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Strawberry fields once again March 15th, 2020 by

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

Like many Bolivians, Diego Ramírez never thought about remaining in the village where he was born, and starting a business on his family’s small farm. As a kid, he loved picking fruit on his grandparents’ small strawberry patch in the village of Ucuchi, and swimming with his friends in a pond fed with spring water, but he had to leave home at a young age to attend high school in the small city of Sacaba, and then he went on to study computer science at the university (UMSS) in the big city of Cochabamba, where he found work after graduation.

Years later, Diego‚Äôs dad called his seven children together to tell them that he was selling their grandparents‚Äô farm. It made sense. The grandparents had died, and the land had been idle for about 15 years. Yet, it struck Diego as a tragedy, so he said ‚ÄúI‚Äôll farm it.‚ÄĚ Some people thought he was joking. In Ucuchi, people were leaving agriculture, not getting into it. Many had migrated to Bolivia‚Äôs eastern lowlands or to foreign countries, so many of the fields in Ucuchi were abandoned. It was not the sort of place that people like Diego normally return to.

When Diego decided to revive his family farm two years ago, he turned to the Internet for inspiration. Although strawberries have been grown for many years in Ucuchi, and they are a profitable crop around Cochabamba, Diego learned of a commercial strawberry farm in Santo Domingo, Santiago, in neighboring Chile, that gave advice and sold plants. Santo Domingo is 2450 km from Cochabamba, but Diego was so serious about strawberries that he went there over a weekend and brought back 500 strawberry plants. Crucially, he also learned about new technologies like drip irrigation, and planting in raised beds covered with plastic sheeting. Encouraged by his new knowledge, he found dealers in Cochabamba who sold drip irrigation equipment and he installed it, along with plastic mulch, a common method in modern strawberry production.

Diego was inclined towards producing strawberries agroecologically, so he contacted the Agrecol Andes Foundation which was then organizing an association of ecological farmers in Sacaba, the small city where Diego lives (half way between the farm and the big city of Cochabamba). In that way Diego became a certified ecological farmer under the SPG PAS (Participatory Guaranty System, Agroecological Farmers of Sacaba).  Diego learned to make his own biol (a fermented solution of cow dung that fertilizes the soil and adds beneficial microbes to it). Now he mixes biol into the drip irrigation tank, fertilizing the strawberries one drop at a time.

Diego also makes his own organic sprays, like sulfur-lime brew and Bordeaux mix. He applies these solutions every two weeks to control powdery mildew, a common fungal disease, thrips (a small insect pest), red mites, and damping off. I was impressed. A lot of people talk about organic sprays, but few make their own. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs not that hard,‚ÄĚ Diego shrugged, when I asked him where he found the time.

Diego finds the time to do a lot of admirable things. He has a natural flair for marketing and has designed his own packing boxes of thin cardboard, which he had printed in La Paz. His customers receive their fruit in a handsome box, rather than in a plastic bag, where fruit is easily damaged. He sells direct to customers who come to his farm, and at agroecological fairs and in stores that sell ecological products.

Diego still does his day job in the city, while also being active in community politics in Ucuchi. He also tends a small field of potatoes and he is planting fruit trees and prickly pear on the rocky slopes above his strawberry field. Diego has also started a farmers’ association with his neighbors, ten men and ten women, including mature adults and young people who are still in university.

The association members grow various crops, not just strawberries. Diego is teaching them to grow strawberries organically and to use drip irrigation. To encourage people to use these methods he has created his own demonstration plots. He has divided his grandparents’ strawberry field into three areas: one with his modern system, one with local varieties grown the old way on bare soil, with flood irrigation, and a third part with modern varieties grown the old way. The modern varieties do poorly when grown the way that Diego’s grandparents used. And Diego says the old way is too much work, mainly because of the weeding, irrigation, pests and diseases.

Ucuchi is an attractive village in the hills, with electricity, running water, a primary school and a small hospital. It is just off the main highway between Cochabamba and Santa Cruz, an hour from the city of Cochabamba where you can buy or sell almost anything. Partly because of these advantages, some young people are returning to Ucuchi. Organic strawberries are hard to grow, and rare in Bolivia. But a unique product, like organic strawberries, and inspired leadership can help to stem the flow of migration, while showing that there are ways for young people to start a viable business in the countryside. Diego clearly loves being back in his home village, stopping his pickup truck to chat with people passing by on the village lanes. He also brings his own family to the farm on weekends, where he has put a new tile roof on his grandparents’ old adobe farm house.

Agriculture is more than making a profit. It is also about family history, community, and finding work that is satisfying and creative.

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EN EL FRUTILLAR DE NUEVO

Por Jeff Bentley, 15 de marzo del 2019

Como muchos bolivianos, Diego Ram√≠rez nunca pens√≥ en quedarse en la comunidad donde naci√≥, y empezar un emprendimiento agr√≠cola en las peque√Īas chacras de su familia. Diego cuenta que de ni√Īo le encantaba recoger fruta en la peque√Īa parcela de frutillas de sus abuelos en la comunidad de Ucuchi, y nadar con sus amigos en una poza de riego, llena de agua de manantial, pero de joven tuvo que vivir en la ciudad peque√Īa de Sacaba para estudiar en colegio. Luego se fue a estudiar a la Universidad UMSS, la carrera de ingenier√≠a de sistemas. Culminado los estudios, empez√≥ a trabajar en la ciudad de Cochabamba.

A√Īos m√°s tarde, el padre de Diego llam√≥ a sus siete hijos para decirles que estaba vendiendo el terreno de sus abuelos. Ten√≠a sentido. Los abuelos hab√≠an fallecido, y nadie hab√≠a trabajado la tierra durante unos 15 a√Īos. Sin embargo, a Diego le pareci√≥ una tragedia, as√≠ que dijo: “Yo la voy a trabajar”. Algunos pensaron que era un chiste. En Ucuchi, la gente estaba en plan de dejar la agricultura, no meterse en ella. Prefer√≠an emigrar al Oriente de Bolivia y muchos se hab√≠an ido del pa√≠s. Por esta raz√≥n muchas de las parcelas est√°n abandonadas. No es el tipo de lugar al que la gente como Diego normalmente regresa.

Cuando Diego decidi√≥ revivir su finca familiar ya hace dos a√Īos, busc√≥ inspiraci√≥n en el Internet. Aunque la frutilla es un cultivo ancestral de la comunidad de Ucuchi y muy rentable en Cochabamba, Diego se enter√≥ de una empresa productora de frutillas en Santo Domingo, Santiago, en el vecino pa√≠s de Chile, que daba consejos y vend√≠a plantas. Santo Domingo est√° a 2450 km de Cochabamba, pero Diego se tom√≥ tan en serio las frutillas que fue all√≠ un fin de semana y trajo 500 plantas de frutillas. Crucialmente, tambi√©n aprendi√≥ sobre el cultivo tecnificado de frutillas, aplicando el riego por goteo y plantado en camas tapadas con pl√°stico. Movido por sus nuevos conocimientos, busc√≥ distribuidores en Cochabamba que vend√≠an equipos de riego por goteo y los instal√≥, junto con el mulch pl√°stico, un m√©todo com√ļn en la producci√≥n moderna de fresas.

Diego se inclin√≥ m√°s en la producci√≥n agroecol√≥gica para producir frutillas, as√≠ que se contact√≥ con la Fundaci√≥n Agrecol Andes que estaba organizando una asociaci√≥n de productores ecol√≥gicos en Sacaba, la peque√Īa ciudad donde Diego vive, a medio camino entre su terreno y la ciudad grande de Cochabamba. Diego ya tiene certificaci√≥n de productor ecol√≥gico con SPG PAS (Sistema Participativo de Garant√≠a Productores Agroecol√≥gicos Sacaba), Diego aprendi√≥ a hacer su propio biol (una soluci√≥n fermentada de esti√©rcol de vaca que fertiliza el suelo mientras a√Īade microbios buenos). Ahora mezcla el biol en el tanque de riego por goteo, fertilizando las frutillas una gota a la vez.

Diego tambi√©n hace sus propias soluciones org√°nicas, como el sulfoc√°lcico y el caldo bordel√©s. Fumiga estas preparaciones cada dos semanas para controlar el o√≠dium, los thrips (un peque√Īo insecto), la ara√Īuela roja, y la pudrici√≥n de cuello. Me impresion√≥. Mucha gente habla de aplicaciones org√°nicos, pero pocos hacen las suyas. “No es tan dif√≠cil”, Diego dijo cuando le pregunt√© de d√≥nde hallaba el tiempo.

Diego encuentra tiempo para hacer muchas cosas admirables. Tiene un talento natural para el marketing y ha dise√Īado sus propias cajas de cart√≥n delgado, que ha hecho imprimir en La Paz. Sus clientes reciben la fruta en una bonita caja, en lugar de en una bolsa de pl√°stico, donde la fruta se da√Īa f√°cilmente. Vende directamente a los clientes que vienen a la misma parcela, en las ferias agroecol√≥gicas y en tiendas que comercializan productos ecol√≥gicos.

Diego todav√≠a hace su trabajo normal en la ciudad, mientras que tambi√©n tiene una cartera en la comunidad de Ucuchi. Tambi√©n cultiva una peque√Īa chacra de papas y est√° plantando √°rboles frutales y tunas en las laderas pedregosas arriba de su frutillar. Diego tambi√©n ha iniciado una asociaci√≥n de agricultores con sus vecinos, diez hombres y diez mujeres, incluidos adultos mayores y j√≥venes que todav√≠a est√°n en la universidad.

Los miembros de la asociaci√≥n cultivan diversos cultivos, no s√≥lo frutillas. Diego les ense√Īa a cultivar frutillas org√°nicamente y a usar el riego por goteo. Para animar a la gente a usar estos m√©todos, ha creado sus propias parcelas de demostraci√≥n. Ha dividido el frutillar de sus abuelos en tres √°reas: una con su sistema moderno, tecnificado, otra con variedades locales cultivadas al estilo antiguo en suelo desnudo, con riego por inundaci√≥n, y una tercera parte con variedades modernas cultivadas a la manera antigua. Las variedades modernas no rinden bien cuando se cultivan al estilo de los abuelos. Y Diego dice que la forma antigua es mucho trabajo, principalmente por el desmalezado, el riego y las enfermedades adem√°s de las plagas.

Ucuchi es una atractiva comunidad en las faldas del cerro, con electricidad, agua potable, una escuela primaria y un peque√Īo hospital. Est√° justo al lado de la carretera principal a Santa Cruz, a una hora de la ciudad de Cochabamba donde se puede comprar o vender casi cualquier cosa. En parte por estas ventajas, algunos j√≥venes se est√°n volviendo a la comunidad de Ucuchi. Las frutillas org√°nicas son dif√≠ciles de cultivar, y son raras en Bolivia. Pero un producto √ļnico, como las frutillas org√°nicas, y un liderazgo inspirado pueden ayudar a frenar el flujo de la migraci√≥n, al mismo tiempo de mostrar que hay maneras viables para que los j√≥venes empiecen con un emprendimiento personal en el campo. A Diego le encanta estar de vuelta en su comunidad: para su camioneta para charlar con la gente que pasa por los caminos del pueblo. Tambi√©n trae a su propia familia a la finca los fines de semana, donde ha puesto un nuevo techo de tejas en la vieja casa de adobe de sus abuelos.

La agricultura es m√°s que la b√ļsqueda de lucro. Tambi√©n se trata de la tradici√≥n familiar, la comunidad y de sentirse realizado con un trabajo satisfactorio y creativo.

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Encouraging microorganisms that improve the soil February 16th, 2020 by

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

We have written earlier in this blog about ‚ÄúEffective Microorganisms¬ģ‚ÄĚ or EM, a branded, commercial preparation. In both of those previous stories, people were using EMs in pig pens, to reduce the odor and to quickly turn the manure to a rich, black compost. 

This week I learned how you can culture your own microorganisms, using some simple equipment and a few inexpensive ingredients. Ing. Abrah√°n Mujica showed me and a small group at his agroecology course that you can start by collecting some leaf litter. We gathered the leaves and top soil from the base of two or three molle trees in the city of Cochabamba.

We put some 5 kilos of leaf litter and black soil on a plastic table. We added a kilo of raw sugar and a kilo of bran (rich in proteins), to feed the microorganisms, and just enough water to turn the mix to a paste. It should be just moist enough that it will release a couple of drops when you press it in your hand

As we mixed up the ingredients, a smell like bread yeast soon filled the room.

‚ÄúSmell the yeast!‚ÄĚ Abrah√°n said. ‚ÄúThe yeast are the first microorganisms to respond to the sugar.‚ÄĚ

‚ÄúNot just yeast,‚ÄĚ I said. ‚ÄúThere must be 10,000 species of microbes in there.‚ÄĚ Abrah√°n happily agreed.

We filled a third of a 20-liter bucket with this paste, and covered it with plastic bags, tied on with a rubber tie, to keep out the air. The mix will rot if it is exposed to the air, Abrah√°n stressed. Fermentation is without oxygen.

After a month, Abrah√°n will mix the fermented paste with water in a 200-liter barrel, seal it again for another month, and then drain off the water, which by then will be full of microorganisms.

He filters this solution through an ordinary cloth and bottles the liquid for sale. The label reads ‚ÄúThe Life of the Soil‚ÄĚ. It can be sprayed on the soil to make it healthier, or added to compost to speed up decomposition, or used as fertilizer on plant leaves. He said it is intended mainly for soil that has been killed by pesticides, to bring the soil back to life.

Abrah√°n‚Äôs home also doubles as a small shop, where he sells √°cido pirole√Īoso (liquid smoke distilled during charcoal making‚ÄĒwhich is mixed with water and sprayed onto crops as natural insect and fungus control). He also makes potassium soap (which he makes by mixing potassium sulfate with cooking oil), sulfur-lime blend, Bordeaux mix, and other products for protecting plants without toxic chemicals.

Although Abrahán makes the products he sells, he is happy to teach others. On his agroecology course, he teaches others his trade secrets about how to make each product. There will always be lots of people who don’t want to mix these brews. And those who do make their own will also help to make the world a better place, by reducing the use of toxic pesticides, which Abrahán explains are a danger to farmers and consumers.

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FOMENTANDO MICROORGANISMOS QUE MEJORAN EL SUELO

Por Jeff Bentley

16 de febrero del 2020

Hemos escrito antes en este blog sobre “Microorganismos Efectivos¬ģ” o EM, una marca comercial. Los dos blogs anteriores explican el uso de EMs en camas de cerdos para reducir el olor y ayudar a la descomposici√≥n del esti√©rcol. 

Esta semana aprend√≠ c√≥mo uno puede multiplicar sus propios microorganismos, usando un equipo simple y unos pocos ingredientes baratos. El Ing. Abrah√°n Mujica me mostr√≥ a m√≠ y a un peque√Īo grupo en su curso de agroecolog√≠a. Recogimos tierra vegetal o sach‚Äôa wanu, como decimos en Bolivia, del pie de un molle, en plena ciudad.

En una mesa de pl√°stico, pusimos como 5 kilos de sach‚Äôa wanu. A√Īadimos un kilo de chancaca (az√ļcar moreno) y un kilo de salvado (cascarilla de cereal rica en prote√≠nas), para alimentar a los microorganismos, y s√≥lo el agua suficiente para convertir la mezcla en una pasta, que al apretarla, debe soltar un par de gotas.

Mientras mezclábamos los ingredientes, un olor a levadura de pan llenó el ambiente.

“¬°Sientan la levadura!” Abrah√°n dijo. “La levadura es el primer microorganismo que responde al az√ļcar y nutrientes”.

“No s√≥lo la levadura”, dije. “Debe haber 10.000 especies de microbios ah√≠”. Abrah√°n estuvo plenamente de acuerdo.

Llenamos un tercio de un tacho de plástico de 20 litros con esta pasta y lo tapamos con hojas de plástico, atadas con una liga de goma, para evitar que entre el aire. La mezcla se pudrirá si se expone al aire. Abrahán recalcó que la fermentación es sin oxígeno.

Después de un mes, Abrahán la mezclará con agua en un turril de 200 litros; lo sellará de nuevo por otro mes, y luego drenará el agua, que para entonces estará llena de microorganismos.

√Čl filtra esta soluci√≥n a trav√©s de un pa√Īo ordinario y embotella el l√≠quido para su venta. La etiqueta dice “La vida del suelo”. Puede ser fumigado en el suelo para devolverle vitalidad, o puesto en la abonera para acelerar la descomposici√≥n, o aplicado a las plantas como abono filiar. Dijo que est√° destinado principalmente a los suelos que se han muerto por los plaguicidas, para devolverles la vida.

La casa de Abrah√°n tambi√©n funciona como una peque√Īa tienda, donde vende √°cido pirole√Īoso (humo l√≠quido destilado durante la fabricaci√≥n de carb√≥n vegetal, que se mezcla con agua y se fumiga sobre los cultivos para controlar los insectos y los hongos de forma natural). Tambi√©n hace jab√≥n pot√°sico (que elabora mezclando sulfato de potasio con aceite de cocina), caldo sulfoc√°lcico, caldo bordel√©s y otros productos para proteger las plantas sin productos qu√≠micos t√≥xicos.

Aunque Abrah√°n fabrica los productos que vende, le gusta ense√Īar a los dem√°s. En su curso de agroecolog√≠a, ense√Īa a otros sus secretos sobre c√≥mo hacer cada producto. Siempre tendr√° mercado, porque habr√° mucha gente que no quiere hacer estas mezclas. Y aquellos que hacen la suya tambi√©n ayudar√°n a hacer del mundo un lugar mejor, reduciendo el uso de agroqu√≠micos mucho m√°s t√≥xicos, que Abrah√°n est√° convencido son un peligro para los agricultores y consumidores.  

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Farming with trees January 19th, 2020 by

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

On a rocky hillside an hour from the city of Cochabamba, agronomist Germán Vargas points out a molle tree. It’s growing from a crack in a sandstone boulder with little or no soil. Native trees are well adapted to such conditions and don’t need much to survive, Germán observes.

Molle can be cut for good firewood, but it also casts an inviting shade, with a thick carpet of fallen leaves. Trees grown on farms also have multiple uses. Some have deep roots that bring up nutrients from beneath the top soil. Even in places like Cochabamba, with a long dry season, many trees stay green all year round. The trees have found water to keep their leaves moist, despite the bone-dry subsoil. Germ√°n explains that farming with trees, or agroforestry, mimics natural forests, where rich soils are created without irrigation or fertilizer.

Four years ago, Germ√°n and two colleagues bought some land to put their ideas on agroforestry into practice. They now have 1500 apple trees in a 4-hectare orchard, on a former onion farm, where the intensive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides had depleted the soil of nutrients.

Germ√°n and his friends bought some apple seedlings from a local nursery. They chose improved Brazilian apple varieties, such as Eva and Princesa, which do well in the highland tropics of South America, where it can get cool, but does not freeze.

Germ√°n and his colleagues plant a few more trees every year. They start each new planting by digging a trench every two to three meters (depending on the slope), to let water infiltrate the soil. They throw the soil just uphill of the trench to create a barrier, slowing down the runoff of water and trapping sediment.

Germ√°n is careful not to scrape the soil surface with hand tools; the top soil is so thin that rough handling could remove it all. They add a little compost to the soil, mimicking a natural forest, where fallen leaves and trees rot and release nutrients back into the soil. However, forests also have an understory, so potatoes, maize, lettuce, amaranth, rye and other plants are sown between the trees. After planting the vegetables, a straw mulch keeps down the weeds.

Other trees are planted among the apples, including natives like molle and exotic species, which are monitored to see if they can make a positive contribution. Germ√°n brought seed of the chachafruto tree from Colombia, for example. The plant is adapting well. When the only date palm in Cochabamba, another non-native species, dropped a cluster of dates in a city park, Germ√°n salvaged the seed and planted some on the farm. The non-fruit trees make useful leaf litter, adding nutrients and helping to keep the soil moist.

The apples were remarkably free of mildew, mites, fruit flies and other common pests, but even if they were to appear, Germ√°n avoids using pesticides. The team managing the orchard makes a spray with cow manure, raw sugar, bone meal, sulfur, ash and lime. Reasoning that all stone has mineral nutrients, they add a little ‚Äúrock flour,‚ÄĚ made by grinding a soft, local, sedimentary stone (shale). A culture of beneficial microorganisms is added to ferment the mix in sealed drums. The agroforesters culture the microorganisms themselves, but they get the starting culture in the local forest, bringing in a few handfuls of fallen leaves that have started to decompose. The sulfur and the lime come from the farm supply store. This sulfur blend is sprayed about 5 times a year on the trees, and it seems to be working, since the apples have almost no pests, except for birds, and the annual plants are thriving.

This innovative agroforestry system needs regular attention and it is obviously a lot of work, especially at first, because it is established by hand, without machinery. Some of the radishes have gone to seed, and in a few beds the weeds are lush and healthy, waiting to be cut down for the next vegetable crop.

Farmers can learn from forests to make better use of water, conserve the soil and manage pest and disease naturally, thanks to the diversity of plants. Farming with trees can yield a good harvest of fruits and vegetables, while building and sustaining soils.

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Scientific names

The molle tree is Schinus molle

The chachafruto tree (widespread in South America) is Erythrina edulis

Note

Sulfur deficiency is a problem in apples. The symptoms are similar to nitrogen deficiency, including pale leaves. Sulfur deficiency can be corrected by sprays (Westwood 1993: 200-201).

Westwood, Melvin Neil 1993 Temperate-Zone Pomology: Physiology and Culture. Third edition. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Germán Vargas, Marcelina Alarcón and Freddy Vargas, the agroforesters. Germán is the executive administrator of the NGO Agroecología y Fe.

LA AGRICULTURA CON √ĀRBOLES

En una ladera rocosa a una hora de la ciudad de Cochabamba, el ingeniero agr√≥nomo Germ√°n Vargas se√Īala un molle. Crece en una grieta de una roca arenisca, con poca o ninguna tierra. Los √°rboles nativos est√°n bien adaptados a estas condiciones y no necesitan mucho para sobrevivir, observa Germ√°n.

El molle hace buena le√Īa, pero tambi√©n da una rica sombra, con una gruesa alfombra de hojas ca√≠das. Los √°rboles en el agro tambi√©n tienen m√ļltiples usos. Algunos tienen ra√≠ces profundas que traen los nutrientes de debajo del suelo. Incluso en lugares como Cochabamba, con una larga √©poca seca, muchos √°rboles se mantienen verdes durante todo el a√Īo. Los √°rboles han encontrado agua para mantener sus hojas h√ļmedas, a pesar del subsuelo seco. Germ√°n explica que la agricultura con √°rboles, o la agroforester√≠a, imita a los bosques naturales, donde se crean suelos ricos sin irrigaci√≥n ni fertilizantes.

Hace cuatro a√Īos, Germ√°n y dos colegas compraron un terreno para poner en pr√°ctica sus ideas sobre agroforester√≠a. Ahora tienen 1500 manzanos en un huerto de 4 hect√°reas, en una antigua granja de cebollas, donde el uso intensivo de fertilizantes qu√≠micos y pesticidas hab√≠a agotado los nutrientes del suelo.

Germ√°n y sus compa√Īeros compraron algunos plantines de manzana en un vivero local. Escogieron variedades mejoradas de manzanos brasile√Īos, como Eva y Princesa, que se desarrollan bien en los tr√≥picos de las alturas de Am√©rica del Sur, donde puede hacer fr√≠o, pero no se congela.

Germ√°n y sus colegas plantan unos pocos √°rboles m√°s cada a√Īo. Comienzan cada nueva plantaci√≥n cavando una zanja cada dos o tres metros (dependiendo de la pendiente), para dejar que el agua se infiltre en el suelo. Lanzan la tierra justo cuesta arriba de la zanja para crear una barrera, frenando el escurrimiento de agua y atrapando el sedimento.

Germ√°n tiene cuidado de no raspar la superficie del suelo con herramientas; el suelo negro de la superficie es tan delgado que sin tener cuidado ser√≠a posible quitarlo todo. A√Īaden un poco de abono al suelo, imitando un bosque natural, donde las hojas y los √°rboles ca√≠dos se pudren y liberan nutrientes de nuevo al suelo. Sin embargo, los bosques tambi√©n tienen un sotobosque, por lo que las papas, el ma√≠z, la lechuga, el amaranto, el centeno y otras plantas se siembran entre los √°rboles. Despu√©s de plantar las verduras, un mantillo de paja mantiene las malas hierbas.

Entre las manzanas se plantan otros √°rboles, incluyendo especies nativas como el molle y especies ex√≥ticas, que son monitoreadas para ver si pueden hacer una contribuci√≥n positiva. Germ√°n trajo semillas del √°rbol de chachafruto de Colombia, por ejemplo. La planta se est√° adaptando bien. Cuando la √ļnica palmera datilera de Cochabamba, otra especie no nativa, dej√≥ caer un racimo de d√°tiles en un parque de la ciudad, Germ√°n recuper√≥ algunas semillas y las plant√≥ en la finca. Los √°rboles no frutales botan hojas, a√Īadiendo nutrientes y ayudando a mantener el suelo h√ļmedo.

Las manzanas estaban notablemente libres de mildiu, √°caros, moscas de la fruta y otras plagas comunes, pero incluso si aparecieran, Germ√°n evita el uso de pesticidas. El equipo que maneja el huerto fumiga con un biol hecho de esti√©rcol de vaca, chancaca, huesos molidos, azufre, cenizas y cal. Razonando que toda piedra tiene nutrientes minerales, le agregan un poco de “harina de roca”, hecha al moler una piedra sedimentaria suave, local (lutita). Para fermentar la mezcla, agregan un cultivo de microorganismos buenos a los tambores sellados. Los agroforestales cultivan sus propios microorganismos, pero obtienen la cultura inicial en el bosque local, trayendo unos pocos pu√Īados de hojas ca√≠das que han comenzado a descomponerse. Compran el azufre y la cal en la tienda agropecuaria. Fumigan el biol con azufre unas 5 veces al a√Īo en los √°rboles, y parece que funciona, ya que las manzanas casi no tienen plagas, excepto los p√°jaros, y las plantas anuales est√°n prosperando.

Este innovador sistema agroforestal necesita atención regular y obviamente es mucho trabajo, especialmente al principio, porque se establece a mano, sin maquinaria. Algunos de los rábanos han empezado a echar semilla, y en algunas camas las hierbas silvestres son exuberantes y saludables, esperando ser cortadas para el siguiente cultivo de hortalizas.

Los agricultores pueden aprender de los bosques a hacer un mejor uso del agua, conservar el suelo y manejar las plagas y enfermedades de forma natural, gracias a la diversidad de plantas. La agricultura con √°rboles puede producir una buena cosecha de frutas y verduras, a la vez que construye y mantiene los suelos.

Otros blogs sobre el tema

Manzanos del futuro

Lo que cuenta en la agroecología

Un mejor futuro con jardines

La luz de la agroecología

Videos relacionados

SLM02 Terrazas fanya juu muestra cómo hacer zanjas de infiltración, que forman terrazas.

SLM03 Agroforestería con grevillea

SLM08 Agroforestería del bosque ralo

Nombres científicos

El molle es Schinus molle

El chachafruto (árbol bien distribuido en Sudamérica) es Erythrina edulis

Nota

La deficiencia de azufre es un problema com√ļn en los manzanos. Los s√≠ntomas son parecidos a los de la deficiencia de nitr√≥geno, incluso las hojas p√°lidas. La deficiencia de azufre puede ser corregida con fumigaciones (Westwood 1993: 200-201).

Westwood, Melvin Neil 1993 Temperate-Zone Pomology: Physiology and Culture. Third edition. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press.

Agradecimientos

Gracias a Germán Vargas, Marcelina Alarcón y Freddy Vargas, por su ejemplo con la agroforestería. Germán es el administrador ejecutivo de la ONG Agroecología y Fe.

Out of space July 28th, 2019 by

Celebrating 50 years after landing on the moon, a series of weekly TV broadcasts nicely illustrates the spirit of the time. One interview with a man on a New York City street drew my particular attention. The interview showed why so many people supported the NASA programme: ‚ÄúWe have screwed up our planet, so if we could find another planet where we can live, we can avoid making the same mistakes.‚ÄĚ

History has shown over and over again how the urge to colonise other places has been a response to the declining productivity of the local resource base. In his eye-opening book ‚ÄúDirt. The Erosion of Civilizations‚ÄĚ, Professor David Montgomery from the University of Washington made me better understand the global and local dynamics of land use from a social and historical perspective.

Out of the many examples given in his book, I will focus on the most recent example: the growth of industrial agriculture, as the rate of soil erosion has taken on such a dramatic proportion that it would be a crime against humanity not to invest all of our efforts to curb the trend and ensure food production for the next generations.

The Second World War triggered various changes affecting agriculture. First, the area of land cultivated in the American Great Plains doubled during the war. The increased wheat production made more exports to Europe possible. Already aware of the risks of soil erosion, in 1933 the U.S. government established an elaborate scheme of farm subsidies to support soil conservation, crop diversification, stabilize farm incomes and provide flexible farm credit. Most farmers took loans to buy expensive machinery. Within a decade, farm debt more than doubled while farm income only rose by a third.

After the Second World War, military assembly lines were converted for civilian use, paving the way for a 10-fold increase in the use of tractors. By the 1950s several million tractors were ploughing American fields. On the fragile prairy ecosystem of the Great Plains, soil erosion rapidly took its toll and especially small farmers were hit by the drought in the 1950s. Many farmers were unable to pay back their loans, went bankrupt and moved to cities. The few large farmers who were left increased their farm acreage and grew cash crops to pay off the debt of their labour-saving machinery. By the time the first man had put his foot on the moon, 4 out of 10 American farms had disappeared in favour of large corporate factory farms.

At the same time that the end of the Second World War triggered large-scale mechanization, the use of chemical fertilizer also sharply increased. Ammonia factories used to produce ammunition were converted to produce cheap nitrogen fertilizer. Initial increase in productivity during the Green Revolution stalled and started to decline within two decades. By now the sobering figures indicate that despite the high yielding varieties and abundant chemical inputs, productivity in up to 39% of the area growing maize, rice, wheat and soya bean has stagnated or collapsed. Reliance on purchased annual inputs has increased production costs, which has led in many cases to increased farmer debt, and subsequent farm business failures. At present, agriculture consumes 30% of our oil use. With the rising oil and natural gas prices it may soon become too expensive to use these dwindling resources to produce fertilizer. 

Armed with fertilizers, farmers thought that manure was no longer needed to fertilize the land. A decline in organic matter in soils further aggravated the vulnerability of soils to erosion. As people saw the soil as a warehouse full of chemical elements that could be replenished ad libitum to feed crops, they ignored the microorganisms that provided a living bridge between organic matter, soil minerals and plants. Microorganisms do not have chlorophyll to do photosynthesis, like plants do, and require organic matter to feed on.

A 1995 review reported that each year 12 million hectares of arable land are lost due to soil erosion and land degradation. This is 1% of the available arable soil, per year. The only three regions in the world with good (loess) soil for agriculture are the American Midwest, northern Europe and northern China. Today, about a third of China’s total cultivated area is seriously eroded by wind and water.

While the plough has been the universal symbol of agriculture for centuries, people have begun to understand the devastating effect of ploughing on soil erosion. By the early 2000s, already 60% of farmland in Canada and the U.S.A. were managed with conservation tillage (leaving at least 30% of the field covered with crop residues) or no-till methods. In most other parts of the world, including Europe, ploughing is still common practice and living hedges as windbreaks against erosion are still too often seen as hindrance for large-scale field operations.

In temperate climates, ploughing gradually depletes the soil of organic matter and it may take a century to lose 10 centimetres of top soil. This slow rate of degradation is a curse in disguise, as people may not fully grasp the urgency required to take action. However, in tropical countries the already thinner top soil can be depleted of organic matter and lost to erosion in less than a decade. The introduction of tractor hiring services in West Africa may pose a much higher risk to medium-term food security than climate change, as farmers plough their fields irrespective of the steepness, soil type or cropping system. In Nigeria, soil erosion on cassava-planted hillslopes removes more than two centimetres of top soil per year.

Despite the overwhelming evidence of the devastating effects of conventional agriculture, the bulk of public research and international development aid is still geared around a model that supports export-oriented agriculture that mines the soils, and chemical-based intensification of food production that benefits large corporations. Farm subsidies and other public investments in support of a more agroecological approach to farming are still sadly insufficient, yet a report from The High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition published this month concludes that the short-term costs of creating a level playing field for implementing the principles suggested by agroecology may seem high, but the cost of inaction is likely to be much higher.

With the reserves of oil and natural gas predicted to become depleted before the end of this century, changes to our industrial model of petroleum-based agriculture will happen sooner than we think. And whether we are ready for it is a societal decision. With all attention being drawn to curbing the effects of climate change, governments, development agencies and companies across the world also have a great and urgent responsibility to invest in promoting a more judicious use of what many see as the cheapest resource in agriculture, namely land. We are running out of space and colonising other planets is the least likely option to save our planet from starvation.

Further reading

David R. Montgomery. 2007. Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations. Berkeley: University of California Press, 285 pp.

HLPE. 2019. Agroecological and other innovative approaches for sustainable agriculture and food systems that enhance food security and nutrition. A report by The High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition. www.fao.org/fileadmin/user_upload/hlpe/hlpe_documents/HLPE_Reports/HLPE-Report-14_EN.pdf

IPES-Food. 2016. From uniformity to diversity: a paradigm shift from industrial agriculture to diversified agroecological systems. International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food systems. www.ipes-food.org

Pimentel, D.C., Harvey, C., Resosudarmo, I., Sinclair, K., Kurz, D., M, M., Crist, S., Shpritz, L., Fitton, L., Saffouri, R. and Blair, R. 1995. Environmental and Economic Cost of Soil Erosion and Conservation Benefits. Science 267, 1117-23.

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When ants and microbes join hands June 23rd, 2019 by

When I recently attended the 1st International Conference on Agroecology – Transforming Agriculture & Food Systems in Africa, one of the research posters on display drew my attention. Effective microorganisms¬ģ are a commercial mix of beneficial bacteria, yeast and other living things. A team in Mozambique had found that the microorganisms not only controlled Oidium, a serious fungal disease in cashew, but also managed the devastating sap-sucking bug that deforms nuts and causes their premature fall. Or at least that is what the title said.

Professor Panfilo Tabora had been working for many years with cashew. Not knowing that I was an avid fan of the weaver ant, Oecophylla, a tree-dwelling predator, Panfilo gently explained to me that the microorganisms attracted the weaver ant to the cashew trees. ‚ÄúThe ants were a bonus,‚ÄĚ he said with a smile. I knew that weaver ants effectively control bugs, but now I was completely intrigued: how on earth would microorganisms attract ants?

‚ÄúEarlier, farmers helped the weaver ants to colonize new trees by putting ropes between trees so the ants could colonise new trees and attack bugs and other pests,‚ÄĚ Panfilo explained me. ‚ÄúBut when farmers started spraying fungicides the ants disappeared.‚ÄĚ

For several years, Panfilo and his colleagues began to teach villagers to make their own liquid molasses from dried and stored cashew apples as a source of sugar, minerals and amino acids to feed and multiply the microorganisms. So the farmers made molasses to feed the effective microorganisms, which controlled the Oidium. But even when the fermented solution was ready to spray on the trees it was still sweet. ‚ÄúWhen farmers spray their trees with the solution, the sweet liquid and amino acids attracts the ants.‚ÄĚ

Although the poster did not tell the full story, there was still truth in saying that microorganisms controlled the fungal disease and the pest, in reality it was the fermented solution that attracted the ants, which controlled the bugs. Still, even such a roundabout pest control is worth having.  

I felt reassured to know that valuable ancient technologies of biological control, such as weaver ant husbandry, have a future when combined with modern agroecological technologies that restore rather than kill ecosystems.

‚ÄúAnd we discovered a few more unintended benefits,‚ÄĚ Professor Panfilo continued. ‚ÄúBy spraying the tree canopies with microorganisms, farmers are no longer exposed to pesticides and can reduce the cost of pruning.‚ÄĚ As pesticides are expensive and harmful, farmers need to move quickly from one tree to the next to spray the outside canopy of the trees, or else they will get covered with chemicals. But as these effective microorganisms are safe for people, farmers can actually spray the under-canopies from below. The tree canopies often touch one another, which also helps the ants to move between trees. Instead of pruning every year, Prof Panfilo‚Äôs team tells farmers to just prune once every other year, or even every three years so as to have more terminals for flowering and fruiting and to let the ants move from tree to tree. All of this adds up to more yield.

At that stage, I was so impressed that I had a hard time absorbing yet another unintended benefit of this organic technology. In Mozambique, as in many other countries, farmers use the fallen cashew apples to make cashew apple juice. ‚ÄúBy spraying cashew trees with effective microorganisms, it acts as an anti-oxidant so the juice retains its clear colour for at least 2 months,‚ÄĚ said Panfilo.

Quite a few of the presentations at the conference had nicely illustrated the benefits of organic agriculture to people and the environment, but Prof Panfilo and his team stood out because they illustrated how the introduction of even a single, modern eco-technology can have such a wide range of benefits.

Not all microorganisms are bad, as people in the industry, schools and media often wants us to make believe. Thanks to the work of practical researchers, we learn that this healthy mix of microscopic flora can cure mildew, attract ants that kill pests, provide a safe alternative to pesticides and stop cashew fruit juice from oxidizing for months.

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