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Community and microbes December 5th, 2021 by

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

‚ÄúIn grad school they taught us budding plant pathologists that the objective of agriculture was to ‚Äôfeed the plants and kill the bugs,‚ÄĚ my old friend Steve Sherwood explained to me on a visit to his family farm near Quito, Ecuador. ‚ÄúBut we should have been feeding the microbes in the soil, so they could take care of the plants,‚ÄĚ

When Steve and his wife, Myriam Paredes, bought their five-hectare farm, Granja Urkuwayku, in 2000, it was a moonscape on the flanks of the highly eroded Ilaló Volcano. The trees had been burned for charcoal and the soil had been stripped down to the bedrock, a hardened volcanic ash locally called cangahua that looked and felt like concrete. A deep erosion gulley was gouging a wound through the middle of the farm. It was a fixer-upper, which was why Steve and Myriam could afford it.

Now, twenty years later, the land is covered in rich, black soil, with green vegetable beds surrounded by fruit trees and native vegetation.

The first step to this rebirth was to take a tractor to the cangahua, to break up the bedrock so that water and compost could penetrate it. This was the only time Steve plowed the farm.

To build the broken stone into soil, Steve and Myriam added manure, much of it coming from some 100 chickens and 300 guinea pigs ‚Äď what they describe as the ‚Äúsparkplugs of the farm‚Äôs biological motor.‚ÄĚ

By 2015, Urkuwayku seemed to be doing well. The farm has attracted over 300 partners, families that regularly buy a produce basket from the farm, plus extras like bread, eggs, mushrooms, honey, and firewood, in total bringing in about $1,000 a week. Besides their four family members, the farm also employs four people from the neighborhood, bringing in enough money to pay for itself, so Steve and Myriam don’t have to subsidize the farm with their salaries, from teaching. The nasty gulley is now filled in with grass-covered soil, backed up behind erosion dams. Runoff water collects into a 500,000-liter pond, used to irrigate the crops during the dry season.

But in 2015 Myriam and Steve tested the soil and were surprised to see that it was slowly losing its fertility.

They think that the problem was too much tillage and not enough soil cover. Hoeing manure into the vegetable beds was breaking down the soil structure and drying out the beds, killing the beneficial fungi. As Steve explains, ‚Äúthe fungi are largely responsible for building soil particles through their mycelia and sweat, also known as glomalin, a carbon-rich glue that is important for mitigating climate change.‚ÄĚ The glomalin help to remove carbon from the air, and store it in the soil.

Then Steve befriended the administrator of a local plywood factory. The mill had collected a mountain of bark that the owner couldn’t get rid of. Steve volunteered to take it off their hands. The two top advantages of peri-urban farming are greater access to customers, and some remarkable sources of organic matter.

So the plywood factory started sending Steve dump-truck loads of bark (mostly eucalyptus). To get the microbes to decompose the bark, Steve composts sawdust with some organic matter from the floor of a local native forest. The microbe-rich sawdust is then mixed with the bark and carefully spread in deep layers between the rows of vegetables, which were now tilled as little as possible. The vegetables are planted in trays, and then transplanted to the open beds.

No matter how much bark and sawdust Steve and his team lay down, the soil always absorbs it. The soil seems to eat the bark, just as in a forest. The soil microbes thrive on the bark to create living structures, like mycelia: fungal threads that reach all the way through the vegetable beds, in between the bark-filled paths. Steve and Myriam have learned that the microbes have a symbiotic relationship with plants; microbes help a plant’s roots find moisture and nutrients, and in turn, the plant gives about a third of all of its energy from photosynthesis back to the microbes.

Myriam and Steve have seen that as the soil becomes healthier, their crops have fewer problems from insect pests and diseases. In large part, this is because of the successful marriage between plants and the ever-growing population of soil microbes. Urkuwayku is greener every year. It produces enough to feed a family and employ four people, while regularly supplying 300 families with top-notch vegetables, fruits, and other produce. A community of consumers supports the farm with income, while a community of microorganisms builds the soil and feeds the plants.

Previous Agro-Insight blog stories

Reviving soils

A revolution for our soil

Enlightened agroecology, about Pacho Gangotena, ecological farmer in Ecuador who influenced Steve and Myriam

The guinea pig solution

Living Soil: A film review

Dung talk

A market to nurture local food culture

Experiments with trees

Related training videos on the Access Agriculture platform

Good microbes for plants and soil

Turning fish waste into fertiliser

Organic biofertilizer in liquid and solid form

Mulch for a better soil and crop

COMUNIDAD Y MICROBIOS

“En la escuela de posgrado nos ense√Īaron a los futuros fitopat√≥logos que el objetivo de la agricultura era ‘alimentar a las plantas y matar a los bichos‚Äô”, me explic√≥ mi viejo amigo Steve Sherwood durante una visita a su granja familiar cerca de Quito, Ecuador. “Pero deber√≠amos haber alimentado a los microbios del suelo, para que ellos cuidaran a las plantas”.

Cuando Steve y su esposa, Myriam Paredes, compraron su finca de cinco hect√°reas, Granja Urkuwayku, en el a√Īo 2000, era un paisaje lunar en las faldas del erosionado volc√°n Ilal√≥. Los √°rboles hab√≠an sido quemados para hacer carb√≥n y del suelo no quedaba m√°s que la roca madre, una dura ceniza volc√°nica llamada ‚Äúcangahua‚ÄĚ que parec√≠a hormig√≥n. Una profunda c√°rcava erosionaba un gran hueco en el centro de la granja. La propiedad necesitaba mucho trabajo, y por eso Steve y Myriam pod√≠an acceder a comprarla.

Ahora, veinte a√Īos despu√©s, el terreno est√° cubierto de una rica tierra negra, con camellones verdes rodeados de √°rboles frutales y nativos.

El primer paso de este renacimiento fue meter un tractor a la cangahua, para romper la roca para que el agua y el abono pudieran penetrarla. Esta fue la √ļnica vez que Steve ar√≥ la finca.

Para convertir la piedra rota en suelo, Steve y Myriam a√Īadieron esti√©rcol; mucho ven√≠a de unas 100 gallinas y 300 cuyes, lo que la pareja describe como las “buj√≠as del motor biol√≥gico de la granja.”

En 2015, Urkuwayku parec√≠a ir bien. La granja ha atra√≠do a m√°s de 300 socios, familias que compran regularmente una canasta de productos de la granja, adem√°s de extras como pan, huevos, champi√Īones, miel y le√Īa, en total aportando unos 1.000 d√≥lares a la semana. Adem√°s de los cuatro miembros de su familia, la granja tambi√©n da trabajo a cuatro personas locales. Ya que los ingresos a la granja pagan sus gastos, Steve y Myriam no tienen que subvencionarla con los sueldos que ganan como docentes. Barreras de conservaci√≥n han llenado el barranco con tierra, ahora cubierta de pasto. El agua de escorrent√≠a se acumula en un estanque de 500.000 litros, usado para regar los cultivos durante la √©poca seca.

Pero en 2015 Myriam y Steve analizaron el suelo y se sorprendieron al ver que lentamente perdía su fertilidad.

Creen que el problema era el exceso de labranza y la falta de cobertura del suelo. La introducci√≥n de esti√©rcol en los camellones hortalizas estaba rompiendo la estructura del suelo y secando el suelo, matando los hongos beneficiosos. Como explica Steve, “los hongos se encargan en gran medida de construir las part√≠culas del suelo a trav√©s de sus micelios y su sudor, tambi√©n conocido como glomalina, un pegamento rico en carbono que es importante para mitigar el cambio clim√°tico”. La glomalina ayuda a eliminar el carbono del aire y a almacenarlo en el suelo.

Entonces Steve se hizo amigo del administrador de una f√°brica local de madera contrachapada (plywood). La f√°brica hab√≠a acumulado un montonazo de corteza y el due√Īo no sab√≠a c√≥mo deshacerse de ello. Steve se ofreci√≥ a quit√°rselo de encima. Las dos grandes ventajas de la agricultura periurbana son un mayor acceso a los clientes y algunas fuentes fabulosas de materia org√°nica.

Así que la fábrica de contrachapados empezó a enviar a Steve volquetadas de corteza (sobre todo de eucalipto). Para hacer que los microbios descompongan la corteza, primero Steve descompone aserrín con un poco de materia orgánica del suelo de un bosque nativo local. Luego, el aserrín rico en microbios se mezcla con la corteza y se esparce cuidadosamente en capas profundas entre los camellones de hortalizas, donde ahora se mueve el suelo lo menos posible. Las hortalizas se siembran en bandejas y luego se trasplantan al campo abierto.

No importa cuánta corteza y aserrín que Steve y su equipo pongan, la tierra siempre la absorbe. El suelo parece comerse la corteza, como en un bosque. Los microbios del suelo se alimentan de la corteza para crear estructuras vivas, como micelios: hilos de hongos que llegan hasta los camellones, entre los senderos llenos de corteza. Steve y Myriam han aprendido que los microbios tienen una relación simbiótica con las plantas; los microbios ayudan a las raíces de las plantas a encontrar humedad y nutrientes y, a su vez, la planta devuelve a los microbios la tercera parte de toda la energía que obtiene de la fotosíntesis.

Myriam y Steve han comprobado que a medida que el suelo se vuelve m√°s sano, sus cultivos tienen menos problemas de plagas de insectos y enfermedades. En gran parte, esto se debe al exitoso matrimonio entre las plantas y la creciente poblaci√≥n de microbios del suelo. Urkuwayku es m√°s verde cada a√Īo. Produce lo suficiente para alimentar a una familia y emplear a cuatro personas, al tiempo que provee regularmente verduras, frutas y otros productos de primera calidad a 300 familias. Una comunidad de consumidores apoya a la granja con ingresos, mientras que una comunidad de microorganismos construye el suelo y alimenta a las plantas.

Previos blogs de Agro-Insight

Una revolución para nuestro suelo

La luz de la agroecología, acerca de Pacho Gangotena, agricultor ecológico en el Ecuador quien ha sido una influencia para Steve y Myriam

Experimentos con √°rboles

Reviving soils

The guinea pig solution

Living Soil: A film review

Dung talk

A market to nurture local food culture

Videos sobre temas relacionados en la plataforma de Access Agriculture

Buenos microbios para plantas y suelo

El mulch mejora el suelo y la cosecha

Turning fish waste into fertiliser

Organic biofertilizer in liquid and solid form

 

Experimenting with intercrops November 28th, 2021 by

Nederlandse versie hieronder

For thousands of years, farmers have been mixing crops in their fields to meet the diverse needs of their families and to reduce the risk of crop failure. But to know which crops combine well with each other is not an easy matter, and often requires some experimentation to find out what works best for you, as I found out this year in our home garden.

Three years ago, when we moved into our renovated house in Peer, Belgium, we established a raised garden bed from partially rotted woody material and plant debris topped with compost and soil. As this so-called h√ľgelkultur is a great way to keep the soil fertile and moist, we figured this was a good way for us to grow plants without the need for watering them, especially as we are often away from home for several weeks to produce training videos with farmers.

As with many people, Covid has kept us grounded for the past two years. Without international travels we decided we should spend more time growing our own food.

On our 10 meters long, 2 meters wide and 1.5-meter-high bed, my wife Marcella has been growing a diversity of herbs, spices, vegetables and sweet maize. While we tried to anticipate which plants would prefer to grow where exactly on the bed (on the lower end or on top, on the south or north-facing side, in partial shade of the nearby goat willow or in full sunlight), this was clearly something that needed us to try out and observe as we went along.

Last winter, I decided to establish three new raised beds, each aligned north-south and 1.5 meters apart. On one bed I would grow goose berries, blue honeysuckle and red currant; the middle bed would be for my red and yellow raspberries and on the bed closest to the little forest, I would grow a few varieties of blackberries. Unlike with annual plants which you can put in a different location each season, deciding on where to plant which shrub and which variety took some careful thinking. One needs to take into account the plant’s architecture, how vigorous it grows, how it copes with strong winds and what level of shade it tolerates.

Having planted all my shrubs, I felt we could do a little more. Leaving the soil bare while the shrubs were still young did not seem like a good idea. I still had some strawberry plants that I wanted to give a new location. The fast-growing raspberries would soon crowd out my strawberries. And strawberries do not  thrive well in shade, so I decided to plant them on the first bed.

A few months later, in the spring, Marcella thought that her tomato seedlings that she had raised in the warmth of the house were ready for transplanting. Again, we brainstormed around the kitchen table where best we could plant them. ‚ÄúTomato plants have deep roots and tomatoes need a lot of sun, so let us plant them in between our strawberry plants,‚ÄĚ I suggested. To keep the mature tomato plants from shading out the newly planted berry shrubs, we planted them on the north side of the shrubs.

Friends and family said it would not work: growing tomatoes outdoors is asking for trouble, as the tomatoes would rot before they ripen. This may have been true with our traditional wet summers, but given the changing climate I figured it could work. After all, we didn’t have a choice as we don’t have a greenhouse.

One day, I was discussing with Bram Moeskops who manages the Organic Farm Knowledge platform for IFOAM Organics Europe. While he was giving me a virtual guided tour on their excellent platform, it was a real coincidence that he showed me one particular factsheet:

‚ÄúOn this factsheet,‚ÄĚ Bram explained, ‚Äúwe show a new technology that we are trying to promote, namely tomato-strawberry intercropping. As the strawberries provide a living mulch, it avoids splashing rainwater to get on the tomato plants‚ÄĚ. This was a great new insight. This added benefit hadn‚Äôt occurred to me even though

I knew that spores of various soil fungi are typically spread by splashing rain and cause tomato diseases.

Our tomato plants thrived, and surprised every visitor. After three years of extremely warm and dry summers, this year turned out to be the opposite. And in the end, months of high humidity also affected our plants. It was of some comfort to hear that all gardeners had faced the same problem, even those with greenhouses.

As our climate is changing, we will need to continue to experiment with cropping patterns. And the more we learn the better. Experimenting with permanent crops can take years, so it will be all the more important to share the results widely. Innovative platforms such as the Organic Farm Knowledge platform and the Access Agriculture video platform offers great ideas and needed scientific insights to help us make better decisions.

Related Agro-Insight blogs

Experiments with trees

Repurposing farm machinery

From Uniformity to Diversity

The rules and the players

Inspiring knowledge platforms

The Organic Farm Knowledge platform: https://organic-farmknowledge.org contains a wide range of tools and resources about organic agriculture in Europe.

Access Agriculture: https://www.accessagriculture.org is a specialised video platform with freely downloadable 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.

 

Experimenteren met mengteelten

Al duizenden jaren mengen boeren gewassen op hun akkers om te voorzien in de uiteenlopende behoeften van hun gezinnen en om het risico op mislukte oogsten te verkleinen. Maar weten welke gewassen goed met elkaar combineren is geen eenvoudige zaak en vereist vaak wat experimenteren om uit te zoeken wat voor jou het beste werkt, zoals ik dit jaar in onze eigen tuin ontdekte.

Drie jaar geleden, toen we verhuisden naar ons gerenoveerde huis in Peer, Belgi√ę, hebben we een verhoogd tuinbed aangelegd van gedeeltelijk verrot houtmateriaal en plantenresten, aangevuld met compost en aarde. Aangezien deze zogenaamde h√ľgelbedden de grond vruchtbaar en vochtig houden, vonden we dit een goede manier om planten te kweken zonder dat we ze water hoefden te geven, vooral omdat we vaak enkele weken van huis zijn om trainingsvideo’s met boeren te maken.

Zoals bij veel mensen heeft Covid ons de afgelopen twee jaar met beide voeten op de grond gehouden. Zonder internationale reizen besloten we dat we meer tijd moesten besteden aan het verbouwen van ons eigen voedsel.

Op ons 10 meter lange, 2 meter brede en 1,5 meter hoge h√ľgelbed, heeft mijn vrouw Marcella een verscheidenheid aan kruiden, specerijen, groenten en zoete ma√Įs gekweekt. Hoewel we probeerden in te schatten welke planten waar precies op het bed het liefst zouden groeien (onderaan of bovenaan, op het zuiden of op het noorden, in de halfschaduw van de nabijgelegen boswilg of in het volle zonlicht), was dit duidelijk iets dat we moesten uitproberen en gaandeweg observeren.

Afgelopen winter besloot ik drie nieuwe verhoogde bedden aan te leggen, elk noord-zuid gericht en 1,5 meter uit elkaar. Op het ene bed zou ik kruisbessen, honingbes en rode bes telen; het middelste bed zou bestemd zijn voor mijn rode en gele frambozen en op het bed dat het dichtst bij het bosje lag, zou ik een paar bramensoorten telen. Anders dan bij eenjarige planten, die je elk seizoen op een andere plaats kunt zetten, moet je goed nadenken over waar je welke struik en welk ras wilt planten. Je moet rekening houden met de architectuur van de plant, hoe sterk hij groeit, hoe hij tegen sterke wind kan en hoeveel schaduw hij verdraagt.

Nadat ik al mijn struiken had geplant, vond ik dat we nog wel wat meer konden doen. De grond kaal laten terwijl de struiken nog jong waren, leek me geen goed idee. Ik had nog een paar aardbeiplanten die ik een nieuwe plek wilde geven. De snelgroeiende frambozen zouden mijn aardbeien snel verdringen. En aardbeien gedijen niet goed in de schaduw, dus besloot ik ze op het eerste bed te planten.

In de lente, brainstormden we rond de keukentafel waar we het beste onze tomatenzaailingen konden uitplanten. “Tomatenplanten hebben diepe wortels en tomaten hebben veel zon nodig, dus laten we ze tussen onze aardbeienplanten planten,” stelde ik voor. Om te voorkomen dat de volgroeide tomatenplanten de pas geplante bessenstruiken in de schaduw zouden stellen, plantten we ze aan de noordkant van de struiken.

Vrienden en familie zeiden dat dit niet zou werken: tomaten in de openlucht kweken is vragen om problemen, omdat de tomaten zouden rotten voordat ze rijp waren. Dat was misschien waar met onze traditionele natte zomers, maar gezien het veranderende klimaat dacht ik dat het zou kunnen werken. We hadden tenslotte geen keus, want we hebben geen serre.

Op een dag was ik in gesprek met Bram Moeskops, die het platform voor biologische landbouwkennis van IFOAM Organics Europe beheert. Terwijl hij me een virtuele rondleiding gaf op hun uitstekende platform, was het een echt toeval dat hij me één specifieke factsheet liet zien:

“Op deze factsheet,” legde Bram uit, “laten we een nieuwe technologie zien die we proberen te promoten, namelijk de tomaat-aardbei mengteelt. Omdat de aardbeien een levende mulch vormen, wordt vermeden dat opspattend regenwater op de tomatenplanten terechtkomt”. Dit was een geweldig nieuw inzicht. Dit extra voordeel was niet bij me opgekomen, hoewel ik wist dat sporen van verschillende bodemschimmels gewoonlijk worden verspreid door opspattend regenwater en alzo tomatenziektes veroorzaken.

Onze tomatenplanten floreerden, en verrasten iedere bezoeker. Na drie jaren van extreem warme en droge zomers, was dit jaar het tegenovergestelde. En jammer genoeg hebben de maanden van hoge vochtigheid uiteindelijk ook onze planten aangetast. Het was een troost te horen dat alle tuiniers met hetzelfde probleem te kampen hadden gehad, zelfs die met serres.

Aangezien ons klimaat verandert, zullen we moeten blijven experimenteren met teeltpatronen. En hoe meer we leren, hoe beter. Experimenteren met blijvende teelten kan jaren duren, dus is het des te belangrijker om de resultaten op grote schaal te delen. Innovatieve platforms zoals het platform Organic Farm Knowledge en het videoplatform Access Agriculture bieden goede idee√ęn en de nodige wetenschappelijke inzichten om ons te helpen betere beslissingen te nemen.

Inspirerende kennisplatformen

The Organic Farm Knowledge platform: https://organic-farmknowledge.org met informatie over biolandbouw in Europe.

Access Agriculture: https://www.accessagriculture.org ¬†is een gespecialiseerd videoplatform met gratis te downloaden opleidingsvideo’s over ecologische landbouw met een focus op het Zuiden.

Different ways to learn November 21st, 2021 by

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

In June I wrote a story about a virtual meeting with some farmers in Iquicachi, on the shores of Lake Titicaca (Zoom to Titicaca), where they discussed how to manage what was (for them) a new pest: the potato tuber moth. Later, several people wrote to me to say that they hoped these farmers could solve their problem. So I’m writing an update.

I went to Lake Titicaca on 16 November to meet the farmers in person, and they’re doing well.

The agronomists they work with taught them to use ground chalk from a building supply shop to coat the seed potatoes. The chalk discourages the tiny larva of the moth from burrowing into the potato. This and some other techniques are helping to keep the tuber moth down.

At our recent meeting, I was impressed (as I often am) how scientists and farmers have different ways of seeing the world. There’s nothing mystical about his. It’s because they use different methods of observation.

An entomologist sees an insect by killing some specimens and looking at them under the microscope. It is an excellent way to see the details of nature that cannot be readily seen with the naked eye. For example, one of the three species of tuber moths has triangular markings on its wings.

But the farmers of Titicaca were less interested in comparing each species of moth, and more intent on comparing them to another pest, one they have had for ages: the Andean potato weevil.

These Yapuchiris (expert farmers) and their neighbors noticed that the moths‚Äô larvae are much smaller than the worms that hatch from weevil eggs. Second, the weevil only eats a part of the tuber, while the larvae of the moth ‚Äúhave no respect for the potato‚ÄĚ and destroy the whole thing. Third, the weevil can‚Äôt fly, but the moth ‚Äúflies in jumps‚ÄĚ (it takes short flights).

In all fairness, entomologists have also noticed these behaviors, and the Yapuchiris have recently observed that one species of moth is darker than the other. But the farmers emphasize behavior more, and have their own rhetoric for discussing it (e.g. as jumping). Note that this is not ancestral knowledge, because this pest is new on the Altiplano. These Yapuchiris only noticed the moth 10 years ago, and they have been observing it since then. The farmers learn about insects while farming and processing food. They watch while they work. They don’t set up lab experiments.

The Yapuchiris have strengthened their observations by interacting with agronomists. In this case the extensionists explained that the moths are the adults of the worms, so the farmers then began to pay more attention to the moths.

These improved observations have paid off.

While I was in Iquicachi, one of the Yapuchiris, Martín Condori, suggested that since the tuber moth does not fly very far, it could be kept out of potatoes by planting a row of broad beans or lupin beans between every three rows of potatoes. It’s a new idea, that only occurred to don Martín while we were meeting.

His fellow Yapuchiri, Paulino Pari, immediately warmed to don Martín’s suggestion for an intercropping experiment. Don Paulino said that a row of lupin beans might help to stop the moth from spreading into the potatoes, because the lupin plants are toxic to the moths.

This is the value of farmer-scientist collaboration. The farmers learn that the worms in their potatoes have hatched from the eggs laid by moths. Farmers then pay more attention to the moths, and create new ideas for keeping the moths out of the potato field.

Intercropping may or may not help to manage the moth, but it is an idea that farmers and agronomists can try together.

Years ago in Honduras, Keith Andrews, an entomologist, first told me that farmers identify insects more by their behavior and ecology than by their morphology. I’ve spent many years noticing that he was right.

Acknowledgements

A special thanks to Ing. Roly Cota, who works at PROSUCO, for taking me to Iquicachi and introducing me to the Yapuchiris, so we could validate three new fact sheets for farmers on the potato tuber moth. Our work was supported by the  Collaborative Crop Research Program (CCRP) of the McKnight Foundation.

Photo credit

Photo courtesy of Roly Cota.

Further reading

There is some excellent research on the potato tuber moth. For example, see this paper and references cited.

Olivier Dangles, Mario Herrera, Charlotte Mazoyer and Jean-Fran√ßois Silvain 2013 Temperature-dependent shifts in herbivore performance and interactions drive nonlinear changes in crop damages. Global Change Biology 19, 1056‚Äď1063, doi: 10.1111/gcb.12104.

Scientific names

There are two native tuber moths in Bolivia: Symmetrischema tangolias, and Phthorimaea operculella. There is also a Guatemalan tuber moth, Tecia solanivora, but it has not been reported in Bolivia. All three of these moths belong to the Gelechiidae family. They are about a centimeter long, about as long as your smallest fingernail. Many Gelechiidae attack stored cereal products, and so you may have been alarmed to find them in your cupboard.

Video on the fascinating lupin bean

Growing lupin without disease

APRENDIENDO CON OTROS OJOS

Por Jeff Bentley, 21 de noviembre del 2021

En junio escribí un relato sobre una reunión virtual con los agricultores de Iquicachi, a orillas del lago Titicaca (Zoom al Titicaca), en la que se discutía cómo gestionar lo que era (para ellos) una nueva plaga: la polilla de la papa. Más tarde, varias personas me escribieron para decirme que esperaban que estos agricultores pudieran resolver su problema. Así que escribo una actualización.

El 16 de noviembre fui al Lago Titicaca para conocer a los agricultores en persona, y est√°n bien.

Los agr√≥nomos con los que trabajan les ense√Īaron a usar tiza molida de una tienda de materiales de construcci√≥n para recubrir la papa semilla. La tiza no deja que la peque√Īa larva de la polilla penetre a la papa. Esta y otras t√©cnicas est√°n ayudando a reducir la polilla de la papa.

En esta √ļltima reuni√≥n, me impresion√≥ (como en muchas veces) c√≥mo los cient√≠ficos y los agricultores tienen formas diferentes de ver el mundo. No tiene nada de m√≠stico. Es porque usan distinto m√©todos de observaci√≥n.

Un entomólogo observa un insecto al matar algunos ejemplares y mirándolos al microscopio. Es una forma excelente de ver los detalles que no se pueden ver fácilmente a simple vista. Por ejemplo, una de las tres especies de polillas de la papa tiene marcas triangulares en las alas.

Pero los campesinos del Titicaca estaban menos interesados en comparar cada especie de polilla, y m√°s en compararlas con otra plaga, una que tienen desde hace mucho tiempo: el gorgojo de los Andes.

Estos Yapuchiris (agricultores expertos) y sus vecinos se dieron cuenta de que las larvas de las polillas son mucho m√°s peque√Īas que los gusanos que nacen de los huevos del gorgojo. En segundo lugar, el gorgojo s√≥lo se come una parte del tub√©rculo, mientras que las larvas de la polilla “no respetan la papa” y la destruyen completamente. En tercer lugar, el gorgojo no puede volar, pero la polilla “vuela a saltos” (have vuelos cortos).

En realidad, los entom√≥logos tambi√©n se han dado cuenta de estos comportamientos, y los Yapuchiris han observado recientemente que una especie de polilla es m√°s oscura que la otra. Pero los campesinos enfatizan m√°s el comportamiento, y tienen su propia ret√≥rica para discutirlo (los saltos, por ejemplo). F√≠jese que no se trata de un conocimiento ancestral, porque esta plaga es nueva en el Altiplano. Estos Yapuchiris s√≥lo se dieron cuenta de la polilla hace 10 a√Īos, y desde entonces la observan. Los campesinos aprenden sobre los insectos mientras cultivan y procesan los alimentos. Observan mientras trabajan. No hacen experimentos de laboratorio.

Los Yapuchiris han reforzado sus observaciones interactuando con los agrónomos. En este caso, los extensionistas les explicaron que las polillas son los adultos de los gusanos, por lo que los agricultores comenzaron a prestar más atención a las polillas.

Estas observaciones mejoradas han dado sus frutos.

Durante mi visita a Iquicachi, uno de los Yapuchiris, Martín Condori, sugirió que, como la polilla de la papa no vuela muy lejos, se podría sembrar un surco de tarwi (lupino) entre cada tres surcos de papa, para que no entre la polilla. Es una idea nueva, que sólo se le ocurrió a don Martín mientras nos reuníamos.

Otro Yapuchiri, don Paulino Pari, aceptó inmediatamente la sugerencia de don Martín de hacer un experimento de cultivo intercalado. Don Paulino dijo que un surco de tarwi podría ser una barrera para la polilla, porque las plantas de tarwi son tóxicas para las polillas.

Este es el valor de la colaboración entre agricultores y científicos. Los agricultores se enteran de que los gusanos de sus papas han nacido de los huevos puestos por las polillas. Los agricultores prestan entonces más atención a las polillas y crean nuevas ideas para mantener las polillas fuera del campo de papas.

Los cultivos intercalados pueden ayudar o no a controlar la polilla, pero es una idea que los agricultores y los agrónomos pueden probar juntos.

Hace a√Īos, en Honduras, Keith Andrews, un entom√≥logo, me explic√≥ por primera vez que los agricultores identifican a los insectos m√°s por su comportamiento y ecolog√≠a que por su morfolog√≠a. Llevo muchos a√Īos comprobando que ten√≠a raz√≥n.

Agradecimientos

Muchas gracias al Ing. Roly Cota, quien trabaja en PROSUCO, por llevarme a Iquicachi y convocar una reunión con los Yapuchiris, donde pudimos validad tres nuevas hojas volantes para agricultores sobre la polilla de la papa. Nuestro trabajo ha sido auspiciado por el Programa Colaborativo de Investigación sobre Cultivos (CCRP) de la Fundación McKnight.

Foto

Foto cortesía de Roly Cota.

Lectura adicional

Hay varios excelentes trabajos de investigación sobre la polilla de la papa. Por ejemplo, vea este artículo y los otros en las referencias citadas.

Olivier Dangles, Mario Herrera, Charlotte Mazoyer and Jean-Fran√ßois Silvain 2013 Temperature-dependent shifts in herbivore performance and interactions drive nonlinear changes in crop damages. Global Change Biology 19, 1056‚Äď1063, doi: 10.1111/gcb.12104.

Nombres científicos

Hay dos polillas de la papa nativas en Bolivia: Symmetrischema tangolias, y Phthorimaea operculella. Adem√°s, hay una polilla guatemalteca de la papa, Tecia solanivora, pero no ha sido reportada en Bolivia. Las tres polillas pertenecen a la familia Gelechiidae. Miden m√°s o menos un cent√≠metro, m√°s o menos lo largo de su u√Īa me√Īique. Muchos Gelechiidae atacan cereales almacenados, y es posible que le hayan sorprendido en su dispensa.

Video sobre el fascinante tarwi

Producir tarwi sin enfermedad

El mismo video, en el idioma aymara

Experiments with trees October 24th, 2021 by

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

Farmers find their peers exceptionally convincing, and good extensionists know this.

My wife, Ana, and I joined a farmer exchange visit this past 22 September. It was a chance for smallholders to see what their peers are doing on their farms. We went with about 20 farmers from around Tiquipaya, a small town in the valley of Cochabamba, Bolivia. Except for two older men and two children, the group was made up only of women, organized by María Omonte (agronomist) and Mariana Alem (biologist), both of Agrecol Andes.

Half an hour after our chartered, Bluebird bus left the town square of Tiquipaya we were climbing up a gravel road in first gear. The farmers stopped chatting among themselves, and began looking out the window, at the arid hillsides and a panoramic view of the city of Cochabamba, on the far end of the valley. The passengers’ sudden interest in the scenery made it clear that even this close to home, this was their first trip to these steep hillsides above the community of Chocaya.

When the bus stopped, we were met by Serafín Vidal, an agronomist, also with Agrecol Andes. Serafín took the group to see an agroforestry site, an orchard belonging to a farmer who Serafín advises. The farmer wasn’t there, but Serafín explained that in this system, 200 apple trees are planted in lines with 200 forest trees, like chacatea (blue sorrel) and aliso (alder), mostly native species. The idea is to mimic the forest, which builds its own soil, with no plowing, no pesticides (not even organic ones), and no fertilizer, not even manure or compost.

‚ÄúDon‚Äôt bury anything‚ÄĚ Seraf√≠n said, ‚Äúnot even leaves. They decompose too quickly if you bury them. Just prune the forest trees and line up their branches in between the apples and the other trees.‚ÄĚ

The farmers were quiet, too quiet. They seemed unconvinced by this radical idea. Finally, one farmer was bold enough to give a counter-example. He said that far away, in the lowlands of La Paz Department, farmers dig a trench and fill it with logs and branches. They bury it and plant coca, a shrub with marketable leaves. Because of the buried logs, the land stays fertile for so long that even the grandchildren of the original farmer will not need to fertilize their soil.

‚ÄúCoca,‚ÄĚ Seraf√≠n murmured, and then he paused. Growing the coca shrub is not like planting apples, but a talented, veteran extensionist like Seraf√≠n often prefers a demonstration to an argument. He dug his hand into the soil between the trees, under the leafy mulch. ‚ÄúThis used to be poor, red soil. But see how the soil between the trees has become so soft that I can dig it up with my hand, and it‚Äôs rich and black, even though it has not been plowed.‚ÄĚ Seraf√≠n spread out a couple of dozen small bags of seed of different plants: maize, beans, vegetables ‚Ķ all crops that you can plant in between the rows of trees, like the plants that grow on the forest floor.

The audience was respectfully silent, and still unconvinced, but Seraf√≠n had another trick up his sleeve. He handed the floor over to a local farmer, Franz D√°valos, who led us uphill to his own agroforestry plot, with alder, and the native qhewi√Īa (Polylepsis spp.), a tree with papery, reddish bark and twisted branches.

The group was mostly bilingual in Spanish and in Quechua, the local language, and had been switching back and forth between both languages.  But now Franz began to speak only in Quechua. The simple act of speaking in the local language can let the audience feel that the speaker is confiding in them, and Franz soon had them laughing as he explained how his neighbors grew flowers, like chrysanthemum, to cut for the urban market. In the dry season they irrigate with sprinklers. The neighbors were baffled that Franz didn’t irrigate during the two driest winter months, June and July. He didn’t want to fool the apple trees into flowering too early. It meant that for a couple of months, his patch looked dry and bare. But now his three-year-old apple trees were blooming and looking healthy, as were his other trees, bushes, aromatic plants, tomatoes and beans.

The visiting farmers were from the floor of the valley, practically in sight of this rocky hillside, but it might as well have been a different country. The flat fields of the valley bottom have flood irrigation and deep soil, but exhausted by centuries of constant cultivation.

One of the visitors explained that she was a vegetable farmer and that ‚Äúwe have already made big changes. I apply chicken manure to my soil and I have to spray something (like a homemade sulfur-lime mix) because the aphids just won‚Äôt leave us alone.‚ÄĚ

In other words, these people from the valley bottom were commercial, family farmers, far into their transition to agroecology, based on natural pesticides and organic fertilizers to restore the degraded soil. And they had to build up the soil quickly, because they were growing vegetables year-round. They couldn’t just give up applying organic fertilizer and wait for years until trees improved the soil.

Franz understood completely. He said that he also sprayed sulfur-lime but then he said ‚Äújust try it. Try agroforestry on a small area, even if you just start with one tree.‚ÄĚ

It was a cheerful group that boarded the bus to go down the mountain. They liked Franz’s suggestion of experimenting on a small scale, even with such a startling new idea as agroforestry.

Paleontologist Richard Fortey says that scientists are usually so reluctant to accept the ideas of younger colleagues that ‚Äúscience advances, one funeral at a time.‚ÄĚ (Fortey was quoting Max Planck). Smallholders are a little more open to new ideas. As farmers continue to contribute to agroecology, they will discuss and experiment. It is not reasonable to expect all of them to accept the same practices, especially when they are working in different places, with different crops and soils.

But a word from an innovative farmer can help to make even radical ideas seem worth testing.

Related Agro-Insight blogs

Apple futures (where we’ve met Ing. Serafín Vidal before)

Farming with trees

Training trees

Related videos

SLM03 Grevillea agroforestry

SLM08 Parkland agroforestry

SLM10 Managed regeneration

EXPERIMENTOS CON √ĀRBOLES

Por Jeff Bentley, el 24 de octubre del 2021

Lo que m√°s convence a los agricultores, es otro agricultor, y los buenos extensionistas lo saben.

Con mi esposa, Ana, participamos el pasado 22 de septiembre en una visita de intercambio de agricultores, una oportunidad para que vean lo que hacen sus compa√Īeros en sus terrenos. Fuimos con unos 20 agricultores de los alrededores de Tiquipaya, una peque√Īa ciudad del valle de Cochabamba, Bolivia. Con la excepci√≥n de dos hombres mayores y dos ni√Īos, el grupo estaba formado s√≥lo por mujeres, organizado por Mar√≠a Omonte (agr√≥noma) y Mariana Alem (bi√≥loga), ambas de Agrecol Andes.

Media hora despu√©s de que nuestro viejo bus saliera de la plaza del pueblo de Tiquipaya, est√°bamos subiendo a 10 km la hora por un camino ripiado, pero bien inclinado. Las compa√Īeras dejaron de charlar entre ellas y empezaron a mirar por las ventanas a las √°ridas laderas y una vista panor√°mica de la ciudad de Cochabamba, en el otro extremo del valle. El repentino inter√©s de los pasajeros por el paisaje dejaba claro que, incluso tan cerca de casa, era la primera vez que viajaban a estas inclinadas laderas de Chocaya Alta.

Cuando el micro se detuvo, nos recibió Serafín Vidal, ingeniero agrónomo, también de Agrecol Andes. Serafín llevó al grupo a ver un sitio agroforestal, un huerto que pertenece a un agricultor al que asesora. El agricultor no estaba allí, pero Serafín explicó que en este sistema se plantan 200 manzanos en línea con 200 árboles forestales, como la chacatea y el aliso, con énfasis en especies nativas. La idea es imitar al bosque, que construye su propio suelo, sin arar, sin fumigar (ni siquiera con plaguicidas orgánicos) y sin estiércol.

“No entierren nada”, dice Seraf√≠n, “ni siquiera las hojas. Se descomponen demasiado r√°pido si las entierran. S√≥lo poden los √°rboles del bosque y alineen sus ramas entre los manzanos y los otros √°rboles”.

La gente estaba callada, demasiado callada. Parecían no estar convencidos de esta idea radical. Finalmente, un agricultor se atrevió a dar un contraejemplo. Dijo que muy lejos, en Los Yungas de La Paz, los cocaleros cavan una zanja y la llenan con troncos y ramas. Lo entierran y plantan coca, un arbusto comercial. Gracias a los troncos enterrados, la tierra se mantiene fértil durante tanto tiempo que incluso los nietos del agricultor original no necesitarán fertilizar su suelo.

“Coca”, murmur√≥ Seraf√≠n, y paus√≥. Cultivar arbustos de coca no es como plantar manzanos, pero un veterano y talentoso extensionista como Seraf√≠n suele preferir una demostraci√≥n a una discusi√≥n. Meti√≥ la mano en la tierra entre los √°rboles, bajo el grueso mulch, el mantillo, el sach‚Äôa wanu. “Antes, esto era un suelo pobre y rojo. Pero miren c√≥mo el suelo entre los √°rboles se ha vuelto tan blando que puedo cavarlo con la mano, y es rico y negro, aunque no haya sido arado”. Seraf√≠n extendi√≥ unas 20 bolsitas de semillas de diferentes plantas: ma√≠z, frijol, hortalizas … todos los cultivos que se pueden sembrar entre las hileras de los √°rboles, tal como las plantas que crecen en el piso del bosque.

El p√ļblico guardaba un respetuoso silencio, y todav√≠a no estaba convencido, pero Seraf√≠n ten√≠a otro as en la manga. Cedi√≥ la palabra a un agricultor de la zona, Franz D√°valos, que nos condujo cuesta arriba hasta su propio sistema agroforestal, con alisos y la nativa qhewi√Īa (Polylepsis spp.), un √°rbol de corteza rojiza, como papel, con ramas retorcidas.

La mayor√≠a del grupo era biling√ľe en espa√Īol y en quechua, el idioma local, y hab√≠a alternado entre ambas lenguas.¬† Pero ahora Franz empez√≥ a hablar s√≥lo en quechua. El simple hecho de hablar en el idioma local puede dar confianza al p√ļblico, y r√°pidamente Franz los hac√≠a re√≠r mientras explicaba c√≥mo sus vecinos cultivaban flores, como el crisantemo, para vender como flor cortada al mercado urbano. En la √©poca seca riegan por aspersi√≥n. Los vecinos se preguntaban porque Franz no regaba durante los dos meses m√°s secos del invierno, junio y julio. Es que √©l no quer√≠a que los manzanos florezcan demasiado temprano. Por eso, durante un par de meses, su parcela parec√≠a seca y desnuda. Pero ahora sus manzanos de tres a√Īos florec√≠an y estaban obviamente sanos, al igual que sus otros √°rboles, arbustos, y otras plantas como arom√°ticas, tomates y frijoles.

Las agricultoras visitantes eran del fondo del valle, prácticamente a la vista de esta ladera rocosa, pero bien podría haber sido otro país. Las chacras planas del fondo del valle tienen riego por inundación y un suelo profundo, pero agotado por siglos de cultivo constante.

Una de las visitantes explic√≥ que ella era agricultora de hortalizas y que “ya hemos hecho muchos cambios. Aplico gallinaza a mi suelo y tengo que fumigar algo (como sulfoc√°lcico) porque los pulgones no nos dejan en paz”.

En otras palabras, estas personas del piso del valle eran agricultores comerciales y familiares, que estaban en plena transici√≥n hacia la agroecolog√≠a, basada en plaguicidas naturales y fertilizantes org√°nicos, para restaurar el suelo degradado. Y ten√≠an que recuperar el suelo r√°pidamente, porque cultivaban verduras todo el a√Īo. No pod√≠an dejar de aplicar abono org√°nico y esperar a√Īos hasta que los √°rboles mejoraran el suelo.

Franz lo entend√≠a perfectamente. Dijo que √©l tambi√©n fumigaba sulfoc√°lcico, pero luego dijo “pru√©benlo. Prueben la agroforester√≠a en una peque√Īa superficie, aun si empiezan con un solo √°rbol”.

Fue un grupo alegre el que subi√≥ al micro para bajar del cerro. Les gust√≥ la sugerencia de Franz de experimentar a peque√Īa escala, incluso con una idea tan nueva y sorprendente como la agroforester√≠a.

El paleont√≥logo Richard Fortey dice que los cient√≠ficos suelen ser tan reacios a aceptar las ideas de los colegas m√°s j√≥venes que “la ciencia avanza, un funeral a la vez”. (Fortey citaba a Max Planck). En cambio, los agricultores familiares est√°n un poco m√°s abiertos a las nuevas ideas. A medida que los agricultores sigan contribuyendo a la agroecolog√≠a y la agroforester√≠a, discutir√°n y experimentar√°n. No es razonable esperar que todos ellos acepten las mismas pr√°cticas, sobre todo cuando trabajan en lugares diferentes, con cultivos y suelos distintos.

Pero una palabra de un agricultor innovador puede ayudar a que incluso las ideas radicales parezcan dignas de ser probadas.

Blogs previos de Agro-Insight blogs

Manzanos del futuro (donde ya conocimos al Ing. Serafín Vidal)

La agricultura con √°rboles

Training trees

Videos sobre la agroforestería

SLM 03 Agroforestería con grevillea

SLM08 Agroforestería del bosque ralo

SLM10 Regeneración manejada

Organic Sri Lanka October 17th, 2021 by

Nederlandse versie hieronder

We are all familiar with organic milk, organic fruit and vegetables, or organic chocolate, but when one reads ‚ÄúOrganic Sri Lanka‚ÄĚ, one may have difficulty grasping what this really is about. For sure, it cannot mean that the entire country is organic. Or does it?

Indeed. As of April 2021, triggered by a wave of kidney diseases among its rice farmers, the Sri Lankan government took a brave decision to ban all imports of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides, and to to transition to organic and ecological farming.

Sri Lanka is an island country in South Asia. Political unrest and ethnic divides between Tamil and Sinhalese ethnicities led to a 30-year civil war, which ended only in 2009. Blessed with gorgeous scenery and plenty of arable and fertile land, Sri Lanka has been able to develop a stable economy, mainly based on tourism, textiles, rice and tea, of which it is the second-largest exporter in the world.

However, for decades, Sri Lankan agricultural policies had supported high-input agriculture, providing free irrigation and subsidised chemical fertilizer, thereby slowly undermining the country’s rich natural resource base: the people, land and water on which farming depends. The damage had been largely unnoticed until more recently.

In 1995, when I was teaching tropical agriculture at the University of Ghent, I was fortunate to have a chance to live and work for a couple of months in this beautiful country, to backstop a project funded by the European Union. The project focused on weed management, and I was asked to use numerical vegetation ecology as a research method to assess weed populations in farmers’ fields in relation to environmental factors and farmers’ practices.

Each week I travelled to a different part of the country and spent days in the rural areas, interviewing farmers and visiting their fields. It was an intense period, often with little sleep as accommodation was basic or even missing, but at the same time it re-enforced my passion to be in the field, working with smallholder farmers.

After returning back home in Belgium and analysing the data, I came to a staggering conclusion, which I wrote down in one of my first papers, presented at an international conference. The grassy weed Echinochloa crus-galli was highly prevalent in the Mahaweli Development Programme, the largest irrigation scheme in the country where rice was grown with a high input of herbicides and fertilizer. As with the other grass E. colonum, it seemed resistant towards the herbicides used. The many years of spraying propanil had led to resistance for two of the world’s most troublesome weeds. Propanil is a contact herbicide, it kills weeds upon contact with little damage to the crop. It is sold under many different brand names, and has been widely used across the globe over the past 60 years.

While in the early days Monsanto tried to file a patent for propanil, the herbicide continues to be widely used across the world, produced and marketed by Bayer (which bought Monsanto in 2016). Propanil is also made by Dow AgroSciences, various Chinese agrochemical companies, as well as the Indian Bharat Group and United Phosphorus. Environmental and human health hazards caused by agrochemicals take time to manifest themselves, and the cocktails of chemicals applied to farmers’ fields further complicate measuring the poison’s effects. On top of that, once applied, pesticides (including herbicides) are broken down into smaller units, called metabolites, which are often unknown to science and therefore easily escape the tests. Yet, metabolites are often more toxic and more persistent than the parent compound. These complications partly explain why multinational companies can continue their devastating business.

According to a report by the NGO Pesticide Action Network, propanil, along with various other pesticides, can be measured in various amounts in the rain in Asia, North America, Europe, and Latin America. ‚ÄúPesticides travel thousands of kilometres through the air; they are carried through rivers and seas to distant locations; they are having a devastating effect on biodiversity including beneficial insects; they are undermining the sustainability of food production systems; they kill an unknown number of farmers, workers, children and animals every year; they alter gene pools; and they are costing society billions of dollars in adverse impacts (Pesticide Action Network 2015).‚ÄĚ

Chemical fertilizers and pesticides contain heavy metals, such as cadmium, arsenic, chromium, cobalt, lead and nickel, which are known to be toxic and endocrine disruptors. These heavy metals are not listed on the labels as they are considered minor contaminants. Yet, heavy metals accumulate in the soil with repeated applications of agrochemicals.

For years civil society and journalists in Sri Lanka have signalled the devastating effects of agrochemicals; a revealing article in the Colombo Telegraph shows that already in 1998, the Sri Lanka Farmer Forum comprising of over 320 delegates, warned that the current trends in agricultural research were creating a ‚Äúcomplete dependence of high-input crops that robbed us of crop independence‚ÄĚ.

No one really listened. At least not until the hard evidence of human health hazards and the damage caused to soil and water could no longer be denied.

Organic and ecological farming is knowledge intensive. It is sobering to see how the traditional knowledge farmers in Sri Lanka have developed over thousands of years has been eroded by several decades of chemical agriculture.

Yet the agrochemical industry is not planning to let go of it easily. In less than 6 months after the President declared the country to go 100% organic, lobby groups of the industry have led a media campaign to create the impression that Sri Lanka’s food crisis is the result of the nation’s shift towards organic farming. Fortunately, the President has so far stood firm against the panic being created in the name of growing food insecurity.

To retrain farmers on the management of lands without toxins and heavy energy and to rebuild soil fertility, farmers in Sri Lanka can learn from their fellow farmers in other countries. At the same time, also the agricultural extension and education systems need to drastically change. That is why our non-profit organisation, Access Agriculture, decided to support the government of Sri Lanka by partnering with the Lankan Organic Agriculture Movement (LOAM) and translating many of its farmer-to-farmer training videos into the local languages. Such learning tools will prove to be a great support to the current and future generations of farmers, extension staff and scientists who will need to do research in a more collaborative way with farmers.

More info

Devinder Sharma. 2021. Sri Lanka goes organic. The Tribune. https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/comment/sri-lanka-goes-organic-318938

Ranil Senanayake. 2015. Restoring sustainability to Sri Lankan agriculture. Colombo Telegraph. https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/restoring-sustainability-to-sri-lankan-agriculture/

Vineet Kumar. 2021. Sri Lanka’s inorganic transition to organic farming. DownToEarth. https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/agriculture/sri-lanka-s-inorganic-transition-to-organic-farming-79532

Related Agro-Insight blogs

Principles matter

Silent Spring, better living through biology

Roundup: ready to move on?

Inspiring 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.

 

Biologisch Sri Lanka

We zijn allemaal vertrouwd met biologische melk, biologische groenten en fruit, of biologische chocolade, maar wanneer men “Biologisch Sri Lanka” leest, kan het moeilijk te vatten zijn wat dit nu eigenlijk inhoudt. Het kan toch niet betekenen dat het hele land biologisch is. Of toch?

Inderdaad. Vanaf april 2021 heeft de Sri Lankaanse regering, naar aanleiding van een golf van nierziekten onder haar rijstboeren, een moedig besluit genomen om alle invoer van kunstmest, pesticiden en herbiciden te verbieden, en over te schakelen op biologische landbouw.

Sri Lanka is een eilandstaat in Zuid-Azi√ę. Politieke onrust en etnische verdeeldheid tussen de Tamil en Singalese bevolking leidden tot een 30 jaar durende burgeroorlog, die pas in 2009 eindigde. Gezegend met prachtige landschappen en veel vruchtbare landbouwgrond, is Sri Lanka erin geslaagd een stabiele economie te ontwikkelen, voornamelijk gebaseerd op toerisme, textiel, rijst en thee, waarvan het de op een na grootste exporteur ter wereld is.

Decennialang heeft het Sri Lankaanse landbouwbeleid echter een industrieel landbouwmodel ondersteund, met gratis irrigatie en gesubsidieerde kunstmest, waardoor de cruciale hulpbronnen van het land – de boeren, het land en het water waarvan de landbouw afhankelijk is – langzaam werden ondermijnd. De schade is lang grotendeels onopgemerkt gebleven.

In 1995, toen ik tropische landbouw doceerde aan de Universiteit van Gent, had ik het geluk een paar maanden in dit prachtige land te mogen wonen en werken, ter ondersteuning van een door de Europese Unie gefinancierd project. Het project was gericht op onkruidbeheer, en ik werd gevraagd om numerieke vegetatie-ecologie te gebruiken als onderzoeksmethode om onkruidpopulaties in de velden van boeren te beoordelen in relatie tot milieufactoren en de praktijken van boeren.

Elke week reisde ik naar een ander deel van het land en bracht dagen door op het platteland, waar ik boeren interviewde en hun akkers bezocht. Het was een intense periode, vaak met weinig slaap omdat goede accommodatie er dikwijls ontbrak, maar tegelijkertijd versterkte het mijn passie om in het veld te werken met kleine boeren.

Na mijn terugkeer in Belgi√ę en de analyse van de gegevens, kwam ik tot een verbijsterende conclusie, die ik opschreef in een van mijn eerste papers, gepresenteerd op een internationale conferentie. De vele jaren van sproeien met propanil hadden geleid tot resistentie voor twee van ‘s werelds meest lastige onkruiden. Propanil is een contactherbicide, verkocht onder diverse merknamen, en is de afgelopen 60 jaar over de hele wereld op grote schaal gebruikt.

De gevaren van agrochemische stoffen voor het milieu en de volksgezondheid manifesteren zich pas na enige tijd, en de cocktails van chemische stoffen die op de akkers van de boeren worden aangebracht, maken het nog moeilijker om de effecten van het gif te meten. Daar komt nog bij dat bestrijdingsmiddelen (met inbegrip van herbiciden) na toepassing worden afgebroken tot kleinere eenheden, metabolieten genaamd, die vaak onbekend zijn voor de wetenschap en daarom gemakkelijk aan de tests ontsnappen. Toch zijn metabolieten vaak giftiger en persistenter dan de oorspronkelijke stof. Deze complicaties verklaren ten dele waarom multinationale ondernemingen hun verwoestende handel kunnen voortzetten.

Volgens een rapport van de NGO Pesticide Action Network kan propanil, samen met diverse andere pesticiden, in verschillende hoeveelheden worden gemeten in de regen in Azi√ę, Noord-Amerika, Europa en Latijns-Amerika. “Pesticiden leggen duizenden kilometers af door de lucht; ze worden via rivieren en zee√ęn naar verre locaties vervoerd; ze hebben een verwoestend effect op de biodiversiteit, waaronder nuttige insecten; ze ondermijnen de duurzaamheid van voedselproductiesystemen; ze doden elk jaar een onbekend aantal boeren, arbeiders, kinderen en dieren; ze veranderen genenpools; en ze kosten de samenleving miljarden dollars aan nadelige gevolgen (Pesticide Action Network 2015).”

Chemische meststoffen en pesticiden bevatten zware metalen, zoals cadmium, arseen, chroom, kobalt, lood en nikkel, waarvan bekend is dat ze giftig zijn en de hormoonhuishouding verstoren. Deze zware metalen worden niet op de etiketten vermeld omdat ze als minder belangrijke verontreinigende stoffen worden beschouwd. Toch hopen de zware metalen zich op in de bodem bij herhaalde toepassing van landbouwchemicali√ęn.

Jarenlang hebben maatschappelijke organisaties en journalisten in Sri Lanka gewezen op de verwoestende effecten van landbouwchemicali√ęn. Niemand luisterde echt. Tenminste niet totdat het harde bewijs van de gevaren voor de menselijke gezondheid en de schade aan bodem en water niet langer kon worden ontkend.

Biologische en ecologische landbouw is kennisintensief. Het is ontnuchterend om te zien hoe de traditionele kennis die de boeren in Sri Lanka in de loop van duizenden jaren hebben ontwikkeld, is uitgehold door een paar decennia van chemische landbouw.

Toch is de agrochemische industrie niet van plan dit gemakkelijk los te laten. In minder dan 6 maanden nadat de president verklaarde dat het land voor 100% biologisch zou gaan, hebben lobbygroepen van de industrie een mediacampagne gevoerd om de indruk te wekken dat de voedselcrisis in Sri Lanka het gevolg is van de transitie van het land naar biologische landbouw. Gelukkig heeft de president tot dusverre voet bij stuk gehouden tegen de paniek die wordt gezaaid in naam van de groeiende voedselonzekerheid.

Om boeren om te scholen in het beheer van land zonder gifstoffen en zware energie en om de bodemvruchtbaarheid te herstellen, kunnen de boeren in Sri Lanka leren van hun collega-boeren in andere landen. Tegelijkertijd moeten ook de systemen voor landbouwvoorlichting en -onderwijs drastisch veranderen. Daarom heeft onze vzw, Access Agriculture, besloten de regering van Sri Lanka te steunen door een partnerschap aan te gaan met de Sri Lankan Organic Agriculture Movement (LOAM) en veel van haar boeren trainingsvideo’s in de plaatselijke talen te vertalen. Dergelijke leermiddelen zullen een grote steun blijken te zijn voor de huidige en toekomstige generaties boeren, voorlichtingsmedewerkers en wetenschappers die op een meer co√∂peratieve manier met boeren onderzoek moeten doen.

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