo único, como los copos de nieve. Hay que probar una idea varias veces para ver si el resultado es consistente y no es una mera casualidad.

Pero las agricultoras de Cotopaxi se negaron a usar réplicas y se limitaron a probar la cal y el ajo en un solo lote de semilla. La solución pareció funcionar, por lo que Israel animó a las mujeres a probarlo de nuevo, tal vez en diferentes tratamientos (como la cal sola, o el ajo solo, y ambos juntos). Pero las agricultoras se negaron. Estaban satisfechos con los resultados.

Al explicar esta experiencia, Israel tratĂł de ocultar su frustraciĂłn de que los agricultores no quisieran trabajar en el experimento con más detalle. Se mostrĂł filosĂłfico sobre los resultados. Dijo: “Los agricultores toman una idea complicada y la prueban de forma sencilla, mientras que los investigadores toman una idea sencilla y la prueban de forma complicada”.

Gran parte del método científico está diseñado para mostrar una verdad universal. El experimento tiene que ser replicable y estar descrito en números y publicado. Una vez recolectados los datos, el experimento puede desecharse.

Para los agricultores, el experimento no tiene que ser replicable. SĂłlo tiene que conseguir resultados en su finca. No necesita nĂşmeros porque los agricultores buscan grandes diferencias cualitativas. O se elimina la polilla de la papa, o no. Y a diferencia de los cientĂ­ficos, los agricultores tienen que vivir del experimento en sĂ­. En este caso, los agricultores sembraron la semilla de papa que habĂ­an rociado con cal y ajo.

Los cientĂ­ficos redactan el experimento y lo publican. Es parte de su trabajo. Los agricultores aprenden del experimento y se lo comen. Es parte de su vida.

A pesar de tener estilos experimentales bien diferentes, la colaboración entre los pequeños agricultores y los investigadores es valiosa por los conocimientos que tienen los agricultores tras años de ganarse la vida trabajando la tierra. Puede que a un biólogo no se le haya ocurrido nunca la idea de combatir la polilla del tubérculo con cal y ajo.

Personas de distintas profesiones pueden tener objetivos y métodos diferentes, incluso cuando trabajan en el mismo tema, y justo por eso vale la pena que compartan ideas entre sí.

Historias relacionadas en el blog de Agro-Insight

Zoom al Titicaca

Agradecimiento

Israel Navarrete es un experto ecuatoriano en la sanidad de las semillas, y candidato a PhD en la Universidad de Wageningen, en los Países Bajos. Su investigación está financiada por el Centro Internacional de la Papa (CIP) y el Programa Colaborativo de Investigación de Cultivos (CCRP) de la Fundación McKnight.

Lectura adicional

Bentley, Jeffery W. 1990 “La ParticipaciĂłn de los Agricultores en Hechos, FantasĂ­as y Fracasos: IntroducciĂłn a la Memoria del Simposio.” Ceiba 31(2):29-41.

Foto

Foto por Veronika Vogel, cortesĂ­a de Israel Navarrete

 

Iron for organic pigs May 16th, 2021 by

Nederlandse versie volgt hieronder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related blogs

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Related video

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Inspiring platforms

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

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

 

Ijzer voor biovarkens

Paul Van Mele 16 maart, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gerelateerde blogs van Agro-Insight

Against or with nature

Smelling is believing

Mobile slaughterhouses

Five heads think better than one

Asking about cows

Kicking the antibiotic habit

Big chicken, little chicken

gerelateerde video

Housing for pigs

Inspirerende video platformen

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

A Greener Revolution in Africa May 2nd, 2021 by

After settling in the USA in the 1990s, Isaac Zama would visit his native Cameroon almost every year, until war broke out in late 2016, and it became too dangerous to go home. About that same time a new satellite TV company, the Southern Cameroons Broadcasting Corporation (SCBC), was formed to broadcast news and information in English. (Cameroon was formed from a French colony and part of a British one in 1961).

In 2018, Isaac approached SCBC to start a TV program on agriculture to help Southern Cameroonians who could no longer work as a result of the war, and the thousands of refugees who sought refuge in Nigeria. The broadcasters readily agreed. With his PhD in agriculture and rural development from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and his roots in a Cameroonian village, Isaac was well placed to find content that farmers back home would appreciate. “I did some research on the Internet, and I found Access Agriculture,” said Isaac. “I liked it so much that I watched every single video.”

Isaac soon started a TV program, Amba Farmers’ Voice, which began to air every Sunday at 4 PM, Cameroon time. It is rebroadcast several times a week to give more people a chance to watch the program. With frequent power cuts many are not able to tune in on Sundays.

The program is broadcast live from Isaac’s studio in Virginia. He starts with a basic introduction in West African Pidgin. “If I’m going to show a video on rabbits, I start by explaining what a is rabbit,” Isaac explains. “And that we can learn from farmers in Kenya how to build a rabbit house, and to care for these animals.” After playing an Access Agriculture video on the topic (in English), Isaac comments on it in Pidgin, for the older, rural viewers who may not speak English. His remarks are carefully scripted, and based on background reading and research.

The show lasts an hour or more and allows Isaac to play several videos. Amba Farmers’ Voice has its own Facebook and YouTube pages. While his program is on the air, Isaac checks out the Facebook page to get an idea of how many people are watching. A popular topic like caring for rabbits may have 1,000 viewers just on Facebook. But most people watch the satellite broadcast. SCBC estimates that two to three million people watch Amba Farmers’ Voice in Cameroon, but many others also watch it in Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone and even in some Francophone countries, like Benin and Gabon.

Some farmers reciprocate, sending Isaac pictures and videos that they have shot themselves, showing off their own experiments, adapting the ideas from the videos to conditions in Cameroon. Isaac heard from one group of “mothers in the village” who showed how they were using urine to fertilize their corn, after watching an Access Agriculture video from Uganda.

People in refugee camps watched the video on sack mounds, showing how to grow vegetables in a large, soil-filled bag. But gunny sacks were scarce in the refugee camp, so people improvised, filling plastic bags with earth and growing tomatoes in them, so they could grow some food within the confines of the camp.

Isaac mentioned that people were installing drip irrigation after seeing the video from Benin about it.

“That can be expensive,” I said. “People have to buy materials.”

“Not really,” Isaac answered. Gardeners take used drink bottles from garbage dumps, fill them with water, poke holes in the cap, and leave them to drip slowly on their plants.

After seeing the video from Benin on feeding giant African snails (for high-quality meat), one young man in the Southern Cameroons got used tires and stacked one on top of the other to make the snail pen. It’s an innovation he came up with after watching the Access Agriculture video. He puts two tires in a stack, puts the snails in the bottom, and feeds them banana peels and other fruit and vegetable waste. Isaac tells his audience “We don’t need to buy anything. Just open your eyes and adapt. See what you can find to use.”

Solar dryers were another topic that people adapted from the videos. To save money, they made the dryers from bamboo, instead of wood, and shared one between several families. As a further adaptation, people are drying grass in the solar dryer. Access Agriculture has four videos on using solar dryers to preserve high value produce like pineapples, mangoes and chillies, but none show grass drying. Isaac explains that you sprinkle a little salt on the grass as you dry it. Then, in the dry season you put the grass in water and it turns fresh again. Now he is encouraging youth to form groups so they can dry grass to store, to sell to farmers when forage is scarce.

I was delighted to see so many local experiments, just from people who watch videos on television, with no extension support.

All of this interaction, between Isaac Zama and his compatriots, the teaching, feedback and organisation, is all happening on TV and online. He hasn’t been to Cameroon since he started his program.  Isaac’s interaction with his audience amazes me. It’s a testimony to his talent, but also to the improved connectivity in rural Africa.

“People think that Africans don’t have cell phones,” Isaac says, “but 30% of the older farmers in villages have android phones. Their adult children, living in cities or abroad, buy phones for their parents so they can stay in touch and so they can see each other on WhatsApp.” Isaac adds that what farmers need now is an app so they can watch agricultural videos cheaper.

Dr. Isaac Zama wants to encourage other stations to broadcast farmer learning videos: “Those videos from Access Agriculture will revolutionize agriculture in Africa in two or three years, if our national leaders would just broadcast them on TV. The farmers would do it themselves, just from the information they can see on the videos.” Isaac is willing to collaborate with other TV stations across the world, to share his experience or to broadcast Amba Farmers Voice, but particularly with broadcasters in Africa who are interested in agricultural development

Related Agro-Insight blogs

To drip or not to drip

Drip irrigation saves water in South Sudan

Cell phones for smallholders

A connecting business

Staying grounded while on the air in Ghana

Watch the Access Agriculture videos mentioned in this story

How to build a rabbit house

Human urine as fertilizer

Using sack mounds to grow vegetables

Drip irrigation for tomato

Feeding snails

Solar drying pineapples, Making mango crisps, Solar drying of kale leaves and Solar drying of chillies

 

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.

Related Agro-Insight blogs

Native potatoes, tasty and vulnerable

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CAMPESINOS, NO PRĂŤNCIPES: 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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A Life of Learning from Nature March 14th, 2021 by

When knowledge is blocked from being freely shared, humankind can lose a lot of precious time to make the world a better place. This dawned on me once more after I stumbled upon The Secrets of Water, a video documentary about the life of Viktor Schauberger.

Born in 1885 as the son of an Austrian forest superintendent, Viktor spent many hours in nature observing and reflecting upon what he saw, always trying to keep an open mind. Later, he went on to study forestry and got inspired by poets like Goethe who instilled in him the importance of making full use of our senses to better understand the Ur-phenomenon or the essential quality of what one observes.

Wikipedia describes Schauberger as a naturalist, pseudoscientist, philosopher, inventor and biomimicry experimenter. While pseudoscientist sounds like a dishonest version of a scientist or someone who stands for “fake science”, Schauberger’s insights from nearly a century ago have proven far more influential than what most modern-day scientists could aspire to achieve in a life-time, even with the help of advanced technologies and nanosecond computing devices.

Science  ̶  and technological innovations  ̶  have often ignored local knowledge and even obstructed its dissemination. In 1930, the Austrian Academy of Sciences confirmed the receipt of a sealed envelope entitled “Turbulence”. In it, Schauberger described his theory of interdependency of water temperature and movement. The Academy kept it concealed for 50 years, probably partly because Schauberger continued to criticise their water resource management strategies. His work became the basis for many eco-technological innovations.

For instance, instead of protecting river banks with boulders, Schauberger explained that it makes more sense to control the flow of the river from the inner part of the river, not from the sides. Some unconventional engineers have taken this to heart and have meticulously placed lines of boulders like a funnel inside the river to convert the energy of the river from the sides to the middle. When water accelerates in the middle rather than on the sides, it is a far more cost-effective way to control river bank erosion. Besides controlling floods, it also improves the quality of the water and creates perfect habitats for different fish species.

Schauberger’s writings carefully explained the underlying principle of his theory on turbulence, namely that it is influenced by differences in temperature. The warmer layers of river water flow faster than the colder ones, creating friction, which is the source of turbulence. According to Schauberger: “a river doesn’t just flow, but winds itself forward. It rotates in its bed, or put simply, it swirls.” This principle applies to any moving water, even to a raindrop running down a window.

By understanding that the swirl or turbulence of water is the most natural way in which water flows with least resistance, Schauberger applied this to many prototype technologies for which he registered patents. He developed a machine to replicate spring water, which later formed the basis for water vitalising equipment. Among the many benefits, some are more unexpected than the others. For instance, when vitalised water is used in bakeries it retards the development of moulds.

Instead of letting water simply enter a pond through a pipe, Schauberger made it pass through a specially designed funnel to let the water whirl and gain energy. The water quality in the pond improved and algae growth reduced.

Schauberger reflected on many things. He claimed that crop productivity was declining because of the use of iron tools, saying that the rust destroys soil life. Instead, tools made from copper and copper alloys do not disturb soil magnetism and contain useful trace elements which are brought into the soil through abrasion. This improves soil micro-organisms and apparently also reduces problems with snails.

In 1948, Schauberger developed a copper bio plough, known as the Golden Plough, to loosen the soil without disturbing soil layers and micro-organisms. By copying the mole, he designed a plough that pulls the soil inward rather than pushing it outward. While this technology currently attracts quite some attention on social media, it is still not available on the market.

Jane Cobbald’s book Viktor Schauberger. A Life of Learning from Nature gives some interesting insights as to why the bio plough never made it. Apparently Schauberger wanted to go into commercial production, but he had poor negotiation skills. Fertilizer companies realized that the new plough would diminish the need for chemical fertilizers, so they approached Schauberger, asking him if he was willing to share profits if they would promote the plough. Being a convinced environmentalist his answer was a definite “no”, saying he did not want to make deals with criminals. According to his son, shortly after that Schauberger faced problems obtaining copper, so he had to abandon the project.

Using the whirl or vortex principle Schauberger also suggested that electricity could be generated without losing energy, making use of just air and water. These and many other ideas tested by a careful observer of nature, and documented in detailed writings, drawings and photographs, have continued to inspire later generations of scientists and engineers. Until today, for instance, innovators continue to deposit patents for energy-efficient desalination systems, including Schauberger’s vortex principle.

Schauberger’s guiding principle for experimentation was his intuition, which was based on his own observations of nature, his reading of old philosophers and poets, as well as on the deep knowledge of the mountain men who had spent their lives in the forests. As the story of Schauberger has shown, technological breakthroughs are often the result of holistic thinking that incorporates ideas from different disciplines and people, including artists, philosophers, farmers, foresters and engineers.

While research is needed to develop new technologies that will make our planet a better place to live for us and future generations, we also need an enabling environment that supports experimentation with novel ideas, both technical and social.

Further information

Cobbald, Jane. 2009. Viktor Schauberger. A Life of Learning from Nature, Floris Books, pp. 176.

Schauberger, Viktor – The Fertile Earth – Nature’s Energies in Agriculture, Soil Fertilisation and Forestry: Volume 3. Translated and edited by Callum Coats, 2004. pp. 212.

The Secrets of Water, The Documentary of Viktor Schauberger “Comprehend and Copy Nature”: https://www.ecoagtube.org/content/secrets-water-documentary-viktor-schauberger-comprehend-and-copy-nature

Inspiring platforms

Access Agriculture: hosts over 220 training videos in over 85 languages. Each video describes underlying principles, as such encouraging people to experiment with new ideas.

EcoAgtube: a new social media platform where anyone can upload their own videos related to ecological farming and circular economy.

Honey Bee Network: this platform gives a voice to traditional knowledge holders and grassroots innovators. Primarily based in India, it has sparked products, inventions and innovations in many countries.

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