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Toxic chemicals and bad advice November 27th, 2022 by

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

Imagine a situation where dangerous products are sold to anyone who wants them, with no license or prescription. You would expect that under such conditions, at least the vendors would be competent, able to advise the customers at least based on the manufacturers’ recommendations.

Sadly, in the Andes, pesticide dealers usually fail to give their customers proper advice.

In a recent study in Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, an experienced team of agriculturalists, mostly from the region, measured the accuracy of advice given at farm supply shops. Their method was ingenious and elegant. A local person (a farmer or an agronomy student) would enter the shop and ask for help with a specific plant health problem, one of the most serious pests or diseases of a major local crop (such as maize or potatoes).  The shopkeeper was not caught off guard with a rare pest or disease. The pretend customer would describe the pest or disease accurately, in local rhetoric, without scientific names or other academic terms. The shopkeeper would make a diagnosis and recommend a product to solve the problem.

On average, across the three countries, the advice was wrong 88.2% of the time, out of 1,489 pesticide retailers. The dealers also favored the more toxic chemicals.

The dealers mis-diagnosed the problem 23% of the time. Those who made an accurate diagnosis then recommended a product for the wrong group of organisms (such as an insecticide for a fungal disease) 13% of the time. They recommended the product for a pest that was not indicated on the label 51% of the time, and gave the wrong dose (ranging from eight times too high or 5 times too low) 52% of the time. There is no reason to think that the situation is much different in most of the rest of the world, outside of the Andes.

Selling agrochemicals with such sloppiness and incompetence only increases the risks to human health and the environment, while also allowing the pest to develop pesticide resistance more quickly. Yet Andean agrodealers only dispense accurate information 12% of the time.

Large agrochemical companies claim not to be accountable for the environmental damage and the frequent human catastrophes caused by the use of pesticides, saying that all the necessary information on proper use is indicated on the label. This blatantly ignores the reality of the retail trade. Authorities should raise taxes on toxic products, and invest this in research and development that supports alternatives, such as agroecology.

Further reading

Struelens, Quentin Fran√ßois, Marco Rivera, Mariana Alem Zabalaga, Ra√ļl Ccanto, Reinaldo Quispe Tarqui, Diego Mina, Carlos Carpio, Mar√≠a Rosa Yumbla Mantilla, M√©lany Osorio, Soraya Rom√°n, Diego Mu√Īoz, Olivier Dangles 2022 Pesticide misuse among small Andean farmers stems from pervasive misinformation by retailers.¬†PLOS Sustainability and Transformation¬†1, no. 6: e0000017.


Jeff Bentley, 27 de noviembre del 2022

Imaginemos una situación en la que se venden productos peligrosos a cualquiera que los quiera, sin licencia ni receta. Uno esperaría que en esas condiciones, al menos los vendedores fueran competentes, capaces de asesorar a los clientes al menos basándose en las recomendaciones de los fabricantes.

Lamentablemente, en los Andes, los vendedores de plaguicidas no suelen asesorar adecuadamente a sus clientes.

En un reciente estudio realizado en el Per√ļ, Bolivia y Ecuador, un experimentado equipo de ingenieros agr√≥nomos, en su mayor√≠a de la regi√≥n, midi√≥ la exactitud de los consejos dados en las tiendas agropecuarias. Su m√©todo era ingenioso y elegante. Una persona del lugar (un agricultor o un estudiante de agronom√≠a) entraba en la tienda y ped√≠a ayuda para un problema fitosanitario concreto, una de las plagas o enfermedades m√°s severas de un cultivo local importante (como el ma√≠z o la papa).¬† Al tiendero no le agarraban en curva con una plaga o enfermedad rara. El supuesto cliente describir√≠a la plaga o la enfermedad con precisi√≥n, en la ret√≥rica local, sin nombres cient√≠ficos ni otros t√©rminos acad√©micos. El vendedor hac√≠a un diagn√≥stico y recomendaba un producto para solucionar el problema.

En promedio, en los tres países, el consejo fue erróneo el 88,2% de las veces, de los 1.489 vendedores de plaguicidas. Los comerciantes también se inclinaron por los productos químicos más tóxicos.

Los comerciantes se equivocaron en el diagnóstico del problema en el 23% de las ocasiones. Los que hicieron un diagnóstico correcto recomendaron un producto para el grupo de organismos equivocado (como un insecticida para un hongo) el 13% de las veces. Recomendaron el producto para una plaga que no estaba indicada en la etiqueta el 51% de las veces, y dieron la dosis equivocada (entre ocho veces demasiado alta y cinco veces demasiado baja) el 52% de las veces. No hay razón para pensar que la situación sea muy diferente en la mayor parte del resto del mundo, fuera de los Andes.

Vender agroquímicos con tanta dejadez e incompetencia sólo aumenta los riesgos para la salud humana y el medio ambiente, al tiempo que permite que la plagas desarrollen resistencia a los plaguicidas más rápidamente. Sin embargo, los agro-comerciantes andinos sólo dispensan información precisa el 12% de las veces.

Las grandes empresas agroqu√≠micas afirman no ser responsables de los da√Īos ambientales y de las frecuentes cat√°strofes humanas causadas por el uso de plaguicidas, diciendo que toda la informaci√≥n necesaria sobre el uso adecuado est√° indicada en la etiqueta. Esto ignora descaradamente la realidad del comercio minorista. Las autoridades deber√≠an aumentar los impuestos sobre los agro-t√≥xicos, e invertir los fondos en la investigaci√≥n y desarrollo que apoyen alternativas, como la agroecolog√≠a.

Lectura adicional

Struelens, Quentin Fran√ßois, Marco Rivera, Mariana Alem Zabalaga, Ra√ļl Ccanto, Reinaldo Quispe Tarqui, Diego Mina, Carlos Carpio, Mar√≠a Rosa Yumbla Mantilla, M√©lany Osorio, Soraya Rom√°n, Diego Mu√Īoz, Olivier Dangles 2022 Pesticide misuse among small Andean farmers stems from pervasive misinformation by retailers.¬†PLOS Sustainability and Transformation¬†1, no. 6: e0000017.

A climate film November 13th, 2022 by

A movie about rural people, filmed with them, in their communities, is rare, even more so when it touches on important topics like climate change.

In the Bolivian film Utama, directed by Santiaga Loayza, the main characters, Virgilio and Sisa are an elderly couple living on the Bolivian Altiplano, in a two-room adobe house. They still love each other, after many years together. Virgilio has never forgiven his son, for moving to the city, years ago. When the couple¬īs grandson, Cl√©ver, comes to visit, the old man is angry. He feels that Cl√©ver‚Äôs father has sent him to take Virgilio and Sisa to the city.

The stunning photography shows the stark beauty of the hills and mountains rising from the high plains. The characters are believable and authentic. The title, Utama, means ‚Äúour home‚ÄĚ in the Aymara language.

The story takes place near the end of a long drought, exacerbated by climate change. Virgilio, Cléver and some of the neighbors hike to a mountain top to perform a ritual to bring the rain, which never comes. Some families leave for the city. Virgilio develops an agonizing cough, refuses to let Cléver take him to the hospital, and dies at home.

The elderly couple is played by José Calcina and Luisa Quispe, who are married in real life, and are from the community where the movie was filmed, Santiago de Chuvica, in Potosí, Bolivia. They were cast because of their obvious affection for each other. This realism is accentuated when the couple speak to each other in Quechua, a native language of Bolivia.

Loayza had previously visited Santiago de Chuvica while making a documentary film. In reality, the village is an outpost for travelers visiting the famous Salar de Uyuni, a giant salt flat, an ancient lake bed surrounded by sparse vegetation.

This is one of the most remote parts of Bolivia, and one of the most marginal environments for agriculture in the world. Quinoa is the only crop that will grow here. Until the mid-twentieth century, local farmers made their living by packing out quinoa on the backs of llamas, to trade for food in other parts of Bolivia. It was an ingenious, and unusual cropping system, based on one crop and one animal.

But as the world gets hotter and dryer, places like Chuvica will only become more stressed.

Although not shown in the movie, some parts of Bolivia are far more favorable to farming, with spring-like weather much of the year, where many crops will grow. People are also leaving these areas for the city. Whole communities are emptying out. In the provincial valleys of Cochabamba it is common to see few homes except for ruined, empty farm houses. The grandparents who lived there may have died, but their heirs are still tilling the fields, commuting from town. Farming is often the most resilient part of rural life, and the last to be abandoned.

Climate change is a real problem, and will turn some people into environmental refugees. But villagers are also leaving more favorable farm country, pulled by the opportunities for jobs, education, health care and commerce in the cities. If rural-to-urban migration is seen as a problem, then country life needs to be made more comfortable, with roads, electricity, potable water, schools and clinics.

At the 2022 Sundance Film Festival Utama won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic Competition.  Hopefully other filmmakers will make more movies on climate change, and on rural life. There are lots more stories to tell.

Previous Agro-Insight blogs

High Andean climate change

Recovering from the quinoa boom

Videos on climate

Recording the weather, also available in Spanish, Quechua and Aymara

Forecasting the weather with an app, also available in Spanish, Quechua and Aymara

Additional reading

Sag√°rnaga, Rafael 2022 Alejandro Loayza: Hay que hacer que el mundo escuche tus historias. Los Tiempos 13 Feb pp. 2-3.

El Pa√≠s 2022 ‚ÄėUtama‚Äô, la historia de amor frente al olvido en el Altiplano que sorprendi√≥ en Sundance

Recovering from the quinoa boom October 30th, 2022 by

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading

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

Previous Agro-Insight blogs

Awakening the seeds

Wind erosion and the great quinoa disaster

Slow recovery

Related videos

Living windbreaks to protect the soil

The wasp that protects our crops


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


Por Jeff Bentley, 30 de octubre del 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lectura adicional

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

Previamente en el blog de Agro-Insight

Despertando las semillas

Destruyendo el altiplano sur con quinua

Recuperación lenta

Videos sobre el tema

Barreras vivas para proteger el suelo

La avispa que protege nuestros cultivos


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

Exit strategy 2.0 October 2nd, 2022 by

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

I’ve written before that a program to support a network of local food producers and consumers needs an exit strategy (An exit strategy). I’ve seen various projects that do a good job at mentoring smallholders, to produce chemical-free food, package it attractively and distribute it to discriminating consumers in the city. This usually relies on hidden subsidies: the university-educated technical staff who broker the food, promote it and transport it in cars, also paid for out of the project budget. It’s a way to show that there is demand for agroecological food, but not a business model.

In the Tungurahua province of Ecuador, last February, I saw what it takes for farmers and consumers to come together in a robust, self-sustaining way.

In the municipality of Pelileo, a city of about 50,000 people, the NGO SWISSAID started 13 years ago to teach 600 farmers and gardeners about agroecology, according to the current country director, Oscar Quillupangui. The second year, SWISSAID organized the farmers to sell their produce in a fair in the city. This was only possible thanks to the mayor at the time, who understood the importance of a market for local, organic produce. As Fernando J√°come of SWISSAID told me, ‚Äúyou can‚Äôt run a market without local government support. If you set up a food fair in a public space, the mayor can ask the police to throw you out. In fact, farmer fairs in some other Ecuadorian cities did not thrive, because of this lack of municipal support.‚ÄĚ

The current mayor, Ing. Leonardo Maroto, has a vision for healthy food systems: ‚Äúthe countryside gives life to the city.‚ÄĚ

When Paul and Marcella and I visited the weekly agroecological fair in Pelileo, on Thursday, 10 February, we were delighted to see a living market, supported by a whole social structure. The space itself is the size of a large basketball court, with a cement floor and a high, awning roof, no walls, but with a stage on one end and step-like seats on the other. Seventy-seven farmer-sellers, almost all women (with two or three supportive husbands), set out their fresh produce on tables in neat rows. Each table was covered with an orange tablecloth. The sellers wore green smocks and orange caps, which helped the organized women (with some help from a couple of municipal cops) to keep out free riders trying to sell conventional food in the market.

The food is of great diversity: potatoes and other Andean roots and tubers, leafy vegetables, pulses like peas and broad beans, giant squash, butchered ducks, rabbits, chickens and guinea pigs. It’s all fresh off the farm and of the highest quality, attracting a steady stream of middle-class consumers who appreciate the value of local feed, free of toxic chemicals.

‚ÄúWell, it is for our health, right? We always have to be natural. Because you know that now there are so many illnesses because of the chemicals that they put in the fruits and the vegetables. So, for us, for me, and for everyone it is very good that the food is natural, to avoid illnesses,‚ÄĚ says Maricela Herrera, one of the consumers.

There are some touches of local personality, like the ten-man brass band, from the municipal government. They don’t play every week, but they come about once a month to attract customers with their beat. There is some free food tasting (potatoes with a slice of egg, peanut sauce and a bit of boiled pork skin).

Mayor Maroto makes an appearance, offering encouraging words over the loudspeaker. The band starts again and people begin to dance, eventually dragging Paul and I onto the dance floor as well.

Through all of this, the staff from SWISSAID, including Fernando and Oscar, keep a low profile. They stand on the sidelines, but they are observant, and I would have missed one of the most important parts of the fair, if they had not pointed it out to me. The farmers who sell at the fair have elected a president, vice-president, secretary and treasurer, Martha Cunalata who quietly goes from one table to the next, collecting one dollar from each member, to meet the association’s expenses.

Self-financed, organized and supported by paying customers and the local government, this market could survive even without an NGO to nurture it. This is what a healthy, local food system looks like. Hopefully it will grow and plant seeds in other cities. As Paul told mayor Maroto of Pelileo, ‚Äúyou are an inspiration to other cities of the world.‚ÄĚ

Watch the video

Creating agroecological markets

Related video

Home delivery of organic produce

Related blogs

Marketing as a performance

Marketing something nice

Home delivery of organic produce


Thanks to Oscar Quillupangui and Paul Van Mele for their helpful comments on a previous version of this blog.


Jeff Bentley, 2 de octubre del 2022

Ya he escrito antes que un programa de apoyo a una red de productores y consumidores de alimentos locales necesita una estrategia de salida (Una estrategia de salida). He visto varios proyectos que hacen un buen trabajo de orientaci√≥n a los peque√Īos productores para que produzcan alimentos sin productos qu√≠micos, los envasen de forma atractiva y los distribuyan a los consumidores exigentes de la ciudad. Esto suele tener subvenciones ocultas: el personal t√©cnico con formaci√≥n universitaria que se encarga ayudar con la venta de los alimentos, de su promoci√≥n y de su transporte en veh√≠culos, tambi√©n pagados con el presupuesto del proyecto. Es una forma de demostrar que hay demanda de alimentos agroecol√≥gicos, pero no un modelo de negocio.

En la provincia ecuatoriana de Tungurahua, el pasado mes de febrero, vi lo que hace falta para que agricultores y consumidores se unan de forma sólida y autosostenible.

En el municipio de Pelileo, una ciudad de unos 50.000 habitantes, la ONG SWISSAID empez√≥ hace 13 a√Īos a ense√Īar agroecolog√≠a a 600 agricultores y due√Īos de huertos, seg√ļn el actual director nacional, Oscar Quillupangui. El segundo a√Īo, SWISSAID organiz√≥ a los agricultores para que vendieran sus productos en una feria en la ciudad. Esto s√≥lo fue posible gracias al alcalde de la √©poca, que comprendi√≥ la importancia de un mercado para los productos locales y ecol√≥gicos. Como me dijo Fernando J√°come, de SWISSAID, “no se puede hacer un mercado sin el apoyo del gobierno local. Si montas una feria de alimentos en un espacio p√ļblico, el alcalde puede pedir a la polic√≠a que te boten. De hecho, las ferias agr√≠colas de otras ciudades ecuatorianas no prosperaron por esta falta de apoyo municipal”.

El actual alcalde, Ing. Leonardo Maroto, tiene una visi√≥n de los sistemas alimentarios saludables: “el campo da vida a la ciudad”.

Cuando Paul, Marcella y yo visitamos la feria agroecol√≥gica semanal de Pelileo, el jueves 10 de febrero, nos encant√≥ ver un mercado vivo, apoyado por toda una estructura social. El espacio en s√≠ tiene el tama√Īo de una gran cancha de baloncesto, con un piso de cemento y un techo alto de calamina, sin paredes, pero con un escenario en un extremo y asientos escalonados en el otro. Setenta y siete vendedores de productos agr√≠colas, casi todas mujeres (con dos o tres maridos colaboradores), colocaban sus productos frescos en mesas en hileras ordenadas. Cada mesa estaba cubierta con un mantel naranja. Las vendedoras usaban batas verdes y gorras naranjas, lo que ayud√≥ a las mujeres organizadas (con algo de ayuda de un par de polic√≠as municipales) a mantener alejados a los que intentaban vender alimentos convencionales en el mercado.

La comida es muy variada: papas y otras raíces y tubérculos andinos, verduras de hoja, legumbres como frijoles y habas, calabazas gigantes, patos, conejos, pollos y cuyes. Todo está recién salido de la granja y es de la primera calidad, lo que atrae a un flujo constante de consumidores de clase media que aprecian el valor de los alimentos locales, libres de productos químicos tóxicos.

‚ÄúBueno, es que, por la salud ¬Ņno? Siempre tenemos que estar a lo natural. Sabe que ahora hay tantas enfermedades por los qu√≠micos que ponen a las frutas, a las legumbres. Entonces, para nosotros, para m√≠, y para todos, es muy bueno que sea natural. Porque nos evitamos de muchas enfermedades”, dice Maricela Herrera, una de las consumidoras.

Hay algunos toques de personalidad local, como la banda de m√ļsica de diez hombres, del gobierno municipal. No tocan todas las semanas, pero vienen una vez al mes para atraer a los clientes con su ritmo. Hay una degustaci√≥n gratuita de comida (papas con una rodaja de huevo, salsa de man√≠ y un poco de piel de cerdo hervida).

El alcalde Maroto hace su aparición, ofreciendo palabras de aliento por la megafonía. La banda vuelve a sonar y la gente empieza a bailar, arrastrándonos a Paul y a mí a la pista de baile.

Durante todo esto, el personal de SWISSAID, incluidos Fernando y √ďscar, mantienen un perfil bajo. Se mantienen al margen, pero son observadores, y me habr√≠a perdido una de las partes m√°s importantes de la feria si no me la hubieran se√Īalado. Los agricultores que venden en la feria han elegido un presidente, un vicepresidente, un secretario y un tesorero, Martha Cunalata, que va tranquilamente de una mesa a otra, recogiendo un d√≥lar de cada miembro, para hacer frente a los gastos de la asociaci√≥n.

Autofinanciado, organizado y apoyado por los clientes que pagan y por el gobierno local, este mercado podr√≠a sobrevivir incluso sin una ONG que lo alimente. Este es el aspecto de un sistema alimentario local saludable. Esperemos que crezca y siembre semillas en otras ciudades. Como dijo Paul al alcalde Maroto de Pelileo, “ustedes son una inspiraci√≥n para otras ciudades del mundo”.

Vea el video

Creando ferias agroecológicas

Otro video relacionado

Previamente en el blog de Agro-Insight

Marketing as a performance

Algo bonito para vender

Home delivery of organic produce


Gracias a Oscar Quillupangui y Paul Van Mele por sus valiosos comentarios sobre una versión previa de este blog.



Look me in the eyes September 25th, 2022 by

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

In Ecuador recently, I saw some of the best extension work I have ever seen. Fernando Jácome, an agronomist with SWISSAID took us to meet farmers, almost all women, who have been working with him and his colleagues for over ten years. 85 smallholders from different communities of Pelileo, in Tungurahua, in the Andes, are organized into seven small associations. They have learned to produce an impressive assortment of fruits and vegetables, from tomatoes to strawberries, cabbage, lettuce, avocadoes, lemons, blackberries and many more, as well as rabbits and guinea pigs. It’s all grown ecologically.

With Paul and Marcella, filming a video on agroecological fairs, we accompanied Ing. Alex Recalde, an agronomist working for the Pelileo municipality, as he inspected farms to make sure that they were really producing ecologically. Alex’s visits are largely about teaching and encouraging, with little policing, since the women all seem convinced about agroecology.

First, Alex registers what the farmers are growing. That way he knows what each one will harvest, to later verify in the fair that they are only selling their own produce, and in plausible amounts.

During the farm visits, often accompanied by leaders of the Agroecological Associations of Pelileo, Alex looks for signs of chemicals, such as discoloration on the leaves, or residues of synthetic fertilizer on the soil, or discarded chemical containers. He also looks at the insects on the farm. A diverse insect community with many beneficials and few pests is a sign that toxic chemicals have not been used.

If the farmer has any pests and diseases, Alex advises her on what to do. We were with him while he explained to farmer Korina Quille that the unsightly scabs on her avocados were not actually a disease at all, but they were simply scars formed because the wind had rubbed the tender fruits against a branch. Realizing that cosmetic damage is not caused by a pathogen can also reassure farmers that agroecology is working for them. It also helps them explain to customers that there is nothing wrong with their avocados.

Later that afternoon, we attended a meeting of the agroecological association. The organized women began by taking attendance (roll call). They had brought samples of their produce, for an exercise on displaying it attractively and in standard sized pots and baskets, so they could all sell the same measure at the same price, one that would be fair for farmers and consumers.

SWISSAID‚Äôs Mario Porres led a lively discussion, asking the audience: ‚ÄúHow can you have a standard measure, if the customers all insist on the yapa (a little bit extra)?‚ÄĚ He held up a basket of berries and said ‚Äúmeasure it, take a few out, and when the customer asks for the yapa, put them back in.‚ÄĚ The audience laughed in appreciation.

The meeting ended with a drama coach, Ver√≥nica L√≥pez, who used theatrical exercises to build the women‚Äôs self-confidence. Poor, peasant and indigenous women can be afraid to be assertive, but Ver√≥nica was teaching them to be bold and to have fun at the same time. The women knew Ver√≥nica, and as soon as she took the floor, everyone stood up. ‚ÄúWalk angry!‚ÄĚ Ver√≥nica shouted, ‚Äúyour husband has been telling you what to do!‚ÄĚ The women stomped around the courtyard, arms swinging, recalling their anger, over-acting and loving every minute of it.

‚ÄúNow, imagine that you bring that anger to the market, and you are angry with the customers. Will they want to buy from you?‚ÄĚ Ver√≥nica asked.

In another exercise, on love, the women hugged each other, and they learned to walk happy, not angry. The drama coach also had the women shout, part of an exercise where they learned to speak loudly, but kindly, looking customers in the eye, to win them over.

This training, encouragement and organization has opened a space where indigenous women can sell their beautiful produce in the local, open-air markets, in small cities like Pelileo, and in big ones like Ambato.

Later, we found out how well the training had paid off. One morning before dawn, I was with Paul and Marcella in the wholesale market in Ambato. This is the biggest market in Ecuador, a sprawling complex of pavilions with roofs, but no walls, where trucks loaded and unloaded produce. Fernando J√°come, the extensionist had brought us here, to the heart of the country‚Äôs commercial food system, but he left us for a while with Anita Quille, one of the women leaders of the association. When a local official approached us to ask why we were there with a big camera, do√Īa Anita stepped forward, and looked him in the eye. She spoke gently but firmly, in a self-confident tone of voice, explaining who we were, and that we were there making a video on local farmers, and markets.

All of the organization, training and acting classes on assertiveness had paid off.

Related Agro-Insight blogs

Marketing as a performance

When local authorities support agroecology

Watch the video

Creating agroecological markets


Thanks to Fernando J√°come and Paul Van Mele for their helpful comments on a previous version of this blog.


Jeff Bentley, 25 de septiembre del 2022

Hace poco, en Ecuador, vi uno de los mejores trabajos de extensi√≥n que he visto jam√°s. Fernando J√°come, agr√≥nomo de SWISSAID, nos llev√≥ a conocer a los agricultores, casi todas mujeres, que trabajan con √©l y sus colegas desde hace m√°s de diez a√Īos. 85 peque√Īas propietarias de diferentes comunidades de Pelileo, en Tungurahua, en los Andes, est√°n organizados en siete peque√Īas asociaciones. Han aprendido a producir un impresionante surtido de frutas y verduras, desde tomates a fresas, repollo, lechugas, aguacates, limones, moras y muchas m√°s, as√≠ como conejos y cuyes. Todo se cultiva de forma ecol√≥gica.

Con Paul y Marcella, filmando un video sobre ferias agroecol√≥gicas, acompa√Īamos al Ing. Alex Recalde, un agr√≥nomo que trabaja para el municipio de Pelileo, mientras inspeccionaba las granjas para asegurarse de que realmente produc√≠an de forma ecol√≥gica. Las visitas de Alex consisten en gran medida en ense√Īar y animar, no como polic√≠a sino como profesor, ya que todas las mujeres parecen convencidas de la agroecolog√≠a.

En primer lugar, Alex registra los cultivos que las agriculturas tienen en sus granjas. Así sabe lo que cada una va a cosechar, para luego verificar en la feria que solo se venda productos cultivados por ellas, y en cantidades creíbles.

En sus visitas, Alex a menudo es acompa√Īado por dirigentas de las Asociaciones Agroecol√≥gicas de Pelileo. Buscan signos de productos qu√≠micos, como decoloraci√≥n en las hojas, o residuos de fertilizantes sint√©ticos en el suelo, o envases de qu√≠micos desechados. Tambi√©n se fija en los insectos en la parcela. Una diversa comunidad de insectos, muchos ben√©ficos y pocas plagas, es se√Īal de que no se han usado qu√≠micos t√≥xicos.

Si la productora tiene alguna plaga o enfermedad, Alex le aconseja qu√© hacer. Estuvimos con √©l mientras explicaba a Korina Quille que las desagradables costras de sus aguacates no eran en realidad una enfermedad, sino que eran simplemente cicatrices formadas porque el viento hab√≠a rozado los tiernos frutos contra una rama. Darse cuenta de que los da√Īos est√©ticos no est√°n causados por un pat√≥geno tambi√©n puede tranquilizar a las agricultoras, y confirmar que las pr√°cticas agroecol√≥gicas les est√°n funcionando. Tambi√©n les ayuda a explicar a los clientes que no hay nada malo en sus aguacates.

Esa misma tarde, asistimos a una reuni√≥n de la asociaci√≥n agroecol√≥gica local. Las mujeres organizadas empezaron pasando lista. Hab√≠an tra√≠do muestras de sus productos, para hacer un ejercicio de exposici√≥n atractiva, en macetas y cestas de tama√Īo est√°ndar, de manera que todas pudieran vender la misma medida al mismo precio, uno que fuera justo para productoras y consumidores.

Mario Porres, de SWISSAID, dirigi√≥ un animado debate, preguntando a las asistentes: “¬ŅC√≥mo se puede tener una medida est√°ndar, si todos los clientes insisten en la yapa (un poco m√°s)?”. Levant√≥ una cesta de bayas y dijo: “m√≠dela, quita algunas y cuando el cliente pida la yapa, vuelve a ponerlas”. El p√ļblico se rio en se√Īal de empat√≠a.

La reuni√≥n termin√≥ con una lecci√≥n de una maestra de teatro, Ver√≥nica L√≥pez, que us√≥ varios ejercicios para aumentar la confianza de las mujeres en s√≠ mismas. Las mujeres pobres, campesinas e ind√≠genas pueden tener miedo de ser asertivas, pero Ver√≥nica les ense√Īaba a ser audaces y a divertirse al mismo tiempo. Las se√Īoras conoc√≠an a Ver√≥nica y, en cuanto tomaba la palabra, todas se pusieron de pie. “¬°Caminen enfadadas!” grit√≥ Ver√≥nica, “¬°tu marido te ha dicho lo que tienes que hacer!”. Las mujeres caminaban por el patio, moviendo los brazos, recordando su enojo, sobreactuando y disfrutando de cada minuto.

“Ahora, imagina que llevas ese enfado al mercado y te enfadas con los clientes. ¬ŅQuerr√°n comprarte?” pregunt√≥ Ver√≥nica.

En otro ejercicio, sobre el amor, las mujeres se abrazaron y aprendieron a caminar felices, no enfadadas. La teatrera también hizo que las mujeres gritaran, parte de un ejercicio en el que aprendieron a hablar en voz alta, pero con amabilidad, mirando a los clientes a los ojos, para ganárselos.

Esta formaci√≥n, el est√≠mulo y la organizaci√≥n, han abierto un espacio en el que las mujeres campesinas pueden vender sus hermosos productos en los mercados locales al aire libre, en ciudades peque√Īas como Pelileo, y en las grandes como Ambato.

M√°s tarde, nos dimos cuenta de lo bien que hab√≠a dado resultado la formaci√≥n. Una ma√Īana, antes del amanecer, estaba con Paul y Marcella en el mercado mayorista de Ambato. Es el mercado m√°s grande de Ecuador, un complejo de pabellones con techo, pero sin paredes, donde los camiones cargan y descargan productos. Fernando J√°come, el extensionista, nos hab√≠a tra√≠do hasta aqu√≠, al coraz√≥n del sistema comercial de alimentos del pa√≠s, pero nos dej√≥ un rato con Anita Quille, una de las mujeres l√≠deres de la asociaci√≥n. Cuando un funcionario local se acerc√≥ a preguntarnos por qu√© est√°bamos all√≠ con una c√°mara grande, do√Īa Anita se adelant√≥ y le mir√≥ a los ojos. Habl√≥ con suavidad, pero con firmeza, con un tono de voz seguro de s√≠ misma, explicando qui√©nes √©ramos, y que est√°bamos all√≠ haciendo un video sobre los agricultores locales, y los mercados.

Toda la organización, el entrenamiento y las clases de actuación sobre asertividad habían dado sus frutos.

Previamente en el blog de Agro-Insight

Marketing as a performance

When local authorities support agroecology

Vea el video

Creando ferias agroecológicas


Gracias a Fernando Jácome y Paul Van Mele por sus valiosos comentarios sobre una versión previa de este blog.

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