WHO WE ARE SERVICES RESOURCES




Most recent stories ›
AgroInsight RSS feed
Blog

Community seed producers February 24th, 2019 by

Smallholder farmers are clearly part of the private sector, along with agrodealers, traders, food processors and other actors on the value chain. Projects often encourage farmers to improve their livelhihoods by moving into other private sector roles, like seed production. But one project can easily undermine what another one is trying to create, as we recently learned in Tanzania.

For centuries farmers have developed their own plant varieties, kept their own seed and exchanged it with their neighbours. This has also been the case for cassava which is propagated by stem cuttings. Unlike cereal, legume and vegetable seed that can be stored for months if properly dried, cassava is a vegetatively propagated crop. Cassava is planted with stem cuttings that need to be as fresh as possible, or the cuttings may die. Cassava stems are also bulky. For half a hectare a farmer needs 25 bundles, each with 30 stakes of about a meter long. As with other vegetatively propagated crops, the short shelf life and bulkiness of cassava seed make it almost impossible to sell in shops, but farmer seed enterpreneurs who are close their clients could sell cassava stems.

In 2017, a regional cassava project invited Alli Abdalla Lugome from Mhaga village in Tanzania to become a community seed producer. Alli received training in good agronomic practices, bought certified cassava cuttings from the Kibaha research institute and had his field inspected by a TOSCI (Tanzania Official Seed Certification Institute) official who accredited him as a producer of “quality declared seed”. Alli now officially and legally sells cassava seed to his fellow farmers.

It is difficult to develop a market for something like cassava stems that farmers can easily produce themselves. Cassava stems also have no alternative use; they are abundant and can only be used as seed. So when a cassava garden is harvested, most farmers will happily give the leftover stems to neighbours in need of seed. But farmers will buy seed to get a new cassava variety. The improved variety that Alli multplies is resistant to the cassava brown streak disease that is caused by a virus and spread by whiteflies and by cassava cuttings. Cassava across Tanzania and many other African countries has been seriously affected by this disease. There is an urgent need to get seed of new varieties into farmers’ hands and Alli is well-placed to sell such seed to his neighbours.

But while one project was helping Alli to get into the cassava seed business, other projects were killing his market by giving free cassava seed to members of the farmer group to which Alli belongs. As I saw during my time at AfricaRice, you cannot establish farmer seed producers while at the same time handing out seed for free to the farming community. 

When development organisations are under pressure from donors to create impact at scale quickly, they can be successful in their project, but the speed and scale of success may at the same time undermine an emerging private sector of community-based seed enterprises. Running a cassava seed business is a challenge, but it would certainly help farmers like Alli if organisations would come to his village and buy his seed to distribute to other smallholders, instead of undercutting Alli by giving away free seed to his neighbours.

What is clear from this case is that two or more projects can work at cross-purposes with the same crop, in the same village as though the other project did not exist. Unfortunately, such “coordination breakdowns” are all too common in seed projects for vegetatively produced crops like cassava. But such mishaps can be avoided with better planning and communication.

Further reading

Van Mele, Paul, Jeffery W. Bentley and Robert Guéi (eds.) 2011 African Seed Enterprises: Sowing the Seeds of Food Security. Wallingford, UK: CABI. 236 pp. http://www.agroinsight.com/books.php

Bentley, Jeffery W., Jorge Andrade-Piedra, Paul Demo, Beloved Dzomeku, Kim Jacobsen, Enoch Kikulwe, Peter Kromann, P. Lava Kumar, Margaret McEwan, Netsayi Mudege, Kwame Ogero, Richardson Okechukwu, Ricardo Orrego, Bernardo Ospina, Louise Sperling, Stephen Walsh & Graham Thiele 2018 Understanding Root, Tuber, and Banana Seed Systems and Coordination Breakdown: A Multi-Stakeholder Framework. Journal of Crop Improvement.

Related video

The video Quality cassava planting material is available in English, French and Kiswahili on the Access Agriculture video platform. Soon, this video will also be available in Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo and Pigeon English.

Awakening the seeds December 16th, 2018 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación.

In much of the Bolivian Altiplano, the native vegetation has been largely stripped away. A few people are doing something to replant the vegetation, but it is surprisingly difficult to germinate the seeds of native plants.

These Andean high plains were once covered by scrub land, comprising low-lying bushes, needle grasses and other hardy plants well adapted to the harsh conditions. Llamas foraged on this waist-high forest without damaging it. But as more land was plowed up for quinoa, and more of the bushes were cut for firewood, the native vegetation started to vanish.

Rural families in this part of Bolivia used to make long, narrow stacks of dried brush. But the bushes are now mostly gone, and so are the stacks of firewood.

Fortunately, explains plant researcher, Dr. Alejandro Bonifacio, people are now cooking with bottled natural gas, so they don’t need to uproot brush for firewood, but this respite has come too late. In many places, the deforestation has been so complete that there are no seed-bearing plants left to provide for natural regeneration. So, Dr. Bonifacio and his team travel around the Altiplano, collecting seed of different shrubs, planting the seed in nurseries and then taking the seedlings to sympathetic farmers who are interested in restoring the dry plains.

Seeds of wild plants will seldom germinate if simply scattered on the ground. The plants are adapted to harsh environments, and the seed enters dormancy, only to be awakened by the kiss of some specific environmental signal.

Bonifacio and his students study each plant to determine what will break its dormancy.  For example, the k’awchi, a small woody plant, is so adapted to this land of high winds and rocky soil that its tiny seed must be tumbled over the rough ground and “scarified” before it will germinate. Bonifacio and his team have also learned that it can be scarified by rubbing it in sand or by putting it in a weak solution of sodium hypoclorite for 20 minutes.

On the arid Altiplano, much of the native vegetation is cactus, some of it bearing delicious fruit. In a boutique restaurant in the big city of La Paz, Bonifacio was shocked to that the chef was asking for a supply of one native cactus, called achakana. Yes, achakana is edible, but it takes many years to grow to the size of a tennis ball. The Aymara people used to eat the cactus as famine food when the crops failed, but achakana could be driven to extinction if it starts to be served up in the fashionable eateries of La Paz. So, Bonifacio taught himself how to propagate it.

It was tricky. At first, the seed failed to germinate. Bonifacio learnt that as the fruit matures the seed goes into a deep dormancy. Then one day by serendipity Bonifacio discovered a little bag of fruit had had been harvested green and then forgotten. When he opened the rotting fruit, he found that all of the seeds were germinating. He proudly showed me a small, three-year old plant that he had grown from seed.

The pasak’ana is another endangered cactus that grows so tall that the Andean people once used its ribs to roof their houses. The fruit is also delicious, yet getting the seed to germinate was impossible. Then Bonifacio found that the pasak’ana seed would germinate if it was taken from immature fruit. With the help of a student he now has 1200 little pasak’ana plants, all in demand from a municipal government in Oruro which wants to plant them out.

More people than ever want to grow native plants for fruit, fodder and soil conservation, but each species has its own unique requirements for coming to life. Fortunately, there are patient researchers working to unlock these mysteries and come up with practical recommendations that can help restore degraded lands.

Scientific names

The k’awchi is Suaeda foliosa, belonging to the unfortunately named “seepweed” genus.

The achakana is Neowerdemannia vorwerckii.

The pasak’ana is Trichocereus pasacana (Echinopsis atacamensis subs. pasacana)

DESPERTANDO LAS SEMILLAS

Por Jeff Bentley, 16 de diciembre del 2018

En gran parte del Altiplano Boliviano, la vegetación nativa ha sido arrancada. Hay personas que se dedican a replantar la vegetación, pero es sorprendentemente difícil germinar las semillas de plantas nativas.

Estos altiplanos andinos estaban cubiertos de t’olares (matorrales), que incluían arbustos bajos, paja brava y otras plantas fuertes y bien adaptadas a las duras condiciones. Las llamas se forrajeaban en este bosque enano sin dañarlo. Pero a medida que más tierra fue arada para la quinua, y más arbustos fueron cortados para leña, la vegetación nativa comenzó a desaparecer.

Las familias rurales de esta parte de Bolivia solían amontonar las t’olas, o arbustos, en forma de cercos largos y delgados, para leña.  Pero la mayoría de los arbustos han desaparecido, así como los montones de leña.

Afortunadamente, explica el investigador de plantas, el Dr. Alejandro Bonifacio, la gente ahora cocina con gas natural en garrafa, así que no necesitan arrancar las t’olas para leña, pero este respiro ha llegado muy tarde. En muchos lugares, la deforestación ha sido tan completa que ya no quedan plantas madres para la regeneración natural. Así, el Dr. Bonifacio y su equipo viajan por el Altiplano, recolectando semillas de diferentes arbustos, sembrando las semillas en viveros y luego llevando los plantines a agricultores que simpatizan con la revegetación de las pampas secas.

Las semillas de las plantas silvestres rara vez germinan si simplemente se echan al suelo. Las plantas se adaptan a ambientes hostiles, y la semilla entra en dormancia, sólo para ser despertada por el beso de alguna señal ambiental específica.

Bonifacio y sus alumnos estudian cada planta para determinar qué romperá su dormancia.  Por ejemplo, el k’awchi, una pequeña planta leñosa, está tan adaptado a esta tierra de vientos fuertes y suelo pedregosa que su pequeña semilla tiene que caer sobre el suelo áspero y “escarificarse” para poder germinar. Bonifacio y su equipo también han aprendido que una alternativa frotarlo en arena o dejar la semilla por 20 minutos en una solución débil de hipoclorito de sodio.

En el árido Altiplano, gran parte de la vegetación nativa es de cactus, algunos de los cuales producen ricos frutos. En un restaurante boutique en la gran ciudad de La Paz, Bonifacio se sorprendió al ver un cactus nativo, llamado achakana, solicitado para el menú. La achakana sí es comestible, pero tarda muchos años para alcanzar el tamaño de una pelota de tenis. Los aymaras solían comer el cactus como alimento en tiempos de hambre cuando las cosechas fallaban, pero la achakana podría llegar a la extinción si empiezan a ser servirla en los restaurantes de moda de La Paz. Así que Bonifacio se enseñó a sí mismo a propagarlo.

Fue difícil. Al principio, la semilla no pudo germinar. Bonifacio aprendió que a medida que el fruto madura, la semilla entra en una profunda dormancia. Un día, por casualidad, Bonifacio descubrió que una bolsita de fruta había sido cosechada verde y luego olvidada. Cuando abrió el fruto podrido, descubrió que todas las semillas estaban germinándose. Con orgullo me mostró una pequeña planta de tres años que él había cultivado a partir de una semilla.

El pasak’ana es otro cactus en peligro de extinción que crece tan alto que los andinos usaban sus palos para techar sus casas. La fruta también es deliciosa, sin embargo, hacer que la semilla germine era imposible. Entonces Bonifacio descubrió que la semilla de pasak’ana germinaría si se tomaba de un fruto inmaduro. Con la ayuda de un estudiante, ahora tiene 1200 pequeñas plantas de pasak’ana, todas solicitadas por un gobierno municipal de Oruro que quiere plantarlas.

Hoy en día mucha gente quiere cultivar plantas nativas para la conservación de la fruta, el forraje y el suelo, pero cada especie tiene sus propias necesidades únicas para volver a la vida. Afortunadamente, hay pacientes investigadores que trabajan para desvelar estos misterios y presentar recomendaciones prácticas que pueden ayudar a restaurar las tierras degradadas.

Nombres científicos

El k’awchi is Suaeda foliosa.

La achakana es Neowerdemannia vorwerckii.

La pasak’ana es Trichocereus pasacana (Echinopsis atacamensis subs. pasacana)

Golden urine September 16th, 2018 by

Cities are throwing away a fortune in urine, I learned the other day while visiting Dr. Noemi Stadler-Kaulich, a German agro-forester and long-time resident of Bolivia. The urine from an average person contains $85 dollars´ worth of phosphorous in one year, Noemi explained. Urine is rich in phosphorous, nitrogen and potassium, the main elements of fertilizer (chemical or organic). A metropolitan area like Cochabamba, with 1,200,000 people, flushes away over $100 million worth every year, Naomi explained, just in the phosphorous from urine, turning the valley’s main river, the Río Rocha, into an open sewer.

Noemi has dry latrines on her farm near the town of Vinto, on the edge of the Cochabamba metropolitan area. If you have never sat a dry latrine it can take some getting used to. There is a large hole for feces and a smaller one, up front, to collect the urine, which can be used right away as fertilizer. After defecating, one walks around to the back of the latrine and adds a handful of wood ash to the deposit, which is composted once the container is full. Dried, composted human feces are an excellent, dry fertilizer with little or no smell.

I used to have a nice dry latrine in Honduras. It used no water and made little odor. But dry latrines do take a little management. At the time I was worried about pathogens and had samples from dry latrines analyzed at a laboratory in Tegucigalpa. The samples were free of the most common parasites and pathogens. Dry latrines compost the night soil for at least six months, which helps to kill pathogens. Still, this demands some competent management.

At our home in Cochabamba, we began recycling urine about a year ago. Urine is easy to collect in a jar or bottle or while sitting on a chamber pot. You can mix urine with water or apply it straight to the soil, near plants. We put most of our urine on the compost pile, where the pee helps to speed up the decomposition of paper and dry plants. Urine in a compost heap has no smell at all; perhaps in part because the nitrogen in urine quickly breaks down into ammonia.

I have not yet been able to confirm Noemi’s estimate of the value of phosphorous in urine, not to mention the potassium and nitrogen, but urine is certainly worth something as fertilizer. Recycling urine also helps to save water. Conventional toilets waste up to six liters of precious water to flush 300 ml of urine.

As it is now, modern conventional agriculture applies nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium (NPK) to crops, and (at least some of) the nutrients become part of the living plants, which are eaten by people and later discarded as human waste. No doubt in the future clever people will find other clean, convenient ways to recycle this NPK, without wasting water. In the meantime, saving urine as fertilizer is a golden opportunity.

Related video

Human urine as fertilizer

Further reading

Andersson, E. (2015). Turning waste into value: using human urine to enrich soils for sustainable food production in Uganda. Journal of Cleaner Production, 96, 290-298.

Videos for added inspiration May 27th, 2018 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

Juan Almanza is an agronomist who works with seventy mothers, some single and some married, in three rural communities around Colomi, Cochabamba. Juan teaches them new ways to grow nutritious food, especially two legume crops: broad beans (introduced from Europe centuries ago) and the native lupin. The program is in its third year.

Last year Juan helped each of the three groups of women to plant a demonstration or learning plot. Juan had two new ideas to showcase: two new varieties of sweet lupins that did not have to be soaked and washed to leach out their toxins, and second, planting the whole plot (a small field) with lupins. Previously farmers planted them in a single row along the borders around a potato field.

The learning plot is an idea that Juan adopted from his earlier work with farmer field schools. The women have enjoyed the meetings and appreciated that the sweet lupins can be used in recipes that would be impossible with bitter varieties. The women have made hamburgers, soups and have boiled the lupine beans fresh, to eat like peas. The women have collected 18 recipes which Juan has written up.

Some husbands have resented the time that the women spend at the meetings, because it distracts them from farm work. Some wives quit attending. Juan realized that to keep the women in the group it was important that they receive tangible benefits which they could show to the rest of the family. So this past planting season Juan gave each woman an arroba and a half (about 18 kilos) of broad bean seed, of a new variety from La Paz, and two or three kilos of lupin seed.

Juan showed each group a video on lupins, filmed partly in Colomi, but mostly in Anzaldo, in another province of Cochabamba, where farmers already grow lupins in small fields, not just around the edge. Juan is a skilled agronomist and perfectly capable of teaching about lupins, but trying new varieties and planting them in a new way requires some extra inspiration. Seeing real farmers on the video, successfully growing lupins, gave the women the encouragement they needed. They all planted the lupins Juan gave them.

Juan and I caught up with some of the lupin farmers at the fair, held twice a week in Colomi, where farmers come to sell their produce and to buy food and clothes. Many of the busy mothers from Juan’s groups are retailers two days a week, and farmers on the other days.

As she tends a stall of grains and other dried foods, Marina explains that before they met Juan, some farmers did grow the lupins in whole fields, but they would plant them in furrows a meter apart. The new varieties are much shorter and have to be planted closer together. The video showed how to do this.

Reina Merino was unpacking her bundles of clothing in her small shop. She said that now the women plant lupins “like potatoes,” that is, in furrows, close together, and the farmers now take the trouble to weed the crop. Weeding was also an innovation. Previously lupins would just be planted and left alone until harvest time.

Unfortunately, the women’s hard work did not pay off. This past year the rains were delayed, and then it rained far too much. Some people harvested half of the lupins they were expecting; others reaped almost nothing. Given the disappointing results, I asked Reina if she would plant lupins again. “Of course we will!!” she said.

Juan is convinced that the videos were important.  He says “The best way to see a new thing is with a video. It opens the heart of the rural researcher.”

He plans to show the lupin video again to all of his groups. Juan Almanza is a dedicated, respected extension agent who uses video as one of several tools, along with talks, experimental plots and visits to farmers’ fields. He realizes that showing the video a second time will reinforce what these farmers have already learned. Hopefully the weather this year will repay their efforts.

Related blog stories

Innovating in the homeland of lupins

United women of Morochata

Acknowledgements

Our work in Bolivia is funded by the McKnight Foundation’s CCRP (Collaborative Crop Research Program). Juan Almanza works for the Proinpa Foundation.

VIDEOS PARA UN POCO MÁS DE INSPIRACIÓN

Por Jeff Bentley, 27 de mayo del 2018

Juan Almanza es un agrónomo que trabaja con setenta madres, algunas solteras y otras casadas, en tres comunidades rurales alrededor de Colomi, Cochabamba. El Ing. Juan les enseña nuevas formas de cultivar alimentos nutritivos, especialmente dos leguminosas: habas (introducidas desde Europa hace siglos) y el tarwi (lupino, chocho o altramuz) nativo. El programa está en su tercer año.

El año pasado, el Ing. Juan ayudó a cada uno de los tres grupos de mujeres a sembrar una parcela de aprendizaje. Juan tenía dos nuevas ideas para mostrar: dos nuevas variedades de tarwi dulces que no tenían que ser remojados y lavados para quitar sus toxinas, y segundo, sembrar toda la parcela con tarwi. Anteriormente, las agricultores los sembraban en una sola fila alrededor del borde de la parcela de papas.

La parcela de aprendizaje es una idea que el ingeniero adoptó de su trabajo anterior con las escuelas de campo para agricultores. Las mujeres han disfrutado de las reuniones y han apreciado que el tarwi dulce se puede usar en recetas que serían imposibles con las variedades amargas. Las mujeres han hecho hamburguesas, sopas y han hervido los tarwis frescos para comer como arvejas. Las mujeres han recogido 18 recetas que Juan ha redactado.

Algunos maridos no están de acuerdo con el tiempo que las mujeres pasan en las reuniones, porque les distrae del trabajo agrícola. Algunas esposas han dejado de asistir. El Ing. Juan se dio cuenta de que para mantener a las mujeres en el grupo era importante que recibieran beneficios tangibles que pudieran mostrar al resto de la familia. Así que en esta última campaña, Juan les dio a cada mujer una arroba y media (unos 18 kilos) de semilla de haba, una nueva variedad de La Paz y dos o tres kilos de semilla de tarwi.

Juan mostró a cada grupo un video sobre altramuces, filmado en parte en Colomi, pero principalmente en Anzaldo, en otra provincia de Cochabamba, donde los agricultores ya cultivan tarwi en pequeñas parcelas, no solo alrededor del borde. Juan es un agrónomo hábil y perfectamente capaz de enseñar sobre el tarwi, pero probar nuevas variedades y plantarlas de una nueva manera requiere algo de inspiración adicional. Ver a agricultores reales en el video, cultivando tarwi exitosamente, les dio a las mujeres el aliento que necesitaban. Todas sembraron el tarwi que Juan les dio.

El Ing. Juan y yo conversamos con algunos de los productores de tarwi en la feria, que se realiza dos veces a la semana en Colomi, donde los agricultores vienen a vender sus productos y comprar comida y ropa. Muchas de las madres de los grupos son minoristas dos días a la semana, y agricultoras en los otros días.

Mientras ella cuida un puesto de granos y otras comidas secas, Marina explica que antes de conocer a Juan, algunos agricultores cultivaban el tarwi en parcelas enteras, pero lo sembraban en surcos a un metro de distancia. Las nuevas variedades son mucho más cortas y deben plantarse más cerca. El video mostró cómo hacer esto.

Reina Merino estaba desempacando sus paquetes de ropa en su pequeña tienda. Ella dijo que ahora las mujeres plantan tarwi “como papas”, es decir, en surcos, más cerca, y que ahora se toman la molestia de carpir (desmalezar) la cosecha. La carpida también fue una innovación. Previamente, el tarwi se sembraba y se dejaba hasta el momento de la cosecha.

Infelizmente, el trabajo duro de las mujeres no dio resultado. El año pasado, las lluvias se retrasaron y luego llovió demasiado. Algunas personas cosecharon la mitad del tarwi que estaban esperando; otras no cosechaban casi nada. Dado los decepcionantes resultados, le pregunté a Reina si plantaría tarwi de nuevo. “¡ Obvio que este año lo vamos a hacer otra vez!” dijo.

El Ing. Juan está convencido de que los videos fueron importantes. Él dice: “La mejor manera de ver una cosa nueva es el video. Abre el corazón del investigador rural.”

Él planifica mostrar el video del lupino nuevamente a todos sus grupos. Juan Almanza es un extensionista dedicado y respetado que usa el video como una de varias herramientas, junto con charlas, parcelas de aprendizaje y visitas a campos de agricultores. Se da cuenta de que mostrar el video por segunda vez reforzará lo que estas agricultoras ya han aprendido. Esperemos que el clima de este año acompañe sus esfuerzos.

Historias previas

Innovando en la cuna del tarwi

Mujeres unidas de Morochata

Agradecimiento

Nuestro trabajo en Bolivia es auspiciado por el CCRP (Programa Colaborativo para la Investigación de los Cultivos) de la Fundación McKnight. Juan Almanza trabaja para la Fundación Proinpa.

Inspiration from Bangladesh to Bolivia May 13th, 2018 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

For years I have thought of farmer experiments as fundamentally different from scientific trials. Smallholders live from their harvest and after trying an innovation for a while can decide qualitatively if it is useful or not. For the scientists it’s the other way around; the data are the precious material they need to write their papers, while the harvested crop is irrelevant. The scientists need replicable results to show that an innovation will work in different places. But the farmers are less concerned if their results are replicable over a large area; they only want to know if an innovation is helpful in their own fields.

That’s what I thought, anyway, but this past week in La Paz, Bolivia I saw how farmers who work together may become more concerned about doing experiments with replicable results. I was with Prosuco, a small NGO that promotes farmer research. Agronomist Sonia Laura, their research coordinator, introduced me to eight farmer-experimenters from all over the northern Bolivian Altiplano. They had travelled for three or four hours from different points across this cold, arid landscape to meet us in El Alto, the sprawling new city growing on the high plains just above La Paz.

These farmer experimenters call themselves “yapuchiris”, an Aymara word that means master farmer. A network of 70 yapuchiris meets irregularly, exchanging information, conducting experiments and teaching their neighbors new ideas (such as making organic fertilizers, natural pesticides and soil conservation).

The day we met in El Alto we discussed future experiments the yapuchiris could do. The president of the group, Miguel Ortega, suggested working on earthworms. He had raised earthworms and used their humus for years to fertilize his greenhouse vegetables. The other yapuchiris were mildly interested, especially because some of them already raised earthworms. They talked about carrying out an experiment on earthworm humus, but were a little vague on what this would be.

Then Sonia played an Aymara-language version of a video on earthworms, filmed in Bangladesh. A year earlier, Sonia had given the yapuchiris a DVD with this and six other videos in Aymara, Spanish, and Quechua. Some yapuchiris had watched the videos and some had not. At home, don Miguel had watched the one on earthworms four times.

After watching the video together the group came alive, defining more clearly what they would do in their earthworm experiment. With don Miguel taking the lead, they first agreed to standardize the types and amounts of food they would give their earthworms, so that the results would be replicable. In the video, Bangladeshi women had measured their materials in small baskets. On the Altiplano, most people have a 12-liter bucket, which Miguel suggested that they use instead of the basket.

Miguel said that the objective of the experiment was to get humus in one month. In his own, previous experience, it could take four months to get humus, and he wanted to speed up the process.

The video suggested mixing cow dung with chopped up banana stems, which are unavailable on the frigid Altiplano. The group kind of got stuck there. Sometimes a little outside facilitation can be useful. I helped them make a quick list of the plant materials they did have, including potato tops—stems and leaves normally discarded after harvest—and various kinds of straw.

That was enough to set the group thinking about how to adapt Bangladeshi techniques to Bolivian conditions. Don Miguel seized the lead again and asked each member of the group if they had potato tops. Only two others did, so he then asked how many had green barley straw. They all did, so they decided that each yapuchiri would make his or her earthworm trial at home with two layers of dung and two layers of barley straw.

The video shows making a home for worms in a cement ring, with a floor of sand, broken brick and earth. Even though the yapuchiris had just seen the video, they couldn’t quite recall all of the materials, their order and thickness of each layer. So we watched parts of the video again.

Again, the yapuchiris adapted. They didn’t have broken brick, so they decided to use small stones instead, to make an earthworm habitat of sand, with a layer of rock on top, followed by earth, straw, manure, a second layer of straw and a final top layer of manure. One advantage of a video is that farmer-experimenters can review it to recall specific details.

One yapuchiri, don Constantino, offered to bring a starter supply of earthworms to their next meeting, so they could all set up their experiments.

These yapuchiris have had a lot of contact with researchers. They were essentially organizing themselves so that each one of them would conduct a replica of a standardized experiment. They all live far from each other and they understand that each yapuchiri lives in a different environment, so they decided to take that into account. They agreed to measure the pH of the water (they have pH paper to do that) and the temperature, which will help later in understanding any differences that could be due to these independent experimental variables.

The yapuchiris need replicable results if they are going to share innovations with others. By collaborating with researches, the yapuchiris are learning the advantages of the scientific method.

The Bangladeshi earthworm video was filmed at sea level, about as far away as one can get from the Bolivian Altiplano (at about 4000 meters). Yet these yapuchiris found inspiration in what they saw and they said that the worm techniques in the video were simpler and more practical than others that they had been taught. This is a direct benefit of sharing knowledge and experience from farmer-to-farmer. Farmers who use an innovation for a few years will simplify it, validate it, and make it practical for other farmers to try, even if those farmers live on other continents.

Further viewing

You can watch the earthworm video in Aymara, English and several other languages at www.accessagriculture.org.

Acknowledgements

Our work in Bolivia is funded by the McKnight Foundation’s CCRP (Collaborative Crop Research Program). Thanks to Sonia Laura, of Prosuco, for sharing various insights with me.

INSPIRACIÓN DE BANGLADESH A BOLIVIA

Por Jeff Bentley, 13 de mayo del 2018

Por años he pensado que los experimentos de los agricultores eran fundamentalmente diferentes de los ensayos científicos. Los campesinos viven de su cosecha y al probar una innovación por un tiempo pueden decidir cualitativamente si sirve o no. Para los científicos es al revés; los datos son el material precioso que necesitan para escribir sus publicaciones, mientras que el cultivo cosechado es irrelevante. Los científicos necesitan resultados replicables para mostrar que una innovación funcionará en diferentes lugares. Pero a los campesinos les importa menos si sus resultados son replicables en un área grande; solo quieren saber si una innovación es útil en sus propias parcelas.

Por lo menos así pensaba yo, pero esta semana pasada en La Paz, Bolivia, vi cómo los agricultores que trabajan juntos pueden interesarse más por hacer experimentos con resultados replicables. Estuve con Prosuco, una pequeña ONG que promueve la investigación de agricultores. La Ing. Sonia Laura, su coordinadora de investigación, me presentó a ocho agricultores experimentadores de todo el Altiplano boliviano. Habían viajado durante tres o cuatro horas desde distintos puntos a través de este frío y árido paisaje para encontrarse con nosotros en El Alto, la nueva ciudad dinámica que crece en las llanuras arriba de La Paz.

Estos agricultores experimentadores se llaman “yapuchiris”, una palabra aymara que significa agricultor experto. Una red de 70 yapuchiris se reúne irregularmente, intercambiando información, realizando experimentos y enseñando a sus vecinos nuevas ideas (como hacer fertilizantes orgánicos, plaguicidas naturales y la conservación del suelo).

El día que nos encontramos en El Alto discutimos algunos experimentos futuros que los yapuchiris podrían hacer. El presidente del grupo, Miguel Ortega, sugirió trabajar con las lombrices de tierra. Él había criado lombrices de tierra, usando su humus durante años para fertilizar sus hortalizas de carpa solar (invernadero). Los otros yapuchiris estaban algo interesados, especialmente porque algunos de ellos ya habían criado lombrices. Hablaron de llevar a cabo un experimento sobre eñ lombrihumus, sin especificar mucho cómo hacerlo.

Luego Sonia tocó una versión en idioma aymara de un video sobre lombrices de tierra, filmado en Bangladesh. El año anterior, Sonia les había dado a los yapuchiris un DVD con este y otros seis videos en aymara, español y quechua. Algunos yapuchiris habían visto los videos y otros no. En casa, don Miguel había visto el de las lombrices cuatro veces.

Después de ver el video juntos, el grupo cobró vida, definiendo más claramente lo que harían en su experimento con las lombrices. Con don Miguel tomando la iniciativa, primero acordaron estandarizar los tipos y cantidades de alimentos que darían a sus lombrices, para que los resultados fueran replicables. En el video, las mujeres bangladesíes habían medido sus materiales en pequeñas canastas. En el Altiplano, la gente tiene un balde de 12 litros, que Miguel sugirió usar en lugar de la canasta.

Don Miguel dijo que el objetivo del experimento era obtener humus en un mes. En su propia experiencia previa, podría tomar cuatro meses obtener humus, y quería acelerar el proceso.

El video sugirió mezclar bosta (estiércol) de vaca con tallos de banana picados, que no están disponibles en el frígido Altiplano. El grupo se estancó allí. A veces, un poquito de facilitación externa puede ser útil. Los ayudé a hacer una lista rápida de los materiales vegetales que tenían, incluidas las hojas y tallos de las papas, y varios tipos de paja.

Eso fue suficiente para que el grupo pensara en cómo adaptar las técnicas de Bangladesh a las condiciones bolivianas. Don Miguel volvió a tomar la iniciativa y preguntó a cada miembro del grupo si tenían hojas de papa. Solo otros dos las tenían, entonces él preguntó cuántos tenían paja verde de cebada. Todos la tenían, por lo que decidieron que cada yapuchiri haría su prueba de lombriz en casa con dos capas de estiércol y dos capas de paja de cebada.

El video muestra cómo hacer un hogar para las lombrices en una argolla de cemento, con un piso de arena, ladrillo quebrado y tierra. Aunque los yapuchiris acababan de ver el video, no podían recordar todos los materiales, el orden y el grosor de cada capa. Así que vimos partes del video nuevamente.

De nuevo, los yapuchiris se adaptaron. No tenían ladrillos quebrados, entonces decidieron usar piedras pequeñas para crear un hábitat de arena, con una capa de piedritas, seguida de tierra, paja, estiércol, una segunda capa de paja y una capa superior de estiércol. Una ventaja de un video es que los agricultores-experimentadores pueden revisarlo para acordarse de detalles específicos.

Uno de los yapuchiris, don Constantino, se ofreció a traer algunas lombrices para la próxima reunión, para que todos pudieran empezar sus experimentos.

Estos yapuchiris han tenido mucho contacto con los investigadores. Se organizaban esencialmente para que cada uno de ellos llevara a cabo una réplica de un experimento estandarizado. Todos viven lejos el uno del otro y entienden que cada yapuchiri vive en un ambiente diferente, por lo que decidieron tomar eso en cuenta. Acordaron medir el pH del agua (tienen papel de pH para hacer eso) y la temperatura, lo que ayudará luego a comprender las diferencias que son como variables experimentales independientes.

Los yapuchiris necesitan resultados replicables si van a compartir innovaciones con otros. Al colaborar con las investigaciones, los yapuchiris están aprendiendo las ventajas del método científico.

El video de la lombriz de tierra de Bangladesh fue filmado a nivel del mar, lo más lejos que se puede llegar desde el Altiplano boliviano (a unos 4000 metros sobre el nivel de mar). Sin embargo, estos yapuchiris encontraron inspiración en lo que vieron y dijeron que las técnicas de lombricultura en el video eran más simples y más prácticas que otras que les habían enseñado. Este es un beneficio directo de compartir conocimiento y experiencia de agricultor a agricultor. Los campesinos que usan una innovación durante algunos años lo simplifican, lo validan y lo vuelven práctico para que otros agricultores lo prueben, incluso si esos agricultores viven en otros continentes.

Para ver más

Se puede ver los videos sobre la lombriz de tierra en aymara, español y varios otros idiomas en www.accessagriculture.org.

Agradecimientos

Nuestro trabajo en Bolivia es auspiciado por el CCRP (Programa Colaborativo para la Investigación de los Cultivos) de la Fundación McKnight. Gracias a Sonia Laura por compartir varias percepciones conmigo.

Design by Olean webdesign