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A safe space for women November 5th, 2023 by

Nederlandse versie hieronder

In Ecuador, as in many other countries, the rural exodus of men to cities and abroad, in search of work, imposes new duties and responsibilities on the women who are left behind. Besides having to look after their households, they now are also left to manage the farm and sell their produce. For indigenous women, this poses special challenges because so many men have left, and until recently the women held few formal positions of leadership. Without the necessary confidence and proper skills to negotiate prices with middlemen these women continue to be exploited and forced to live in poverty.

As Marcella, Jeff and I visited the NGO EkoRural in Quito in 2022 to meet with the director Ross Borja and scientific advisor, Pedro Oyarzun, it was encouraging to hear how things are gradually changing thanks to many years of support by local organisations, backed by a growing pressure of the international community to advance women’s rights and consider gender in all their activities. For rural women to grow confidence and strengthen their agency, getting organised into women’s associations is crucial. To nurture future women leaders this can best happen when they are given a safe space.

When women grow food without agrochemicals this makes them stand out from other food sellers in the cities, and many urban clients are willing to pay an extra price for healthy food. ‚ÄúBut without the necessary skills and loaded with the historic mistreatment, indigenous women have little chance in conventional food markets to sell their produce at a fair price,‚ÄĚ says Ross.

She explains that for a decade, EkoRural has been helping indigenous and mestizos smallholder farmers to sell their produce and build a client base in urban centres by establishing new dedicated agroecological markets at family planning centres. ‚ÄúAs only women with children come to the health centres and most of the doctors are also women, this has offered a relaxed environment for indigenous rural women to gradually develop their skills and confidence,‚ÄĚ says Ross. Once a week the women set up their stalls in the garage of the family planning centres.

EkoRural has also supported workshops where the women doctors together with their patients and farmers learn about food and nutrition. The link between healthy food and human health is an obvious one, but using urban family planning centres to create a market for disadvantaged rural women is something I had never heard of before: truly an innovative approach that at the same time helps create a relationship between food producers and consumers.

That this approach is bearing fruit has been proven by the past two years of the covid pandemic. While the lockdown closed down these new markets, the urban consumers, including the doctors, have established such good relations with the rural women that they continue to buy their produce by placing orders on the phone or social media. Not all of the indigenous women are familiar with digital communication, but their children are.

Another example of EkoRural’s concern for rural women is the initiative to sell agroecological products at the Casa de la Mujer in Riobamba. This initiative allowed not only to sell but also for young rural women to come into contact with gender issues and leadership at the provincial and national levels and to experience leadership roles in this organisation.

When attention to gender is taken seriously and with the necessary creativity and investment in building rural women’s organisations, it is possible to establish alternative food networks. Gradually and in a supportive environment, indigenous women can gain the necessary skills and confidence to earn a decent livelihood in the absence of men.

Related Agro-Insight blogs

Marketing something nice

Strawberry fields once again

Acknowledgements

Ross Borja from EkoRural kindly commented on an earlier draft and shared photos on the markets at family planning centres. The visit in Ecuador to film various farmer-to-farmer training videos, including the one on ‚ÄúInspiring women leaders‚ÄĚ was made possible with the kind support of the Collaborative Crop Research Program (CCRP) of the McKnight Foundation.

 

Een veilige ruimte voor vrouwen

In Ecuador, net als in veel andere landen, legt de plattelandsvlucht van mannen naar de steden en het buitenland, op zoek naar werk, nieuwe plichten en verantwoordelijkheden op aan de vrouwen die achterblijven. Naast het huishouden moeten ze nu ook de boerderij beheren en hun producten verkopen. Voor inheemse vrouwen brengt dit speciale uitdagingen met zich mee omdat er zoveel mannen zijn vertrokken en de vrouwen tot voor kort weinig formele leiderschapsposities bekleedden. Zonder het nodige zelfvertrouwen en de juiste vaardigheden om met tussenhandelaren over prijzen te onderhandelen, worden deze vrouwen nog steeds uitgebuit en gedwongen om in armoede te leven.

Toen Marcella, Jeff en ik in 2022 een bezoek brachten aan de NGO EkoRural in Quito voor een ontmoeting met de directeur Ross Borja en wetenschappelijk adviseur Pedro Oyarzun, was het bemoedigend om te horen hoe dingen geleidelijk veranderen dankzij de jarenlange steun van lokale organisaties, gesteund door een groeiende druk van de internationale gemeenschap om vrouwenrechten te bevorderen en rekening te houden met gender in al hun activiteiten. Om vrouwen op het platteland meer zelfvertrouwen te geven en hun invloed te versterken, is het van cruciaal belang dat ze zich organiseren in vrouwenorganisaties. Om toekomstige vrouwelijke leiders op te voeden kan dit het beste gebeuren als ze een veilige ruimte krijgen.

Wanneer vrouwen voedsel verbouwen zonder landbouwchemicali√ęn, onderscheiden ze zich van andere voedselverkopers in de steden en veel klanten in de steden zijn bereid om een extra prijs te betalen voor gezond voedsel. “Maar zonder de benodigde vaardigheden en beladen met de historische mishandeling, hebben inheemse vrouwen weinig kans op conventionele voedselmarkten om hun producten tegen een eerlijke prijs te verkopen,” zegt Ross.

Ze legt uit dat EkoRural al tien jaar lang kleine inheemse en mestiezenboeren helpt om hun producten te verkopen en een klantenbestand op te bouwen in stedelijke centra door nieuwe speciale agro-ecologische markten op te zetten bij centra voor gezinsplanning. “Aangezien alleen vrouwen met kinderen naar de gezondheidscentra komen en de meeste dokters ook vrouwen zijn, bood dit een ontspannen omgeving voor inheemse plattelandsvrouwen om geleidelijk hun vaardigheden en zelfvertrouwen te ontwikkelen,” zegt Ross. Eens per week zetten de vrouwen hun kraampjes op in de garage van de gezinsplanningscentra.

EkoRural heeft ook workshops ondersteund waar de vrouwelijke artsen samen met hun pati√ęnten en boeren leren over voeding. Het verband tussen gezonde voeding en menselijke gezondheid ligt voor de hand, maar het gebruik van stedelijke centra voor gezinsplanning om een markt te cre√ęren voor kansarme plattelandsvrouwen is iets waar ik nog nooit van had gehoord: echt een innovatieve aanpak die tegelijkertijd helpt een relatie te cre√ęren tussen voedselproducenten en consumenten.

Dat deze aanpak vruchten afwerpt, hebben de afgelopen twee jaar van de covidepandemie wel bewezen. Terwijl deze nieuwe markten door de lockdown werden gesloten, hebben de stedelijke consumenten, waaronder de artsen, zo’n goede relatie opgebouwd met de plattelandsvrouwen dat ze hun producten blijven kopen door bestellingen te plaatsen via de telefoon of sociale media. Niet alle inheemse vrouwen zijn bekend met digitale communicatie, maar hun kinderen wel.

Een ander voorbeeld van EkoRural’s aandacht voor plattelandsvrouwen is het initiatief om agro-ecologische producten te verkopen in het Casa de la Mujer (‚ÄúHuis van de Vrouwen‚ÄĚ) in Riobamba. Dit initiatief maakte het niet alleen mogelijk om te verkopen, maar ook om jonge plattelandsvrouwen in contact te brengen met genderkwesties en leiderschap op provinciaal en nationaal niveau en om leiderschapsrollen in deze organisatie te ervaren.

Wanneer aandacht voor gender serieus wordt genomen en met de nodige creativiteit en investeringen in het versterken van vrouwenorganisaties op het platteland, is het mogelijk om alternatieve voedselnetwerken op te zetten. Geleidelijk aan en in een ondersteunende omgeving kunnen inheemse vrouwen de nodige vaardigheden en zelfvertrouwen verwerven om een fatsoenlijk inkomen te verdienen in afwezigheid van hun mannen.

Tourist development September 10th, 2023 by

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

Rural communities are starting to welcome local tourism as a way to make money. And more people in the expanding cities of Latin America are now looking for outings they can take close to home.

This year, local officials in Anzaldo, in the provinces of Cochabamba, Bolivia, asked for help bringing tourists to their municipality. Aguiatur, an association of tour guides, offered to help.

In late June, Alberto Buitrón, who heads Aguiatur, and a carload of tour guides, visited Claudio Pérez, the young tourism-culture official for the municipal government of Anzaldo. They went to see local attractions, and people who could benefit from a tour. They also printed an attractive handout explaining what the visitors would see.

In late July, ads ran in the newspaper, promoting the tour, and inviting interested people to deposit 250 Bolivianos ($35) for every two passengers, into a certain bank account. Ana and I live in Cochabamba, 65 kilometers from Anzaldo, and we decided to make the trip, but the banks had already closed on Friday . So, I just went to the Aguiatur office. Alberto was busy preparing for the trip, but he graciously accepted my payment. ‚ÄúAnd with the two of you, the bus is closed,‚ÄĚ Alberto said, with an air of finality.

But by Saturday, more people had asked to go, and so Alberto charted a second bus and phoned the cook who would make our lunch on Sunday. At 8 PM, Saturday night, she agreed to make lunch the next day for 60 people instead of 30. In Bolivia, flexible planning often works just fine.

Early Sunday morning, we tourists met at Barba de Padilla, a small plaza in the old city of Cochabamba, and the tour agents assigned each person a seat on the bus. That would make it easy to see if anyone had strayed. Many of the tourists were retired people, more women than men, and a few grandkids. They were all from Bolivia, but many had never been to Anzaldo.

At each stop, Aguiatur had organized the local people to provide a service or sell food. In the hamlet of Flor de Pukara, we met Claudio, the municipal tourist official, but also Camila, just out of high school, and Zacarías Reyes, a retired school teacher. Camila and don Zacarías were from Flor de Pukara, and they were our local guides to show us the pre-Inka pukara (fortified site). This pukara was a cluster of stone walls on top of a rock crag. Tour guide Marizol Choquetopa, from Aguiatur, cautioned the group not to leave trash and not to remove any of the ancient pot sheds. And no one did, as near as I could tell. Our local guides told us stories about the place: spirits in the form of young ladies are said to appear on one rock outcropping, Torre Qaqa (Cliff Tower), to play music and dance at night.

We walked along the stone banks of the river, the Jatun Mayu. Then Camila’s mother served us phiri, a little dish of steamed cracked wheat, topped with cheese. It was faintly fermented, and fabulous.

In the small town of Anzaldo, we met Marco Delgadillo, a local agronomist and businessman, who has moved back to Anzaldo after his successful career in the city of Cochabamba. His hotel, El Molino del B√ļho (Owl Mill), includes a room for making and tasting chicha, a local alcoholic beverage brewed from maize. There was plenty of room for our large group in the salon, where we had a delicious lunch of lawa, a maize soup with potatoes, roast beef and chicken.

After lunch, our two buses gingerly navigated the narrow streets of the small town of Anzaldo. The town plaza had recently been fitted out with large models of dinosaurs to encourage visitors to come see fossils and dinosaur tracks. Two taxis were parked at the plaza, and the drivers evidently thought that they owned the town square. As the buses inched by, one taxi driver got out and angrily offered to come over and give our bus driver a beating. The passengers yelled back, urging the taxi driver to be reasonable, and he quieted down.

Our sense of adventure heightened by that buffoonish threat of violence, we drove out to the village of Tijraska. Local leaders clearly wanted to receive visitors. The community had prepared for our visit by putting up little signs indicating how to get to there. One of the leaders, don Mario, welcomed us in Quechua, the local language. Then he paused and asked if the tourists could understand Quechua.

Several people said yes, which delighted don Mario.

We strolled down to the banks of the muddy reservoir, in a narrow canyon. One young man, Ramiro, had bought a new wooden boat, with which he paddled small groups around an island in the reservoir.

For the grand finale, we stopped at the home of Ariel Angulo, a respected Bolivian musician, song writer and maker of musical instruments. Don Ariel played for us, and showed us the shop where he carves his wooden charangos, small stringed instruments. He explained that the charango was copied from a colonial Spanish instrument, the timple. After living in the city of Cochabamba for years, don Ariel has moved back home, to Anzaldo. The best charangos used to be made in Anzaldo, before the instrument makers moved to Cochabamba. Don Ariel hopes to teach young people to make charangos, and bring the craft back to Anzaldo.

This was the first ever package tour to come to Anzaldo. Local tourism from the emerging big cities of tropical countries can be a source of income for rural people, while teaching city people something about the countryside. Some people who left the small towns are retiring back in the countryside, and can help provide services to visitors and even bring traditional crafts back. It is easier for Bolivian tour guides to work with local tourists than foreign ones. For example, the local people speak the national languages. The local tour guides know how to deal with customers who sign up late. There may be risks of over-visitation, but for now, municipal governments are willing to explore tourism as development. And it can be done locally, with no foreign investment or international visitors.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to David Garviz√ļ, Irassema Guzm√°n, Marizol Choquetopa and Alberto Buitr√≥n of Aguiatur, for a safe and educational trip to Anzaldo. Alberto Buitr√≥n, Ana Gonz√°les and Paul Van Mele read and commented on an earlier version of this story.

A video from Anzaldo

Here is a video about producing healthy lupins, a nutritious. local food crop, filmed in Anzaldo in 2017. Growing lupin without disease

TURISMO PARA EL DESARROLLO

Jeff Bentley, 10 de septiembre del 2023

Las comunidades rurales empiezan a fomentar el turismo local para generar ingresos. Y más gente en las crecientes ciudades de Latinoamérica empieza a buscar destinos cerca de la casa.

Este a√Īo, algunos oficiales en Anzaldo, en las provincias de Cochabamba, Bolivia, pidieron ayuda para traer turistas a su municipio. Aguiatur, una asociaci√≥n de gu√≠as tur√≠sticos, ofreci√≥ su ayuda.

Fines de junio, Alberto Buitrón, el director de Aguiatur, y varios guías, visitaron a Claudio Pérez, el joven Responsable de Turismo-Cultura del municipio de Anzaldo. Visitaron a varios atractivos, y a vecinos que podrían aprovechar del tour. Además, imprimieron un lindo folleto explicando qué es que los visitantes verían.

Fines de julio, salieron anuncios en el peri√≥dico, promoviendo el tour, e invitando a los interesados a depositar 250 Bs. ($35) para cada par de pasajeros, en una cuenta bancaria. Ana y yo vivimos Cochabamba, a 65 kil√≥metros de Anzaldo, y reci√©n decidimos viajar despu√©s del cierre de los bancos el viernes. Por eso, fui no m√°s a las oficinas de Aguiatur. Alberto estaba en plenos preparativos para el tour, pero amablemente me atendi√≥. ‚ÄúY con ustedes dos, el bus est√° cerrado,‚ÄĚ dijo Alberto, con el aire de la finalidad.

Sin embargo, para el sábado más personas pidieron cupos, así que Alberto contrató un segundo bus, y llamó a la cocinera que haría nuestro almuerzo el domingo. A las 8 PM, el sábado, ella quedó en hacer almuerzo para el día siguiente para 60 personas en vez de 30. En Bolivia, la planificación flexible suele funcionar bastante bien.

A primera hora el domingo, los turistas nos reunimos en la peque√Īa plaza de Barba de Padilla, en el casco viejo de Cochabamba, y los gu√≠as tur√≠sticos asignaron a cada persona un asiento en el bus. As√≠ podr√≠an llevar un buen control y no perder a nadie. Muchos de los turistas eran jubilados, m√°s mujeres que hombres, con algunos nietitos. Todos eran de Bolivia, pero muchos no conoc√≠an a Anzaldo.

En cada escala, Aguiatur hab√≠a organizado a la gente local para dar un servicio o vender comida. En el caser√≠o de Flor de Pukara, conocimos a Claudio, el oficial de turismo municipal, pero tambi√©n a Camila, reci√©n egresada del colegio, y Zacar√≠as Reyes, un profesor jubilado. Camila y don Zacar√≠as eran de Flor de Pukara, y como gu√≠as locales nos mostraron la Pukara preincaica. La pukara era una colecci√≥n de muros de piedra encima de un pe√Īasco. Nuestra gu√≠a Marizol Choquetopa, de Aguiatur, advirti√≥ al grupo no botar basura y no llevar los tiestos antiguos. Y que yo sepa, nadie lo hizo. Nuestros gu√≠as locales nos contaron cuentos del lugar: esp√≠ritus en forma de se√Īoritas que aparecen sobre una un pe√Īasco, Torre Qaqa, para tocar m√ļsica y bailar de noche.

Caminamos sobre las orillas pedregosas del río Jatun Mayu. Luego la mamá de Camila nos sirvió un platillo de phiri, trigo quebrado al vapor con un poco de queso encima. Ligeramente fermentada, era fabulosa.

En el pueblo de Anzaldo, conocimos a Marco Delgadillo, agr√≥nomo local y empresario, que hab√≠a retornado a Anzaldo despu√©s de su exitosa carrera en la ciudad de Cochabamba. Su hotel, El Molino del B√ļho, incluye un cuarto para hacer y catear chicha de ma√≠z. Hab√≠a amplio campo para nuestro grupo en el sal√≥n principal, donde disfrutamos de un almuerzo delicioso de lawa, una sopa de ma√≠z con papas, carne asada y pollo.

Despu√©s del almuerzo, nuestros dos buses lentamente navegaron las estrechas calles del pueblo de Anzaldo. En la plaza se hab√≠an instalado modelos grandes de dinosaurios para animar a los turistas a visitar para ver a los f√≥siles y huellas de dinosaurios. Dos taxis estacionados se hab√≠an adue√Īado de la plaza. Los buses pasaban cent√≠metro por cent√≠metro, cuando un taxista sali√≥ y, perdiendo los cables, ofreci√≥ dar una paliza a nuestro conductor. Los pasajeros gritamos en su defensa, sugiriendo calma, y el taxista se call√≥.

Después del show del taxista payaso, tuvimos más ganas todavía para la aventura, mientras nos dirigimos a la comunidad de Tijraska. Los dirigentes claramente querían recibir visitas. La comunidad había preparado para nuestra visita, colocando letreros indicando el camino. Uno de los dirigentes, don Mario, nos dio la bienvenida en quechua, el idioma local. Luego pausó y dijo que tal vez no todos hablábamos el quechua.

De una vez, varios dijeron que sí, lo cual encantó a don Mario.

Caminamos a las orillas de un reservorio con agua color de tierra, en un ca√Ī√≥n angosto. Un joven, Ramiro, hab√≠a comprado una nueva lancha. Subimos en peque√Īos grupos y a remo nos mostr√≥ una isla en el reservorio.

Para cerrar con broche de oro, visitamos la casa de Ariel Angulo, un respetado m√ļsico boliviano. Tambi√©n es cantautor y hace finos instrumentos musicales. Don Ariel toc√≥ un par de canciones para nosotros, y nos mostr√≥ su taller de charangos de madera. Explic√≥ que el charango se copi√≥ durante la colonia de un instrumento espa√Īol, el timple. Despu√©s de vivir durante a√Īos en la ciudad de Cochabamba, don Ariel ha vuelto a su tierra natal, a Anzaldo. En anta√Īo los mejores charangos se hac√≠an en Anzaldo, antes de que los fabricantes se fueron a Cochabamba. Don Ariel espera ense√Īar a los j√≥venes a hacer charangos, y devolver esta arte a Anzaldo.

Nuestra gira a Anzaldo era el primero en la historia. El turismo local, partiendo de las pujantes ciudades de los pa√≠ses tropicales, puede ser una fuente de ingreso para la gente rural, mientras los citadinos aprendemos algo del campo. Algunas personas que abandonaron las provincias est√°n volviendo, y pueden ayudar a dar servicios a los visitantes, y hasta dar vida a las artes tradicionales. Es m√°s f√°cil para gu√≠as bolivianos trabajar con turistas locales que con extranjeros. Por ejemplo, los turistas locales hablan los idiomas nacionales. Los gu√≠as locales saben lidiar con clientes que se apuntan a √ļltima hora. S√≠ se corre el riesgo de una sobre visitaci√≥n, pero para ahora, los gobiernos municipales est√°n explorando al turismo local como una contribuci√≥n del desarrollo. Y se puede hacer con recursos locales, sin inversi√≥n extranjera y sin turistas internacionales.

Agradecimientos

Gracias a David Garviz√ļ, Irassema Guzm√°n, Marizol Choquetopa y Alberto Buitr√≥n de Aguiatur, por un viaje seguro y educativo a Anzaldo. Alberto Buitr√≥n, Ana Gonz√°les y Paul Van Mele leyeron e hicieron comentarios sobre una versi√≥n previa de este relato.

Un video de Anzaldo

Aquí está un video que muestra cómo producir tarwi (lupino) sano, un nutritivo alimento local, filmado en Anzaldo en el 2017. Producir tarwi sin enfermedad.

 

Neighborhood trees August 20th, 2023 by

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

Trees make a city feel like a decent place to live. That often means planting the trees, which help to cool cities, sequester carbon and provide a habitat for birds and other wildlife. But large-scale tree planting in a city can be difficult.

Cochabamba, Bolivia is one of many fast-growing, tropical cities. In the not-too-distant future, most of the world’s people may live in a city like this. Cochabamba is nestled in a large Andean valley, but in the last twenty years, the city has also spread into the nearby Sacaba Valley, which was formerly devoted to growing rainfed wheat. As late as the 1990s, the small town of Sacaba was just a few blocks wide. Now 220,000 people live in that valley, which has become part of metropolitan Cochabamba. The wheat fields of Sacaba have been replaced by a maze of asphalt streets, and neat homes of brick, cement and tile.

I was in Sacaba recently with my wife Ana, who introduced me to some people who are planting trees along the banks of a dry wash, the Waych’a Mayu. It was once a seasonal stream, but it is now dry all year. It has been blocked upstream by people who have built streets and causeways over it.

For the past 18 months, an architect, Alain Vimercati, and an agroforester, Ariel Ayma, have been working with local neighborhoods in Sacaba to organize tree planting. That included many meetings with the leaders and the residents of 12 grassroots neighborhood associations (OTBs‚ÄĒorganizaciones territoriales de base) to plan the project.

They decided to plant trees along the Waych’a Mayu, which still had some remnant forests of dryland trees, like molle and jarka. The local people had seen some of the long, shady parks in the older parts of Cochabamba. They were excited to have a green belt, five kilometers long, running through their own neighborhoods. Alain and Ariel, with the NGO Pro Hábitat, produced 2,400 tree seedlings in partnership with the local, public forestry school (ESFOR-UMSS). The local people dug the holes, planted the trees, and built small protective fences around them.

The trees were planted in January. In July, Ana and I went with about 20 people from some of the OTBs to see how the seedlings were doing. When we reached the line of trees, Ariel, the agro-forester, pointed out that the trees had more than doubled in size in just six months. Eighty percent of them had survived. But now they had to be maintained. It has been a dry year, and it hasn‚Äôt rained for five months. The trees were starting to wilt. Even so, Ariel encouraged the people by saying ‚Äúmaintenance is more important than water.‚ÄĚ He meant that while the trees did need some water, they also needed to be protected. It is important to reassure people that they won‚Äôt have to spend money on water. Many people in Sacaba have to buy their water. As we met, cistern trucks drove up and down the streets, offering 200 liters of water for 7 Bolivianos ($1).

The seedlings include a few hardy lemons, but most of the other species are native, dryland trees: guava, broadleaf hopbush (chacatea), jacaranda, tara, tipa, and ceibo.

Ariel used a pick and shovel to show the group how to clear a half-moon around the trees, to catch rain water. He has a Ph.D. in agroforestry, but he seems to love the physical work.

Ariel cut the weeds from around the first tree, and placed them around the base of the trunk, to shade the soil. The representatives from the OTBs, including a retired man, and a woman carrying a baby, quickly agreed to meet a week later, and to bring more people from each neighborhood, to help take care of the trees.

Ana and I went back the following Saturday. A Bolivian bank had paid for a tanker truck of water (16,000 liters, worth about $44). I was surprised how many people turned out, as many as fifteen or twenty at some OTBs. They used their own picks and shovels to quickly clean out the hole around each tree. Then they waited for the tanker truck to fill their barrels so the people from the neighborhoods could give each thirsty tree a bucketful of water. Ariel explained that a bit of water the first year will help the trees recover from the shock of being transplanted, then they should normally survive on rain water. The neighbors did feel a sense of ownership. Some of them told us that they occasionally poured a bucket of recycled water on the trees near their homes.

Ariel is also a professor of forestry, and some of his students had come to help advise the local people. But the residents did most of the work, and in most OTBs the trees were soon weeded and ready to be watered.

The people have settled in Sacaba from all over highland Bolivia, from Oruro, La Paz, Potosí and rural parts of Cochabamba. They have organized themselves into OTBs, which made it possible for Alain and Ariel to work with the neighborhood associations to plan the greenbelt and plant the trees. The cell phone also helps. A few years ago, people had to be invited by a local leader going door-to-door. At those few neighborhoods where no one showed up, Alain phoned the leader of the OTB, who rang up the neighbors. Sometimes within half an hour of making the first phone call, people were digging out the holes around each tree.

In the rapidly-growing cities of the developing world, many of the new residents are from farming communities, and they have rural skills, useful when planting trees. Their new neighborhoods will be much nicer places to live if they have trees. Hopefully, as this case shows, the tree species will be well suited to the local environment, and the local people will be empowered with a sense of ownership of their green areas.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Alain Vimercati and Ariel Ayma of Pro H√°bitat, and to all the people who are planting and caring for the trees.

Scientific names

Molle Schinus molle

Jarka Parasenegalia visco (previously Acacia visco)

Guava Psidium guajava

Broadleaf hopbush (common name in Bolivia: chacatea), Dodonaea viscosa

Jacaranda Jacaranda mimosifolia

Tara Caesalpinia spinosa

Tipa Tipuana tipu

Ceibo Erythrina crista-galli

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ARBOLES DEL BARRIO

Jeff Bentley, 20 de agosto del 2023

Los árboles hacen que una ciudad sea más amena. A menudo hay que plantar los árboles, que ayudan a refrescar las ciudades, capturar carbono y crear un hábitat para la vida silvestre, como las aves. Pero plantar árboles a gran escala en una ciudad puede ser difícil.

Cochabamba, Bolivia es una de las muchas ciudades tropicales de r√°pido crecimiento. En un futuro pr√≥ximo, la mayor parte de la poblaci√≥n mundial podr√≠a vivir en una ciudad como √©sta. Cochabamba est√° anidada en un gran valle andino, pero en los √ļltimos veinte a√Īos la ciudad se ha extendido tambi√©n al cercano valle de Sacaba, antes sembrado en trigo de secano. En la d√©cada de los 1990, la peque√Īa ciudad de Sacaba s√≥lo ten√≠a unas manzanas de ancho. Ahora viven 220.000 personas en ese valle, que ha pasado a formar parte de la zona metropolitana de Cochabamba. Los trigales de Sacaba han sido sustituidos por un laberinto de calles asfaltadas y bonitas casas de ladrillo, cemento y teja.

Hace poco estuve en Sacaba con mi esposa Ana, que me present√≥ a unas personas que est√°n plantando √°rboles a orillas de un arroyo seco, el Waych’a Mayu. Antes era un arroyo estacional, pero ahora est√° seco todo el a√Īo. Ha sido bloqueado r√≠o arriba por personas que han construido calles y terraplenes sobre el curso del agua.

Durante los √ļltimos 18 meses, un arquitecto, Alain Vimercati, y un doctor en ciencias silvoagropecuarias, Ariel Ayma, han trabajado con los vecinos de Sacaba para organizar la plantaci√≥n de √°rboles. Eso incluy√≥ varias reuniones con los l√≠deres y los residentes de 12 organizaciones territoriales de base (OTBs) para planificar el proyecto.

Decidieron plantar √°rboles a lo largo del Waych’a Mayu, que a√ļn conservaba algunos bosques remanentes de √°rboles de secano, como molle y jarka. La poblaci√≥n local hab√≠a visto algunos de los largos parques arboleados de las zonas m√°s antiguas de Cochabamba. Estaban entusiasmados con la idea de tener un cintur√≥n verde de cinco kil√≥metros que atravesara sus barrios de ellos. Alain y Ariel, con la ONG Pro H√°bitat, produjeron 2.400 plantines de √°rboles en coordinaci√≥n con la Escuela de Ciencias Forestales (ESFOR-UMSS). Los vecinos cavaron los hoyos, plantaron los √°rboles y construyeron peque√Īos cercos protectores alrededor de cada uno.

Los √°rboles se plantaron en enero. En julio, Ana y yo fuimos con unas 20 personas de algunas de las OTBs a ver c√≥mo iban los plantines. Cuando llegamos a la l√≠nea de √°rboles, Ariel nos dijo que los √°rboles hab√≠an duplicado su tama√Īo en s√≥lo seis meses. El 80% hab√≠a sobrevivido. Pero ahora hab√≠a que mantenerlos. Ha sido un a√Īo seco y no ha llovido en cinco meses. Los √°rboles empezaban a marchitarse. Aun as√≠, Ariel anim√≥ a la gente diciendo que “el mantenimiento es m√°s importante que el agua”. Quer√≠a decir que, aunque los √°rboles necesitaban agua, tambi√©n hab√≠a que protegerlos. Es importante asegurar a la gente que no tendr√° que gastar dinero en agua. Muchos habitantes de Sacaba tienen que comprar el agua. Mientras nos reun√≠amos, camiones cisterna recorr√≠an las calles ofreciendo 200 litros de agua por 7 bolivianos (1 d√≥lar).

Entre los plantines hay algunos limones resistentes, pero la mayoría de las demás especies son árboles nativos de secano: guayaba, chacatea, jacarandá, tara, tipa y ceibo.

Ariel usó una picota y una pala para mostrar al grupo cómo limpiar una media luna alrededor de los árboles, para recoger el agua de lluvia. Tiene un doctorado, pero parece que le encanta el trabajo físico.

Ariel cortó el monte de alrededor del primer árbol y colocó la challa alrededor de la base del tronco, para dar sombra al suelo. Los representantes de las OTB, entre ellos un jubilado y una mujer con un bebé a cuestas, acordaron rápidamente reunirse una semana más tarde y traer a más gente de cada barrio para ayudar a cuidar los árboles.

Ana y yo volvimos el s√°bado siguiente. Un banco boliviano hab√≠a pagado un cami√≥n cisterna de agua (16.000 litros, por valor de unos 300 Bolivianos‚ÄĒ44 d√≥lares). Me sorprendi√≥ la cantidad de gente que acudi√≥, hasta quince o veinte en algunas OTBs. Usaron sus propias palas y picotas para limpiar r√°pidamente el agujero alrededor de cada √°rbol. Luego esperaron a que el cami√≥n cisterna llenara sus barriles para que los vecinos pudieran dar a cada √°rbol sediento un cubo lleno de agua. Ariel explic√≥ que un poco de agua el primer a√Īo ayudar√≠a a los √°rboles a recuperarse del shock de ser trasplantados, y que despu√©s deber√≠an sobrevivir normalmente con el agua de lluvia. Los vecinos estaban empezando a cuidar a los arbolitos. Algunos nos contaron que de vez en cuando echaban un cubo de agua reciclada en los √°rboles cercanos a sus casas.

Ariel es tambi√©n profesor universitario, y algunos de sus alumnos hab√≠an venido a ayudar a asesorar a los lugare√Īos. Pero los residentes hicieron la mayor parte del trabajo, y en la mayor√≠a de las OTBs los √°rboles pronto estaban limpiados y listos para ser regados.

La gente se ha asentado en Sacaba de toda la parte alta de Bolivia, de Oruro, La Paz, Potos√≠ y zonas rurales de Cochabamba. Se han organizado en OTBs, lo que ha permitido a Alain y Ariel trabajar con ellos para planificar el cintur√≥n verde y plantar los √°rboles. El celular tambi√©n ayuda. Hace unos a√Īos, la gente ten√≠a que ser invitada por un dirigente local que iba puerta en puerta. En los pocos barrios donde no aparec√≠a nadie, Alain telefoneaba al dirigente de la OTB, que llamaba a los vecinos. A veces, media hora despu√©s de la primera llamada, la gente ya estaba cavando los agujeros alrededor de cada √°rbol.

En las ciudades de r√°pido crecimiento del mundo en v√≠as del desarrollo, muchos de los nuevos residentes vienen de comunidades agr√≠colas y tienen conocimientos rurales, √ļtiles a la hora de plantar √°rboles. Sus nuevos barrios ser√°n lugares mucho m√°s agradables para vivir si tienen √°rboles. Ojal√° que, como demuestra este caso, las especies arb√≥reas se adapten bien al ambiente local y la gente local sea empoderada para adue√Īarse de sus √°reas verdes.

Agradecimientos

Gracias a Alain Vimercati y Ariel Ayma de Pro H√°bitat, y a todos los vecinos que plantan y cuidan sus √°rboles.

Nombres científicos

Molle Schinus molle

Jarka Parasenegalia visco (antes Acacia visco)

Guayaba Psidium guajava

Chacatea Dodonaea viscosa

Jacarand√° Jacaranda mimosifolia

Tara Caesalpinia spinosa

Tipa Tipuana tipu

Ceibo Erythrina crista-gall

También en el blog de Agro-Insight

The cherry on the pie

Experimentos con √°rboles

La manera correcta de distribuir los √°rboles

Videos sobre el cuidado de los √°rboles

Barreras vivas para proteger el suelo

Las plantas con flores atraen a los insectos que nos ayudan

Medias lunas

Regeneración manejada

 

Seeing the life in the soil June 25th, 2023 by

Nederlandse versie hieronder

Earlier, Jeff and I have written various blogs about the importance of soil organic matter and soil life to support  thriving, sustainable food production. Soils that have many living organisms hold more carbon and nutrients and can better absorb and retain rainwater, all of which are crucial in these times of a disturbed climate.

But measuring life in soils can be a time-consuming activity depending on what one wants to measure. While bacteria and fungi cannot be seen by the naked eye, ants, grubs and earth worms can.

In one of the training videos that we filmed in Bolivia last February, Eliseo Mamani from the PROINPA Foundation, a science and technology organization, shows us meticulously how you can measure the visible soil organisms with farmers. Using a standardised method to measure soil life is important if you want to evaluate how certain farming practices have an effect on the life of your soil.

One early morning, we pick up Ana Mamani and Rubén Chipana from their homes to take us to a field on the altiplano that has been cultivated for various years and that has not received any organic fertilizer. The farmers of Chiarumani, Patacamaya, about 100 kilometres south of La Paz, have learned through collaborative research that there are more living things in some parts of the field, and fewer in other parts, so they take samples from 3 parts of the field.

With a spade they remove a block of soil 20 centimetres wide, 20 centimetres long and 20 centimetres deep. They carefully put all this soil in a white bag and close it tightly, so that the living things do not escape, because the earthworms and other living things move quickly.

We then drive to another place, where they collect 3 more samples from a field that has received organic fertilizer and where organic vegetables are grown. All samples are put in blue bags, all nicely labelled.

Under the shade of a tree, some more farmers have gathered to start counting the living organisms. One handful of soil at a time, they empty each bag on a plastic tray. As they come across a living creature, they carefully pick it out and report it to Eliseo who takes notes: how many earthworms, how many ants, how many termites, how many beetles, how many spiders and how many grubs.

After an hour, the results are added up and samples compared: there are only many earthworms in the soil from the field that received organic fertilizer. The farmers discuss the findings in group and conclude: If your soil has few living things, you can bring your soil to life by adding animal manure or compost, by leaving crop residues in the field, and not burning them. You can also improve soil life by ploughing less, as ploughing disturbs bacteria, fungi, and animals that add fertility to the soil.

After returning back home from our trip to Bolivia, I am still reflecting on the many things we have learned from farmers and the organisations who do basic, yet relevant research with them, when Marcella points to the fields in front of our office. In March, at the onset of spring, moles are most active. It is striking: the field to the left that hasn’t been ploughed or fertilized for several years has many mole hills. The field on the right is intensively managed and does not have a single mole hill. Ploughing reduces organic matter, which is feed for earthworms. Herbicides and pesticides kill soil life, including earthworms. Also, liquid manure, which is used abundantly across Flanders and the Netherlands, can kill earthworms, especially when cows have received antibiotics and other drugs. Liquid manure may also contain heavy metals used for animal feed, such as zinc and copper.

Earthworms can be counted and used as soil health bioindicators. When done in collaborative research with farmer groups this helps farmers understand how certain farming practices affects the health of their soil and the long-term sustainability of their farm. However, if you don’t have time to go out with a spade to take soil samples, even above ground indicators such as mole hills can offer a quick alternative.

Acknowledgements

The visit to Bolivia to film various farmer-to-farmer training videos, including this one, was made possible with the generous support of the Collaborative Crop Research Program (CCRP) of the McKnight Foundation. Thanks to the Foundation for the Promotion and Research of Andean Products (PROINPA) who introduced us to the communities, and to Eliseo Mamani in particular who led the soil exercises with the farmers for this video.

Related videos

Seeing the life in the soil

Living windbreaks to protect the soil

Related Agro-Insight blogs

Soil science, different but right

Killing the soil with chemicals (and bringing it back to life)

Commercialising organic inputs

 

Het leven in de bodem zien

Jeff en ik hebben al eerder verschillende blogs geschreven over het belang van organische stof in de bodem en bodemleven om duurzame voedselproductie te ondersteunen. Bodems met veel levende organismen houden meer koolstof en voedingsstoffen vast en kunnen regenwater beter absorberen en vasthouden, wat allemaal cruciaal is in deze tijden van een verstoord klimaat.

Maar het meten van het leven in de bodem kan een tijdrovende bezigheid zijn, afhankelijk van wat men wil meten. Terwijl bacteri√ęn en schimmels niet met het blote oog te zien zijn, zijn mieren, larven en regenwormen dat wel.

In een van de trainingsvideo’s die we afgelopen februari in Bolivia hebben gefilmd, laat Eliseo Mamani van PROINPA, een wetenschappelijk en technologisch instituut, nauwkeurig zien hoe je samen met boeren de zichtbare bodemorganismen kunt meten. Het gebruik van een gestandaardiseerde methode om het bodemleven te meten is belangrijk als je wilt evalueren welk effect bepaalde landbouwpraktijken hebben op het bodemleven.

Op een vroege ochtend halen we Ana Mamani en Rubén Chipana op van hun huis om ons naar een veld op de altiplano te brengen dat al verschillende jaren wordt bewerkt en waar geen organische meststoffen zijn gebruikt. De boeren van Chiarumani, Patacamaya, ongeveer 100 kilometer ten zuiden van La Paz, hebben door gezamenlijk onderzoek geleerd dat er in sommige delen van het veld meer levende wezens zijn en in andere delen minder, dus nemen ze monsters van 3 delen van het veld.

Met een spade halen ze een blok grond weg van 20 centimeter breed, 20 centimeter lang en 20 centimeter diep. Ze doen al deze grond voorzichtig in een witte zak en sluiten deze goed af, zodat de levende wezens niet kunnen ontsnappen, want de regenwormen en andere levende wezens verplaatsen zich snel.

Daarna rijden we naar een andere plek, waar ze nog 3 monsters verzamelen van een veld dat organische mest heeft gekregen en waar organische groenten worden verbouwd. Alle monsters worden in blauwe zakken gedaan, allemaal netjes gelabeld.

Onder de schaduw van een boom hebben zich nog meer boeren verzameld om te beginnen met het tellen van de levende organismen. Een handvol grond per keer legen ze elke zak op een plastic dienblad. Als ze een levend wezen tegenkomen, pikken ze het er voorzichtig uit en rapporteren het aan Eliseo die aantekeningen maakt: hoeveel regenwormen, hoeveel mieren, hoeveel termieten, hoeveel kevers, hoeveel spinnen en hoeveel engerlingen.

Na een uur worden de resultaten opgeteld en de monsters vergeleken: er zitten alleen veel regenwormen in de grond van het veld dat organische mest heeft gekregen. De boeren bespreken de bevindingen in groep en concluderen: Als je bodem weinig levende wezens heeft, kun je je bodem tot leven brengen door dierlijke mest of compost toe te voegen, door gewasresten op het veld te laten liggen en ze niet te verbranden. Je kunt het bodemleven ook verbeteren door minder te ploegen, want ploegen verstoort bacteri√ęn, schimmels en dieren die vruchtbaarheid aan de bodem toevoegen.

Na terugkomst van onze reis naar Bolivia ben ik nog steeds aan het nadenken over de vele dingen die we hebben geleerd van boeren en de organisaties die samen met hen eenvoudig, maar relevant onderzoek doen, als Marcella naar de velden voor ons kantoor wijst. In maart, aan het begin van de lente, zijn de mollen het actiefst. Het is opvallend: het veld links, dat al een paar jaar niet geploegd of bemest is, heeft veel molshopen. Het veld rechts wordt intensief beheerd en heeft geen enkele molshoop. Door ploegen vermindert het organisch materiaal, dat voedsel is voor regenwormen. Herbiciden en pesticiden doden het bodemleven, waaronder regenwormen. Ook vloeibare mest, die in heel Vlaanderen en Nederland overvloedig wordt gebruikt, kan regenwormen doden, vooral wanneer koeien antibiotica en andere medicijnen hebben gekregen. Vloeibare mest kan ook zware metalen bevatten die worden gebruikt voor diervoeder, zoals zink en koper.

Regenwormen kunnen worden geteld en gebruikt als bio-indicatoren voor de gezondheid van de bodem. Wanneer dit in samenwerking met boerengroepen wordt gedaan, helpt dit boeren te begrijpen hoe bepaalde landbouwpraktijken de gezondheid van hun bodem en de duurzaamheid van hun boerderij op de lange termijn be√Įnvloeden. Maar indien je geen tijd hebt om bodemmonsters te nemen met een spade, bieden bovengrondse indicatoren zoals molshopen een snel alternatief.

Bekijk de video

Seeing the life in the soil

Proinpa: Agricultural research worth waiting for May 21st, 2023 by

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

Agricultural research is notoriously slow. It takes years to bear fruit, and donor-funded agencies don’t always last very long. But Bolivia got lucky with one organization that survived.

It started in 1989, when the Swiss funded a project to do potato research, the Potato Research Program (Proinpa), working closely with a core staff of four scientists from the International Potato Center (CIP). Most of the other staff were young Bolivians, including many thesis students.

Ten years later, in 1998, it was time to fold up the project, but some visionary people from Proinpa, with enthusiastic support of Swiss and CIP colleagues, decided to give Proinpa a new life as a permanent agency or foundation.

By then ‚ÄúProinpa‚ÄĚ had some name-brand recognition, so they wisely kept the acronym, but changed the full name to ‚ÄúPromotion and Research of Andean Products.‚ÄĚ Proinpa‚Äôs leaders were not going to limit themselves to potatoes any more. The Swiss provided an endowment to pay for core costs, but it was not enough to run the whole organization.

Proinpa went through some rough times. When they stopped being a project, they had to give up their spacious offices in the city of Cochabamba. For a while they rented an aging building far from the city that had been used as a government rabies control center. Later, they could only afford one floor of that building. I remember being there on moving day, years ago, when they were all cramming into the smaller space, happily carrying boxes of files to squeeze together into shared offices. They were surviving.

Survival was important. Public-sector agricultural research in Bolivia was going through some rough times. The Bolivian Institute of Agricultural and Livestock Research (IBTA) closed in 1997 and its replacement died a few years later. Government agricultural research only started again In 2008, when the National Institute of Agricultural and Livestock and Forestry Innovation (INIAF) was created. During those years, Proinpa was an outstanding center for agricultural research in Bolivia, and curated priceless collections of potatoes and quinoas.

That potato seedbank was kept at Toralapa, in the countryside some 70 km from the city of Cochabamba. Over the years, Proinpa had expanded the collection from 1000 accessions to 4000. This biodiversity is the source of genetic material that plant breeders need to create new varieties. In 2010, the government, which owned the station at Toralapa, turned it over to INIAF. Proinpa worked with INIAF for a year, to ensure a stable transition, and the government of Bolivia still maintains that collection of potatoes and other Andean crops.

Proinpa recently asked me to join them for their 25th anniversary event, held at their small campus, built after 2005. The celebration started with tours of stands, where Proinpa highlighted their most important research.

Dr. Ximena Cadima, member of the Bolivian Academy of Science, explained how Proinpa has used its knowledge of local crops to breed 69 officially released new varieties, of the potato, quinoa and seven other crops. They also encouraging farmers to grow native potatoes on their farms, which is also crucial for keeping these unique crops alive.

Luis Crespo, entomologist, and Giovanna Plata, plant pathologist, explained their research to develop ecological alternatives to pest control. Luis talked about his work with insect sex pheromones. One of the many things he does is to dissect female moths and remove their scent glands, which he sends to a company in the Netherlands that isolates the sex pheromone from the glands. The company synthesizes the pheromone, makes more of it, and Proinpa uses it to bait traps. Male moths smell the pheromone, think it is a receptive female and fly to it. The frustrated males die in the trap. The females can’t lay eggs without mating, eliminating the next generation of pests before they are born.

Giovana showed us how they study the microbes that kill pathogens. She places different fungi and bacteria in petri dishes to see which microorganisms can physically displace the germs that cause crop diseases. She also isolates plant growth hormones, produced by the good microbes.

This background work on the ecology of microbes has informed Proinpa’s efforts to create a new industry of benign pest control. Jimmy Ciancas, an engineer, led us around Proinpa’s new plant, where they produce tons of beneficial bacteria and fungi to replace the chemicals that farmers use to control pests and diseases.

Proinpa also shows off the research by Dr. Alejandro Bonifacio and colleagues who are developing windbreaks of native plants and sowing wild lupines as a cover crop. This research aims to save the high Andes from the devastating erosion unleashed when the Quinoa Boom of 2010-2014 stripped away native vegetation. The soil simply blew away.

Later, we moved to Proinpa’s comfortable lunch room, which is shaded, but open to the air on three sides, perfect for Cochabamba’s climate. The place had been set up as a formal auditorium, where, for over an hour, Proinpa gave plaques to honor some of the many organizations that had helped them over the years: universities, INIAF, small-town mayors in the municipalities where Proinpa does field work. Many organizations reciprocated, giving Proinpa an award right back. Proinpa has survived because of good leadership, and because of its many friends.

In between the speeches, I got a chance to meet the man sitting next to me, Lionel Ichazo, who supervises three large, commercial farms for a food processing company in the lowlands of Eastern Bolivia. They grow soya in the summer and wheat and sorghum in the winter. Lionel confirmed what Proinpa says, that the use of natural pesticides is exploding on the low plains. Lionel uses Proinpa’s natural pesticides as a seed dressing to control disease. Lionel, who is also an agronomist and a graduate of El Zamorano, one of Latin America’s top agricultural universities (in Honduras), said that he noticed how the soil has been improving over the four years that he has used the microbes. The microorganisms were break down the crop stubble into carbon that the plants can use. Lionel added that most of the large-scale farmers are still treating their seeds with agrochemicals. But they are starting to see that the biological products work, at affordable prices, and are often even cheaper than the chemicals. Of course, the biologicals are safer to handle, and environmentally friendly. And that is key to their success. Demand is skyrocketing.

It has taken many years of research to produce environmentally-sound, biological pesticides that can convince large-scale commercial farmers to start to transition away from agrochemicals. I thought back to a time about 15 years earlier, when I saw Proinpa doing trials with farmers near Cochabamba. That was an early stage of these scientifically-sound natural products. Agricultural research is slow by nature, but like a fruit tree that takes years to mature, the wait is worth the while.

Related Agro-Insight blogs

Don’t eat the peels

Commercializing organic inputs

The best knowledge is local and scientific

Recovering from the quinoa boom

Related videos

Making enriched biofertilizer

Living windbreaks to protect the soil

The wasp that protects our crops

Managing the potato tuber moth

Acknowledgements

Paul Van Mele, Graham Thiele, Rolando Oros, Jorge Blajos and Lionel Ichazo read and commented on an earlier version of this blog.

PROINPA: INVESTIGACI√ďN AGR√ćCOLA QUE VALE LA PENA ESPERAR

Jeff Bentley, 21 de mayo del 2023

La investigaci√≥n agr√≠cola es notoriamente lenta. Tarda a√Īos en dar frutos, y los programas financiados por donantes suelen durar poco tiempo. Pero Bolivia tuvo suerte con una organizaci√≥n que sobrevivi√≥.

Empezó en 1989, cuando los suizos financiaron un proyecto nuevo, el Proyecto de Investigación de la Papa (Proinpa), en colaboración con cuatro científicos del Centro Internacional de la Papa (CIP). Casi todo el resto del personal eran jóvenes bolivianos, entre ellos muchos tesistas.

Diez a√Īos despu√©s, en 1998, lleg√≥ el momento de cerrar el proyecto, pero algunas personas visionarias de Proinpa, con el apoyo entusiasta de colegas suizos y del CIP, decidieron dar a Proinpa una nueva vida como agencia o fundaci√≥n permanente.

Para entonces “Proinpa” ya ten√≠a cierto reconocimiento como marca, as√≠ que sabiamente mantuvieron el acr√≥nimo, pero cambiaron el nombre completo a “Promoci√≥n e Investigaci√≥n de Productos Andinos”. Los dirigentes de Proinpa ya no iban a limitarse a las papas. Los suizos aportaron una dotaci√≥n para cubrir los gastos b√°sicos, pero no era suficiente para hacer funcionar toda la organizaci√≥n.

Proinpa pas√≥ por momentos dif√≠ciles. Cuando dejaron de ser un proyecto, tuvieron que abandonar sus amplias oficinas de la ciudad de Cochabamba. Durante un tiempo alquilaron un viejo edificio alejado de la ciudad que hab√≠a sido un centro gubernamental de control de la rabia. M√°s tarde, s√≥lo pudieron pagar una planta de ese edificio. Recuerdo estar all√≠ el d√≠a de la mudanza, hace a√Īos, cuando todos se dieron modos para entrar en el espacio m√°s peque√Īo, cargando alegremente cajas de archivos para apretarse en oficinas compartidas. Estaban sobreviviendo.

Sobrevivir era importante. La investigaci√≥n agraria p√ļblica en Bolivia atravesaba tiempos dif√≠ciles. El Instituto Boliviano de Investigaci√≥n Agropecuaria (IBTA) cerr√≥ en 1997 y su sustituto muri√≥ pocos a√Īos despu√©s. La investigaci√≥n agropecuaria estatal no se reanud√≥ hasta 2008, cuando se cre√≥ el Instituto Nacional de Innovaci√≥n Agropecuaria y Forestal (INIAF). Durante esos a√Īos, Proinpa fue un destacado centro de investigaci√≥n agr√≠cola en Bolivia, y conserv√≥ invaluables colecciones de papa y quinua.

Ese banco de semillas de papa se manten√≠a en Toralapa, en el campo, a unos 70 km de la ciudad de Cochabamba. Con los a√Īos, Proinpa hab√≠a ampliado la colecci√≥n de 1000 accesiones a 4000. Esta biodiversidad es la fuente de material gen√©tico que necesitan los fitomejoradores para crear nuevas variedades. En 2010, el Gobierno, que era propietario de la estaci√≥n de Toralapa, la cedi√≥ al INIAF. Proinpa trabaj√≥ con el INIAF durante un a√Īo para garantizar una transici√≥n estable, y el Gobierno de Bolivia sigue manteniendo esa colecci√≥n de papas y otros cultivos andinos.

Hace poco, Proinpa me pidi√≥ que me uniera a ellos en el acto de su 25 aniversario, celebrado en su peque√Īo campus, construido despu√©s de 2005. La celebraci√≥n comenz√≥ con visitas a los stands, donde Proinpa destac√≥ sus investigaciones m√°s importantes.

La Dra. Ximena Cadima, miembro de la Academia Boliviana de Ciencias, explic√≥ c√≥mo Proinpa ha usado su conocimiento de los cultivos locales para obtener 69 nuevas variedades oficialmente liberadas de papa, quinua y siete cultivos m√°s. Tambi√©n animan a los agricultores a cultivar papas nativas en sus chacras, lo que tambi√©n es crucial para mantener vivos estos cultivos √ļnicos.

Luis Crespo, entomólogo, y Giovanna Plata, fitopatóloga, explicaron sus investigaciones para desarrollar alternativas ecológicas al control de plagas. Luis habló de su trabajo con las feromonas sexuales de los insectos. Una de las muchas cosas que hace es disecar polillas hembras y extraerles las glándulas de olor, que envía a una empresa en Holanda que aísla la feromona sexual de las glándulas. La empresa sintetiza la feromona, fabrica más y Proinpa la usa para cebo de trampas. Las polillas machos huelen la feromona, piensan que se trata de una hembra receptiva y vuelan hacia ella. Los machos frustrados mueren en la trampa. Las hembras no pueden poner huevos sin aparearse, lo que elimina la siguiente generación de plagas antes de que nazcan.

Giovana nos mostró cómo estudian los microbios que matan a los patógenos. Coloca diferentes hongos y bacterias en placas Petri para ver qué microorganismos pueden desplazar físicamente a los gérmenes que causan enfermedades en los cultivos. También aísla hormonas de crecimiento de plantas, producidas por los microbios buenos.

Este trabajo sobre la ecología de los microbios ha permitido a Proinpa crear una nueva industria de control natural de plagas. Jimmy Ciancas, ingeniero, nos guio por la nueva planta de Proinpa, donde producen toneladas de bacterias y hongos benéficos para sustituir a los químicos que los agricultores fumigan para controlar plagas y enfermedades.

Proinpa también nos mostró las investigaciones del Dr. Alejandro Bonifacio y sus colegas, que están desarrollando rompevientos con plantas nativas y sembrando tarwi silvestre como cultivo de cobertura. Esta investigación tiene como objetivo salvar a los altos Andes de la devastadora erosión desatada cuando el boom de la quinua de (2010-2014) arrasó con la vegetación nativa. El suelo simplemente se voló.

M√°s tarde, nos trasladamos al confortable comedor de Proinpa, sombreado pero abierto al aire por tres lados, perfecto para el clima de Cochabamba. El lugar hab√≠a sido acondicionado como un auditorio formal, donde, durante m√°s de una hora, Proinpa entreg√≥ placas en honor a algunas de las muchas organizaciones que les hab√≠an ayudado a lo largo de los a√Īos: universidades, INIAF, alcaldes de municipios donde Proinpa hace trabajo de campo. Muchas organizaciones reciprocaron, entregando a Proinpa premios que ellos trajeron. Proinpa ha sobrevivido gracias a un buen liderazgo y a sus muchos amigos.

Entre los discursos, tuve la oportunidad de conocer al hombre sentado a mi lado, Lionel Ichazo, que supervisa tres fincas comerciales para una empresa molinera en las tierras bajas del este de Bolivia. Cultivan soya en verano y trigo y sorgo en invierno. Lionel confirm√≥ lo que Proinpa dice, que el uso de plaguicidas naturales se est√° disparando en las llanuras bajas. Lionel usa los plaguicidas naturales de Proinpa como tratamiento de semillas para controlar las enfermedades. Lionel, que tambi√©n es ingeniero agr√≥nomo y graduado de El Zamorano, una de las mejores universidades agr√≠colas de Am√©rica Latina (en Honduras), dijo que not√≥ c√≥mo el suelo ha ido mejorando durante los cuatro a√Īos que ha usado los microbios. Los microorganismos descompon√≠an los rastrojos en carbono que las plantas pod√≠an usar. Lionel a√Īadi√≥ que la mayor√≠a de los agricultores a gran escala siguen usando agroqu√≠micos en el tratamiento de semillas. Sin embargo, se est√° viendo que los productos biol√≥gicos funcionan, con precios accesibles y hasta m√°s baratos que los qu√≠micos. Por supuesto son m√°s sanos para el manipuleo y amigables con el medio ambiente. Y eso es la clave del √©xito de los productos. La demanda se est√° disparando.

Ha tomado muchos a√Īos de investigaci√≥n para producir plaguicidas biol√≥gicos que cuidan el medio ambiente y que puedan convencer a los agricultores comerciales para que empiecen a abandonar los productos agroqu√≠micos. Me acord√© de una √©poca, unos 15 a√Īos antes, cuando vi a Proinpa haciendo ensayos con agricultores cerca de Cochabamba. Aquella fue una etapa temprana de estos productos naturales con base cient√≠fica. La investigaci√≥n agr√≠cola es lenta por naturaleza, pero como un √°rbol frutal que tarda a√Īos en madurar, la espera vale la pena.

Previamente en el blog de Agro-Insight

No te comas las c√°scaras

Commercializing organic inputs

El mejor conocimiento es local y científico

Recuper√°ndose del boom de la quinua

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Agradecimientos

Paul Van Mele, Graham Thiele, Rolando Oros, Jorge Blajos y Lionel Ichazo leyeron e hicieron comentarios valiosos sobre una versión previa de este blog.

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