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Two heads film better than one September 15th, 2019 by

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

I used to think that committees and group work killed creativity, but teamwork can help individuals produce things ‚Äď like a cool video ‚Äď that they couldn‚Äôt do by themselves.

Late last year, I was part of a team making a video in the southern Altiplano of Bolivia, along with Paul (the director), Marcella (the cameraperson) and Milton Villca. Milton is an agronomist who grew up in a village on the windswept plains where we were filming. He still lives in the area, helping local farmers to cope with challenges, especially the immense loss of soil caused by wind erosion.

After watching Marcella film for two days, Milton confided that he had tried making his own video, about a wasp that attacks and helps to control some of the caterpillar pests of the quinoa crop. But like the farmers, Milton had also struggled with the wind, losing two cameras because of damage by the fine sand. He’d continued filming the wasps with his cell phone, but he told Marcella he wasn’t sure about the quality of the images. Would she mind taking a look at them?

Marcella was happy to watch Milton’s video clips. All was fine. There were fabulous close ups of a wasp that digs a tunnel in the earth, hides it with grains of sand, finds a big, fat caterpillar, paralyzes it, and drags it back to the burrow, which the wasp is miraculously able to find, with the precision of a GPS. The video clips showed how the wasp uncovers the nest, inserts the unfortunate caterpillar, and lays an egg on it. A wasp grub hatches from the egg, eats the caterpillar and eventually emerges in the summer as an adult wasp.

Paul was immediately taken by the story of the wasp, which locals call nina nina. In our interviews with farmers for a video on windbreaks he decided to also ask them what they knew about the wasp. Unlike many parasitic wasps, which are too small to see clearly with the naked eye, the nina nina is pretty big, and local people know about it and can describe its ecology.

Asking a professional cameraperson to critique your videos can be daunting, but Milton no doubt sensed that Marcella would give him sympathetic and positive criticism. His risk paid off. We collaborated with Milton to write a script for his video. Marcella edited his clips and combined them into a short video, which we are proud to release this week.

Watch the video

The wasp that protects our crops

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Acknowledgements

Milton Villca works for the Proinpa Foundation. Our work was generously supported by the CCRP (Collaborative Crop Research Program) of the McKnight Foundation.

DOS CABEZAS FILMAN MEJOR QUE UNA

Por Jeff Bentley, 15 de septiembre del 2019

Yo solía pensar que los comités y el trabajo en grupo mataban la creatividad, pero el trabajo en equipo puede ayudar a los individuos a producir cosas Рcomo un video genial Рque no podrían hacerse por sí mismos.

A finales del a√Īo pasado, form√© parte de un equipo que hac√≠a un video en el Altiplano sur de Bolivia, junto con Paul (el director), Marcella (la camar√≥grafa) y Milton Villca. Milton es un t√©cnico agr√≥nomo de un pueblo del altipl√°nico ventoso donde film√°bamos. √Čl todav√≠a vive en la zona, ayudando a los agricultores locales a manejar sus desaf√≠os, especialmente a la inmensa p√©rdida de suelo causada por la erosi√≥n del viento.

Despu√©s de ver a Marcella filmar durante dos d√≠as, Milton confi√≥ que √©l hab√≠a intentado hacer su propio video, sobre una avispa que ataca y ayuda a controlar algunos de los gusanos plagas del cultivo de la quinua. Pero al igual que los agricultores, Milton tambi√©n hab√≠a luchado contra el viento, perdiendo dos c√°maras debido a los da√Īos causados por la arena fina. Hab√≠a seguido filmando las avispas con su celular, pero le dijo a Marcella que no estaba seguro de la calidad de las im√°genes. ¬ŅElla estar√≠a dispuesta a verlas?

A Marcella le encantaron los videos de Milton. Hubo excelentes primeros planos de una avispa que excava un t√ļnel en la tierra, lo esconde con granos de arena, encuentra una oruga grande y gorda, la paraliza y la arrastra hasta el t√ļnel del nido, que la avispa milagrosamente logra encontrar, como si tuviera un GPS. Los videos muestran c√≥mo la avispa descubre el nido, inserta al desafortunado gusano y pone un huevo en √©l. Luego, la cr√≠a de la avispa sale del huevo, se come al gusano y eventualmente emerge como una avispa adulta en el verano.

A Paul le cautiv√≥ inmediatamente la historia de la avispa, a la que la gente local llama nina nina. En nuestras entrevistas con los agricultores para un video sobre las barreras vivas, decidi√≥ tambi√©n preguntarles lo que sab√≠an sobre las avispas. A diferencia de muchas avispas par√°sitas, que son demasiado peque√Īas para ver claramente a simple vista, la nina nina es bastante grande, y la gente local sabe de ella y puede describir su ecolog√≠a.

Pedirle a un camarógrafo profesional que critique sus videos puede ser desalentador, pero Milton sin duda sintió que Marcella le daría una crítica positiva, con empatía. Su riesgo valió la pena. Colaboramos con Milton para escribir un guion para su vídeo. Marcella editó sus clips y los combinó en un video corto, que estamos orgullosos de lanzar esta semana.

Ver el video

La avispa que protege nuestros cultivos

Vídeo relacionado

Barreras vivas para proteger el suelo

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Agradecimientos

Milton Villca trabaja para la Fundación Proinpa. Nuestro trabajo fue generosamente apoyado por el CCRP (Programa Colaborativo de Investigación sobre Cultivos) de la Fundación McKnight.

What counts in agroecology August 18th, 2019 by

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

Measuring the costs and benefits of a small farm can be harder than on a large one, especially if the small farm includes an orchard and makes many of its own inputs, as I saw on a recent visit to Sipe Sipe, near Cochabamba, Bolivia, where a faith-based organization, Agroecología y Fe (Agroecology and Faith) is setting up ecological orchards.

The director of Agroecology and Faith, Germ√°n Vargas, explained that a forest creates soil, gradually building up rich, black earth under the trees, while agriculture usually exposes the soil to erosion. A farm based on trees, with organic fertilizer, and with vegetables growing beneath the trees, should be a way to make a profit while conserving the soil. 

Extensionist Marcelina Alarcón showed us the apple trees that she and local farmers planted in August, 2018. They started by terracing the one hectare of gently sloping land. In one week of hard work they built a 200,000 liter, circular water reservoir of stone and concrete (gravity-fed with stream water) to irrigate the terraces and three additional hectares. The cost was 64,000 Bs. ($9,275), which seems like a big investment, but similar reservoirs built 30 years ago are still working.

Lush beds of lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, wheat, onions (some plants grown for their seed) are thriving beneath the apple trees. When one crop is harvested another takes its place, in complex rotations over small spaces. No chemicals are used, but the group makes calcium sulphate spray and liquid organic fertilizers to improve the soil, prevent crop diseases and enhance the production and quality of the apples and vegetables.

The group has harvested vegetables four times and sold them directly to consumers at fairs organized by Agroecology and Faith for a total gross receipt of 4,380 Bolivianos ($635).

I was visiting the farm at Sipe Sipe with a small group organized by Agroecology and Faith and some of their allies. Some of the lettuce, onions and tomatoes from the farm end up in a tub during our visit, to make a salad for the visitors‚ÄĒpart of a fabulous lunch (complete with fresh potatoes and mutton cooked underground) offered at a modest cost. Produce cooked on site and sold informally on the farm are probably not counted when estimating profitability. After the tour of the farm and before the lunch, Marcelina set up a table with some vegetables for sale. She was kept quite busy writing down each transaction as we bought small bags of tomatoes and other produce for amounts less than a dollar each.

The sale of half a kilo of tomatoes is as much work to document as the sale of twenty tons of rice. A small farm has many more sales than a large farm and it takes a lot of administrative work to keep track of produce that is not sold because it goes into seed, feed or onto the family table.

The cost:benefit of a conventional field is simpler to tabulate: so much labor, machinery, seed and chemicals, all purchased, and single crop yields measured with relative ease. Yet this doesn‚Äôt tell the whole story. Loss of soil due to erosion, or carbon and nitrogen to the atmosphere, or pollution from fertilizer run-off all have a cost, even if they are often dismissed as ‚Äúexternalities.‚ÄĚ

An agroforestry system like the hectare of apples and vegetables we visited starts with a large investment in irrigation and terracing. Many of the inputs are labor, or home-made fertilizers, and their cost is not always counted. The apple trees have not yet borne fruit, and some of the vegetables may escape the bookkeeper‚Äôs tally. Yet here the ‚Äúexternalities‚ÄĚ have a positive and valuable contribution: soil is being created, chemical pollution is nil, and livelihoods are enriched as local farmers, mostly women, learn to work together to produce healthy food to sell. Classical economic comparisons with conventional farms fail to take account of these benefits.

Even a small farm can have a lot to consider in estimating returns, with many crops and activities and environmental services. Until we learn to measure the environmental efficiency as well as financial profitability of agroforestry or agroecological farms properly, they will never look as good as they really are.

Further reading

A recent report from the FAO (the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization) concludes that yield data is too poor a parameter to compare conventional (over-plowed, chemical intensive) agriculture with agroecology, a beyond-organic agriculture with soil conservation and respect for local communities.

HLPE Report on Agroecological and other innovative approaches for sustainable agriculture and food systems that enhance food security and nutrition. Extract from the Report: Summary and Recommendations (19 June 2019). Rome: FAO http://www.csm4cfs.org/summary-recommendations-hlpe-report-agroecology-innovations/

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Enlightened agroecology

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LO QUE CUENTA EN LA AGROECOLOG√ćA

Por Jeff Bentley, 18 de agosto del 2019

Medir los costos y los beneficios de una peque√Īa finca puede ser m√°s dif√≠cil que en una grande, especialmente si la peque√Īa incluye √°rboles y produce muchos de sus propios insumos, como vi en una reciente visita a Sipe Sipe, cerca de Cochabamba, Bolivia, donde la organizaci√≥n eclesial ‚ÄúAsociaci√≥n Agroecolog√≠a y Fe‚ÄĚ (AAF) est√° estableciendo huertos ecol√≥gicos agroforestales.

El director de la AAF, Germ√°n Vargas, explic√≥ que un bosque crea suelo, acumulando gradualmente tierra negra y rica bajo los √°rboles, mientras que la agricultura suele exponer el suelo a la erosi√≥n. Una finca basada en √°rboles, con abonos org√°nicos, y con hortalizas que crecen debajo de los √°rboles, deber√≠a ser una forma de obtener beneficios al mismo tiempo que se conserva el suelo. 

La extensionista Marcelina Alarc√≥n nos mostr√≥ los manzanos que ella y la gente local plantaron en agosto del 2018. Comenzaron haciendo terrazas en una hect√°rea en suave pendiente. En una semana de trabajo duro construyeron un reservorio circular de agua de 200.000 litros de piedra y concreto (llenado por gravedad de agua de riachuelo) para regar las terrazas y tres hect√°reas adicionales. El costo fue de 64.000 Bs. ($9,275), que parece una inversi√≥n grande, pero reservorios similares construidos hace 30 a√Īos siguen funcionando.

Camellones exuberantes de lechuga, repollo, br√≥coli, trigo, cebollas (algunas cultivadas para su semilla) prosperan bajo los manzanos. Cuando se cosecha un cultivo, otro ocupa su lugar, en complejas rotaciones sobre peque√Īos espacios. No aplican productos qu√≠micos, pero el grupo fabrica caldo mineral sulfoc√°lcico y abonos org√°nicos l√≠quidos para mejorar el suelo, prevenir las enfermedades de los cultivos y mejorar la producci√≥n y calidad de los manzanos y de las hortalizas.

El grupo ha cosechado verduras cuatro veces y las ha vendido directamente a los consumidores en ferias organizadas por la AAF (en una canasta solidaria y saludable) por un total de 4.380 bolivianos (635 dólares).

Yo visitaba la finca agroforestal de Sipe Sipe con un peque√Īo grupo organizado por la AAF y algunos de sus aliados. Algunas de las lechugas, cebollas y tomates de la finca terminaron en una ba√Īera durante nuestra visita, para hacer una ensalada para los visitantes, parte de un fabuloso almuerzo (con papas frescas y cordero cocido bajo tierra en un pampaku) ofrecido a un precio modesto. Los productos cocinados en el sitio y vendidos informalmente en la finca probablemente no se contabilizan. Despu√©s del recorrido por la finca y antes del almuerzo, Marcelina organiz√≥ una mesa para vender algunas verduras. Se mantuvo ocupada apuntando cada transacci√≥n mientras compr√°bamos peque√Īas bolsas de tomates y otros productos por cantidades menos de un d√≥lar cada una.

La venta de medio kilo de tomates es tanto trabajo como la venta de veinte toneladas de arroz. Una finca peque√Īa tiene muchas m√°s ventas que una grande y se requiere mucho trabajo administrativo para hacer un seguimiento de los productos que no se venden porque van a parar como semilla, para alimentar a los animales o a la mesa de la familia.

El costo:beneficio de un campo convencional es m√°s simple de tabular: tanta mano de obra, maquinaria, semillas y productos qu√≠micos, todos comprados, y el rendimiento de un solo cultivo medido con relativa facilidad. Sin embargo, esto no cuenta toda la historia. La p√©rdida de suelo debido a la erosi√≥n, o el carbono y nitr√≥geno a la atm√≥sfera, o la contaminaci√≥n por la escorrent√≠a de los fertilizantes, todos ellos tienen un costo, aunque a menudo se desestimen como “externalidades”.

Un sistema agroforestal, como la hect√°rea de manzanas y hortalizas que visitamos comienza con una gran inversi√≥n en riego y terrazas. Muchos de los insumos son mano de obra, o abonos caseros, y su costo no siempre se cuenta. Los manzanos a√ļn no han dado fruto, y algunas de las verduras pueden escaparse de la cuenta del contable. Sin embargo, aqu√≠ las “externalidades” tienen una contribuci√≥n positiva y valiosa: se est√° creando el suelo, la contaminaci√≥n qu√≠mica es nula y los medios de subsistencia se enriquecen a medida que los agricultores locales, en su mayor√≠a mujeres, aprenden a trabajar juntas para producir alimentos saludables para vender. Las comparaciones econ√≥micas cl√°sicas con las explotaciones convencionales no tienen en cuenta estos beneficios.

Incluso una peque√Īa granja puede tener mucho que considerar al estimar los rendimientos, con muchos cultivos y actividades y servicios ambientales. Hasta que no aprendamos a medir la eficiencia ambiental y la rentabilidad financiera de las granjas agroforestales o agroecol√≥gicas de manera adecuada, nunca se ver√°n tan bien como realmente son.

Para leer m√°s

Un informe reciente de la FAO (Organización de las Naciones Unidas para la Alimentación y la Agricultura) concluye que los datos sobre el rendimiento son muy pobres para poder comparar la agricultura convencional (sobre arado, con uso intensivo de químicos) con la agroecología, una agricultura que vas más allá de la orgánica, con conservación del suelo y respeto para las comunidades locales.

Resumen y recomendaciones del informe del GANESAN sobre Agroecología y otras innovaciones (19 de junio 2019). Roma: FAO. http://www.csm4cfs.org/es/summary-recommendations-hlpe-report-agroecology-innovations/

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Enlightened Agroecology August 4th, 2019 by

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

Francisco ‚ÄúPacho‚ÄĚ Gangotena grew up in the countryside of Ecuador and decided that the best way to help smallholder farmers was to get an education. So, he went abroad for a Ph.D. in anthropology. He came home feeling like ‚Äúthe divine papaya‚ÄĚ, he says, thinking that he could change the world with his doctorate.

After a year of teaching at the university, Pacho wanted do something more practical, so he and his wife Maritza sold the house and the car and bought four hectares of land for farming not too far from Quito. But making this work was going to be a huge challenge. The land had no trees and the soil was degraded.

From day one, the family decided that they would use no agrochemicals. They gradually improved the soil by recycling the crop residues and manure back into the soil. Pacho estimates that in this way the family has applied the equivalent of 4000 truckloads of compost since he first began farming here over 35 years ago.

I met Pacho recently on his farm in Puembo, in the Ecuadorian Andes, where he happily showed me and a few other visitors his four dairy cows. He puts sawdust in their stall to absorb their manure and urine. Each cow eats 90 kilos of feed daily and produces about 70 kilos of waste every day, equivalent to 25 tons of organic fertilizer each year for every cow. A single cow can fertilize one hectare of crops. All the manure goes onto the farm, along with all of the composted crop residues.

Pacho rotates his vegetable crops on his four-hectare farm. Potatoes are followed by broccoli, lettuce, radishes and green beans. He employs ten people and is proud that his small farm can give jobs to local families by producing healthy vegetables to sell direct to consumers in the local markets.

His grown son and daughter have also found work on the farm. Pacho jokes that he has retired and that now his daughter is his boss‚ÄĒand a pretty demanding one.

Besides recycling organic matter, Pacho also has some more unusual strategies for building up the soil. He enriches it with wood ash from pizzerias and with powdered rock from quarries. As the quarries cut stone, they leave behind a lot of powdered rock, as waste, which Pacho collects. Rocks are rich in minerals (with up to 80 elements) and are one of nature’s main components of soil.

Pacho is up front about his limitations, which adds to his credibility. A new phytoplasma disease (punta morada) is sweeping Ecuador, wiping out potato fields, including his. He also has to import vegetable seed from the USA and Europe.

But Pacho‚Äôs vegetable fields are lush, like gardens, and now surrounded by trees that the family has planted ‚Äúproviding room, board and employment for the birds and for beneficial insects,‚ÄĚ Pacho explains. An ornithologist friend counted 32 bird species on the farm, including 22 insectivores. Pacho is convinced that the birds help him to control pests without the need for insecticides. Predatory insects also provide a natural biological control of pests.

He also thinks that it is important to share what he has learned, welcoming around 32,000 smallholders to visit his farm over the years. It helps that he was the director of Swiss Aid in Ecuador for 20 years and has built a large network of collaborating farmers. Many come in groups, and some stay for several days to learn about organic farming and agroecology.

The farm’s family and staff feed us a big lunch of kale salad, potato soup and a lasagna made with green leaves instead of pasta. All vegetarian and delicious. The farm has a clear emphasis on nutritious food and produces lots of it. By intercropping and rotating crops, they get 92 tons of vegetables and other crops per hectare each year, a more than respectable yield by any standard. Since buying the farm, the organic matter, or carbon held in the soil has increased from 2% to 12% or more. In a hectare that is at least 500 tons of carbon.

Not everyone is in favor of organic, biological agriculture. For example, in an otherwise excellent book, Enlightenment Now, Steven Pinker argues that organic agriculture is not sustainable, because it supposedly uses more land that conventional agriculture.

In fact, in developing countries organic agriculture yields 80% more than conventional agriculture, but without the yield stagnation or decline that occurs with the high use of external inputs (see Uniformity in Diversity by IPES Food).

But Pinker, in his characteristic optimism, also writes that even though climate change is the world’s most serious problem, it can be solved if we really work on it.

That brings us back to the Gangotena family farm, which is providing jobs, and lots of healthy food, while removing carbon from the air where it is harmful and putting it underground where it is useful.  Organic agriculture may be one of the world‚Äôs greatest techniques for sequestering carbon from the atmosphere, storing in the soil as rich, black earth for productive farming.

Further reading

Pinker, Steven 2018 Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress. London: Penguin Books.

IPES Food 2016 From Uniformity to Diversity: A paradigm shift from industrial agriculture to diversified agroecological systems. International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems.

Related blog story

Out of space

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Pacho Gangotena and his family for their generosity of spirit and for the example they set, to Ross Borja and Pedro Oyarz√ļn of EkoRural for organizing the visit to the farm. EkoRural is supported in part by the McKnight Foundation. Thanks to Ross Borja, Pedro Oyarz√ļn, Claire Nicklin, Pacho Gangotena, Paul Van Mele and Eric Boa for reading an earlier draft of this story.

LA LUZ DE LA AGROECOLOG√ćA

Por Jeff Bentley, 4 de agosto del 2019

Francisco “Pacho” Gangotena creci√≥ en el campo en Ecuador y decidi√≥ que la mejor manera de ayudar a los campesinos era obtener una educaci√≥n. As√≠ que, se fue al exterior para hacer un doctorado en antropolog√≠a. Lleg√≥ a casa sinti√©ndose como “la divina papaya “, dice, pensando que podr√≠a cambiar el mundo con su doctorado.

Despu√©s de un a√Īo de ense√Īar en la universidad, Pacho quer√≠a hacer algo m√°s pr√°ctico, as√≠ que √©l y su esposa Maritza vendieron la casa y el auto y compraron cuatro hect√°reas de tierra cerca de Quito. Pero la agricultura iba a ser un gran desaf√≠o. La tierra no ten√≠a √°rboles y el suelo estaba degradado.

Desde el primer d√≠a, la familia decidi√≥ que no usar√≠a agroqu√≠micos. Poco a poco mejoraron el suelo volviendo a incorporar los rastrojos y el esti√©rcol. Pacho estima que de esta manera la familia ha aplicado el equivalente a 4000 camiones de compost desde que empezaron a trabajar la tierra hace 35 a√Īos.

Conoc√≠ a Pacho hace poco en su finca en Puembo, en los Andes ecuatorianos, donde con toda felicidad √©l mostr√≥ a m√≠ y a algunos otros visitantes sus cuatro vacas lecheras. Pone aserr√≠n en su establo para absorber el esti√©rcol y la orina. Cada vaca come 90 kilos de alimento al d√≠a y produce unos 70 kilos de esti√©rcol al dia, unas 25 toneladas de abono org√°nico por vaca, al a√Īo. Cada vaca fertiliza una hect√°rea. Todo el esti√©rcol fertiliza el suelo junto con los rastrojos del campo convertidos en compost.

Pacho rota sus cultivos en sus cuatro hect√°reas de cultivo que constituyen su finca. Despu√©s de las papas pone br√≥coli, lechuga, r√°banos y arvejas. Emplea a diez personas y est√° orgulloso de que su peque√Īa finca d√© empleo a las familias locales, produciendo verduras sanas para venderlas directamente a los consumidores en los mercados locales.

Su hijo y su hija también traban en la finca. Pacho bromea que se ha jubilado y que ahora su hija es su jefa, y que es muy dura.

Adem√°s de reciclar la materia org√°nica, Pacho tambi√©n tiene algunas estrategias m√°s originales para crear suelo. La enriquece con ceniza de le√Īa de pizzer√≠as y con el polvo de roca de las canteras. Como las canteras cortan piedra, dejan mucha roca en polvo, como desecho, que Pacho recoge. La rocas son ricas en minerales (hasta 80 elementos) y constituyen uno de los principales componentes naturales del suelo.

Pacho admite francamente sus limitaciones, lo cual le da m√°s credibilidad. Un nuevo fitoplasma (una enfermedad‚ÄĒpunta morada) est√° arrasando con las papas del Ecuador, incluido las suyas. Tambi√©n tiene que importar varias de sus semillas de hortalizas de los Estados Unidos y Europa.

Pero las hortalizas de Pacho son exuberantes, como jardines, y ahora est√°n rodeados de √°rboles que la familia ha plantado “para dar ‚Äėroom and board‚Äô y trabajo a los p√°jaros e insectos ben√©ficos”, explica Pacho. Un amigo ornit√≥logo cont√≥ 32 especies de aves en la granja, incluyendo 22 insect√≠voros. Pacho est√° convencido de que las aves le ayudan a controlar las plagas sin necesidad de usar insecticidas. Los insectos depredadores tambi√©n hacen un control biol√≥gico natural de las plagas.

Tambi√©n cree que es importante compartir lo que ha aprendido y 32.000 campesinos han visitado su granja a lo largo de los a√Īos. Es una ventaja haber sido director de Swiss Aid en Ecuador durante 20 a√Īos y ha creado una amplia red de agricultores colaboradores. Muchos vienen en grupos, y algunos se quedan varios d√≠as para aprender sobre la agricultura org√°nica y la agroecolog√≠a.

La familia y el personal de la granja nos alimentan con un gran almuerzo de ensalada de col rizada, sopa de papas y una lasa√Īa de hojas verdes sin pasta. Todo vegetariano y delicioso. La finca tiene un claro √©nfasis en la comida nutritiva, la cual produce en abundancia. A trav√©s del policultivo y la rotaci√≥n de cultivos, obtienen 92 toneladas de hortalizas y productos agr√≠colas por a√Īo en las cuatro hect√°reas, por a√Īo, m√°s que respetables bajo cualquier sistema. Desde que compr√≥  la finca, la materia org√°nica o carbono retenido en el suelo ha subido del 2% al 12% o m√°s. En una hect√°rea de al menos 500 toneladas de carbono.

No todos están a favor de la agricultura orgánica y biológica. Por ejemplo, en un libro por lo demás excelente, Enlightenment Now, Steven Pinker argumenta que la agricultura orgánica no es sostenible, porque supuestamente usa más tierra que la agricultura convencional.

De hecho, en los países en desarrollo la agricultura orgánica rinde un 80% más que la agricultura convencional, pero sin los rendimientos estancados o en disminución que sucede con el alto uso de insumos externos (véase Uniformity in Diversity por IPES Food).

Pero Pinker, con su caracter√≠stico optimismo, a√Īade que aunque el cambio clim√°tico es el problema m√°s grave del mundo, puede resolverse si realmente trabajamos en eso.

Esto nos lleva de nuevo a la granja de la familia Gangotena, que crea puestos de trabajo y produce abundantes alimentos saludables, a la vez que extrae el carbono del aire donde hace da√Īo y lo pone bajo tierra donde hace bien.  

Leer m√°s

Pinker, Steven 2018 Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress. London: Penguin Books.

IPES Food 2016 From Uniformity to Diversity: A paradigm shift from industrial agriculture to diversified agroecological systems. International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems.

Historia de blog relacionada

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Gracias a Pacho Gangotena y su familia por su esp√≠ritu generoso y por el ejemplo que nos dan, a Ross Borja y Pedro Oyarz√ļn de EkoRural por organizar la visita a la granja. EkoRural recibe apoyo de la Fundaci√≥n McKnight. Gracias a Ross Borja, Pedro Oyarz√ļn, Claire Nicklin, Pacho Gangotena, Paul Van Mele y Eric Boa por leer una versi√≥n anterior de esta relaci√≥n.

Biological pest control in the Galapagos forest July 14th, 2019 by

Agronomy is a kind of applied biology, but conservation biologists are now starting to apply some of the tricks from agriculture, as I saw on a recent visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station in the Galapagos Islands. The campus is tucked discretely into one of the world’s strangest forests, where some of the plants that were able to reach these remote islands have evolved into trees. Prickly pear cactus is usually a low-lying plant with paddle-like pads, but in the Galapagos, it has evolved a tall, straight trunk. The Scalesia trees evolved from a daisy-like flower.

Then in 1982, these rare trees were threatened when the cottony scale insect, originally from Australia, invaded the islands and began to feed on its odd collection of forest species, causing the dieback and death of trees. By 1996 the scale insect was attacking 80 plant species in the Galapagos, including 19 threatened ones.

Displays at the Darwin Station proudly explained their efforts to control the Australian scale insect by bringing in one of its natural enemies, a ladybird beetle, also from down under, that preys on the scale. In 1999, the British Embassy funded an insect containment center, where the ladybird was intensively studied before being released on 11 islands in 2003 and 2004. By 2009 the ladybird had hunted the cottony cushion scale down to a much lower population level. The forest was safe. 

The sign at the Darwin Station said that this was an example of biological pest control, but the display failed to mention that this was the second time that the Australian ladybird beetle had come to the rescue of trees. The first time was in California in 1888, when the ladybird was imported to successfully control scale insects in citrus.

So, conservation biology has learned a lesson from agriculture, specifically from biological pest control. It’s only fair: ecology has provided many key insights to agriculture. For example, Darwinian natural selection explains how pests evolve resistance to pesticides. Gene mapping has helped plant breeders to develop new crop varieties faster.

The Darwin Station is now working on other projects to control pests. For example, an introduced fly is attacking the emblematic finches in their nests, and the Darwin Station is taking eggs from the nests of the mangrove finch (the most endangered of the Galapagos finch species) and rearing the chicks by hand, safe from the flies. The Darwin Station is also rearing several tortoise species, protecting them from introduced rats that eat the tortoise eggs. When the tortoises are two-years old they are released, each species to its own home island.

Agriculture has much experience reproducing plants and animals, and controlling pests in ecologically-sound ways. In the future, plant and animal species can be brought back from the brink of extinction, but it will take more than just conserving their habitat. Individual animals will have to be nurtured, helped to breed in higher numbers, and protected from pests. Conservation biology is becoming more hands on, more like farming and ranching. In the future, other lessons from agriculture may also of use to wildlife conservationists.

Scientific names

The finch-killing fly, Philornis downsi

The ladybird beetle, Rodolia cardinalis

The cushiony cotton scale insect: Icerya purchase

Prickly pear, Opuntia echios

MMangrove finch, Camarhychus heliobatis

Planting a wrong image July 7th, 2019 by

A picture says more than a thousand words. And pictures stick better in the mind. On a recent visit to the organic farm shop Eikelenhof, run by our friends Johan and Vera, I was reminded how easy it is for wrong images to become received knowledge.

Vera was talking to Peter, a plastic artist from the neighbourhood and one of the regular customers at the farm shop. The past few days we had had quite some severe storms and Peter was telling how the gusty winds had taken their toll with broken branches and uprooted trees as a result. Uprooted trees and heavy soil erosion are some of the few occasions when people get to see a glimpse of how the roots of mature trees look like. When they continued discussing about tree roots, both said that the roots are a mirror of the tree canopy. At that stage I intervened and started explaining how this image survived for centuries, but that this was absolutely wrong. Vera and Peter are both clever successful people, but like many of us, it is hard for them to shake off an image that has been impressed in their minds.

In the 19th century, Charles Darwin was making history with his research on how species had evolved over millions of years. The scientific revolution and the age of exploration ignited a growing interest in exotic plants and the economic potential they might have, leading to the boom of botanical gardens across Europe. These events also triggered a general interest in nature overall, and especially in England this passion for gardens has lived on until today.

When a 19th century graphic artist diverted from the botanical drawing style, which was based on accurate observations, he drew from imagination a stylistic tree with the roots being as a mirror of the canopy. He had no idea how it would impact on future generations. Helped by the technical breakthrough of offset printing and emerging media houses, this image made its way across Europe and firmy established in the minds of ordinary folks. Until today, hundreds of variations continue to be developed and spread, further feeding this misperception.

But my friends at the farm shop in Belgium are not the only people who accept the received wisdom that a tree’s roots mirror its branches. Even Thai farmers have taken the idea on board. When visiting a mango project in Thailand some 20 years ago, I recall visiting orchards where farmers had dug a trench just below the edge of the tree canopy to irrigate and put some organic fertilizer. It was explained to me that this was the zone where all the feeder roots of the trees could be found. Until today, tree roots are poorly studied, partly because they are hard to observe.

Fortunately, many of the 19th century illustrators painted accurate pictures of the natural world, which led to a greater understanding of natural history. Whether we illustrate with water colors or with video, it is important to get the picture right.

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