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Good microbes from South Asia to South America May 29th, 2022 by

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

Lifeless soil, worn out by years of tillage and chemical fertilizer, can be brought back to good health with the help of beneficial micro-organisms. A video on that topic, Good microbes for plants and soil, tells how to make a liquid, which is rich in beneficial microbes, that you can apply to your soil and crops. It was filmed in India and is now available in 23 languages, including Spanish.

Diego Mina and Mayra Coro are researchers working closely with smallholder communities in the province of Cotopaxi, Ecuador, where they showed the Spanish version of the microbe video to several groups. Then, Diego and Mayra sent the video to each farmer on WhatsApp, and followed up with a demonstration, where they mixed raw sugar, cow urine, manure and legume flour in a bucket, and fermented it.

One of those farmers was Blanca Chancusig, who has a small farm with maize and guinea pigs, rabbits, a pig and a few dairy cows. Do√Īa Blanca explained how she strained the mix and poured it into recycled plastic bottles. She mixed one liter to 10 liters of water and sprayed it on her maize and lupine crop.

She likes the results so much that she‚Äôs now making it on her own. ‚ÄúWe have all of the ingredients,‚ÄĚ she says.

The recipe in the video calls for chickpea flour, which is common in India, but rare in Ecuador. So Diego and Mayra adapted, explaining to farmers that they could use the flour of any legume, such as broad bean.

‚ÄúThe broad bean flour was the only ingredient we didn‚Äôt have,‚ÄĚ do√Īa Blanca explained, ‚Äúbut we found some.‚ÄĚ

A year after do√Īa Blanca had seen the Indian video, she was still cultivating good microbes on her own, in Ecuador.

I was in Ecuador with Paul and Marcella, filming a video on beneficial insects, featuring do√Īa Blanca and other farmers. We asked her what she thought about watching a video with farmers from other countries. ‚ÄúI thought it was great. I learned a lot,‚ÄĚ she said.

Bureaucrats often tell us that farmers can’t learn from their peers in other countries, mistakenly claiming that videos have to be made over again in each country. Supposedly, farmers can only learn from their own compatriots.

As this example shows, as long as videos are well made, explain principles and are translated into local languages, farmers can learn from innovative smallholders in other countries. Creative agronomists can also facilitate videos, sharing them and helping farmers adapt concepts.

In some ways, it makes more sense to share videos from different countries than from one’s own country, because the ideas are more novel.

Last February, we were in Ecuador filming a video on flowering plants to encourage beneficial insects. It is now available in English, and there may soon be versions in languages of India, which will let South Asian farmers enjoy learning from farmers in South America.

Related Agro-Insight blogs

Farmers without borders

Earthworms from India to Bolivia

 

Related videos

Flowering plants attract the insects that help us

The wasp that protects our crops

Good microbes for plants and soil

Healthier crops with good micro-organisms

Buenos microbios, del sur de Asia a Sudamérica

Jeff Bentley, 29 de mayo del 2023

El suelo sin vida, desgastado por a√Īos de labranza y fertilizantes qu√≠micos, puede recuperar su salud con la ayuda de microorganismos buenos. Un video sobre este tema, Buenos microbios para plantas y suelo, explica c√≥mo hacer un l√≠quido rico en microbios ben√©ficos que puede aplicarse a la tierra y a los cultivos. Se film√≥ en la India y ahora est√° disponible en 23 idiomas, incluido el espa√Īol.

Diego Mina y Mayra Coro son investigadores que trabajan en estrecha colaboraci√≥n con las comunidades de peque√Īos agricultores de la provincia de Cotopaxi (Ecuador), donde mostraron la versi√≥n en espa√Īol del video sobre los microbios a varios grupos. Luego, Diego y Mayra enviaron el video a cada agricultor por WhatsApp, y siguieron con una demostraci√≥n, en la que mezclaron az√ļcar cruda, or√≠n de vaca, esti√©rcol y harina de leguminosas en un balde, y lo fermentaron.

Una de esas agricultoras era Blanca Chancusig, que tiene una peque√Īa granja con ma√≠z y cuyes, conejos, un cerdo y algunas vacas lecheras. Do√Īa Blanca explic√≥ c√≥mo colaba la mezcla y la vert√≠a en botellas de pl√°stico recicladas. Mezcla un litro con 10 litros de agua y lo fumiga en su cultivo de ma√≠z y chocho (lupino).

Le gust√≥ tanto el resultado que ahora ella misma hace la mezcla. “Tenemos todos los ingredientes”, dice.

La receta del video requiere harina de garbanzo, que es com√ļn en la India, pero no en Ecuador. As√≠ que Diego y Mayra se adaptaron, explicando a los agricultores que pod√≠an usar la harina de cualquier leguminosa, como la de haba.

“La harina de haba era el √ļnico ingrediente que no ten√≠amos”, explic√≥ do√Īa Blanca, “pero lo encontramos”.

Un a√Īo despu√©s de que do√Īa Blanca viera el video de la India, segu√≠a cultivando buenos microbios por su cuenta, en Ecuador.

Yo estaba en Ecuador con Paul y Marcella, filmando un video sobre insectos ben√©ficos, con do√Īa Blanca y otros agricultores. Le preguntamos qu√© le parec√≠a ver un video con agricultores de otros pa√≠ses. “Me pareci√≥ excellente. Aprend√≠ mucho”, dijo.

Los bur√≥cratas suelen decirnos que los agricultores no pueden aprender de sus compa√Īeros de otros pa√≠ses, insistiendo equivocadamente que los videos tienen que hacerse de nuevo en cada pa√≠s. Supuestamente, los agricultores s√≥lo pueden aprender de sus propios compatriotas.

Como muestra este ejemplo, siempre que los videos estén bien hechos, expliquen los principios básicos y se traduzcan a las lenguas locales, los agricultores pueden aprender de los campesinos innovadores de otros países. Los agrónomos creativos también pueden facilitar los videos, compartiéndolos y ayudando a los agricultores a adaptar los conceptos.

En cierto modo, tiene más sentido compartir videos de otros países que del propio, porque las ideas son más novedosas.

El pasado mes de febrero, estuvimos en Ecuador filmando un video sobre plantas con flores que protegen a los insectos buenos. Ahora está disponible en castellano, kichwa, inglés y francés, y es posible que pronto haya versiones en idiomas de la India, lo que permitirá a los agricultores del sur de Asia disfrutar del aprendizaje de los agricultores de Sudamérica.

Related Agro-Insight blogs

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Lombrices de tierra de India a Bolivia

Related videos

Las plantas con flores atraen a los insectos que nos ayudan

La avispa que protege nuestros cultivos

Buenos microbios para plantas y suelo

Healthier crops with good micro-organisms

 

Soil for a living planet January 30th, 2022 by

In a refreshingly optimistic book, The Soil Will Save Us, Kristin Ohlson explains how agriculture could stop emitting carbon, and instead remove it from the air and place it in the soil.

Soil life is complex. A teaspoon of soil may harbor between one and seven billion living things. Microorganisms like fungi and bacteria give mineral nutrients to plants in exchange for carbon-rich sugars. Predatory protozoa and nematodes (worms) then eat the fungi and bacteria, releasing the nutrients from their bodies back to the soil.

When people add chemical fertilizer to the soil, these living things die, essentially starved to death as the plants no longer need to interact with them. The plants become dependent on chemical fertilizer. Reading this in Ohlson‚Äôs book reminded me of farmers in Honduras and around the world, who have been telling me for over 30 years that soil quickly ‚Äúbecomes used to,‚ÄĚ or ‚Äúaccustomed‚ÄĚ to chemical fertilizers. Local knowledge is often ahead of the science.

When soil is plowed, it loses some of its carbon. The plow lets in air that binds with the carbon to become C02, which rises into the atmosphere. Plowed soil is broken, and more prone to erosion than natural, plant-covered earth. One of the many people Ohlson interviewed for her book, innovative North Dakota farmer Gabe Brown, grows a biodiverse mix of cover crops, including grasses and legumes. But instead of harvesting these crops, Brown lets his cows graze on them. Then he drills corn (maize) or other cash crops into the soil, instead of plowing it. No chemical fertilizers are applied. This soil is productive, while saving labor and expense, and absorbing carbon instead of giving it off. This healthy soil holds more water than plowed soil, so the crops resist droughts. Brown developed this system working with Innovative scientists like Jay Furhrer and Kristine Nichols of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), an example of the power of collaborative research.

Brown is not the only farmer trying to conserve the soil, but when Ohlson was writing about a decade ago, only 4.3% of US farmland was enrolled in any kind of government land conservation program.

Encouraging more farmers to conserve the soil will require public universities to do more research on no-till farming i.e., forsaking the plow and encouraging cover crops and livestock grazing to boost soil fertility. Universities have to stop accepting grants from companies that produce the chemical fertilizer, the pesticides and the genetically modified crop seeds that tolerate them. Accepting corporate money diverts university research into chemical farming, even though taxpayers still pay the faculty members’ salaries and society pays the price for soils becoming unproductive in the long-term.

Fortunately, there is much that we can all do at home, in gardens, parks and even lawns. The biggest irrigated crop in the United States is not maize, but lawns, which take up three times as much space as corn. Lawns can be managed without chemicals: fertilized with compost, while clover and other legumes can be planted among the grass to improve the soil. Families can make compost at home and fertilize the garden with it. City parks can also sequester carbon. The Battery Park in Manhattan is fertilized entirely with compost and compost tea (a liquid compost).

I was encouraged by this book. Agriculture could be the solution to climate change, and even help to cool the planet, rather than being a major contributor to the problem.

Get involved

In 2015, just after Ohlson’s book was published, some 60 people from 21 countries met in Costa Rica and formed Regenerative Agriculture, an international movement united around a common goal: to reverse global warming and end world hunger by facilitating and accelerating the global transition to regenerative agriculture and land management. Click here to find a partner organization in your area.

Further reading

Ohlson, Kristin 2014 The Soil Will Save Us: How Scientists, Farmers and Foodies Are Healing the Soil to Save the Planet. New York: Rodale. 242 pp.

Related Agro-Insight blogs

HuŐągelkultur

Capturing carbon in our soils

Community and microbes

Living Soil: A film review

A revolution for our soil

Out of space

Videos on how to improve the soil

See some of the many videos on soil management hosted by Access Agriculture.

 

Farmers know how to keep seed healthy January 2nd, 2022 by

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

Agricultural scientists have long concluded that the seed of some crops degenerates steadily with each planting. This is especially true for crops that are planted vegetatively, for example through cuttings or tubers, like the potato. Degeneration is the buildup of pests and diseases, passed one from one generation to the next in vegetative seed, slowly lowering the crop’s yield.

A recent, long-term study by Ecuadorian plant scientist, Israel Navarrete, was able to reconfirm this, but only in experiments, not in farmers’ fields. In experimental plots at different altitudes in the high Andes, potatoes originally planted from certified (healthy) seed acquired more viruses and other pathogens every year, for three years.

However, Navarrete found no evidence of seed degeneration on Ecuadorian farms. He surveyed 260 households, to collect information on how they grew potatoes. A typical survey stops there, but Navarrete also collected a seed sample from each family. Later, in the laboratory, he diagnosed these seed potatoes for pests and diseases.

Counter to conventional wisdom, Navarrete found that farmers’ seed was not degenerating. Potatoes grown on the same farm for over ten years were as healthy as those cultivated only recently. The reason, Navarrete explains, is that farmers have their own methods for keeping seed healthy. For example, farmers in Ecuador often select seed, searching through the piles of tubers, picking out the best ones. They also store seed until it sprouts, which seems to improve its health. Other farmers stored seed in bags or applied fertilizer. From his survey, some 36 local practices were identified that influenced seed health.

The farmers themselves knew they were doing something right. Only 16%, said that degeneration was a problem for them, although they were aware of it. When seed degenerates, Ecuadorian farmers say that it has become ‚Äútired.‚ÄĚ Then they replace it.

Of course, not all local habits make for healthy seed. When potato prices soar, farmers are often tempted to sell as much as possible, even some of the tubers that would make good seed.

Navarrete encourages other agricultural scientists to learn about seed health from farmers. Later, scientists can recommend helpful new ideas to the farm families. Navarrete and colleagues have a few such suggestions, such as encouraging farmers to grow a small, special field as a seed lot, where the healthiest plants can be saved as the mothers of next year’s seed.

This study shows the limits of the experimental method, which looks at one variable at a time. The real world of farming is messy. Seed may degenerate in a carefully controlled experiment, but not so much in the field, because farmers manage it. Researchers may be keen to show how seed degenerates, while farmers are working to avoid it.

Further reading

Navarrete, Israel 2021 Seed Degeneration of Potato in the Tropical Highlands of Ecuador. Ph.D. thesis. Wageningen University, The Netherlands. 234 pp.

Related Agro-Insight blog

Eating the experiment

Video of interest

Using sawdust to store potatoes

Acknowledgements

Israel Navarrete works at the International Potato Center (CIP). This research recently earned him a Ph.D. at Wageningen University, in The Netherlands.

MANTENIENDO LA SEMILLA SANA EN ECUADOR

Jeff Bentley 2 de enero del 2022

Hace rato los científicos agrícolas han concluido que la semilla de algunos cultivos degenera cada vez que se siembra, especialmente los cultivos que se siembran vegetativamente, por ejemplo mediante esquejes o tubérculos, como la papa. La degeneración es la acumulación de plagas y enfermedades, que se transmiten de una generación a otra en la semilla vegetativa, reduciendo lentamente el rendimiento del cultivo.

Un reciente estudio a largo plazo realizado por el cient√≠fico de plantas ecuatoriano, Israel Navarrete, logr√≥ reconfirmar esto, pero s√≥lo en experimentos, pero no en los campos de los agricultores. En parcelas experimentales a diferentes alturas en los altos Andes, las papas sembradas originalmente con semilla certificada (sana) adquirieron m√°s virus y otros pat√≥genos cada a√Īo, durante tres a√Īos.

Sin embargo, Navarrete no encontró pruebas de degeneración de las semilla en las granjas ecuatorianas. Encuestó a 260 hogares para recoger información sobre cómo cultivaban las papas. Las encuestas no suelen hacer nada más para reconfirmar los datos, pero Navarrete también recogió una muestra de semillas de cada familia. Más tarde, en el laboratorio, diagnosticó esta papa semilla en busca de plagas y enfermedades.

En contra de la opini√≥n generalizada, Navarrete descubri√≥ que las semillas de los agricultores no se degeneraban. Las papas cultivadas en la misma granja durante m√°s de diez a√Īos estaban tan sanas como las cultivadas recientemente. La raz√≥n, explica Navarrete, es que los agricultores tienen sus propios m√©todos para mantener las semillas sanas. Por ejemplo, los agricultores de Ecuador suelen seleccionar las semillas, buscando entre los montones de tub√©rculos, escogiendo los mejores. Tambi√©n almacenan las semillas hasta que brotan, lo que parece mejorar su salud. Otros agricultores almacenan las semillas en sacos o aplican fertilizantes. A partir de su encuesta, se identificaron unas 36 pr√°cticas locales que influ√≠an en la salud de las semillas.

Los mismos agricultores sab√≠an que estaban haciendo algo bien. S√≥lo el 16% dijo que la degeneraci√≥n era un problema para ellos, aunque eran conscientes de ello. Cuando la semilla se degenera, los agricultores ecuatorianos dicen que se ha “cansado”. Entonces la reemplazan.

Por supuesto, no todas las costumbres locales hacen que la semilla sea sana. Cuando los precios de la papa se disparan, algunos agricultores no pueden resistir la tentación y venden todo lo posible, incluso algunos de los tubérculos que serían buena semilla.

Navarrete anima a otros cient√≠ficos agr√≠colas a aprender de los agricultores sobre la salud de las semillas. Posteriormente, los cient√≠ficos pueden recomendar nuevas ideas √ļtiles a las familias de agricultores. Navarrete y sus colegas tienen algunas sugerencias de este tipo, como animar a los agricultores a cultivar un peque√Īo campo especial como lote de semillas, donde las plantas m√°s sanas puedan guardarse como madres de las semillas del a√Īo siguiente.

Este estudio muestra los límites del método experimental, que analiza una variable cada vez. El mundo real de la agricultura es desordenado. Las semillas pueden degenerar en un experimento cuidadosamente controlado, pero no tanto en el campo, porque los agricultores las gestionan. Los investigadores pueden estar interesados en mostrar cómo degenera la semilla, mientras que los agricultores trabajan para evitarlo.

Lectura adicional

Navarrete, Israel 2021 Seed Degeneration of Potato in the Tropical Highlands of Ecuador. Ph.D. thesis. Wageningen University, The Netherlands. 234 pp.

Anteriormente en el blog de Agro-Insight

Experimentos que se comen

Video sobre la papa

Almacenando papas en aserrín

Agradecimientos

Israel Navarrete trabaja en el Centro Internacional de la Papa (CIP). Presentó esta investigación para obtener su doctorado en la Universidad de Wageningen, en los Países Bajos.

 

 

A positive validation December 19th, 2021 by

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

To ‚Äúvalidate‚ÄĚ extension material means to show an advanced draft of one‚Äôs work to people from one‚Äôs target audience, to gauge their reaction. The validations work like magic to fine-tune vocabulary and often to improve the content of the message.

In our script-writers’ workshop at Agro-Insight, we validate our fact sheets, taking them to the field and asking farmers to read them. It is a great way to learn to write for our audience. But on 23 November, in Pujilí, in the Ecuadorian Andes, we saw that validation can also highlight the value of a whole topic.

My colleagues Diego Mina and Mayra Coro work in the mountains above the small city of Pujilí. So they kindly took eight of us from the course to a community where they work. Fact sheets in hand, we all spread out, ready to get constructive criticism from farmers.

One of the fact sheets explained that wasps, many flies and other insects need flowering plants to survive. Crops and even weeds that blossom with flowers can attract the right insects to kill pests. I loved the topic at first sight and I encouraged Diego and Mayra to write a fact sheet about it.

So with great optimism we approached a young couple working on a stalled motorcycle. The couple took the fact sheet and read it. Then we asked them to comment.

“It‚Äôs fine. It would be good to have a project here on medicinal plants,” the young man said.

That was off topic. The fact sheet wasn’t about a medicinal plant project, so Mayra gently asked them to say more. The young man grew quiet and the young woman wouldn’t say a word. Then they got on their motorcycle and rode off.

Diego thought we might get a more considered response from someone he knew, so he took us to meet one of his collaborating farmers, do√Īa Alicia.

We found do√Īa Alicia hanging up the wet laundry at home. She was reluctant to even hold the fact sheet. “My husband knows about these things”, she said. “Not me”. It was sad to hear her say that, before she even knew what the topic was.

Do√Īa Alicia added that she did not know how to read, so Mayra read her the fact sheet. But when she finished, do√Īa Alicia didn‚Äôt have much to say.

Fortunately, some of our other colleagues were writing a fact sheet on helping women to assume leadership roles in local organizations. ¬†Diego Mina said “I think that do√Īa Alicia would be interested in that fact sheet.”

As if on cue, our colleagues Diego Montalvo and Guadalupe Padilla walked around the bend in the road, with their fact sheet on women leaders. Diego Mina introduced them to do√Īa Alicia.

I wasn‚Äôt sure that do√Īa Alicia would be any more interested in women and organizations than she was in insects and flowers. But within minutes she was having an animated conversation with Diego and Guadalupe. Do√Īa Alicia even shared a personal experience: the men tend to assume the community‚Äôs formal leadership positions, but once, when most of the men were working away from home, they asked do√Īa Alicia and some of the other village women to take leading roles in some local organizations. When the men came back, they started to make all the decisions, and the women became leaders in name only.

In this community, the women had received no training in leadership. There were no women’s groups, which may have contributed to their shyness. As we will see in next week’s blog, organized women may have more self-confidence.

Diego and Guadalupe told me that on that day they got good, relevant comments from five different women, on their fact sheet about female leaders.

I have written before that some topics, like insect ecology, are difficult for local people to observe. Folks may not realize that many insects are beneficial. It may take a lot of work to spark people’s interest in topics like insect ecology. But the effort is worthwhile, because people who do not know about good insects are often too eager to buy insecticides.

Further reading

Bentley, Jeffery W. & Gonzalo Rodr√≠guez 2001 ‚ÄúHonduran Folk Entomology.‚ÄĚ Current Anthropology 42(2):285-301.

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Related videos

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Acknowledgements

Mayra Coro and Diego Mina work for the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD). Guadalupe Padilla and Diego Montalvo work for EkoRural. Thanks to all, and to Paul Van Mele, for reading and commenting on a previous draft of this story. Our work was supported by the Collaborative Crop Research Program (CCRP) of the McKnight Foundation.

Photo credits

First photo by Jeff Bentley. Second photo by Diego Mina

UNA VALIDACI√ďN POSITIVA

Por Jeff Bentley,

‚ÄúValidar” el material de extensi√≥n significa mostrar un borrador avanzado del trabajo a personas del p√ļblico meta, para ver su reacci√≥n. Las validaciones son la clave para afinar el vocabulario y, a menudo, para mejorar el contenido del mensaje.

En nuestro taller de guionistas de Agro-Insight, validamos nuestras hojas volantes, llev√°ndolas al campo y pidiendo a los agricultores que las lean. Es una buena manera de aprender a escribir para nuestro p√ļblico. Pero el 23 de noviembre, en Pujil√≠, en los Andes ecuatorianos, vimos que la validaci√≥n tambi√©n puede resaltar el valor de todo un tema.

Mis colegas Diego Mina y Mayra Coro trabajan en la sierra arriba de la peque√Īa ciudad de Pujil√≠. As√≠ que gentilmente nos llevaron a ocho personas del taller a una comunidad donde trabajan. Hojas volantes en mano, nos separamos en grupitos para recibir cr√≠ticas constructivas de los agricultores.

Una de las hojas volantes explicaba que las avispas, muchas moscas y otros insectos necesitan de las plantas en flor para sobrevivir. Los cultivos e incluso las malezas que florecen pueden atraer a los insectos que matan a las plagas. El tema me encantó a primera vista y animé a Diego y a Mayra a que escribieran una hoja volante sobre el tema.

Así que, con gran optimismo, nos acercamos a una joven pareja que arreglaba su moto en el camino. Tomaron la hoja volante y la leyeron. Luego les pedimos que comentaran.

“Est√° bien. Ser√≠a bueno tener un proyecto aqu√≠ sobre las plantas medicinales”, dijo el joven.

Eso estaba fuera de tema. La hoja volante no trataba sobre un proyecto de plantas medicinales, así que Mayra les pidió amablemente que dijeran algo más. El joven se quedó callado y la joven no quiso decir nada. Luego se subieron a la moto y se fueron.

Diego pens√≥ que podr√≠amos obtener una respuesta m√°s considerada de alguien que conoc√≠a, as√≠ que nos present√≥ a una de sus agricultoras colaboradoras, do√Īa Alicia, que viv√≠a cerca.

Encontramos a do√Īa Alicia tendiendo la ropa mojada en su casa. Era reacia incluso a agarrar la hoja volante. “Mi marido sabe de estas cosas”, dijo. “Yo no”. Fue triste o√≠rla decir eso, antes incluso de saber qu√© era el tema.

Do√Īa Alicia a√Īadi√≥ que no sab√≠a leer, entonces Mayra le ley√≥ la hoja volante. Pero cuando termin√≥, do√Īa Alicia no ten√≠a mucho que decir.

Afortunadamente, algunos de nuestros otros colegas estaban escribiendo una hoja volante sobre c√≥mo ayudar a las mujeres a asumir funciones de liderazgo en las organizaciones locales. ¬†Diego Mina dijo: “Creo que a do√Īa Alicia le interesar√≠a esa hoja volante”.

Como si fuera una se√Īal, nuestros colegas Diego Montalvo y Guadalupe Padilla aparecieron en la curva del camino con su hoja volante sobre lideresas. Diego Mina les present√≥ a do√Īa Alicia.

Yo dudaba de que do√Īa Alicia estuviera m√°s interesada en las lideresas y las organizaciones que en los insectos y las flores. Pero en pocos minutos estaba metida en una animada conversaci√≥n con Diego y Guadalupe. Do√Īa Alicia incluso comparti√≥ una experiencia personal: los hombres tienden a asumir los puestos de liderazgo formal de la comunidad, pero una vez, cuando la mayor√≠a de los hombres estaban trabajando fuera de casa, pidieron a do√Īa Alicia y a algunas de las otras mujeres de la comunidad que asumieran papeles de liderazgo en algunas organizaciones locales. Cuando los hombres volvieron, empezaron a tomar todas las decisiones, y las mujeres se convirtieron en l√≠deres s√≥lo de nombre.

En esta comunidad, las mujeres no habían recibido ninguna formación sobre el liderazgo. No había grupos de mujeres, lo que puede haber contribuido a su timidez. Como veremos en el blog de la próxima semana, las mujeres organizadas pueden tener más confianza en sí mismas.

Diego y Guadalupe me contaron que ese día obtuvieron buenos y relevantes comentarios de cinco mujeres diferentes, sobre su hoja informativa acerca de las mujeres líderes.

Ya he escrito antes que algunos temas, como la ecología de los insectos, son difíciles de observar para los campesinos. La gente raras veces se da cuenta de que muchos insectos son buenos. Puede costar mucho trabajo despertar el interés de la gente por temas como la ecología de los insectos. Pero el esfuerzo merece la pena, porque la gente que no conoce los insectos buenos suele estar demasiado dispuesta a comprar insecticidas.

Lectura adicional

Bentley, Jeffery W. & Gonzalo Rodr√≠guez 2001 ‚ÄúHonduran Folk Entomology.‚ÄĚ Current Anthropology 42(2):285-301.

Bentley, Jeffery W. & Peter Baker 2006 ‚ÄúComprendiendo y Obteniendo lo M√°ximo del Conocimiento Local de los Agricultores,‚ÄĚ pp. 67-75. In Julian Gonsalves, Thomas Becker, Ann Braun, Dindo Campilan, Hidelisa de Chavez, Elizabth Fajber, Monica Kapiriri, Joy Rivaca-Caminade & Ronnie Vernooy (eds.) Investigaci√≥n y Desarrollo Participativo para la Agricultura y el Manejo Sostenible de Recursos Naturales: Libro de Consulta. Tomo 1. Comprendiendo Investigaci√≥n y Desarrollo Participativo. Manila: CIP-Upward/IDRC.

Previamente en el blog de Agro-Insight

Aprender de los estudiantes

La Hoja Volante Desaparecida

A hard write

A spoonful of molasses

Guardians of the mango

Nourishing a fertile imagination

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Agradecimientos

Mayra Coro y Diego Mina trabajan para el Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD). Guadalupe Padilla y Diego Montalvo trabajan para EkoRural. Gracias a ellos y a Paul Van Mele por leer y hacer comentarios sobre una versión previa de este relato. Nuestro trabajo ha sido auspiciado por el Programa Colaborativo de Investigación sobre Cultivos (CCRP) de la Fundación McKnight.

Créditos de las fotos

Primera foto por Jeff Bentley. Segunda foto por Diego Mina

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

 

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