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Learn by eating April 14th, 2019 by

The prickly pear is delicious, if you can figure out how to eat it. The cactus fruit is covered by minute thorns, as hard to see as a strand of blonde human hair. Some Bolivians avoid the irritating thorns by holding the fruit with a fork and then peeling it with a knife. The little thorns on the fruit are so aggravating that they have their own name in the Quechua language: qhepu, as opposed to the larger thorns, called khishka, found on the pads of the cactus or on other spiny plants.

On a recent Sunday afternoon Ana and I admired the fruit growing in the gardens of Villa, a village near Punata, and we wondered if anyone would sell us some. Ana thought they would not. Prickly pear is usually harvested in the morning, when the qhepus tend to be firmly attached to the fruit. If people harvest in the mid-day they can get covered in brittle qhepus.

But two teenaged girls who were selling soft drinks in front of their house thought that their mom might sell us some fruit. It was late enough in the day to harvest prickly pear.

Their mom, do√Īa Norma, put on a thick leather glove and began twisting the prickly pears off of the cactus plant. Then she told her daughter to pick some branches of sunch‚Äôu, a weedy, flowering plant. Do√Īa Norma took the prickly pears to a patch of thick grass where her daughter brushed off the qhepus with the sunch‚Äôu branches.

A lot of information came to life that afternoon: how to harvest fruit with infuriating thorns, how to disarm the prickly pears with a handful of leaves, and the best time of day to do it. Local knowledge is like that: passed on not in the abstract, or in the classroom, but during everyday events such as working and eating.

See how cactus fruit is harvested and cleaned of thorns in these short video clips from Agtube

Harvesting prickly pear

Removing thorns from cactus fruit

Scientific names

The prickly pear is Opuntia ficus-indica

Sunch’u is Viguiera lanceolate

Related blog story

Kiss of death in the cactus garden

Let nature guide you March 17th, 2019 by

Farmers need to take decisions every day. Smallholders living in remote areas often have no one to turn to to ask advice. Nobody tells them which crop to grow or when is a good time to plant. In an earlier blog, Jeff wrote about the Yapuchiris, experienced organic farmers on the Bolivian altiplano who started recording their observations on weather, natural indicators and their crops on a daily basis. Some have done so for over 10 years.

In this harsh environment predicting the weather correctly can make the difference between harvesting a crop or harvesting nothing at all.

As always, when producing farmer training videos, we are fortunate to interact with farmers who are willing to share their knowledge and experiences. In the southern Altiplano of Bolivia, one of the Yapuchiris, Don Bernab√©, explains that if frost hits your quinoa, you can lose your crop from one day to the next, all past efforts being in vain. He guides us in the brush land and shows us a local bush called tara t‚Äôula in the Aymara language. ‚ÄúThis plant doesn‚Äôt like the cold very much, so if you find many of these plants, it is a good place to build your farm house, your corral to keep your llamas and grow your crop.‚ÄĚ

But even if your farm is wel located, frost can strike. So don Bernab√© has many other natural indicators to inform him about what actions to take. ‚ÄúIf the lizard makes a fresh house it will rain tomorrow, but if it starts to close its burrow, it will freeze that night. I then collect t‚Äôula plants and burn them in my quinoa field from 3 to 5 am so that the frost will not settle on my crop,‚ÄĚ he continues.

Apart from observing plants and animals, don Bernab√© also reads the clouds and wind. Amazingly, winds in June and July already tell him how the next rainy season that starts in January will be. Arrived at a large sand dune, he points to the pattern of vertical ridges blown into the side of the dune. ‚ÄúIf the lines are some 10 centimeters apart, the rains will come close to each other and we will have a good harvest. But if they are further apart, the rains will also be sparser and our crop will suffer.‚ÄĚ

Don Bernabé has written a book about these natural weather indicators. As he shows us around the landscape, he proudly carries his book with colour photographs that clearly explain all the natural indicators he knows. Reading nature is a skill that requires spending a lot of time outdoors, observing natural phenomena.

The next few days we met some other extraordinary Yapuchiris, each sharing their knowledge with us in front of the camera. It is exciting to be part of this and at the same time an eye opener as to how much industrial agriculture in the West has become disconnected from nature.

With climate change, the need to build on local knowledge will grow in importance.

I cannot think of a better way to end this blog then by quoting don Bernab√© once more: ‚ÄúWell these plants and animals are more intelligent than the human being. They know how to live in this land and they know it perfectly. For that reason, it is necessary not to lose this knowledge and that the young people should keep practicing this ancestral knowledge that is so rich.‚ÄĚ

Watch or download the videos from the Access Agriculture video platform, in English, French, Spanish, Quechua and Aymara:

Recording the weather

Forecasting the weather with an app

Related blogs

Reading the mole hills

Death of the third flowers

Betting on the weather

Cultivating pride in the Andes

Farmers produce electronic content

Forty farmer innovations

Acknowledgement The videos on live barriers and weather forecasting have been developed with funding from the McKnight Foundation’s Collaborative Crop Research Program (CCRP).

Betting on the weather March 10th, 2019 by

Recently, we have had the chance to interact intensively with farmers and agronomists in the Bolivian Altiplano to develop two videos on weather forecasting. The first video focused more on natural indicators, such as plants, animals, wind and clouds. The second video highlighted a weather app. While we encourage in both videos to merge traditional knowledge with daily observations and modern science, a certain level of risk remains.

At an altitude of 4,250 meters, in the village of Ch‚Äôoj√Īapata (which means ‚Äúgreen mountain‚ÄĚ in the Aymara language), we meet don Juan Mamani with some of his fellow farmers. On the walk to his house in the Green Mountains, field after field of young potato plants showed black, wilted leaves. Despite their rich, traditional knowledge, receiving weekly forecasts on their phone and being connected with other fellow farmers through WhatsApp, the farmers of Ch‚Äôoj√Īapata village saw their potato crop destroyed by frost.

Weather forecasts can be a blessing for farmers and help them to decide when to prepare the land, when to plant, irrigate and harvest their crop. But while rain is relatively easy to predict, frost is less so, especially in a changing climate, as don Juan explains:

‚ÄúSometimes the weather is cloudy with good clouds, but during the night they suddenly disappear. It gets cold and starts to freeze, there is no way to be aware of it. I do not understand the climate, the climate is heating up, it confuses us, so for that I say that one should try to understand the climate and we have to adjust to it.‚ÄĚ

But I was still concerned, standing on the edge of this ruined potato field. Don Juan is an expert farmer, with the benefit of modern and ancestral knowledge, who had known that there was likely to be a freeze early in the season, which he could have avoided by planting later.

Edwin Yucra, an agronomist who has studied weather for years on the Altiplano, explained what happened. First farmers forecast which part of the summer will be best for planting potatoes, then they plant potatoes early, middle or late in the season, depending on their prediction. But they always hedge their bets, never putting all of their potatoes in one basket. If farmers predict that the last part of the season will be best (as in the southern summer of 2018-19), they still plant a few potatoes in the early season. The farmers also use the forecast to decide where to plant, planting in wetter areas during predicted dry years, for example, or on the warmer slopes if they anticipate a freeze.

Farming is a gamble in many ways. Every time farmers plant they are betting on the weather. While modern forecasting technologies help smallholder farmers in developing countries to improve the odds, crop insurance (and fair food prices) may be required to make farming attractive to new generations of commercial small-scale farmers.

Watch or download the videos from the Access Agriculture video platform

Taking notes to learn about the weather

Weather forecast in your hands

Related blogs

High Andean Climate Change

To see the future

Cultivating pride in the Andes

Inspiration from Bangladesh to Bolivia

Farmers produce electronic content

Forty farmer innovations

Acknowledgement

The videos on weather forecasting have been developed with funding from the McKnight Foundation’s Collaborative Crop Research Program (CCRP). Thanks to Sonia Laura, Edwin Chiara and colleagues from PROSUCO for introducing us to don Miguel and his family, and for providing background information.

Slow recovery March 3rd, 2019 by

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

When a landscape has been stripped and ravished, like the southern Altiplano of Bolivia, recovery can take decades. In a previous story we met Dr. Alejandro Bonifacio and colleagues who were figuring out how to rear the wild native species of plants. But reforestation also takes social innovation.

Milton Villca is an agronomist from Chita, a village 45 kilometers from the town of Uyuni. Now he has returned to Chita to teach his relatives and former neighbors how to grow native plants as windbreaks to keep the fierce winds from carrying off the soil and burying the young quinoa plants.

The local farmers are starting to see the need to conserve the soil. It has taken a while. People are scattered thinly over the landscape, so when they first started plowing up the brushland to grow quinoa, in the 1970s, they thought of the land as a freebie, like air, so abundant that it had no value. They didn’t see that in the long run they would lose their fertile soil.

That is changing. Milton explains that two of the local farmers’ associations (APROA, AFNAQUI) are encouraging farmers to grow organic quinoa, and one requirement is to conserve the soil with live barriers of plants.

Just learning to establish live barriers like this can take years. First, people have to see the need. Community member Nilda Paucar explains that until 20 years ago, the wind came reliably after 4 October and for the rest of the year the wind was gentle enough to winnow the harvested quinoa grain, not like now, when the wind can blow up a dust cloud at any time of year, burying crops.

After seeing the need for windbreaks, people have to learn how to grow the native plants that form the live barriers. That is where a little local knowledge and some agronomic help can be a good thing. Paul and Marcella and I went with Milton and the community of Chita as they collected the tiny seed of khiruta, a wild shrub. Local people knock the seed off the plant into tubs. Then they sift and winnow the thousands of tiny seeds from the chafe.

As we watch, the people go right to work. This is a relatively new task for them, but they have mastered it.

The seed still has to be germinated in a nursery, which Milton manages in the nearby village of Chacala, with a local farmer, Teodocia Vásquez. Local farmer and llama herder, Ever Villca (Milton’s brother), explains that planting live barriers is only possible if people have support from an organization, for rearing the native plants in nurseries and delivering them to the community.

The experience with native plants has caught farmers‚Äô imagination. Local resident Crecencio Laime has tried experimenting with wild plant seed, spreading it by hand on the ground and watering it, but germination was poor. ‚ÄúWe have to keep trying,‚ÄĚ he said, ‚ÄúWe won‚Äôt always have the support of Milton or of an institution.‚ÄĚ

Later, Modesta Villca (Milton‚Äôs aunt) told us that her husband has left five-meter wide, unplowed strips of native vegetation every 25 meters or so in his fields. We went to see these natural live barriers and they were beautiful, green hedgerows where wild vicu√Īas could browse and birds could nest. The family‚Äôs quinoa is also doing well, protected from the wind by these natural windbreaks.

As we watch (and film), the community plants seedlings of wild plants to make another live barrier. We see again that they know exactly what they are doing. Two people put the little shrubs in two parallel lines, while two men dig planting holes and two women gently lower the plants into the soil, removing the little black plastic bags from the nursery and thoughtfully collecting them so as not to leave any trash.

In the future it will be important to show the value of leaving natural windbreaks, and to appreciate the native flora. Making live barriers will still need to be made easier, but experiences like this are how farmers and researchers learn together to solve a problem. Their good attitudes and close-knit community will also go a long way. Next, the people of Chita are thinking of banding together to start their own nursery to grow native plants, so save their soil from the wind.

Watch the video

This video on live barriers has just been released. You can watch it or download it from free in English, or Spanish.

Living windbreaks to protect the soil

Barreras vivas para proteger el suelo

Acknowledgement

Agronomist Milton Villca works for the Proinpa Foundation. His work is funded in part by the Collaborative Crop Research Program of the McKnight Foudation.

Related blog stories

Awakening the seeds

Wind erosion and the great quinoa disaster

RECUPERACI√ďN LENTA

por Jeff Bentley, 3 de marzo del 2019

Cuando la vegetación natural ha sido despojada y destruida, como el sur del Altiplano boliviano, la regeneración puede tomar décadas. En una historia anterior conocimos al Dr. Alejandro Bonifacio y sus colegas que están descubriendo cómo multiplicar plantas silvestres nativas. Pero la reforestación también requiere innovación social.

Milton Villca es un agr√≥nomo de Chita, un pueblo a 45 kil√≥metros de la ciudad de Uyuni. Ahora ha regresado a Chita para ense√Īar a sus parientes y antiguos vecinos c√≥mo cultivar plantas nativas como rompevientos o barreras vivas para evitar que los fuertes vientos se lleven la tierra y entierren a las j√≥venes quinuas.

Los agricultores locales están empezando a ver la necesidad de conservar el suelo. Ha sido un aprendizaje costoso en tiempo. La gente vive dispersa sobre el paisaje, así que cuando comenzaron a arar la tierra para cultivar quinua, en la década de 1970, pensaron que la tierra era gratis, como el aire, tan abundante que no tenía valor. No vieron venir las consecuencias a largo plazo, especialmente la pérdida de suelo fértil.

Eso est√° cambiando. Milton explica que dos de las asociaciones de agricultores locales (APROA, AFNAQUI) est√°n alentando a los agricultores a cultivar quinua org√°nica, y un requisito es conservar el suelo con barreras vivas de plantas.

Aprender a establecer barreras vivas puede llevar a√Īos. Primero, la gente tiene que ver la necesidad. Nilda Paucar, miembro de la comunidad, explica que hasta hace 20 a√Īos, el viento ven√≠a siempre despu√©s del 4 de octubre y que durante el resto del a√Īo el viento era suave como para aventar el grano de quinua cosechado, no como ahora, cuando el viento puede soplar con una nube de polvo en cualquier √©poca del a√Īo, enterrando los cultivos.

Despu√©s de ver la necesidad de las barreras vivas, la gente tiene que aprender a cultivar las plantas nativas que las forman. Ah√≠ es donde un poco de conocimiento local y ayuda agron√≥mica sirve mucho. Paul, Marcella y yo fuimos con Milton y la comunidad de Chita mientras recog√≠an la peque√Īa semilla de khiruta, un arbusto nativo, silvestre. Los lugare√Īos ponen la semilla de la planta en ba√Īadores. Avientan y limpian los miles de diminutas semillas.

Mientras observamos, la gente se pone manos a la obra. Esta es una actividad nueva para ellos, pero lo saben hacer muy bien.

La semilla es germinada en un vivero, que Milton maneja en la cercana aldea de Chacala, con una agricultora local, Teodocia Vásquez. Ever Villca (hermano de Milton), agricultor local y pastor de llamas, explica que plantar barreras vivas sólo es posible si la gente tiene el apoyo de una organización, para cultivar las plantas nativas en viveros y entregar las plantas a la comunidad.

La experiencia con plantas nativas ha captado la imaginaci√≥n de los agricultores. Crecencio Laime, un agricultor de la zona, ha intentado experimentar con semillas de plantas silvestres, esparci√©ndolas a mano en el suelo y reg√°ndolas, pero la germinaci√≥n fue pobre. “Tenemos que seguir intent√°ndolo”, dijo, “No siempre tendremos el apoyo de Milton o de una instituci√≥n”.

M√°s tarde, Modesta Villca (t√≠a de Milton) nos dijo que su marido ha dejado franjas de vegetaci√≥n nativa sin ararlas de cinco metros de ancho a m√°s o menos cada 25 metros en sus parcelas. Fuimos a ver estas barreras naturales vivas y eran hermosos arbustos verdes donde las vicu√Īas salvajes pod√≠an comer y los p√°jaros pod√≠an anidar. La quinua est√° protegida del viento por estos rompevientos naturales.

Mientras vemos (y filmamos), la comunidad planta plantines de arbustos nativos para hacer otra barrera viva. Vemos de nuevo que saben exactamente lo que est√°n haciendo. Dos personas colocan los peque√Īos arbustos en dos l√≠neas paralelas, mientras que dos hombres cavan agujeros para plantar y dos mujeres bajan suavemente las plantas en el suelo, sacando las peque√Īas bolsas de pl√°stico negro del vivero y recolect√°ndolas cuidadosamente para no dejar basura.

En el futuro se valorará el dejar barreras vivas naturales. Y a apreciar la flora nativa. Tendrá que ser más fácil plantas barreras vivas, pero gracias a experiencias como ésta, los agricultores y los investigadores aprenden juntos a resolver un problema. Su buena disposición y su comunidad unida también serán de gran ayuda. Después, la gente de Chita está pensando en unirse para comenzar su propio vivero para cultivar plantas nativas, para salvar su suelo del viento.

Ver el video

Para ver m√°s sobre el contexto de este blog, puede ver el video reci√©n publicado en ingl√©s y en espa√Īol

Barreras vivas para proteger el suelo

Living windbreaks to protect the soil

Agradecimientos

El Ing. Milton Villca trabaja para la Fundación Proinpa. Su trabajo es financiado en parte por el Programa Colaborativo de Investigación de Cultivos de la Fundación McKnight.

Related blog stories

Despertando las semillas

Destruyendo el Altiplano Sur con quinua

High Andean Climate Change February 10th, 2019 by

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

Recently Paul wrote about how people in Ch‚Äôoj√Īapata, a small village in the mountains high above Lake Titicaca, blend old and new ways of predicting the weather. While we were filming in the village, we also learned more about how climate change is affecting crops.

At this high altitude, 4250 meters above sea level, farmers grow bitter potato, or luk‚Äôi. This is related to the common potato, but a separate species, Solanum juzepcuzukii. Luk‚Äôi was domesticated in the Andes thousands of years ago and is well adapted to high altitudes and conditions which favor few other crops. Little else will grow in Ch‚Äôoj√Īapata besides luk‚Äôi potatoes and some pasture grasses where the villagers herd their alpacas on the steep slopes.

Veteran farmer Juan Mamani explained that in Ch‚Äôoj√Īapata it is now getting too warm to plant luk‚Äôi potatoes. And even when people can grow luk‚Äôi potatoes, it is no longer cold enough to properly process them. To make bitter potatoes edible, villagers have to freeze them outdoors for four nights. ‚ÄúNow, in mid-winter (June) when we would normally get a long freeze, it may only last one night, and when it then rains the luk‚Äôi rot.‚ÄĚ

Don Juan’s friend and neighbor, Celestino Laime, adds that the rains once came at predictable times. Now it can rain at any time, often with heavy downpours, making it difficult to farm.

There are other signs that the normal patterns of weather are changing. The farmers told us that the glaciers around them are disappearing. The mountains, once covered in solid white ice, are starting to turn grey. Now people can see the rocks appear as the ice melts and retreats.

The farmers are adapting, as they always do. With the warmer climate, folks in Ch‚Äôoj√Īapata are growing more of the common potatoes. It is not a perfect solution. They show us a potato field killed by summer frost. The bitter potatoes would have survived that cold snap.

Some people in northern, industrial countries are still denying climate change; villagers in the high Andes don’t have that luxury. They live with the changing climate and worry about it every day.

Related blogs

Three generations of knowledge

Death of the third flowers

Harsh and healthy

Acknowledgements

We were accompanied on this trip by Ing. Edwin Yucra, a professor at the Universidad Mayor de San Andrés. We thank Edwin for being generous with his time and his knowledge. His work is funded in part by the Collaborative Crop Research Program of the McKnight Foundation.

CAMBIO CLIM√ĀTICO ALTOANDINO

Por Jeff Bentley, 10 de febrero del 2019

Recientemente Paul escribi√≥ acerca de c√≥mo la gente en Ch’oj√Īapata, un peque√Īo pueblo en las monta√Īas en lo alto del Lago Titicaca, mezcla viejas y nuevas formas de predecir el tiempo. Mientras film√°bamos en la comunidad, tambi√©n aprendimos m√°s sobre c√≥mo el cambio clim√°tico est√° afectando a los cultivos.

A esta altitud, 4.250 metros sobre el nivel del mar, los agricultores cultivan papa amarga, o luk’i, que es pariente de la papa com√ļn, pero es una especie separada, Solanum juzepcuzukii. La papa luk’i fue domesticada en los Andes hace miles de a√Īos y est√° bien adaptada a las alturas y a las condiciones donde pocos cultivos crecen. En Ch’oj√Īapata nada m√°s crece adem√°s de papas y algunos pastos donde la gente pasta sus alpacas en las laderas.

El veterano agricultor Juan Mamani nos cont√≥ que ahora en Ch’oj√Īapata hace mucho calor para sembrar papas luk’i. Y aun cuando la gente puede cultivar luk’i, ya no hace suficiente fr√≠o para procesarlo bien. Para que el luk‚Äôi sea comestible, hay que congelarlos al aire libre durante cuatro noches. “Ahora, en el invierno (junio), cuando sab√≠amos tener una buena helada, puede helar s√≥lo una noche, y cuando llueve el luk’i se pudre.”

El amigo y vecino de don Juan, Celestino Laime, agrega que antes, las lluvias llegaban en su debido momento. Ahora puede llover en cualquier momento, a menudo con fuertes lluvias, y es difícil sembrar.

Hay otras se√Īales de que los patrones normales del clima est√°n cambiando. Los agricultores nos dijeron que los glaciares que los rodean est√°n desapareciendo. Los cerros, antes tapados de hielo blanco s√≥lido, empiezan a ponerse color plomo. Ahora la gente ve que las piedras aparecen a medida que el hielo se derrite y se retira.

Los agricultores se est√°n adaptando, como siempre lo hacen. Con el clima m√°s c√°lido, la gente de Ch’oj√Īapata est√° cultivando m√°s papas comunes. No es una soluci√≥n perfecta. Nos muestran un campo de papas muertas por heladas que antes no ab√≠an en el verano. Las papas luk‚Äôis hubieran sobrevivido a esa ola de fr√≠o.

Algunas personas en los países del norte siguen negando el cambio climático; la gente rural andina no tiene ese lujo. Ellos viven con el cambio climático y se preocupan por ello todos los días.

Blogs relacionados

Three generations of knowledge

De t’olas y papas

Harsh and healthy

Agradecimientos

En este viaje nos acompa√Ī√≥ el Ing. Edwin Yucra, catedr√°tico de la Universidad Mayor de San Andr√©s. Agradecemos a Edwin por ser generoso con su tiempo y su conocimiento. Su trabajo es financiado en parte por el Programa Colaborativo de Investigaci√≥n de Cultivos de la Fundaci√≥n McKnight.

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