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Capturing carbon in our soils December 12th, 2021 by

Nederlandse versie hieronder

Participants at the recent climate summit in Glasgow (COP26) spent considerable energy discussing about ways to further reduce carbon emissions and improve regulation of carbon markets. For the first time in history, fossil fuels have been officially recognised as the main cause of heating our planet. While investments in renewable energy have been long overdue, agriculture continues to be a net polluter and contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Yet, with some relatively modest investment agriculture could even become a net absorber of GHGs.

Few people realise that more carbon can be captured by soils than what is stored in the wood of trees. So, paying attention to what we do with our soils is as important as protecting our forests.

A high level of organic matter is the main indicator of soil health, determining the level of resilience of farms to cope with the effects of disruption in the climate. Carbon-rich soils are essential to secure future food production, because carbon feeds soil microorganisms and helps soils to retain water and nutrients, which are all essential for growing plants.

Adding compost to soils is one common way of enriching the soil with carbon. When plants die and decompose, the living organisms of the soil, such as bacteria, fungi or earthworms, transform the plants into forms of organic matter that the earth can absorb. But also living plants transfer lots of carbon from the air to the soil in a remarkable way. In the daytime, plants absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air through the pores of their leaves. During photosynthesis, plants use water and sunlight to turn the carbon into leaves, stems, seeds and roots. However, as one third of the CO2 captured is released as sugars by plant roots to the soil, one may wonder why the plants are ‚Äúleaking‚ÄĚ.

Plants, like all living creatures, cannot live in isolation; they need others to survive. The liquid sugars released by plant roots are part of a symbiotic relationship between mycorrhizal fungi and 90% of all plants, an arrangement that has developed over the past 420 million years. In fact, plants cannot survive without these soil fungi and vice versa.

Mycorrhizal fungi cannot live without a host plant and, in exchange for the plant’s sugar, the fungi will absorb and transport nutrients and water back to its host.  For every cubic meter of soil, these fungi will send out as much as 20,000 km of fungal threads, also called hyphae, so that they infiltrate every area of soil.  Fungi can access nutrients and water unavailable to the larger plant roots.

Fungi can also use their acids to release nutrients from soils and even rocks ‚ÄĒ transforming rock minerals into formats that the plant can use. The complexity of interactions between plants and soil organisms goes even further. Certain nutrients can only be extracted from soils by bacteria and fungi will exchange sugar for the nutrients requested by the plant in a complex symbiotic exchange.

Studies have shown that soils under mature, perennial crops contain more available nutrients than soils treated with agricultural chemicals, which kill soil microbes, resulting in the net loss of soil carbon. Policies that promote agroecology, regenerative farming and organic agriculture are therefore directly contributing to soil carbon sequestration and hence help to fight against climate change. But more can be done.

It has long been thought that most of the soil carbon was contained in the top 30 centimetres of the soil in the form of the organic matter in humus. In 1996, Dr. Sara Wright discovered in the USA that soils contain large amounts of carbon up to more than a meter deep. Carbon is stored in the form of glomalin, a highly persistent protein produced by mycorrhizal fungi. As the mycorrhizal fungi go deeper into the soil to mine nutrients and water for the plant, they deposit more and more carbon in the form of glomalin. The more mature this relationship is between plant and microbe the more volume of soil is accessed on behalf of the plant and the better the crop will produce and be able to cope with harsh weather conditions.

Ploughing destroys soil organic matter by oxidation and releases much of the carbon stored in the top soil as CO2, which finds its way to the atmosphere. Ploughing also depletes the micro-organisms in the soil. Reduced tillage and ensuring more permanent soil coverage by plants is therefore crucial to build up a healthy soil life and keep carbon stored in the soil.

Permanent pasture soils with healthy microbial life have been increasing the amount of carbon that they sequester beneath the grasses each year. Practices such as agroforestry and establishing field hedges are other low-cost strategies that can help turn the tide of our warming planet.

In fact, an annual increase of soil organic carbon by 0.4% would neutralise the human-caused emissions of CO2 into the atmosphere. This scientific insight was at the basis of the “4 per 1000” initiative to which many governments, research institutes, civil society and companies already subscribed during the climate summit in Paris in 2015. While the European Green Deal has set a target to be climate-neutral by 2050, the increasing natural calamities we witness year after year shows us that we have no more time to lose.

Illustration credit

Mycorrhiza by Nefronus, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=80931388

Read more

The Liquid Carbon Pathway (LCP): http://www.carbon-drawdown.com/liquid-carbon-pathway.html

The 4 per 1000 Initiative: https://www.4p1000.org/

Related Agro-Insight blogs

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Inspiring knowledge platforms

Access Agriculture: https://www.accessagriculture.org is a specialised video platform with freely downloadable farmer training videos on ecological farming with a focus on the Global South.

EcoAgtube: https://www.ecoagtube.org is the alternative to Youtube where anyone from across the globe can upload their own videos related to ecological farming and circular economy.

 

Koolstof vastleggen in onze bodem

Deelnemers aan de recente klimaattop in Glasgow (COP26) besteedden veel energie aan het bespreken van manieren om de koolstofemissies verder te verminderen en de regulering van koolstofmarkten te verbeteren. Voor het eerst in de geschiedenis zijn fossiele brandstoffen officieel erkend als de belangrijkste oorzaak van de opwarming van onze planeet. Hoewel investeringen in hernieuwbare energie al lang op zich lieten wachten, blijft de landbouw een netto vervuiler en bijdrager aan de uitstoot van broeikasgassen (BKG). Maar met relatief bescheiden investeringen zou de landbouw zelfs een netto absorbeerder van broeikasgassen kunnen worden.

Weinig mensen realiseren zich dat er meer koolstof door de bodem kan worden vastgelegd dan er in het hout van bomen wordt opgeslagen. Aandacht besteden aan wat we met onze bodem doen, is dus net zo belangrijk als het beschermen van onze bossen.

Een hoog gehalte aan organische stof is de belangrijkste indicator voor de gezondheid van de bodem en bepaalt de mate van veerkracht van bedrijven om de effecten van verstoringen in het klimaat het hoofd te bieden. Koolstofrijke bodems zijn essentieel om de toekomstige voedselproductie veilig te stellen, omdat koolstof de bodemmicro-organismen voedt en de bodem helpt om water en voedingsstoffen vast te houden, die allemaal essentieel zijn voor het kweken van planten.

Het toevoegen van compost aan de bodem is een veelgebruikte manier om de bodem met koolstof te verrijken. Wanneer planten afsterven en uiteenvallen, transformeren de levende organismen van de bodem, zoals bacteri√ęn, schimmels en regenwormen, ze in vormen van organisch materiaal dat de aarde kan opnemen. Maar ook levende planten brengen op opmerkelijke wijze veel koolstof uit de lucht naar de bodem. Overdag nemen planten koolstofdioxide (CO2) op uit de lucht via de pori√ęn van hun bladeren. Tijdens de fotosynthese gebruiken planten water en zonlicht om de koolstof om te zetten in bladeren, stengels en wortels. Echter, aangezien een derde van de opgevangen CO2 als suikers door plantenwortels aan de bodem wordt afgegeven, kan men zich afvragen waarom de planten “lekken”.

Planten, zoals alle levende wezens, kunnen niet ge√Įsoleerd leven; ze hebben anderen nodig om te overleven. De vloeibare suikers die door plantenwortels vrijkomen, maken deel uit van een symbiotische relatie tussen mycorrhiza-schimmels en 90% van alle planten, een arrangement dat zich in de afgelopen 420 miljoen jaar heeft ontwikkeld. Sterker nog, planten kunnen niet zonder deze bodemschimmels en vice versa.

Mycorrhiza-schimmels kunnen niet leven zonder een waardplant en in ruil voor de suiker van de plant zullen de schimmels voedingsstoffen en water opnemen en terugvoeren naar de gastheer. Voor elke kubieke meter grond sturen deze schimmels maar liefst 20.000 km schimmeldraden, ook wel hyfen genoemd, uit, zodat ze in elk gebied van de bodem infiltreren. Schimmels hebben toegang tot voedingsstoffen en water die niet beschikbaar zijn voor de grotere plantenwortels.

Schimmels kunnen hun zuren ook gebruiken om voedingsstoffen uit de bodem en zelfs uit rotsen vrij te maken, waardoor gesteentemineralen worden omgezet in nutrienten die de plant kan gebruiken. De complexiteit van interacties tussen planten en bodemorganismen gaat nog verder. Bepaalde voedingsstoffen kunnen alleen door bacteri√ęn uit de bodem worden gehaald en schimmels wisselen suiker uit voor de voedingsstoffen die de plant nodig heeft in een complexe symbiotische uitwisseling.

Studies hebben aangetoond dat bodems onder volgroeide, meerjarige gewassen meer beschikbare voedingsstoffen bevatten dan bodems die zijn behandeld met landbouwchemicali√ęn, die bodemmicroben doden, wat resulteert in het netto verlies van bodemkoolstof. Beleid dat agro-ecologie, regeneratieve landbouw en biologische landbouw bevordert, draagt ‚Äč‚Äčdaarom rechtstreeks bij aan de vastlegging van koolstof in de bodem en helpt zo de klimaatverandering tegen te gaan. Maar er kan meer gedaan worden.

Lange tijd werd gedacht dat de meeste bodemkoolstof zich in de bovenste 30 centimeter van de bodem bevond in de vorm van de organische stof in humus. In 1996 ontdekte Dr. Sara Wright in de VS dat bodems grote hoeveelheden koolstof bevatten tot meer dan een meter diep. Koolstof wordt opgeslagen in de vorm van glomaline, een zeer persistent eiwit dat wordt geproduceerd door mycorrhiza-schimmels. Naarmate de mycorrhiza-schimmels dieper de grond in gaan om voedingsstoffen en water voor de plant te ontginnen, zetten ze steeds meer koolstof af in de vorm van glomaline. Hoe volwassener deze relatie tussen plant en microbe is, hoe meer grond er voor de plant wordt aangesproken en hoe beter het gewas zal produceren en bestand is tegen barre weersomstandigheden.

Ploegen vernietigt organisch bodemmateriaal door oxidatie en geeft veel van de koolstof die in de bovenste bodem is opgeslagen vrij als CO2, dat zijn weg naar de atmosfeer vindt. Ploegen put ook de micro-organismen in de bodem uit. Minder grondbewerking en zorgen voor een meer permanente bodembedekking door planten is daarom cruciaal om een ‚Äč‚Äčgezond bodemleven op te bouwen en koolstof in de bodem vast te houden.

Bodems van blijvend grasland met gezond microbieel leven verhogen de hoeveelheid koolstof die ze elk jaar onder de grassen vastleggen. Praktijken zoals agroforestry en het aanleggen van heggen en houtkanten zijn andere goedkope strategie√ęn die kunnen helpen het tij van onze opwarmende planeet te keren.

In feite zou een jaarlijkse toename van de organische koolstof in de bodem met 0,4% de door de mens veroorzaakte uitstoot van CO2 in de atmosfeer kunnen neutraliseren. Dit wetenschappelijke inzicht lag aan de basis van het “4 per 1000”-initiatief waar veel overheden, onderzoeksinstituten, het maatschappelijk middenveld en bedrijven al op intekenden tijdens de klimaattop in Parijs in 2015. Terwijl de Europese Green Deal een doelstelling heeft klimaat-neutraal te zijn tegen 2050, laten de toenemende natuurrampen waar we jaar na jaar getuige van zijn, ons zien dat we geen tijd meer te verliezen hebben.

La Tablée September 26th, 2021 by

Nederlandse versie hieronder

The choice to eat healthy, organic food cannot be left to consumers alone. While organising farm visits to inform and build trust among consumers is important, too often such initiatives are left to individual farmers. But when this is coordinated at a higher level with multiple stakeholders, including local authorities, an amazing dynamism can be created, as I recently learned during a visit to France.

With my wife Marcella and colleagues from Access Agriculture, we decided to stay a few days longer in Rennes, after we attended the Organic World Congress in September 2021. Strolling through the historic city centre towards the old church of Saint George, we are pleasantly surprised to discover La Tablée (Table Guests), a festive open-air event on the grounds around the ruins where people are invited to taste local products laid out on long lines of picnic tables.

The Tabl√©e and various other events we attended were all organised by the collegial group created by those involved from the initial application of Rennes city to host the Organic World Congress.¬†They called their group ‘Voyage to Organic Lands’.

After some friendly volunteers explained the concept, we took a seat and started to taste some of the apple juices, which are all delicious and remarkably distinct. Each bottle has a name printed on the bottle screw cap (Arthur, Lancelot, Merlin, Gauvain, Vivianne, Perceval and Excalibur). Before France was unified in 843 AD, Britain (la Grande Bretagne) and Brittany (la Petite Bretagne) had close ties and historians increasingly believe that the legend of the hero king Arthur and his brave knights have their roots in France, in the forests near Rennes. Perhaps French apple juice or cider was served at the round table.

When I heard someone speaking about apples over the loudspeakers, I realized that there was a live radio show taking place on one of the corners. Radio Rennes was interviewing the organic apple grower, Arnaud Lebrun. In full honesty, Arnaud explained how he started his career as a salesman for a pesticide company.

‚ÄúAfter more than a decade, I began to see all the damage this was doing to the environment, and I could no longer find peace with myself. I decided to quit my job and make a 180-degree shift. My wife and I bought a neglected apple orchard with trees that were already 40 years old and we converted it into an organic apple orchard. We had to learn everything,‚ÄĚ Arnaud explains live on air, ‚ÄúI did not even know how to drive a tractor.‚ÄĚ

In the shade of an old oak tree, interviews went on all day long with local farmers and food producers. While we only stayed on for an hour or so, I could still hear Arnaud‚Äôs wife profess: ‚Äúour customers truly appreciate all the products we make from our apples. What gives me the most satisfaction is to see the smiles on people‚Äôs faces.‚ÄĚ

Brittany has the richest diversity of apple varieties in the country and a long tradition of producing cider and pomée, a thick sweet to spread on bread. Preparing the pomée is a community event that celebrates harvest, as the women clean the apples while men take turns all night long stirring the thickening pomade in a huge copper pot over a fire.

Another remarkable traditional product on the picnic tables is gwell, a creamy type of yoghurt made by fermenting raw milk from the pie noire, a breed of local cow that almost went extinct in the 1970s. Gwell is traditionally eaten with flat round buckwheat cakes (galette) or potatoes, and is an excellent ingredient for desserts.

As we are having a great culinary experience, Lisa and Olivier, the sympathetic local baker farmers whom we just got to know at the Organic World Congress, arrive and join our table. They brought with them some more fresh bread and other traditional goodies.

Small leaflets, each one with a little quiz, invite people to reflect on one particular aspect of making and eating food. This pleasant event brings consumers and producers closer to each other, and with the radio reaches a much wider audience.

For over 60 years, consumers have been influenced by marketeers to eat and drink over-processed foods, stripped of their nutrients. It will take time for people to switch from flavour-enhanced junk to real food. Through joint efforts between organic and biodynamic farmer associations, researchers, restaurant owners, as well as authorities from cities and regions, changing consumer behaviour towards healthy, natural food can become a continuous concerted effort.

As I learned that week in Rennes around the table, consumers and farmers need more than connections, they need to form communities, and a bit of fun can help.

Discover more

Voyage to Organic Lands / Voyage en Terre Bio: https://www.voyageenterrebio.org

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Better food for better farming

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An exit strategy

 

De tafelgasten

De keuze om gezond, biologisch voedsel te eten kan niet alleen aan de consument worden overgelaten. Hoewel het belangrijk is boerderijbezoeken te organiseren om de consumenten te informeren en vertrouwen te wekken, worden dergelijke initiatieven maar al te vaak overgelaten aan individuele landbouwers. Maar wanneer dit op een hoger niveau wordt gecoördineerd met meerdere belanghebbenden, waaronder lokale overheden, kan een verbazingwekkende dynamiek ontstaan, zoals ik onlangs leerde in Frankrijk.

Met mijn vrouw Marcella en collega’s van onze vzw Access Agriculture besloten we een paar dagen langer in Rennes te blijven, nadat we in september 2021 het Organic World Congress hadden bijgewoond. Wandelend door het historische stadscentrum in de richting van de oude kerk Saint George, worden we aangenaam verrast als we La Tabl√©e (Tafelgasten) ontdekken, een feestelijk openluchtevenement op het terrein rond de ru√Įne waar mensen worden uitgenodigd om lokale producten te proeven die op lange rijen picknicktafels zijn neergezet.

Nadat enkele vriendelijke vrijwilligers het concept hadden uitgelegd, namen we plaats en begonnen we met het proeven van enkele van de appelsappen, die allemaal heerlijk en opmerkelijk verschillend zijn. Op elk flesje staat een naam gedrukt op de schroefdop (Arthur, Lancelot, Merlijn, Gauvain, Vivianne, Perceval en Excalibur). Voordat Frankrijk in het jaar 843 werd verenigd, hadden Groot-Brittanni√ę (la Grande Bretagne) en Bretagne (la Petite Bretagne) nauwe banden en historici geloven steeds meer dat de legende van koning Arthur en zijn dappere ridders hun wortels hebben in Frankrijk, in de bossen bij Rennes. Misschien werd er aan de ronde tafel wel Frans appelsap of cider geserveerd.

Toen ik iemand over appels hoorde praten via de luidsprekers, realiseerde ik me dat er een live radioprogramma aan de gang was op het terrein. Radio Rennes interviewde de biologische appelteler, Arnaud Lebrun. In alle eerlijkheid legde Arnaud uit hoe hij zijn carrière was begonnen als verkoper bij een pesticidenbedrijf.

“Na meer dan tien jaar begon ik de schade aan het milieu in te zien, en ik kon geen vrede meer met mezelf vinden. Ik besloot mijn baan op te zeggen en een ommezwaai van 180 graden te maken. Mijn vrouw en ik kochten een verwaarloosde appelboomgaard met bomen die al 40 jaar oud waren en we bouwden die om tot een biologische appelboomgaard. We hebben alles moeten leren”, vertelt Arnaud live in de uitzending, “ik wist niet eens hoe ik een tractor moest besturen.”

In de schaduw van een oude eik gingen de interviews de hele dag door met lokale boeren en voedselproducenten. Hoewel we maar een uurtje aanhielden, kon ik Arnauds vrouw nog horen uitroepen: “onze klanten waarderen echt alle producten die we van onze appels maken. Wat mij de meeste voldoening geeft, is de glimlach op de gezichten van de mensen te zien.”

Bretagne heeft de rijkste verscheidenheid aan appelvari√ęteiten van het land en een lange traditie in de productie van cider en pom√©e, een dik snoepje om op brood te smeren. Het bereiden van de pom√©e is een gemeenschapsgebeuren dat de oogst viert, waarbij de vrouwen de appels schoonmaken terwijl de mannen om beurten de hele nacht lang de indikkende pom√©e in een enorme koperen pot boven een vuur roeren.

Een ander opmerkelijk traditioneel product op de picknicktafels is gwell, een romige soort yoghurt die wordt gemaakt door rauwe melk van de pie noire te laten gisten, een lokaal koeienras dat in de jaren zeventig bijna was uitgestorven. Gwell wordt traditioneel gegeten met platte ronde boekweitkoeken of aardappelen, en is een uitstekend ingredi√ęnt voor desserts.

Terwijl we aan het genieten zijn van onze culinaire ervaring, komen Lisa en Olivier, de sympathieke lokale bakkers-boeren die we net hebben leren kennen op het Organic World Congress, aan onze tafel zitten. Ze hebben nog wat vers brood en andere traditionele lekkernijen bij zich.

Kleine folders, elk met een korte quiz, nodigen uit om na te denken over een bepaald aspect van het produceren en eten van voedsel. Dit gezellige evenement brengt consumenten en producenten dichter bij elkaar, en bereikt met de radio een veel breder publiek.

Al meer dan 60 jaar worden consumenten door marketeers be√Įnvloed om overbewerkte voedingsmiddelen te eten en te drinken, ontdaan van hun voedingsstoffen. Het zal tijd vergen voordat de mensen overschakelen van smaakversterkende junk naar echt voedsel. Door gezamenlijke inspanningen van verenigingen van biologische en biodynamische landbouwers, onderzoekers, restauranthouders en autoriteiten van steden en regio’s kan het veranderen van het consumentengedrag in de richting van gezond, natuurlijk voedsel een continue gezamenlijke inspanning worden.

Die week in Rennes aan de tafel heb ik geleerd dat consumenten en boeren meer nodig hebben dan verbindingen, ze moeten gemeenschappen vormen, en een beetje plezier kan daarbij helpen.

Choosing to farm August 8th, 2021 by

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

Growing up on a mixed dairy farm in Sacaba, Bolivia, Alicia Garc√≠a was always interested in agriculture. This year, Alicia and her sister built two greenhouses and grew winter tomatoes (in June and July, in Bolivia). But as the temperature dropped near freezing several times, the plants ‚Äúburned‚ÄĚ or died back. Alicia admits that the first winter was a learning experience. In Cochabamba tomatoes are a summer crop, so Alicia was surprised with the cold damage, but she is sure that next winter, she will manage better. To keep learning, she left one row of the damaged tomatoes standing, to see if they could recover, but she has replanted most of the greenhouse with lettuce and other leafy greens. Aphids are a tomato pest, but Alicia manages them with homemade sulfur lime and an ash-and-soap blend. Alicia fertilizes the soil with manure from her family‚Äôs cows and with biol (made from manure fermented in water).

As another innovation, Alicia is growing apples as an agroforestry system. (Earlier I wrote about some of the agroforestry pioneers in Cochabamba, Apple futures, Farming with trees). Alicia planted her apple seedlings a year and a half ago, and while they are still small she grows broad beans, onions, broccoli and cabbage in between the little trees. This makes use of the land, and keeps down the weeds.

She’s also had some help along the way. When she was just 13 she began taking farming classes from the Center for Technical Teaching for Women (CETM). For the past 10 years, Agrecol Andes (an NGO that promotes agroecology) has helped Alicia and other farmers to sell their ecological produce in coordination with the municipal government (see blog An exit strategy). Last year, Alicia and her sister built two greenhouses, with support from a government program, The Rural Alliances Project Rurales (PAR).

This experience shows that a young woman can be interested in agriculture enough to assume long-term commitments like a greenhouse and an apple orchard. Alicia has a lot in her favor: institutional support for training, investment and marketing, a family that provides land and manure, and she lives in an attractive community. The family home is just past the edge of the small city of Sacaba, which has all the basic services (like banks, hospitals, and shopping). And Sacaba itself is a half-hour drive from the big city of Cochabamba. In Bolivia, rural migration is draining the countryside, but small cities like Sacaba are growing rapidly. The city also offers opportunities for farmers. Every Friday, Alicia and other farmers meet at a city park in Sacaba to sell produce to local people.

I asked Alicia why she had gone into farming. I thought she might say to make money. She surprised me a bit when said ‚ÄúWhat I like is the chance to work with nature.‚ÄĚ

In other words, a lifestyle decision. She finds the work enjoyable, and she likes to farm without chemicals. Alicia explained ‚ÄúMy parents never used pesticides on their farm. Even when the neighbors sprayed their maize and potatoes, my parents didn‚Äôt.‚ÄĚ

Alicia is now in university and has one year left to finish her degree in architecture. After graduation she would like to open her own office and go into landscaping, combining architecture with her love of plants and the outdoors.

Alicia doesn’t farm like her parents did. They didn’t grow vegetables or fruit trees, but she builds on their experience and with appropriate help, was able to start a greenhouse and an orchard while still attending university. Agriculture can capture the imagination of the best and brightest young people.

Acknowledgments

Thanks to Alicia for receiving us in her orchard and in her greenhouse. Thanks to Ing. Alberto C√°rdenas and Ing. Alexander Espinoza for organizing this visit, where consumers were able to meet farmers. Alberto and Alexander work for the Agrecol Andes Foundation, in Cochabamba. Alicia and Alberto commented on a previous version of this story.

Previous Agro-Insight blogs

Strawberry fields once again

Friendly germs

OPTANDO POR LA AGRICULTURA

Por Jeff Bentley, 8 de agosto del 2021

Al crecer en la finca lechera de su familia en Sacaba, Bolivia, Alicia Garc√≠a siempre se interes√≥ por la agricultura. Este a√Īo, Alicia y su hermana construyeron dos invernaderos, y lograron producir tomates de invierno (junio y julio, en Bolivia). Pero como la temperatura baj√≥ cerca de cero grados varias veces, las plantas se “quemaron” o sea se muri√≥ parte de su follaje. Alicia reconoce que el primer invierno fue una experiencia de aprendizaje. En Cochabamba los tomates son un cultivo de verano, as√≠ que Alicia se sorprendi√≥ con los da√Īos causados por el fr√≠o, pero est√° segura de que el pr√≥ximo invierno se las arreglar√° mejor. Para seguir aprendiendo, dej√≥ una hilera de tomates da√Īados en pie, para ver si se recuperaban, pero ha replantado la mayor parte del invernadero con lechuga y otras verduras de hoja verde. Los pulgones son una plaga del tomate, pero Alicia los controla con sulfoc√°lcico y un caldo de ceniza y jab√≥n. Alicia abona la tierra con el esti√©rcol de las vacas de su familia y con biol (hecho de esti√©rcol fermentado en agua).

Como otra innovaci√≥n, Alicia ha plantado manzanos como sistema agroforestal. (He escrito sobre algunos de los pioneros de la agroforester√≠a en Cochabamba, Manzanos del futuro, La agricultura con √°rboles). Alicia plant√≥ sus plantines de manzano hace un a√Īo y medio y, mientras son peque√Īos, ella cultiva habas, cebollas, br√≥coli y repollo entre los arbolitos. As√≠ aprovecha la tierra y evita las malezas.

A lo largo de los a√Īos Alicia ha tenido apoyo de varios tipos. A los 13 a√Īos empez√≥ a pasar clases de agricultura en el Centro de Ense√Īanza T√©cnica para la Mujer (CETM). Desde hace tres a√Īos la Fundaci√≥n Agrecol Andes, una ONG que promueve la agroecolog√≠a, ayuda a Alicia y a otros agricultores a vender sus productos ecol√≥gicos (v√©ase el blog, Estrategia de salida), con un sistema participativo de garant√≠a, a trav√©s de un convenio con el Gobierno Municipal de Sacaba. ¬†El a√Īo pasado, Alicia y su hermana construyeron dos invernaderos, con el apoyo de un programa gubernamental, el Proyecto de Alianzas Rurales (PAR).

Esta experiencia demuestra que una mujer joven puede interesarse por la agricultura lo suficiente como para asumir compromisos a largo plazo, como un invernadero y un huerto de manzanos. Alicia tiene mucho a su favor: apoyo institucional para la capacitaci√≥n, la inversi√≥n y la comercializaci√≥n, una familia que le proporciona la tierra y el abono, y vive en una comunidad atractiva. Vive cerca de la peque√Īa ciudad de Sacaba, que tiene todos los servicios b√°sicos (como bancos, hospitales y tiendas). Y Sacaba est√° a media hora en auto de la gran ciudad de Cochabamba. En Bolivia mucha gente est√° abandonando las comunidades rurales, pero las ciudades peque√Īas como Sacaba est√°n creciendo r√°pidamente. La ciudad tambi√©n ofrece oportunidades para los agricultores. Todos los viernes, Alicia y otros agricultores se re√ļnen en un parque de la ciudad de Sacaba para vender productos a la poblaci√≥n local.

Le pregunt√© a Alicia por qu√© se hab√≠a dedicado a la agricultura. Pensaba que dir√≠a que lo hac√≠a para ganar dinero. Me sorprendi√≥ un poco cuando dijo: “Lo que me llama la atenci√≥n de la agricultura es la naturaleza”.

En otras palabras, una decisi√≥n de estilo de vida. El trabajo le resulta agradable y le gusta cultivar sin productos qu√≠micos. Alicia tambi√©n explic√≥: “Mis padres nunca usaron qu√≠micos. Incluso cuando los vecinos fumigaban su ma√≠z y sus papas, mis padres no lo hac√≠an”.

Actualmente, Alicia est√° en la universidad y le queda un a√Īo para terminar la carrera de arquitectura. Despu√©s de graduarse le gustar√≠a abrir su propia oficina y dedicarse al paisajismo, combinando la arquitectura con su amor por las plantas y el trabajo al aire libre.

Alicia no trabaja la tierra como lo hacían sus papás. Ellos no cultivaban verduras ni árboles frutales, pero ella se basa en la experiencia de ellos y, con la ayuda adecuada, pudo poner en marcha un invernadero y un huerto mientras seguía asistiendo a la universidad. La agricultura puede captar la imaginación de las jóvenes listas y bien preparadas.

Agradecimientos

Gracias a Alicia por recibirnos en su huerto y su invernadero. Gracias a los Ing. Alberto Cárdenas y Alexander Espinoza por organizar esta visita, entre consumidores y agricultores. Alberto y Alexander trabajan para la Fundación Agrecol Andes, en Cochabamba. Alicia y Alberto comentaron sobre una versión previa de este blog.

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Principles matter July 18th, 2021 by

In this age of restricted travel, when webinars have taken the place of conferences, at first I missed face-to-face meetings a lot. But virtual events do allow one to get exposed to far more ideas than before. This is also the case when digital learning is introduced to farmers. Farmers are increasingly getting information online, like videos. But the videos have to be properly designed. Unlike following a cooking recipe on a Youtube video, in agriculture, recipes must be accompanied by basic principles, so that farmers can decide how to experiment with the new ideas.

I was reminded of this recently during a webinar on the Community-Based Natural Farming Programme in Andhra Pradesh, India. One of the speakers was Vijay Kumar, one of the driving forces behind the programme, which aims to scale up agroecology to millions of farmers in Andhra Pradesh. Vijay is a humble, highly-respected former civil servant. He is much in demand, so meeting him in person would be a challenge, but introduced by a mutual colleague, I was fortunate to have already met him several times on Zoom. Vijay appreciates that Access Agriculture stands for quality training videos that enable South-South learning. According to him, the collaboration with Access Agriculture offers opportunities to help scale community-based natural farming from India to Africa and beyond. It is fortunate to have strong allies who understand the challenges of scaling and that to be cost-effective, one cannot simply visit all the world’s farmers in person.

Still, many people think that farmers can only learn from fellow farmers who live nearby and speak the same language, and that training videos are only useful when they are made locally. The many experiences from local partners with Access Agriculture training videos show that farmers do learn from their peers across cultures, on different continents. Farmers are motivated when they see how fellow farmers in other parts of the world solve their own problems. Access Agriculture videos are effective across borders in part because they explain the scientific principles behind technologies, and not just show how to do things. Vijay is convinced that scientific knowledge and farmer knowledge need to go hand in hand to promote agroecology.

The second speaker at the natural farming conference was Walter Jehne, a renowned Australian soil microbiologist, who talked about the need to build up soil organic matter and micro-organisms as a way to revive soils and cool the planet. I was pleased that he also stressed the importance of principles. When one of the Indian participants asked Walter if he could provide the recipe, he smilingly and patiently explained: ‚ÄúWe should focus on the underlying principles, as principles apply across the globe, irrespective of where you are. You need organic matter, you need to build up good soil micro-organisms and make use of natural growth promotors. If a recipe tells you to use cow dung, but you don‚Äôt have cows, what can you do? If for instance you have reindeer, their dung will work just as well. You don‚Äôt have to be dogmatic about it.‚Ä̬† In two of my earlier blogs (Trying it yourself and Reviving soils) I did exactly do that back home: use ingredients that were available to me: sheep dung, leaves of oak trees in the garden, wheat straw, and so on, but building on ideas from Indian farmers.

Farmers have creative minds and this creativity is fed by basic principles: while recipes surely help, a better understanding of underlying scientific principles are what matter most when it comes down to adaptation to local contexts. We, at Access Agriculture are thrilled to join Andhra Pradesh’s efforts to spread Community-Based Natural Farming across the globe.

Related webinars

365 Days Green Cover & Pre-Monsoon Dry Sowing (PMDS) – Walter Jehne – Streamed on 6th July 12:30 pm

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Inspiring video 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 social media video platform where anyone from across the globe can upload their own videos related to natural farming and circular economy.

Teaching the farmers of tomorrow with videos May 23rd, 2021 by

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

Youth around the world are leaving agriculture, but many would stay on the farm if they had appropriate technologies and better social services, as Professor Alejandro Bonifacio explained to me recently.

Dr. Bonifacio is from the rural Altiplano, the high plains of Bolivia. At 4,000 meters above sea level, it is some of the highest farmland in the world. Bonifacio has a PhD in plant breeding, and besides directing an agricultural research station in Viacha on the Altiplano, he teaches plant breeding part-time at the public university in La Paz (Universidad Mayor de San Andrés).

The university attracts many rural youths. Every year Bonifacio asks his new class of students to introduce themselves one-by-one and to tell where they come from, and to talk about their parents and their grandparents.

This year about 20% of the students in Bonifacio’s class are still living on the farm, and taking their classes online. Another 50% are the children or grandchildren of farmers, but are now living in the city. Many of these agronomy students would be more interested in taking over their parents’ farm, if not for a couple of problems.

One limitation is the lack of services in the rural areas: poor schools, bad roads, the lack of clinics, and no electricity or running water. While this is slowly improving, Covid has added a new twist, locking young people out of many of the places they liked to go to, and not just bars and restaurants. One advantage of city life is having access to medical attention, but this past year the students said it was as though the cities had no hospitals, because they were full of Covid patients. Classes were all on-line, and so the countryside began to look like a nicer place to live than the city. Many students went home to their rural communities, where there was much more freedom of movement than in the city.

Dr. Bonifacio told me that even when the youth do go home, they don’t want to farm exactly like their parents did. The youngsters don’t go in for all the backbreaking work with picks and shovels, but there is a lack of appropriate technology oriented towards young, family farmers, such as small, affordable machinery. Young farmers are also interested in exploiting emerging markets for differentiated produce, such as food that is free of pesticides. Organic agriculture also helps to save on production costs, as long as farmers have practical alternatives to agrochemicals.

Fortunately, there are videos on appropriate technologies, and Professor Bonifacio shows them in class. Today‚Äôs youth have grown up with videos, and find them convincing. Every year, Bonifacio organizes a forum for about 50 students on plant breeding and crop disease. He assigns the students three videos to watch, to discuss later in the forum. One of his favorites is Growing lupin without disease, which shows some organic methods for keeping the crop healthy. Bonifacio encourages the students to watch the video in Spanish, and Quechua or Aymara. Many of the students speak Quechua or Aymara, or both, besides Spanish. Some feel that they are forgetting their native language. ‚ÄúThe videos help the students to learn technical terms, like the names of plant diseases, in their native languages,‚ÄĚ Bonifacio says.

During the Covid lockdown, Prof. Bonifacio moved his forum online and sent the students links to the videos. In the forum, some of the students said that while they were home they could identify the symptoms of lupine disease, thanks to the video.

Bonifacio logs onto Access Agriculture from time to time to see which new videos have been posted in Spanish, to select some to show to his students, so they can get some of the information they need to become the farmers of tomorrow.

Kids who grow up on small farms often go to university as a bridge to getting a decent job in the city. But others study agriculture, and would return to farming, if they had appropriate technology for family farming, and services like electricity and high-speed internet.

Related Agro-Insight blogs

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Videos from Access Agriculture

Check out these youth-friendly videos with appropriate technology. Besides videos in English, www.accessagriculture.org has:

104 videos in Spanish

Eight videos in Aymara

And eight in Quechua

ENSE√ĎAR A LOS AGRICULTORES DEL MA√ĎANA CON VIDEOS

Por Jeff Bentley, 23 de mayo del 2021

Por todas partes del mundo, los jóvenes abandonan la agricultura, pero muchos seguirían cultivando si tuvieran tecnologías apropiadas y mejores servicios sociales, como me explicó recientemente el docente Alejandro Bonifacio.

El Dr. Bonifacio es originario del Altiplano de Bolivia. A 4.000 metros sobre el nivel del mar, es una de las tierras agr√≠colas m√°s altas del mundo. Bonifacio tiene un doctorado en fitomejoramiento y, adem√°s de ser jefe de una estaci√≥n de investigaci√≥n agr√≠cola en Viacha, en el Altiplano, ense√Īa fitomeoramiento a tiempo parcial en la universidad p√ļblica de La Paz (Universidad Mayor de San Andr√©s).

La universidad atrae a muchos j√≥venes rurales. Cada a√Īo, Bonifacio pide a su nueva clase de estudiantes que se presenten uno por uno y digan de d√≥nde vienen, y que hablen de sus padres y sus abuelos.

Este a√Īo, alrededor del 20% de los estudiantes de la clase de Bonifacio siguen viviendo en el √°rea rural, desde donde se conectan a las clases virtuales. Otro 50% son hijos o nietos de agricultores, pero ahora viven en la ciudad. Muchos de estos estudiantes de agronom√≠a estar√≠an m√°s interesados en trabajar el terreno sus padres, si no fuera por un par de problemas.

Una limitaci√≥n es la falta de servicios en las zonas rurales: colegios deficientes, carreteras en mal estado, la falta de cl√≠nicas, luz y agua potable. Aunque esto est√° mejorando poco a poco, Covid ha introducido cambios, porque los j√≥venes ya no pueden ir a muchos de los lugares que les gustaban, y no s√≥lo las discotecas y los restaurantes. Una de las ventajas de la vida urbana es tener acceso a la atenci√≥n m√©dica, pero este √ļltimo a√Īo los estudiantes dijeron que era como si las ciudades no tuvieran hospitales, porque estaban llenos de pacientes de Covid. Las clases eran todas en l√≠nea, por lo que el campo empez√≥ a parecer un lugar m√°s agradable para vivir que la ciudad. Muchos estudiantes se fueron a sus comunidades rurales, donde hab√≠a m√°s libertad de movimiento que en la ciudad.

El Dr. Bonifacio me dijo que, incluso cuando los j√≥venes vuelven a casa, no quieren trabajar la tierra tal como lo hac√≠an sus padres. Los j√≥venes no se dedican al trabajo agotador con palas y picotas, pero hace falta la tecnolog√≠a adecuada orientada a los j√≥venes agricultores familiares, por ejemplo, la maquinaria peque√Īa y asequible. Los j√≥venes agricultores tambi√©n quieren explotar los mercados emergentes de productos diferenciados, como los alimentos libres de plaguicidas. La agricultura org√°nica tambi√©n ayuda a ahorrar costes de producci√≥n, siempre que los agricultores tengan alternativas pr√°cticas a los productos agroqu√≠micos.

Afortunadamente, existen videos sobre tecnolog√≠as adecuadas, y el Dr. Bonifacio los muestra en clase. Los j√≥venes de hoy conocen los videos desde su infancia, y los encuentran convincentes. Cada a√Īo, Bonifacio organiza un foro para unos 50 estudiantes sobre el fitomejoramiento y las enfermedades. Asigna a los alumnos tres videos para que los vean y los discutan despu√©s en el foro. Uno de sus favoritos es Producir tarwi sin enfermedad, que muestra algunos m√©todos org√°nicos para mantener el lupino sano. Bonifacio anima a los estudiantes a ver el video en espa√Īol y en quechua o aymara. Muchos de los estudiantes hablan quechua o aymara, o ambos, adem√°s del castellano. Algunos sienten que est√°n olvidando su lengua materna. “Los videos ayudan a los alumnos a aprender t√©rminos t√©cnicos, como los nombres de las enfermedades de las plantas, en sus idiomas nativos”, dice Bonifacio.

Durante la cuarentena de Covid, el Dr. Bonifacio trasladó su foro a Internet y envió a los estudiantes enlaces a los videos. En el foro, algunos de los estudiantes dijeron que mientras estaban en casa podían identificar los síntomas de la enfermedad del tarwi (lupino), gracias al video.

Bonifacio entra en la p√°gina web de Access Agriculture de vez en cuando para ver qu√© nuevos videos se han publicado en espa√Īol, para seleccionar algunos y ense√Ī√°rselos a sus alumnos, para que aprendan algo de la informaci√≥n que necesitan para ser los agricultores del futuro.

Los hijos de agricultores suelen usar a la universidad como puente para conseguir un buen trabajo en la ciudad. Pero otros estudian agronomía, y volverían al agro, si tuvieran tecnología apropiada para la agricultura familiar, y servicios como electricidad e Internet de alta velocidad.

Historias relacionadas en el blog de Agro-Insight

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Videos de Access Agriculture

Vea algunos de estos videos apropiados para agricultores jóvenes en https://www.accessagriculture.org/es. Incluso, Access Agriculture tiene:

104 videos en castellano

Ocho videos en aymara

Y ocho en quechua

 

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