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The long forecast November 7th, 2021 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

In 2017, I wrote a blog about some Bolivian farmers who were producing electronic content (about the weather) and posting it on their WhatsApp group (Farmers produce electronic content).

Over time, non-farmers joined the group, and they began posting formal meteorological information, such as storm alerts, and bulletins forecasting the weather for the upcoming week.

Apparently inhibited by these professional, and often jargon-inflicted publications, the farmers themselves largely stopped posting on their own forum.

Then in early September of this year, one of these expert farmers, or Yapuchiris, Bernabé Choquetopa, posted some bulletins of his own, which he shared on social media.

He calls his documents the Local Climate Bulletin. Based loosely on the bulletins from the weather service, don Bernabé’s posts include forecasts for rains, their likely impact on vegetation, and the sources on which these conclusions are founded. But there is a crucial difference. The formal meteorological bulletins cover one week, while Bernabé takes in several months at a time.

One of Bernabé’s bulletins written in August says that next January (2022) the rains will be soft, with a clear, cold sky that may damage some of the plants. Drizzle in February will be followed in March by heavy rain and hail in some places. But 70% of the potato and quinoa fields will have good yields.

The bulletin suggests sowing quinoa early and planting potatoes according to the moisture in the soil. There will be plenty of forage for llamas and other livestock.

Bernabé bases these conclusions on his observations of cactus fruit, phuskalla, in March of 2021, which indicated good rains for March of 2022, and on his readings of clouds, and winds. On 11 August he observed a bird, ch’ijta, which nests in the central part of wild bushes (t’ulas) in years that favor good quinoa production, especially if the crop is planted a few weeks early.

Bernabé’s lively, well-written document, nicely illustrated with photos, is a creative adaptation of the stodgy weather bulletin. Best of all, this local climate bulletin gives farmers a recommended planting date. Knowing when to plant helps farmers to make one of their most important management decisions of the year. Meteorological science, with its short-term, weekly forecasts, is not very helpful for deciding when to plant.

Agronomist Sonia Laura helped Bernabé to format the bulletin in Word, but he wrote it. This is a model that other farmers and their allies can follow. Some smallholders may need a typist or some help with layout, but the farmers should write the bulletins.

People anywhere in the world can publish local forecasts of weather for their area. To do so, just explain what the weather will be like. Tell how it will impact crops. Give some advice on when to plant or when to do other tasks. Explain how you reached these conclusions. By publishing before the season starts, forecasts can be verified by a whole agricultural community, over the course of the farming season.

Related Agro-Insight blogs

Can Andean farmers predict the weather accurately?

Old know-how, early warning

Videos on local knowledge to predict the weather

Recording the weather

Forecasting the weather with an app

Scientific names

Phuskalla. Cumulopuntia ignescens

Ch’ijta. Phrygillus unicolor the plumbeous sierra finch

T’ula. A generic name for native brush, including Baccharis tola, Parastrephia lepidophylla and others


Thanks to Bernabé Choquetopa Rodríguez, Sonia Laura and Paul Van Mele for reading and commenting on an earlier version of this story


Por Jeff Bentley, 7 de noviembre del 2021

En 2017, escribĂ­ un blog sobre unos agricultores bolivianos que producĂ­an contenido electrĂłnico (sobre el tiempo) y lo publicaban en su grupo de WhatsApp (Agricultores producen contenido electrĂłnico).

Con el tiempo, varios ingenieros se unieron al grupo, y comenzaron a publicar informaciĂłn meteorolĂłgica formal, como alertas de tormentas, y boletines que pronosticaban el tiempo para la semana siguiente.

Aparentemente inhibidos por estas publicaciones profesionales, a menudo llenas de jerga muy técnica, los propios agricultores dejaron de participa en su propio foro.

A principios de septiembre de este año, uno de estos agricultores expertos, o Yapuchiris, Bernabé Choquetopa, publicó algunos boletines que él había escrito y difundido en sus propias redes sociales.

Sus documentos se denominan “BoletĂ­n ClimátolĂłgico Local”. Basados en los boletines del servicio meteorolĂłgico, los posts de don BernabĂ© incluyen pronĂłsticos de lluvias, su probable impacto en la vegetaciĂłn y las fuentes de sus conclusiones. Pero hay una diferencia crucial. Los boletines meteorolĂłgicos formales cubren una semana, mientras los de don BernabĂ© abarcan varios meses a la vez.

Uno de los boletines de don Bernabé, redactado en agosto, dice que el próximo enero (2022) las lluvias serán suaves, con un cielo despejado y frío que puede dañar algunas plantas. A las lloviznas de febrero le seguirán en marzo fuertes lluvias y granizo en algunos lugares. Pero el 70% de las parcelas de papa y quinua tendrán buena producción.

El boletín sugiere sembrar la quinua adelantado y la papa de acuerdo a la humedad del suelo. Habrá mucho forraje para las llamas y otros animales.

BernabĂ© basa estas conclusiones en sus observaciones de los frutos del cactus, phuskalla, en marzo de 2021, que indicaban buenas lluvias para marzo de 2022, y en sus lecturas de las nubes, y los vientos. El 11 de agosto observĂł un pájaro, ch’ijta, que anida en la parte central de los arbustos nativos (t’ulas) en los años que son buenos para la producciĂłn de quinua, sobre todo si el cultivo se siembra unas semanas adelantado.

El documento de Bernabé, animado y bien escrito, ilustrado con fotos, es una adaptación creativa del boletín meteorológico. Lo mejor de todo es que este boletín climatológico local ofrece a los agricultores una fecha de siembra recomendada. Saber cuándo sembrar ayuda a los agricultores a tomar una de las decisiones más importantes del año. La ciencia meteorológica, con sus pronósticos semanales a corto plazo, no ayuda a decidir la fecha de siembra.

Bernabé escribió estos boletines en Word con un formato que fue adecuado por la Ing. Sonia Laura. Este ejemplo lo pueden seguir otros agricultores y sus aliados. Algunos agricultores podrían necesitar ayuda pasando un documento a máquina, o con la diagramación, pero la gente rural debe escribir los boletines. La gente de cualquier parte del mundo puede publicar los pronósticos meteorológicos locales de su zona. Para hacerlo, basta con explicar cómo será el tiempo. Decir cómo afectará a los cultivos. Dar algunos consejos sobre cuándo sembrar o realizar otras tareas. Explicar cómo llegó a esas conclusiones. Al publicar antes de que comience la temporada, los pronósticos pueden ser verificadas por toda una comunidad agrícola, a lo largo de la campaña.

Blogs previos de Agro-Insight blogs

ÂżLa gente andina rural puede pronosticar el tiempo de verdad?

Saberes antiguos, alerta temprana

Videos sobre el conocimiento local para pronosticar el tiempo

Hacer un registro del clima

También está disponible en aymara y quechua

Pronosticar el clima con una aplicaciĂłn

También está disponible en aymara y quechua

Forecasting the weather with an app

Nombres cientĂ­ficos

Phuskalla. Cumulopuntia ignescens

Ch’ijta. Phrygillus unicolor

T’ula. Un nombre para los arbustos altoandinos nativos en general, como Baccharis tola, Parastrephia lepidophylla y otros


Gracias a Bernabé Choquetopa Rodríguez, Sonia Laura y Paul Van Mele por leer y hacer comentarios sobre una versión anterior de este blog.

Miners’ stories September 17th, 2017 by

Robert Gerstmann was a German engineer and professional photographer who spent much of his time from 1925 to 1929, and later on, taking pictures of the tin mines of Bolivia. There were only three tin mining companies in Bolivia then, and two were owned by foreigners. Gerstmann worked mainly for Mauricio (Moritz) Hochschild, who was also from Germany. The mine owners were eager to show off their work. Tin had replaced silver as the target mineral in Bolivia around 1885, and during the First World War the need for metal for arms had revolutionized Andean mining.

By 1925 Bolivian mines were largely state of the art, with massive diesel motors to power the mills and long cable winches to lower miners down the deep shafts. The mines were modernized with foreign investment and management, and fantastic profits from the tin went into just a few hands.

Taking photographs in the early 20th century was a clumsy business. The cameras were heavy and could only take one photograph at a time, using delicate glass plates. Gertsmann had to use a tripod and estimate exposure by trial and error. He had to develop the plates himself and make prints in his own darkroom. He was also an innovator, and in the early days of electricity he had found a way to run a cable into the mine galleries to flood them with light.

Despite the technical challenges, a skilled photographer such as Gertsmann was able to capture rich and detailed pictures. The owners gave Gerstmann the run of the mines, where the 30-year old’s curiosity took him from the head offices, to the tidy storerooms, the engine rooms with their monster machinery, and into the deep mines.

Gertsmann spent most of the rest of his life in South America, until his death in Chile in 1964. Recently, a group of Bolivian and foreign social scientists discovered Gertsmann’s photographs, including over 5000 prints, some original plates and 30 minutes worth of movies. Anthropologist Pascale Absi and sociologist-historian Jorge Pavez were intrigued by the scenes Gerstmann had captured and have published a selection of them as a book.

Absi and Pavez went one step further. They showed the selected pictures to retired mine workers, who told the story behind Gerstmann’s photographs. He wrote little himself, mostly noting the names of managers and engineers who appeared in his pictures. Laborers were labelled by their job description, e.g. mine cart operator.

Explanations by the retired Bolivian workers brought the photos to life. Two men are shown selling canned sardines and other goods in the company store (pulpería), created to entice workers to stay on the job as labor became more valuable. An engineer with a theodolite is measuring the length of the mine gallery, to tell how far the mine has advanced.  One photo conveys action and hard work, as a mine worker is shown drilling at the rock face. Yet a crucial feature is missing. The retirees explained that the worker had to pose, otherwise the drill would have made so much dust that one would have been unable to see the worker, even under Gerstmann’s bright light.

In another picture, a worker is drenched with water. A colleague has doused him with a hose to cool him off. It was often unbearably hot inside the mine.  In a moon-like landscape of dust and rock, women huddle in the cold to sort ore from barren rock. The retired miners can tell where the women are from by their distinctive clothing. For example, a woman in a white hat with a distinctive black ribbon is from Cochabamba. She has come over 100 km to take this job as a palliri (the Quechua word for the women who select the ore).

Photographs are a powerful communication tool which not only tell a story, but help to unlock people’s memories. Although the Gerstmann photos were taken to pad the egos of the mine owners, the pictures also reveal the lives of ordinary people from a bygone world of dangerous work and low pay, when shifts could be as long as 48 hours, and when injured workers were simply dismissed with no compensation. Photographers don’t always write very much, and by themselves the pictures don’t tell the whole story. But Gerstmann’s innovative pictures, when narrated today by people who lived through the times he recorded, have given us a rich and lasting record of Bolivia’s mining past.

Technical note

The digital photographs you take today may tell your story later. When I bought my first digital camera in 2001, Eric Boa taught me to label the pictures. I have labeled them ever since. The more text you include with your photos, the easier it will be for you and others to later read the story behind the picture.

Further reading

Absi, Pascale & Jorge Pavez (eds.) 2016 Imágenes de la Revolución Industrial: Robert Gerstmann en las Minas de Bolivia (1925-1936). La Paz: Plural Editores.

Desperately seeking good photos December 6th, 2015 by

Across Africa, you can now buy a phone with a built-in camera for as little as $30. Millions of people in Africa and around the world can now take, show and share photographs for the first time. Digital photography has succeeded where conventional film failed (in part because you can avoid the expense of developing and printing). This makes it easy for all the people involved in agriculture to show others what they do and who they work with. It should be a golden age of illustrating agriculture in all its glory, but recent experiences show there’s still a long way to go.

Book cover tempDuring the recent Access Agriculture week in Kenya, I asked for photographs to accompany stories about farmer training videos. I was pleasantly surprised that all the authors could provide examples of their work. My delight quickly faded as I discarded many poor photos. They may have looked OK on a small phone screen but this is a poor indication of whether they’re suitable for publication.

The better photos were publishable, but content was weak. Many people had taken photos of groups of farmers in a field or people at a meeting. But a photo needs a compelling feature, such as a person pointing, an animated discussion, holding a piece of equipment or an unusual viewpoint. A view of peoples’ backs is almost always dull. I recently started carrying an inexpensive selfie stick to capture scenes from a fresh angle, holding the camera high above my head.

Of the photos I saw last week, two stood out: a farmer glaring at the camera, holding a DVD at the entrance to his house; and a woman in a field with a bunch of Striga plants, a troublesome weed. The farmer had resolved not to lend precious training videos after some friends had lost the DVDs they previously borrowed from him. The woman was earning money from contract weeding, a new job suggested by a training video. The photos were simple but effective. Each made a good story better.

Nafi talks to whole groupClever technology, such as a digital camera or laptop, makes it easier to be creative. But technology doesn’t make you a skilled photographer, or a good writer. You have to learn skills, practice your craft and get feedback from others on your efforts, just as we did during the writeshop. In hindsight, we spent so long on writing that we barely had time to consider photography.

Nobody seemed to mind much, which is a pity, because photographs do matter. We take for granted the high quality photographs that are carefully chosen by newspaper and magazine editors, advertisers, websites and so on. We did eventually find photos for each story, drawing on the photo libraries of the editors, but it’s a pity we weren’t able to use more of the authors’ own photos.

I printed all the stories at the end of the writeshop and experienced the thrill of seeing the authors read their stories for the first time with photos. It’s a wonderful moment when people realise that their everyday experiences mean something to other people. And the combination of words and images is incredibly powerful.

Finger in air ladyBecoming a better photographer is not something one can achieve overnight. But writeshops can do more to help people select photos to use in stories and show how cropping can increase visual impact. The best picture editors on newspapers are not necessarily the best photographers.

The people attending the writeshop already knew the farmers they work with. They speak the same language, share a common culture and see things that the fleeting visitor (me) is likely to miss or simply never witness. The accessibility to equipment and cost of photography is no longer an issue. A little thought and patience in taking photos of farmers would reveal much more of the hidden world of agriculture and better showcase achievements and progress around the world.

Related blog story

Can I make some extra money?

To read the stories written during the workshop, download A Passion for Video

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