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Youth don’t hate agriculture June 20th, 2021 by

Rural youth are moving to the cities by the busload. Yet counter to the prevailing stereotype, many young people like village life and would be happy to go into farming, if it paid. This is one of the insights from a study of youth aspirations in East Africa that unfolds in three excellent country studies written by teams of social scientists, each working in their own country. Each study followed a parallel method, with dozens of interviews with individuals and groups in the local languages, making findings easy to compare across borders.

In Ethiopia many young people grow small plots of vegetables for sale, and would be glad to produce grains, legumes, eggs or dairy. Youth are often attracted to enterprises based on high-value produce that can be grown on the small plots of land that young people have.

Young people are also eager to get into post-harvest processing, transportation and marketing of farm produce, but they lack the contacts or the knowhow to get started. Ethiopian youth have little money to invest in farm businesses, so they often migrate to Saudi Arabia where well-paid manual work is available (or at least it was, before the pandemic).

In northern Uganda, researchers found that many youths wanted to get an education and a good job, but unwanted pregnancies and early marriage forced many to drop out of secondary school. If dreams of moving to the city and becoming a doctor, a lawyer or a teacher don’t work out, then agriculture is the fallback option for many young people. But, as in Ethiopia, young Ugandan farmers would like their work to pay more.

In Tanzania, many youths have been able to finish secondary school and some attend university. Even there, young people go to the city to escape poverty, not to get away from the village. Many youths are even returning, like one young man who quit his job as a shop assistant in town to go home and buy a plot of land to grow vegetables. Using the business skills he learned in town, he was also able to sell fish, and eventually invested in a successful, five acre (two hectare) cashew farm.

These three insightful studies from East Africa lament that extension services often ignore youth. But the studies also suggest to me that some of the brightest youth will still manage to find their way into agriculture. Every urban migrant becomes a new consumer, who has to buy food. As tropical cities mushroom, demand will grow for farm produce.

If youth want to stay in farming, they should be able to do so, but they will need investment capital, and training in topics like pest management and ways to make their produce more appealing for urban consumers. Improved infrastructure will not only make country life more attractive, but more productive. Better mobile phone connectivity will link smallholders with buyers and suppliers. Roads will help bring food to the cities. A constant electric supply will allow food to be processed, labeled and packaged in the countryside. New information services, including online videos, can also help give information that young farmers need to produce high-value produce.

Further reading

These three studies were all sponsored by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). You can find them here.

Boonabaana, Brenda, Peace Musiimenta, Margaret Najjingo Mangheni, and Jasper Bakeiha Ankunda 2020. Youth Realities, Aspirations, Transitions to Adulthood and Opportunity Structures in Uganda’s Dryland Areas. Report submitted to ICRISAT.

Endris, Getachew Shambel, and Jemal Yousuf Hassan 2020. Youth realities, aspirations, transitions to adulthood and opportunity structures in the drylands of Ethiopia. Report submitted to ICRISAT.

Mwaseba, Dismas L., Athman K. Ahmad and Kenneth M. Mapund 2020. Youth Realities, Aspirations and Transitions to Adulthood in Dryland Agriculture in Tanzania. Report submitted to ICRISAT.

Related Agro-Insight blog stories

Teaching the farmers of tomorrow with videos  

Videos to teach kids good attitudes

The next generation of farmers

Some videos of interest

Access Agriculture hosts videos to share information about profitable, ecologically-sound agriculture. Farmers of all ages can download videos on their smartphones in English and many other languages, for example:

For Ethiopia, check out these videos in Amharic, Oromo, Afar, and Arabic, Oromo,

For Tanzania, 122 videos in Swahili (Kiswahili), and others in Dholuo, and Tumbuka

For Uganda, Ateso, Kalenjin, Kiswahili, Luganda, Lugbara, Luo (Uganda), Runyakitara

To find videos in a language of your country, click here.

Commercial family farming Bolivian style May 30th, 2021 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

In earlier blogs (Our threatened farmers, Damaging the soil and our health with chemical reductionism) Paul and I have written that farmers are Stuck in the middle between just a few large produce buyers and handful of seed and agrochemical companies. Farmers are forced to take any prices offered by their buyers, and by their suppliers as well. It’s a bind that forces many family farmers out of business.

It doesn’t have to be that way, as I was reminded recently on a stretch of the old highway from Santa Cruz, Bolivia to Cochabamba, at some 3000 meters above sea level. Ana and I noticed all the farmers gathering potatoes into large, blue sacks. They were getting ready for the weekly fair at “El Puente”, the bridge over the Lope Mendoza River.

Seeing the potato growers, I suddenly felt the urge to participate in this robust farmers’ market which has been self-sustaining for decades.

In a flat space in the canyon, every Monday hundreds of smallholder farmers bring fresh produce, mostly potatoes. El Puente is like a small town that leaps into existence with the Monday fair, only to be abandoned for the rest of the week.

This was Sunday. The shop fronts were closed, locks on heavy steel doors. By Monday morning they would be doing a brisk business in farm supplies. One temporary restaurant was open, with chicken roasting on a large charcoal grill, ready to feed the farmers who had arrived early, on Sunday afternoon.

We past an empty space that would soon be full of vendors who travel from fair to fair, selling the things that rural families like and need, soap and salt, cooking oil, tinned sardines, matches and clothing. Today it was still empty, but the potato pavilion was filling up. It’s just a concrete slab with a sheet metal roof and no walls. Farmers bring in their produce, in 100 kilo bags (called a carga), and wait for customers.

Some people come from the city on the bus on Monday to buy a carga to eat at home, or half a dozen of them, to sell. They rent space on a truck to deliver the potatoes to Cochabamba. The largest buyers may load a small truck with six or twelve tons to sell to retailers in the cities. In this lightly regulated market, potatoes may go through as few as four links, from farmer to small-time wholesaler, to retailer, to customer. Each one is a small, family business. It’s Adam Smith’s ideal of capitalism, with many willing buyers and many others eager to sell.

Ana soon met a farmer in early middle age, wearing a long skirt, with a scarf tied over her head.

We asked her for an arroba (25 pounds, or 11.4 kilos) of potatoes. “Take half a carga (50 kilos)” she said, so we did. After all, this was a wholesale market. The farmer led us to her wares, maybe a dozen bags. Each farmer was there with a cluster of potatoes in 100 kilo bags. Each cluster was carefully separated from the other by a space just big enough to squeeze through. The farmer wanted 90 Bolivianos ($13) for her fine, native potatoes, and she wouldn’t take less. She was a price giver, not a taker. We were soon on our way with our 50 kilos, from the epicenter of the Bolivian potato market.

After the Bolivian Revolution of 1952, the large farms (haciendas) were divided and given to the people who worked them. According to fake history, repeated sometimes even in schools, the Agrarian Reform of the Revolution failed because the land was split up into such small parcels that they were uneconomical to produce anything. It’s a racist lie. The Agrarian Reform succeeded, as we saw a few kilometers down the road.

An indigenous Andean farm family was standing next to 20 cargas of potatoes. Two tons of food going to market, neatly dressed in blue. The proud farmer reacted in the most contemporary fashion to his household’s accomplishment. Smart phone in hand, he walked across the highway and snapped a picture of his family and their harvest.

Related Agro-Insight blogs

Peasants, not princes: The potato finds a home in Europe

Native potatoes, tasty and vulnerable

LA AGRICULTURA FAMILIAR TAMBIÉN PUEDE SER COMERCIAL

Por Jeff Bentley 30 de mayo del 2021

Antes, en este blog, Paul y yo hemos escrito que los países del norte, los agricultores están atrapados entre unos pocos grandes compradores de productos y un puñado de empresas de semillas y agroquímicos. Los agricultores se ven obligados a aceptar cualquier precio ofrecido por sus compradores, y también por sus proveedores. Es un aprieto que obliga a muchos agricultores familiares a abandonar su terreno.

No tiene por qué ser así, como volví a acordarme hace poco, manejando sobre la antigua carretera de Santa Cruz, Bolivia a Cochabamba, a unos 3.000 metros sobre el nivel del mar. Ana y yo nos fijamos en todos los agricultores que llenaban costales azules con papas. Se estaban alistando para la feria semanal en El Puente de Lope Mendoza.

Al ver a los productores de papas, sentí el impulso de participar en este robusto mercado agrícola, que se auto sostiene desde hace décadas.

En una parte plana en el cañón, cada lunes cientos de pequeños agricultores traen productos frescos, sobre todo papas. El Puente es como un pequeño pueblo que nace con la feria de los lunes, para quedar abandonado el resto de la semana.

Este día fue el domingo. Las fachadas de las tiendas estaban cerradas, con candados en las pesadas puertas de acero. El lunes por la mañana, los comercios de insumos agrícolas se llenarían de clientes. Un restaurante temporal atendía, con pollo asado en una gran parrilla de carbón, listo para alimentar a los agricultores que habían llegado temprano, el domingo por la tarde.

Pasamos por un espacio vacío que la mañana siguiente estaría lleno de vendedores que viajan de feria en feria, vendiendo antojos y artículos de primera necesidad, como jabón y sal, aceite de cocina, sardinas en lata, fósforos y ropa. Hoy todavía no había nadie, pero el pabellón de papas sí se estaba llenando. Es sólo una losa de hormigón con un techo de chapa y sin paredes. Los agricultores traen sus productos, en bolsas de 100 kilos (llamadas “cargas”), y esperan a sus clientes.

Algunas personas vienen desde la ciudad en el bus (el “micro”) el lunes para comprar una carga para comer en casa, o media docena de ellas, para vender. Alquilan espacio en un camión para llevar las papas a Cochabamba. Los que más compran pueden llegar un pequeño camión con seis o doce toneladas para venderlas a los minoristas de las ciudades. En este mercado poco regulado, las papas pueden pasar por apenas cuatro eslabones, desde el agricultor hasta el pequeño mayorista, la minorista y clientes. Cada uno de ellos es una pequeña empresa familiar. Es el ideal de capitalismo de Adam Smith, con mucha gente con ganas de comprar y vender.

Ana pronto conoció a una agricultora de mediana edad, con una falda larga y un pañuelo atado a la cabeza.

Le pedimos una arroba (25 libras, o 11,4 kilos) de papas. “LlĂ©vense media carga (50 kilos)”, nos dijo, y asĂ­ lo hicimos. Al fin y al cabo, se trataba de un mercado mayorista. La agricultora nos condujo hasta sus mercancĂ­as, más o menos una docena de costales. Cada agricultor estaba allĂ­ con sus papas en sacos de 100 kilos. El producto de cada persona estaba cuidadosamente separado del otro por un espacio angosto donde uno apenas podĂ­a pasaba. La agricultora querĂ­a 90 bolivianos (13 dĂłlares) por sus hermosas papas nativas, y no aceptaba menos. Ella estaba para dar un precio, no para recibirlo. Pronto nos pusimos en camino con nuestros 50 kilos, desde el epicentro del mercado boliviano de la patata.

Tras la Revolución Boliviana de 1952, las haciendas se dividieron y se repartían entre la gente que las trabajaba. Según la falsa historia, repetida a veces incluso en las escuelas, la Reforma Agraria fracasó porque la tierra se dividió en parcelas tan pequeñas (“surcofundias”) que no era rentable producir nada. Es una mentira racista. La Reforma Agraria tuvo éxito, como vimos unos kilómetros más adelante.

Una familia campesina estaba terminando de arreglar sus 20 cargas de papas. Dos toneladas de alimentos que iban al mercado, cuidadosamente vestidos de azul. El orgulloso agricultor reaccionó de la manera más contemporánea al logro. Teléfono inteligente en mano, cruzó la carretera y sacó una foto de su familia y su cosecha.

Historias relacionadas en el blog de Agro-Insight

Our threatened farmers,

Damaging the soil and our health with chemical reductionism

Stuck in the middle

Peasants, not princes: The potato finds a home in Europe

Papas nativas, deliciosas y vulnerables

 

Iron for organic pigs May 16th, 2021 by

Organic agriculture is on the rise, but as the sector grows and more farmers convert from conventional to organic farming, regulations are continuously fine-tuned. Finding a balance between animal welfare and the heavy debt burden many conventional farmers have due to past investments in modern pig houses is a delicate exercise, as I recently learned from my friend, Johan Hons, a long-time organic farmer in north-eastern Belgium.

“When some 40 years ago a neighbour farmer offered to let me use one of his vacant stables, I bought my first Piétrain pigs (a Belgian breed of pig) and started rearing. In those early years, I always supplemented iron. A few years later, Vera and I were able to start our own farm. We were convinced that organic farming was the only way food should be produced, so I gave my pigs the space to roam around in the field. Ever since then, they never needed any iron injections and they never got sick,” Johan says.

Iron is an essential mineral for all livestock, especially for piglets. Iron-deficient piglets will suffer from anaemia: they will remain pale, stunted, have chronic diarrhoea and if left untreated they will die. Worldwide, piglets are commonly injected with a 200 milligram dose of iron a few days after birth. Although this intramuscular injection is effective against anaemia, it is very stressful to the piglets.

In a natural environment a sow acquires enough iron from the soil during rooting behaviour, which she passes on to the suckling piglets through her milk. But most pigs in conventional farming in Belgium are raised on slatted floors and have no access to soil. Sows only have enough iron reserves for their first litter. Piglets of the second and third litter would already have a shortage of iron and become sick, unless given supplements.

Under Belgian regulations, organic meat pigs are allowed only one medical treatment for whatever illness. If a second treatment is given, pigs can only be sold in the conventional circuit and hence farmers do not get a premium price. With more conventional farmers eager to convert to organic to earn a higher income, members of Bioforum, the Belgian multi-stakeholder platform for organic agriculture, requested the regulatory authorities whether iron injections could be considered as a non-medical treatment.

As a member of Bioforum, Johan suggested an alternative: “When the sow delivers in the sty, I daily give her piglets a few handfuls of soil from the moment they are one week old. I put it out of reach of the sow, otherwise she would eat it, and continue doing so until the piglets are a few weeks old and allowed outside. Just like human babies, the piglets have a curious nature and by giving them early access to soil, they immediately build up their iron stores and immunity.”

For Johan caring for animals is knowing what they need and providing them with all the comfort throughout their life. This starts at birth-giving.

However, his suggestion initially got a cold reception at the forum, whose members also includes retailers. Most farmers who want to convert to organic do not have the possibility of letting their pigs roam on the land, showing the dire realities of conventional farms in Belgium, where concrete is more abundant around the pig houses than soil.

And however creative they found Johan’s suggestion to provide piglets with soil in the stables, this was not considered a feasible option. Conventional farmers have invested heavily in modern pig houses with slatted floors and automated manure removal systems and bringing in soil would obstruct the system. Adjusting such houses to cater for organic farming is an expense few farmers are willing to make.

Belgian authorities decided that, because of lack of commercial alternatives to iron injections, they would be temporarily accepted in organic agriculture, on the condition that the iron formulation is not mixed with antibiotics.

A sustainable food system is at the heart of the European Green Deal. As the European Commission has set a target under its farm to fork strategy to have 25% of the land under organic agriculture by 2030, it will need to reflect on how far the regulations for organic agriculture can be stretched, as well as on possible measures to support farmers to convert.

If left to the pigs to decide, they would surely opt for more time outdoors and less concrete around their houses, not a tweak in the regulations to declassify iron injection as a medical treatment.

Related blogs

Against or with nature

Smelling is believing

Mobile slaughterhouses

Five heads think better than one

Asking about cows

Kicking the antibiotic habit

Big chicken, little chicken

Related video

Housing for pigs

Inspiring platforms

Access Agriculture: hosts over 220 training videos in over 85 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 new social media platform where anyone from across the globe can upload their own videos related to natural farming and circular economy.

Our threatened farmers May 9th, 2021 by

Supermarkets in the USA bulge with everything from strawberries to steak, but this generous supply is threatened by a destructive agro-industry. In the recent book Perilous Bounty, Tom Philpott outlines looming disasters in California and the Midwest.

The Central Valley of California produces an astounding 80% of the world’s almonds and half of the pistachios, besides a lot of the fresh fruits and vegetables eaten in the USA. This phenomenal production is irrigated with water that is mined, and can never be replaced. The Central Valley used to be a vast wetland. From 1930 to 1970 a network of dams and canals were built to capture snowmelt from the Sierra Madre mountains, for irrigation.

But the rainfall out west is erratic and some years there is not enough snow to irrigate all the nut trees, so well water makes up the difference. So much water has been pumped that the ground level has fallen by 29 feet (8.8 meters). As the subsoil shrinks, it loses capacity; it can now hold less water than before.

The Midwest used to be a home for diversified family farms, rotating crops of corn, wheat, oats and rye, and even growing fruits and vegetables. Cattle ate fodder produced on the farm itself. Since the 1960s, this integrated system has been replaced by a simpler one, of just maize (corn) and soybeans, while the livestock have been sent to factory farms. Crops and animals are now grown on separate farms. The hog mega-barns are so far from the grain farms that the pig manure cannot be used as fertilizer. Instead, the manure finds its way to the Mississippi River and on to the Gulf of Mexico, where it has created a dead zone the size of New Jersey, destroying a thriving fish and shrimp industry. The soil is now eroding at an estimated rate of 5.4 tons per acre per year (13.5 tons per ha). The rich black soil is vanishing fast.

A handful of corporations buy meat (Tyson Foods, Cargill, JBS, and Smithfield Foods—owned by the Chinese WH Group) and just four companies make most of the chemical fertilizer in the USA, so farmers are forced to take the prices offered by these few buyers and sellers. This price squeeze forces many family farmers out of business. Between 1940 and 2018, the number of farms in Iowa declined from 213,000 to 86,000, a loss of 60%.

Much of this chemical-intensive farming system operates at a loss, but is made profitable by Federal Crop Insurance, operated by private companies, but subsidized by the US government.

Agriculture does make money for big companies. Monsanto, a corporation that made agrochemicals, saw its value rise from $5 billion in 2000 to $66 Billion in 2018, when Bayer bought the company. During these years, Monsanto consolidated its hold on the seed and pesticide industry. Almost all of the maize, soybean and cotton in the USA is now grown from varieties that have been genetically modified to withstand herbicides, especially glyphosate, sold under the brand name Roundup. At first, farmers loved it. They could plant the genetically modified “Roundup Ready” seed and then spray the emerging plants with herbicides, killing all the weeds and leaving the maize or soybeans fresh and green.

The problem is that weeds invariably evolve resistance to the herbicides. So, seed companies engineer new crop varieties that can withstand more herbicides. Then the weeds become resistant to those herbicides. And farmers have to spend more on seeds and chemicals.

There is a way out. In California, agroecologist Stephen Gliessman grows grapes without irrigation. In the Midwest, farmer-innovators like David Brandt and Tom Frantzen work with researchers to create integrated livestock-cereal farms where cover crops rebuild the soil with organic matter.

I was heartened to read about these inventive farmers. But there are other things we can all do, to live better and eat better. We can:

Plant a garden.

Buy locally, from family farmers.

Eat organic food.

Vote for lawmakers who support anti-trust legislation.

Push for more research on organic farming and agroecology.

Further reading

Philpott, Tom 2020 Perilous Bounty: The Looming Collapse of American Farming and How We Can Prevent It. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing. 246 pp.

Related Agro-Insight blogs

Out of space

Stuck in the middle

A revolution for our soil

Living soil: a film review

Against or with nature

Peasants, not princes: the potato finds a home in Europe April 18th, 2021 by

The French philosopher Antoine Parmentier (1730-1815) introduced the potato into his country by having it planted with great fanfare in the king’s gardens. Guards were posted to protect the new crop, ostensibly to prevent thefts, but really to draw attention to it. When the guards were withdrawn overnight from the now mature crop, curious farmers snuck in and dug up the potatoes to plant in their own fields, just as the clever Parmentier had intended.

Some years ago I told this story from the podium of the National Potato Congress in Bolivia. My audience of Andean potato experts loved the tale, which is one reason why I must retract it now, for it is simply a bit of fake history, penned by Parmentier’s friend and biographer, Julien-Joseph Virey.

Perhaps I should have known better, but in the potato story I learned in grad school, European peasants resisted the tuber brought back by Spanish sailors fresh from the conquest of Peru in the 1530s. Europeans were used to eating cereals, and the potato lived underground, like the devil, or so went the story.

In a recent book, British historian Rebecca Earle sets the potato record straight. She points out that European peasants did eat root crops, like carrots and turnips.

Earle also shows that European peasants embraced the potato from the start, often growing it discretely in a home garden, for once a new crop was widely grown and sold, it acquired a market value and could be taxed and tithed.

According to court records from Cornwall in 1768, a clergyman sued one of his flock because she was growing potatoes without paying him a tithe. Witnesses testified that the potato had already been grown for many generations in Cornwall. The potato was also mentioned in Marx Rumpolt’s cookbook published in Frankfurt in 1681. During the Nine Years War (1688-1697) so many potatoes were grown in Flanders that soldiers were able to survive by pilfering potatoes from peasants’ fields.

The potato was widely grown all over Europe (in France, too) before Parmentier was born. Then as now, smallholder farmers were eager to experiment with new crops. Peasants spread the potato across Europe long before the nobles paid it much attention. Earle also writes that potatoes were being grown commercially in the Canary Islands by the 1570s, and shipped to France and the Netherlands.

In Earle’s analysis, after widespread hunger in the mid-1700s fueled popular revolts, kings began to realize that a well-fed, healthy population would be more productive. Rulers finally saw that it was in their own self-interest for the state to assume some responsibility to ensure that their subjects’ had enough food to eat.

Potatoes yielded as much as three times more food per hectare than rye and other grain crops. Monarchs, like King Louis XIV (patron of Parmentier) belatedly began to understand the advantages of potatoes and entered the history books as a promotor of the new crop. Other historical inaccuracies arose. Frederick the Great is erroneously portrayed as introducing Germans to the potato.

The myth that the conservative peasants were afraid to grow and eat potatoes, or that the potato was spread across Europe by emperors and philosophers has proven a pervasive piece of fake history. These stories burnished the reputations of the elites at the expense of the peasants and home gardeners. Many of the true potato promotors were women, who tended the home gardens, ideal spaces for the experiments that helped the potato become the world’s fourth most widely grown crop, now produced in nearly every country of the world. Yet further proof that smallholder farmers have always been eager to try new crops and other innovations.

Further reading

Earle, Rebecca 2020 Feeding the People: The Politics of the Potato. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 306 pp.

Related Agro-Insight blogs

Native potatoes, tasty and vulnerable

My wild Andean shamrock

Stored crops of the Inka

CAMPESINOS, NO PRĂŤNCIPES: ACOGIENDO LA PAPA EN EUROPA

Por Jeff Bentley, 18 de abril del 2021

El filósofo francés Antoine Parmentier (1730-1815) introdujo la papa en su país haciéndola sembrar a bombo y platillo en los jardines del rey. Se colocaron guardias para proteger el nuevo cultivo, aparentemente para evitar robos, pero en realidad para llamar la atención. Cuando los guardias se retiraron de la noche a la mañana del cultivo ya maduro, los campesinos curiosos se colaron y desenterraron las papas para sembrarlas en sus propios huertos, tal y como pretendía el astuto Parmentier.

Hace algunos años conté esta historia desde el podio del Congreso Nacional de la Papa en Bolivia. A mi público de expertos andinos en la papa le encantó el relato, lo cual es una de las razones por las que debo retractarme ahora, ya que es nada más que una historia falsa, escrita por el amigo y biógrafo de Parmentier, Julien-Joseph Virey.

Tal vez debería haberlo sabido, pero en la historia de la papa que aprendí en la universidad, los campesinos europeos se resistieron al tubérculo traído por los marineros españoles recién llegados de la conquista de Perú en la década de 1530. Los europeos estaban acostumbrados a comer cereales, y la papa vivía bajo tierra, como el diablo, o al menos así me contaban.

En un libro reciente, la historiadora británica Rebecca Earle aclara la historia de la papa. Señala que los campesinos europeos sí comían cultivos de raíces, como zanahorias y nabos.

Earle también demuestra que los campesinos europeos adoptaron la papa desde el principio, a menudo cultivándola discretamente en el jardín de su casa, ya que una vez que un nuevo cultivo se extendía y se vendía, adquiría un valor de mercado y podía ser gravado y diezmado.

Según las actas judiciales de Cornualles de 1768, un clérigo demandó a un miembro de su congregación, porque ella cultivaba papas sin pagarle el diezmo. Los testigos declararon que la papa ya se había cultivado durante muchas generaciones en Cornualles. La papa también se menciona en el libro de cocina de Marx Rumpolt, publicado en Frankfurt en 1681. Durante la Guerra de los Nueve Años (1688-1697) se cultivaron tantas papas en Flandes que los soldados pudieron sobrevivir robando papas de los campos de los campesinos.

La papa se cultivaba ampliamente en toda Europa (también en Francia) antes de que naciera Parmentier. En aquel entonces, igual que hoy en día, a los pequeños agricultores les gusta experimentar con nuevos cultivos. Los campesinos difundieron la papa por toda Europa mucho antes de que los nobles le prestaran mucha atención. Earle también escribe que en la década de 1570 ya se cultivaban papas comercialmente en las Islas Canarias y se enviaban a Francia y los Países Bajos.

Según el análisis de Earle, después de que el hambre generalizada a mediados del siglo XVII alimentara las revueltas populares, los reyes empezaron a darse cuenta de que una población bien alimentada y sana sería más productiva. Los gobernantes finalmente vieron que les interesaba que el Estado asumiera alguna responsabilidad para garantizar que sus súbditos tuvieran suficientes alimentos para comer.

Las papas producían hasta tres veces más alimentos por hectárea que el centeno y otros cultivos de cereales. Los monarcas, como el rey Luis XIV (mecenas de Parmentier), empezaron a comprender tardíamente las ventajas de la papa y entraron en los libros de historia como promotores del nuevo cultivo. Surgieron otras inexactitudes históricas. Federico el Grande es presentado erróneamente como el introductor de la patata para los alemanes.

El mito de que los campesinos conservadores tenían miedo de cultivar y comer papas, o que la papa fue difundida por toda Europa por emperadores y filósofos, ha resultado ser una pieza omnipresente de la historia falsa. Estos relatos han servido para engrosar la reputación de las élites a costa de los campesinos y los jardineros. Muchos de los verdaderos promotores de la papa fueron mujeres, que cuidaban los huertos caseros, espacios ideales para los experimentos que ayudaron a que la papa se convirtiera en el cuarto cultivo más extendido del mundo, que ahora se produce en casi todos los países del globo. Una prueba más de que los pequeños agricultores siempre han estado dispuestos a probar nuevos cultivos y otras innovaciones.

Lectura adicional

Earle, Rebecca 2020 Feeding the People: The Politics of the Potato. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 306 pp.

Historias relacionadas del blog de Agro-Insight

Papas nativas, deliciosas y vulnerables

My wild Andean shamrock

Stored crops of the Inka

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