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Experiments with trees October 24th, 2021 by

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Agro-Insight blogs

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

Farming with trees

Training trees

Related videos

SLM03 Grevillea agroforestry

SLM08 Parkland agroforestry

SLM10 Managed regeneration


Por Jeff Bentley, el 24 de octubre del 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blogs previos de Agro-Insight blogs

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

La agricultura con √°rboles

Training trees

Videos sobre la agroforestería

SLM 03 Agroforestería con grevillea

SLM08 Agroforestería del bosque ralo

SLM10 Regeneración manejada

La Tablée September 26th, 2021 by

Nederlandse versie hieronder

The choice to eat healthy, organic food cannot be left to consumers alone. While organising farm visits to inform and build trust among consumers is important, too often such initiatives are left to individual farmers. But when this is coordinated at a higher level with multiple stakeholders, including local authorities, an amazing dynamism can be created, as I recently learned during a visit to France.

With my wife Marcella and colleagues from Access Agriculture, we decided to stay a few days longer in Rennes, after we attended the Organic World Congress in September 2021. Strolling through the historic city centre towards the old church of Saint George, we are pleasantly surprised to discover La Tablée (Table Guests), a festive open-air event on the grounds around the ruins where people are invited to taste local products laid out on long lines of picnic tables.

The Tabl√©e and various other events we attended were all organised by the collegial group created by those involved from the initial application of Rennes city to host the Organic World Congress.¬†They called their group ‘Voyage to Organic Lands’.

After some friendly volunteers explained the concept, we took a seat and started to taste some of the apple juices, which are all delicious and remarkably distinct. Each bottle has a name printed on the bottle screw cap (Arthur, Lancelot, Merlin, Gauvain, Vivianne, Perceval and Excalibur). Before France was unified in 843 AD, Britain (la Grande Bretagne) and Brittany (la Petite Bretagne) had close ties and historians increasingly believe that the legend of the hero king Arthur and his brave knights have their roots in France, in the forests near Rennes. Perhaps French apple juice or cider was served at the round table.

When I heard someone speaking about apples over the loudspeakers, I realized that there was a live radio show taking place on one of the corners. Radio Rennes was interviewing the organic apple grower, Arnaud Lebrun. In full honesty, Arnaud explained how he started his career as a salesman for a pesticide company.

‚ÄúAfter more than a decade, I began to see all the damage this was doing to the environment, and I could no longer find peace with myself. I decided to quit my job and make a 180-degree shift. My wife and I bought a neglected apple orchard with trees that were already 40 years old and we converted it into an organic apple orchard. We had to learn everything,‚ÄĚ Arnaud explains live on air, ‚ÄúI did not even know how to drive a tractor.‚ÄĚ

In the shade of an old oak tree, interviews went on all day long with local farmers and food producers. While we only stayed on for an hour or so, I could still hear Arnaud‚Äôs wife profess: ‚Äúour customers truly appreciate all the products we make from our apples. What gives me the most satisfaction is to see the smiles on people‚Äôs faces.‚ÄĚ

Brittany has the richest diversity of apple varieties in the country and a long tradition of producing cider and pomée, a thick sweet to spread on bread. Preparing the pomée is a community event that celebrates harvest, as the women clean the apples while men take turns all night long stirring the thickening pomade in a huge copper pot over a fire.

Another remarkable traditional product on the picnic tables is gwell, a creamy type of yoghurt made by fermenting raw milk from the pie noire, a breed of local cow that almost went extinct in the 1970s. Gwell is traditionally eaten with flat round buckwheat cakes (galette) or potatoes, and is an excellent ingredient for desserts.

As we are having a great culinary experience, Lisa and Olivier, the sympathetic local baker farmers whom we just got to know at the Organic World Congress, arrive and join our table. They brought with them some more fresh bread and other traditional goodies.

Small leaflets, each one with a little quiz, invite people to reflect on one particular aspect of making and eating food. This pleasant event brings consumers and producers closer to each other, and with the radio reaches a much wider audience.

For over 60 years, consumers have been influenced by marketeers to eat and drink over-processed foods, stripped of their nutrients. It will take time for people to switch from flavour-enhanced junk to real food. Through joint efforts between organic and biodynamic farmer associations, researchers, restaurant owners, as well as authorities from cities and regions, changing consumer behaviour towards healthy, natural food can become a continuous concerted effort.

As I learned that week in Rennes around the table, consumers and farmers need more than connections, they need to form communities, and a bit of fun can help.

Discover more

Voyage to Organic Lands / Voyage en Terre Bio: https://www.voyageenterrebio.org

Related Agro-Insight blogs

The baker farmers

Better food for better farming

Marketing something nice

Damaging the soil and our health with chemical reductionism

The juice mobile

Formerly known as food

Forgotten vegetables

Not sold in stores

An exit strategy


De tafelgasten

De keuze om gezond, biologisch voedsel te eten kan niet alleen aan de consument worden overgelaten. Hoewel het belangrijk is boerderijbezoeken te organiseren om de consumenten te informeren en vertrouwen te wekken, worden dergelijke initiatieven maar al te vaak overgelaten aan individuele landbouwers. Maar wanneer dit op een hoger niveau wordt gecoördineerd met meerdere belanghebbenden, waaronder lokale overheden, kan een verbazingwekkende dynamiek ontstaan, zoals ik onlangs leerde in Frankrijk.

Met mijn vrouw Marcella en collega’s van onze vzw Access Agriculture besloten we een paar dagen langer in Rennes te blijven, nadat we in september 2021 het Organic World Congress hadden bijgewoond. Wandelend door het historische stadscentrum in de richting van de oude kerk Saint George, worden we aangenaam verrast als we La Tabl√©e (Tafelgasten) ontdekken, een feestelijk openluchtevenement op het terrein rond de ru√Įne waar mensen worden uitgenodigd om lokale producten te proeven die op lange rijen picknicktafels zijn neergezet.

Nadat enkele vriendelijke vrijwilligers het concept hadden uitgelegd, namen we plaats en begonnen we met het proeven van enkele van de appelsappen, die allemaal heerlijk en opmerkelijk verschillend zijn. Op elk flesje staat een naam gedrukt op de schroefdop (Arthur, Lancelot, Merlijn, Gauvain, Vivianne, Perceval en Excalibur). Voordat Frankrijk in het jaar 843 werd verenigd, hadden Groot-Brittanni√ę (la Grande Bretagne) en Bretagne (la Petite Bretagne) nauwe banden en historici geloven steeds meer dat de legende van koning Arthur en zijn dappere ridders hun wortels hebben in Frankrijk, in de bossen bij Rennes. Misschien werd er aan de ronde tafel wel Frans appelsap of cider geserveerd.

Toen ik iemand over appels hoorde praten via de luidsprekers, realiseerde ik me dat er een live radioprogramma aan de gang was op het terrein. Radio Rennes interviewde de biologische appelteler, Arnaud Lebrun. In alle eerlijkheid legde Arnaud uit hoe hij zijn carrière was begonnen als verkoper bij een pesticidenbedrijf.

“Na meer dan tien jaar begon ik de schade aan het milieu in te zien, en ik kon geen vrede meer met mezelf vinden. Ik besloot mijn baan op te zeggen en een ommezwaai van 180 graden te maken. Mijn vrouw en ik kochten een verwaarloosde appelboomgaard met bomen die al 40 jaar oud waren en we bouwden die om tot een biologische appelboomgaard. We hebben alles moeten leren”, vertelt Arnaud live in de uitzending, “ik wist niet eens hoe ik een tractor moest besturen.”

In de schaduw van een oude eik gingen de interviews de hele dag door met lokale boeren en voedselproducenten. Hoewel we maar een uurtje aanhielden, kon ik Arnauds vrouw nog horen uitroepen: “onze klanten waarderen echt alle producten die we van onze appels maken. Wat mij de meeste voldoening geeft, is de glimlach op de gezichten van de mensen te zien.”

Bretagne heeft de rijkste verscheidenheid aan appelvari√ęteiten van het land en een lange traditie in de productie van cider en pom√©e, een dik snoepje om op brood te smeren. Het bereiden van de pom√©e is een gemeenschapsgebeuren dat de oogst viert, waarbij de vrouwen de appels schoonmaken terwijl de mannen om beurten de hele nacht lang de indikkende pom√©e in een enorme koperen pot boven een vuur roeren.

Een ander opmerkelijk traditioneel product op de picknicktafels is gwell, een romige soort yoghurt die wordt gemaakt door rauwe melk van de pie noire te laten gisten, een lokaal koeienras dat in de jaren zeventig bijna was uitgestorven. Gwell wordt traditioneel gegeten met platte ronde boekweitkoeken of aardappelen, en is een uitstekend ingredi√ęnt voor desserts.

Terwijl we aan het genieten zijn van onze culinaire ervaring, komen Lisa en Olivier, de sympathieke lokale bakkers-boeren die we net hebben leren kennen op het Organic World Congress, aan onze tafel zitten. Ze hebben nog wat vers brood en andere traditionele lekkernijen bij zich.

Kleine folders, elk met een korte quiz, nodigen uit om na te denken over een bepaald aspect van het produceren en eten van voedsel. Dit gezellige evenement brengt consumenten en producenten dichter bij elkaar, en bereikt met de radio een veel breder publiek.

Al meer dan 60 jaar worden consumenten door marketeers be√Įnvloed om overbewerkte voedingsmiddelen te eten en te drinken, ontdaan van hun voedingsstoffen. Het zal tijd vergen voordat de mensen overschakelen van smaakversterkende junk naar echt voedsel. Door gezamenlijke inspanningen van verenigingen van biologische en biodynamische landbouwers, onderzoekers, restauranthouders en autoriteiten van steden en regio’s kan het veranderen van het consumentengedrag in de richting van gezond, natuurlijk voedsel een continue gezamenlijke inspanning worden.

Die week in Rennes aan de tafel heb ik geleerd dat consumenten en boeren meer nodig hebben dan verbindingen, ze moeten gemeenschappen vormen, en een beetje plezier kan daarbij helpen.

Principles matter July 18th, 2021 by

In this age of restricted travel, when webinars have taken the place of conferences, at first I missed face-to-face meetings a lot. But virtual events do allow one to get exposed to far more ideas than before. This is also the case when digital learning is introduced to farmers. Farmers are increasingly getting information online, like videos. But the videos have to be properly designed. Unlike following a cooking recipe on a Youtube video, in agriculture, recipes must be accompanied by basic principles, so that farmers can decide how to experiment with the new ideas.

I was reminded of this recently during a webinar on the Community-Based Natural Farming Programme in Andhra Pradesh, India. One of the speakers was Vijay Kumar, one of the driving forces behind the programme, which aims to scale up agroecology to millions of farmers in Andhra Pradesh. Vijay is a humble, highly-respected former civil servant. He is much in demand, so meeting him in person would be a challenge, but introduced by a mutual colleague, I was fortunate to have already met him several times on Zoom. Vijay appreciates that Access Agriculture stands for quality training videos that enable South-South learning. According to him, the collaboration with Access Agriculture offers opportunities to help scale community-based natural farming from India to Africa and beyond. It is fortunate to have strong allies who understand the challenges of scaling and that to be cost-effective, one cannot simply visit all the world’s farmers in person.

Still, many people think that farmers can only learn from fellow farmers who live nearby and speak the same language, and that training videos are only useful when they are made locally. The many experiences from local partners with Access Agriculture training videos show that farmers do learn from their peers across cultures, on different continents. Farmers are motivated when they see how fellow farmers in other parts of the world solve their own problems. Access Agriculture videos are effective across borders in part because they explain the scientific principles behind technologies, and not just show how to do things. Vijay is convinced that scientific knowledge and farmer knowledge need to go hand in hand to promote agroecology.

The second speaker at the natural farming conference was Walter Jehne, a renowned Australian soil microbiologist, who talked about the need to build up soil organic matter and micro-organisms as a way to revive soils and cool the planet. I was pleased that he also stressed the importance of principles. When one of the Indian participants asked Walter if he could provide the recipe, he smilingly and patiently explained: ‚ÄúWe should focus on the underlying principles, as principles apply across the globe, irrespective of where you are. You need organic matter, you need to build up good soil micro-organisms and make use of natural growth promotors. If a recipe tells you to use cow dung, but you don‚Äôt have cows, what can you do? If for instance you have reindeer, their dung will work just as well. You don‚Äôt have to be dogmatic about it.‚Ä̬† In two of my earlier blogs (Trying it yourself and Reviving soils) I did exactly do that back home: use ingredients that were available to me: sheep dung, leaves of oak trees in the garden, wheat straw, and so on, but building on ideas from Indian farmers.

Farmers have creative minds and this creativity is fed by basic principles: while recipes surely help, a better understanding of underlying scientific principles are what matter most when it comes down to adaptation to local contexts. We, at Access Agriculture are thrilled to join Andhra Pradesh’s efforts to spread Community-Based Natural Farming across the globe.

Related webinars

365 Days Green Cover & Pre-Monsoon Dry Sowing (PMDS) – Walter Jehne – Streamed on 6th July 12:30 pm

Restoring the water cycles to cool the climate

Related blogs

Trying it yourself

Reviving soils

Effective micro-organisms

Friendly germs

Earthworms from India to Bolivia

A revolution for our soil

Damaging the soil and our health with chemical reductionism

Related videos

Good microbes for plants and soil

Organic biofertilizer in liquid and solid form

Coir pith

Mulch for a better soil and crop

Vermiwash: an organic tonic for crops

Making a vermicompost bed

Inspiring video platforms

Access Agriculture: hosts over 220 training videos in over 90 languages on a diversity of crops and livestock, sustainable soil and water management, basic food processing, etc. Each video describes underlying principles, as such encouraging people to experiment with new ideas.

EcoAgtube: a social media video platform where anyone from across the globe can upload their own videos related to natural farming and circular economy.

Zoom to Titicaca June 6th, 2021 by

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

Covid may be the world’s most spectacular emerging disease, but agriculture has its own new pests and diseases. Fortunately, collaboration between agronomists and farmers can offer solutions, as I saw in a recent meeting on the shores of Lake Titicaca.

This is 2021, so we met on Zoom, but I was struck by how much the meeting resembled others I have attended in person with farmers and agronomists.

Ing. Sonia Laura, a researcher from Prosuco who works closely with farmers, had driven out to the village of Iquichachi, a couple of hours from La Paz. Sonia set up the call on her laptop, and the farmers (Sra. Cristina, Sra. Arminda, Sr. Juan, Sr. Paulino, Sr. Zenobio, and Sr. Fidel) all managed to squeeze onto the screen. Bundled up in coats and hats against the high Andean cold, they explained how several years ago, they noticed a new worm eating the potatoes they store at home.

The moth lays its eggs on stored potatoes, and on potato plants in the field. The eggs hatch into caterpillars that go back and forth: from field to home in the harvest, and from storage to field with the seed.

The farmers showed some graphs of data they had been collecting with Sonia, under advice from Ing. Reinaldo Quispe, an agronomist from Proinpa, who joined the call from his office in La Paz. Reinaldo and the farmers had been using the sex scent (pheromone) of female moths to attract and trap the male moths. Each moth species has its own unique sex pheromone. Reinaldo had identified the pests, two related species of tuber moths, native to the Andes, but usually found in the lower, warmer valleys. Both species belong to a moth family that specializes in infesting stored foods.

The agronomist Ra√ļl Ccanto joined us from Peru, from the NGO Yanapai. Ra√ļl explained that Peruvian farmers had suffered from these two moths for many years. Over the years of working with the farmers, Yanapai and others had developed some practical solutions.

As Ra√ļl explained, select the seed carefully. When you take seed from the house to plant in the field, make sure that you only plant healthy tubers, not the ones full of worms.

Also rotate your crops. ‚ÄúThis is something you farmers have always done, but it‚Äôs important to say that it is a good thing.‚ÄĚ Growing potatoes one year, followed by other roots and tubers (such as oca and papalisa, which are not of the potato family), and then other legumes and cereals, helps to keep the soil free of potato pests.

Ra√ļl‚Äôs PowerPoint included the results of experiments, done in collaboration with Peruvian farmers, where they tried various ways to manage the moths in stored seed potato. One idea that worked well, and was also cheap, was to dust healthy seed potatoes with talc, which keeps the moths from laying their eggs in potatoes. The talc worked almost as well as malathion, the insecticide.

Ra√ļl skipped lightly over the malathion, barely mentioning it, and for good reason. He had included the chemical treatment in the experiment as a comparison, but he was not promoting it. As Reinaldo explained, farmers often prefer insecticides and use them even in stored potatoes, which one should not do.

In fact, medical schools in Bolivia teach their third-year students to diagnose and treat malathion poisoning, because it is common. ‚ÄúThis is something you‚Äôll see,‚ÄĚ the older doctors tell their students.

With any new pest or disease, it‚Äôs important to know where it came from. Ra√ļl explained that the moths may have recently colonized the cold Altiplano, not just because of climate change, but also because people are bringing wormy seed in from fairs in distant parts of the country. And they are growing more potatoes. As more of the land is planted more often and over larger areas, to meet market demand, a more attractive environment is created for potato pests.

Yes, the farmers agreed, potatoes are being grown more often. And that is why it is crucial for scientists and farmers to put their heads together, to confirm useful ideas, from different perspectives.

The farmers wanted to know if there was something they could apply to their potatoes, to kill the moth. Ra√ļl and Reinaldo both explained that there is no one thing that will manage the pest. It will have to be managed by rotating crops, and by selecting healthy seed. Other ideas like dusting the potatoes with talc will also help. The good news is that the moths can be managed.

It may be in human nature to yearn for simple solutions. Many of us have simply wished that Covid would go away, and that things would go back to normal. Like Covid, managing the tuber moth will require several good ideas, well explained, widely shared and applied.

In this case, the new information motivated the farmers to set up their own experiments. Sonia told me that after our call, the farmers met to reflect and take action. They decided that each one of them would select their seed, clean their potato storeroom, and sprinkle talc on the selected seed. They will keep using the pheromone traps, among other things. Later, they will explain these practices to their other community members, to take action as a group.

Scientific names

The tuber moths are Phthorimaea operculella and Symmetrischema tangolias (Lepidoptea: Gelechiidae).

Oca (Oxalis tuberosa) and papalisa (Ullucus tuberosus) are native Andean crops, not widely grown outside the region. The papalisa is also called ‚Äúolluco‚ÄĚ in Peru.

Talc is a clay mineral, magnesium silicate, a natural stone that is ground to make a powder.


Sonia Laura works with María Quispe at Prosuco (Promoción de la Sustentabilidad y Conocimientos Compartidos) in La Paz.

Ra√ļl Ccanto works at Grupo Yanapai (meaning ‚Äúto help‚ÄĚ in Quechua), in Peru.

Reinaldo Quispe works at Proinpa (Fundación para la Promoción e Investigación de Productos Andinos), Bolivia.

The work with the Andean tuber moths is supported by the McKnight Foundation’s CCRP (Collaborative Crop Research Program).

Thanks to Sonia Laura and to Paul Van Mele for reading a previous version of this story.


Thanks also to Sonia Laura for her beautiful photographs.


Por Jeff Bentley, 6 de junio del 2021

El Covid-19 podría ser la enfermedad nueva más espectacular del mundo, pero la agricultura tiene sus propias plagas y enfermedades emergentes. Afortunadamente, la colaboración entre agrónomos y agricultores puede ofrecer soluciones, como vi en una reciente reunión a orillas del Lago Titicaca.

Estamos en el 2021, así que nos reunimos por Zoom, pero me sorprendió lo mucho que se parecía la reunión a otras a las que he asistido en persona con agricultores y agrónomos.

La Ing. Sonia Laura, una investigadora de Prosuco, que trabaja estrechamente con los agricultores, hab√≠a ido en camioneta hasta la comunidad rural de Iquicachi, a un par de horas de La Paz. Sonia organiz√≥ la llamada en su laptop, y los agricultores (las y los se√Īores Cristina, Arminda y Juan, Paulino, Zenobio, Fidel,) se hicieron entrar todos en la pantalla. Abrigados con chompas y gorros contra el fr√≠o altoandino, explicaron que hace pocos a√Īos se dieron cuenta de que un nuevo gusano se com√≠a las papas que almacenaban en sus casas.

La polilla de papa pone sus huevos en las papas almacenadas y en las plantas de papas en el campo. De los huevos nacen gusanos del campo, que van a casa en la cosecha, y del almacén regresan a la chacra con la semilla.

Los agricultores mostraron algunos gráficos de datos que habían estado recopilando con Sonia, bajo la orientación del Ing. Reinaldo Quispe, de Proinpa, quien se unió a la llamada desde su oficina en La Paz. Sonia y los agricultores habían estado usando el olor sexual (feromona) de las polillas hembras para atraer y atrapar a las polillas macho. Cada especie de polilla tiene su propia feromona sexual. Reinaldo había identificado las plagas, dos especies relacionadas de polillas del tubérculo, nativas de los Andes, pero que suelen encontrarse en los valles más bajos y cálidos. Ambas especies pertenecen a una familia de polillas especializada en infestar alimentos almacenados.

Desde Per√ļ nos acompa√Ī√≥ el agr√≥nomo Ra√ļl Ccanto, de la ONG Yanapai. Ra√ļl explic√≥ que los agricultores peruanos hab√≠an sufrido estas dos polillas durante muchos a√Īos. A lo largo de sus a√Īos de trabajo con los agricultores, Yanapai y otros han desarrollado algunas soluciones pr√°cticas.

Como explic√≥ Ra√ļl, hay que seleccionar la semilla con cuidado. Cuando saques la semilla de la casa para sembrarla, aseg√ļrate de plantar s√≥lo los tub√©rculos sanos, no los que est√°n llenos de gusanos.

Tambi√©n hay que rotar los cultivos. “Esto es algo que ustedes los agricultores siempre han hecho, pero es importante decir que es bueno que lo hagan”. Lo que ayuda a mantener el suelo libre de plagas de la papa es cultivarlas solo un a√Īo, seguido de otras ra√≠ces y tub√©rculos (como la oca y la papalisa, que no son de la familia de la papa), y luego sembrar leguminosas y cereales.

La presentaci√≥n de Ra√ļl incluy√≥ los resultados de los experimentos, realizados en colaboraci√≥n con agricultores peruanos, en los que se probaron varias formas de controlar las polillas en los almacenes de semillas de papa. Una idea que funcion√≥ bien, y que adem√°s era barata, fue rociar la papa seleccionada con talco, que impide que las polillas pongan sus huevos en las papas. El talco funcionaba casi tan bien como el malati√≥n, el insecticida.

Ra√ļl pas√≥ por alto el malati√≥n; apenas lo mencion√≥, y con raz√≥n. Hab√≠a incluido el tratamiento qu√≠mico en el experimento como comparaci√≥n, pero no lo promov√≠a. Como explic√≥ Reinaldo, los agricultores suelen preferir los insecticidas y los usan incluso en las papas almacenadas, lo cual no se debe hacer.

De hecho, las facultades de medicina de Bolivia ense√Īan a sus estudiantes de tercer a√Īo a diagnosticar y tratar la intoxicaci√≥n por malati√≥n, porque es algo com√ļn. “Esto es algo que van a ver”, dicen los doctores a sus alumnos.

Con cualquier plaga o enfermedad nueva, es importante saber de d√≥nde viene. Ra√ļl explic√≥ que las polillas pueden haber colonizado recientemente el fr√≠o Altiplano, no s√≥lo por el cambio clim√°tico, sino tambi√©n porque la gente est√° trayendo semillas agusanadas de ferias en otras partes del pa√≠s. Y est√°n cultivando m√°s papas sobre mayor superficie. A medida que se siembra m√°s seguido y en m√°s √°rea, para satisfacer la demanda del mercado, se crea un ambiente m√°s atractivo para las plagas de la papa.

S√≠, los agricultores reconocieron que hoy en d√≠a las papas se cultivan m√°s seguido. Y por eso es crucial que cient√≠ficos y agricultores compartan sus ideas, para confirmar las que son √ļtiles.

Los agricultores quer√≠an saber si hab√≠a algo que pudieran aplicar a sus papas para matar la polilla. Ra√ļl y Reinaldo explicaron que no hay una sola cosa que la pueda manejar. Habr√° que controlar la plaga mediante la rotaci√≥n de cultivos y la buena selecci√≥n de semillas. Otras ideas, como aplicar talco a las papas, tambi√©n ayudar√°n. La buena noticia es que las polillas s√≠ tienen soluci√≥n.

Tal vez algo en la naturaleza humana anhela las soluciones sencillas. Muchos hemos deseado que el Covid desaparezca de una sola vez, y que las cosas vuelvan a la normalidad. Al igual que el Covid, el manejo de la polilla de la papa requerir√° varias buenas ideas, bien explicadas, ampliamente compartidas y competentemente aplicadas.

En este caso, la nueva información motivó la gente a armar sus propios experimentos. Sonia me informa que se reunieron para reflexionar y tomar acuerdos. Decidieron que cada persona del grupo haría la selección de semilla. Limpiaría su almacén de papas, y pondría talco en las papas seleccionadas. Seguirán con las trampas con feromonas, entre otras cosas. Luego comunicarán estas prácticas en una reunión con toda la comunidad para tener un trabajo comunal en el control de esta plaga.

Nombres científicos

Las polillas de la papa son Phthorimaea operculella y Symmetrischema tangolias (Lepidoptea: Gelechiidae).

La oca (Oxalis tuberosa) y la papalisa (Ullucus tuberosus) son cultivos nativos andinos, poco cultivados fuera de la regi√≥n. La papalisa tambi√©n se llama “olluco” en el Per√ļ.

El talco es silicato de magnesio. Es una piedra natural que se muele para obtener el polvo. Como explica Ra√ļl Ccanto, es un ‚Äúmineral no met√°lico‚ÄĚ.


Sonia Laura trabaja con María Quispe en Prosuco (Promoción de la Sustentabilidad y Conocimientos Compartidos) en La Paz.

Ra√ļl Ccanto trabaja en el Grupo Yanapai (que significa “ayudar” en quechua), en el Per√ļ.

Reinaldo Quispe trabaja en Proinpa (Fundación para la Promoción e Investigación de Productos Andinos), en Bolivia.

El trabajo con las polillas de la papa está apoyado por el CCRP (Programa Colaborativo de Investigación de Cultivos) de la Fundación McKnight.

Gracias a Sonia Laura y a Paul Van Mele por leer una versión previa de este relato.


Gracias también a Sonia Laura por sus hermosas fotos.

Staying grounded while on the air in Ghana March 21st, 2021 by

It’s a simple matter to play a soundtrack about farming on the radio. The tricky part is making sure that the program connects with the audience, as I learned recently from Gideon Kwame Sarkodie Osei at ADARS FM, a commercial station in Kintampo, a town in central Ghana.

Since 2010 Gideon has been pleased to be part of an effort by Farm Radio International (FRI) that supported radio stations in Ghana, including ADARS FM, to reach out to farmers. With encouragement from FRI, Gideon started a weekly magazine show for farmers, where he plays Access Agriculture audio tracks. The magazine, Akuafo Mo, means ‚ÄúThank You Farmers‚ÄĚ in the Twi language. Before he started the show, Gideon (together with FRI) did a baseline study of the farmers in his audience. He found that they had more time on Monday evenings. Farm women do more work and have less time than most people, but they told Gideon that they were usually done with their chores by 8 PM, so that‚Äôs when he airs Akuafo Mo, every Monday for an hour.

The show starts with recorded interviews, where farmers explain their own knowledge of a certain topic, like aflatoxin, which is so important that Gideon had several episodes on this hidden toxin that can contaminate stored foodstuffs. After the interviews, Gideon plays an audio track, to share fresh ideas with his audience. Gideon has played Access Agriculture audios so often he can‚Äôt remember how many he has played. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs a lot more than 50,‚ÄĚ he explains.

Gideon plays a portion of the audio in English, and then he stops to translate that part into Twi, the language of the Ashanti people. Every week there is a guest on the show, an extension agent who can discuss the topic and take questions from listeners who call in.

Gideon‚Äôs experience with the magazine inspired him to start listener groups, in coordination with FRI. Visiting listener communities, Gideon found that some did not have a radio set. So, with project support, he bought them one. ‚ÄúWe give them radio sets so they can come together weekly and listen to the magazine,‚ÄĚ Gideon told me. He has 20 groups, each with 12 to 30 people. Five groups are only for women, especially in areas where males and females don‚Äôt casually mingle. The other listener groups have men and women.

Gideon visits at least some of the groups every week. Because of these visits, Gideon is now downloading videos as well as audio from Access Agriculture. ‚ÄúSometimes I see if they have electricity, and I rent a projector, to show them the video they have heard on the air.‚ÄĚ Gideon says. ‚ÄúThis is my initiative, going the extra mile.‚ÄĚ

Some of the farmers are learning to sell their groundnuts, maize and other cereals as a group, netting them extra money and helping them to be self-sustaining.

Gideon is also a trainer for FRI. Before Covid, he would travel to other towns and cities in Ghana, meet other broadcasters, and go to the field with them to show them how to improve their interview skills and to craft their own magazine shows. Now he continues to train broadcasters, but online.

Working with the farmer listening groups gives Gideon insights into farmers’ needs and knowledge, making his magazine so authentic that 60,000 people tune in. That experience gives Gideon the confidence to train other broadcasters all over Ghana.

When I was in Ghana a few years ago, I met excellent extension agents who told me how frustrated they were to be responsible for reaching 3,000 farmers. It was impossible to have a quality interaction with all those farmers.

However, there are ways to communicate a thoughtful message with a large audience, for example with a good radio magazine.

Gideon has creatively blended his own expertise with resources from two communication-oriented non-profit organisations: Farm Radio International and Access Agriculture. Hopefully, his experience will inspire other broadcasters.

Videos in the languages of Ghana

Find videos and soundtracks in these languages of Ghana: Buli, Dagaari, Dagbani, Ewe, Frafra, Gonja, Hausa, Kabyé, Kusaal, Moba, Sisaala, Twi, Zarma and English.

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