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Give bokashi a chance April 3rd, 2022 by

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

I admit that I once took a dim view of bokashi, a hand-crafted organic fertilizer made from barnyard manure and some store-bought materials, like molasses, bran, yeast, or even yoghurt (recipes vary). It takes work to make it, because it has to be stirred every day or two. I once wrote about a bokashi factory I saw in Nepal that impressed me, because I thought it might be easier for busy farmers to buy bokashi, and skip all the work of mixing it.

But this past February I met an innovative farmer, Héctor Casa, in Tunicuchí, in the Andes of central Ecuador. Don Héctor does not have a lot of time or money, but he is able to use bokashi on his small, mixed farm of pigs, guinea pigs, potatoes and vegetables. He graciously took time off from his job in a plywood factory to let Marcella and Paul film him for a video on seed potatoes.

Don Héctor starts his bokashi by making compost from his animals’ manure. He adds soil, rice husks, rock phosphate, lime, molasses and whey. He also adds microorganisms: a water solution that includes a few handfuls of forest soil. For good measure he puts in some biol, a fermented, liquified manure which is also rich in beneficial germs.

I watched as don Héctor deftly stirred each ingredient one at a time into a pile, shoveling it all over again with each addition, thoroughly blending it. It’s hard work, but he makes it look easy. But when he turned over a large, plastic sheet, I realized he had a second pile, with about five tons of finished bokashi. I’ve rarely seen that much of the stuff in one place, because it is requires some patience to make, and some store-bought materials.

Don H√©ctor had made his five tons of bokashi over two weeks, shoveling it over thoroughly every day, but now his work was about to pay off. It was ready to take to the field, and he was pleased that his bokashi was more than fertilizer; it would also protect his crops from pests and diseases. He explained that the good microbes he cultured in the bokashi would help to control potato diseases. ‚ÄúThe microorganisms eat the bad fungi. They eliminate them.‚ÄĚ

Then don Héctor took us to see his potato crop, not a garden, but a commercial field of healthy potatoes. These are some of the few potatoes grown in an environmentally-friendly way in the whole of highland Ecuador, where chemical fertilizer is commonly used along with fungicides and insecticides.

Don Héctor does use bokashi to keep the soil fertile. But bokashi also acts as a fungicide of sorts, as it adds good microbes to the earth, which help to keep down soil-borne diseases.

Bokashi alone would not be enough to keep pests and diseases away. To manage the Andean potato weevil and the potato tuber moth, don Héctor hills up the potatoes. Three times per season he and his helpers heap soil up around the base of each potato plant. The third time, they pile the soil really high, just as the potatoes are flowering and the plants have reached their full height.

‚ÄúThe tuber moth lays its eggs at the base of the potato plant, and when the worms hatch, they move down into the potato,‚ÄĚ don H√©ctor explains. ‚ÄúBy hilling up lots of soil I make a barrier that protects the potatoes from the moths and its worms.‚ÄĚ As an added advantage, the extra soil around each potato plant gives the tubers room to grow. They can‚Äôt develop unless they are blanketed in soft earth.

We visited don H√©ctor with Ecuadorian seed researcher Israel Navarrete, who was especially taken by rows of maize that H√©ctor had planted around his crop. Don H√©ctor said that the rows of corn formed a barrier that kept disease out of the potato crop. Israel called it positive deviance: ‚Äúbeing odd, but in a good way.‚ÄĚ

The idea may be odd, but it also seemed to be working. We saw that the neighboring fields were not doing as well as this healthy one. One neighbor sprayed insecticide on his potatoes, and the leaves were damaged by the potato tuber moth, while don Héctor’s crop had little visible insect damage. Other nearby potato plants were stunted by herbicides, where farmers tried to spray to avoid the work of weeding and hilling up their crop. Don Héctor’s organic potato plants were larger, and a healthy green.

I used to doubt the value of bokashi, because I saw it as fertilizer, expensive and tedious to make. But in reality, bokashi also acts as a fungicide, replenishing some of the good microorganisms that conventional agriculture kills. Innovative farmers combine bokashi with other techniques, like carefully hilling up the potatoes, and encircling them with a protective crop of maize. This integrated approach seems to be working, and is worthy of formal study by researchers.

Related Agro-Insight blog stories

The bokashi factory

Friendly germs

Encouraging microorganisms that improve the soil

Farmers know how to keep seed healthy

Soil for a living planet

Related videos

Good microbes for plants and soil

Healthier crops with good micro-organisms

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Ing. Victoria L√≥pez (Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Agropecuarias‚ÄĒINIAP), and Ing. Nancy Panchi and Dr. Israel Navarrete (both of the International Potato Center‚ÄĒCIP) for introducing us to innovative potato farmers in Cotopaxi, Ecuador. Victoria, Israel and Paul Van Mele read a previous version and made valuable comments

BOKASHI ES M√ĀS QUE FERTILIZANTE

Jeff Bentley, 3 de abril del 2022

Yo antes veía con escepticismo al bokashi, un abono orgánico hecho a mano con estiércol y algunos materiales comprados en la tienda, como melaza, salvado, levadura o incluso yogurt (las recetas varían). También requiere trabajo, porque hay que removerlo cada día o dos. Una vez escribí sobre una fábrica de bokashi que vi en Nepal y que me impresionó, porque pensé que sería más fácil para los atareados agricultores comprar bokashi y evitar el trabajo de mezclarlo.

Pero el pasado febrero conoc√≠ a un agricultor innovador, H√©ctor Casa, en Tanicuch√≠, en los Andes centrales de Ecuador. Don H√©ctor no tiene mucho tiempo ni dinero, pero logra usar el bokashi en su peque√Īa granja mixta de cerdos, cuyes, papas y verduras. √Čl amablemente tom√≥ un tiempo libre de su trabajo en una f√°brica de madera para dejar que Marcella y Paul le filmaran para un video sobre la semilla de papa.

Don H√©ctor empieza su bokashi haciendo compost con el esti√©rcol de sus animales. A√Īade suelo, c√°scara de arroz, fosfato de roca, cal, melaza y suero. Tambi√©n a√Īade microorganismos: una soluci√≥n de agua con unos pu√Īados de tierra del bosque. Adem√°s, agrega un poco de biol, un esti√©rcol fermentado y licuado que tambi√©n es rico en microbios beneficiosos.

Observé cómo don Héctor revolvía hábilmente cada ingrediente, de uno en uno, en un montón, removiéndolo todo de nuevo con cada adición, mezclándolo completamente. Es un trabajo duro, pero él lo hace parecer fácil. Me sorprendió que, al destapar un bulto que había tapado con un toldo de plástico, tenía unas cinco toneladas más de bokashi terminado. Rara vez he visto tanto, porque hacerlo requiere cierta paciencia y algunos materiales comprados en la tienda.

Don H√©ctor hab√≠a hecho sus cinco toneladas de bokashi durante dos semanas, movi√©ndolo cada d√≠a, pero ahora su trabajo estaba a punto de dar sus frutos. Estaba listo para llevarlo al campo, y se alegr√≥ de que su bokashi fuera m√°s que un fertilizante: tambi√©n proteger√≠a sus cultivos de las plagas y enfermedades. Explic√≥ que los microbios buenos que cultiv√≥ en el bokashi ayudar√≠an a controlar las enfermedades de la papa. “Los microorganismos se comen los hongos malos. Los eliminan”.

Luego don Héctor nos llevó a ver su cultivo de papas, no un huerto, sino un campo comercial de papas sanas. Estas son algunas de las pocas papas que se cultivan de manera amigable con la naturaleza en todo el altiplano ecuatoriano, donde suelen usar fertilizantes químicos junto con fungicidas e insecticidas.

Don H√©ctor s√≠ usa el bokashi para mantener la fertilidad del suelo. Pero el bokashi tambi√©n act√ļa como una especie de fungicida, ya que a√Īade microbios buenos a la tierra, que ayudan a evitar las enfermedades transmitidas por el suelo.

El bokashi solito no es suficiente para evitar las plagas y enfermedades. Para controlar el gorgojo de los Andes y la polilla de la papa, don H√©ctor aporca las papas. Tres veces por campa√Īa, √©l y sus ayudantes aporcan suelo alrededor de la base de cada planta de papa. La tercera vez, amontonan la tierra muy alta, justo cuando las papas est√°n floreciendo y las plantas han alcanzado su m√°xima altura.

“La polilla de la papa pone sus huevos en la base de la planta de la papa, y cuando los gusanos nacen del huevo, bajan a la papa”, explica don H√©ctor. “Al poner mucha tierra hago una barrera que protege a las papas de la polilla y sus gusanos”. Como ventaja adicional, la tierra extra alrededor de cada planta de papa da a los tub√©rculos espacio para crecer. No pueden desarrollarse si no est√°n cubiertos de tierra blanda.

Visitamos a don H√©ctor con el investigador ecuatoriano en semillas Israel Navarrete, a quien le llamaron especialmente la atenci√≥n las hileras de ma√≠z que H√©ctor hab√≠a plantado alrededor de su cultivo. Don H√©ctor dijo que las hileras de ma√≠z formaban una barrera que manten√≠a las enfermedades fuera del cultivo de papas. Israel lo llam√≥ desviaci√≥n positiva: “ser raro, pero en el buen sentido”.

La idea podr√≠a parecer extra√Īa, pero por lo visto, funcionaba. Vimos que a los campos vecinos no les iba tan bien como a este sano. Un vecino fumig√≥ sus papas con insecticida y las hojas fueron da√Īadas por la polilla de la papa, a diferencia del cultivo de don H√©ctor. Otras plantas de papa cercanas est√°n marchitadas por los herbicidas, donde los agricultores intentaron fumigar para evitar el trabajo de deshierbar y aporcar su cultivo. A cambio las plantas de don H√©ctor eran grandes y un verde exuberante.

Yo antes dudaba del valor del bokashi, porque lo ve√≠a como un fertilizante, que costaba trabajo y dinero. Pero en realidad, el bokashi tambi√©n act√ļa como fungicida, reponiendo algunos de los microorganismos buenos que la agricultura convencional mata. Los agricultores innovadores combinan el bokashi con otras t√©cnicas, como aporcar cuidadosamente las papas y rodearlas de un cultivo protector de ma√≠z. Este enfoque integrado parece funcionar, y merece ser estudiado formalmente por los investigadores.

También del blog de Agro-Insight

The bokashi factory

Microbios amigables

Fomentando microorganismos que mejoran el suelo

Manteniendo la semilla sana en Ecuador

Soil for a living planet

Videos de interés

Buenos microbios para plantas y suelo

Healthier crops with good micro-organisms

Agradecimientos

Gracias a la Ing. Victoria López (Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Agropecuarias-INIAP), y a la Ing. Nancy Panchi y al Dr. Israel Navarrete (ambos del Centro Internacional de la Papa-CIP) por presentarnos a los innovadores productores de papa de Cotopaxi, Ecuador. Victoria, Israel y Paul Van Mele leyeron una versión previa e hicieron comentarios valiosos.

 

Language or dialect? It’s complicated March 13th, 2022 by

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

People who speak different dialects of the same language can understand each other. Unlike different languages, the dialects of those tongues are ‚Äúmutually intelligible.‚ÄĚ Americans and the British understand each other (almost always), because the US and the UK speak dialects of the same English language.

However, it’s complicated, as David Shariatmadari explains. Shariatmadari, non-fiction books editor at the Guardian, starts with the old joke: a language is a dialect with an army. The classic example is Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, which are all fairly similar, but for political reasons and national pride their governments use the schools and the media to maintain the uniqueness of these languages, which are often mutually intelligible.

Arabic is an example in the other direction. Spoken in some 20 countries with important differences between each nation, the Arab countries consider themselves speakers of one language, based on a shared tradition in classical Arabic literature, and other ties.

Shariatmadari doesn’t mention Quechua, a native language still spoken in the Andes, in Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. Once the language of the Inca Empire, Quechua has lacked its own national army since the Spanish Conquest. Even so, sixteenth century Spanish clergy encouraged the Quechua language, because it was already widely spoken, and could be used for missionary work. When the Jesuits arrived in the Andes in the 16th century, they quickly learned Quechua, published a dictionary of the language and began teaching it in their universities.

After the Spanish-American wars of independence (1810-1825), the new republican governments largely dismissed Quechua, ignoring it in schools and discouraging anyone from writing it.

Quechua is now enjoying a comeback of sorts in Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador. For example, it is being taught in some schools. Google is available in Quechua, and there are articles in Wikipedia in Quechua (look for ‚ÄúRuna Simi‚ÄĚ). Opinion is divided on whether Quechua is one language with different dialects or if it has evolved to be separate, closely related languages. The Bolivian government insists that Quechua is one language. In Ecuador, ‚ÄúQuechua‚ÄĚ is called ‚ÄúKichwa,‚ÄĚ to emphasize that it is a language in its own right, and not a dialect of Quechua.

With Paul and Marcella, from Agro-Insight, we visited the province of Cotopaxi, in the Andes of Ecuador, Where the agronomists Diego Mina and Mayra Coro study the lupin bean with several communities. Diego and Mayra took us to a Kichwa-speaking community, Cuturiví Chico, where we got a chance to find out if the local people understood the Quechua version of our video on lupines. During a meeting with the community, Diego and Mayra invited them to watch the video, explaining that it had been filmed in Bolivia.

As the Quechua version of the video played, I watched the audience for their reaction. They smiled in appreciation. After all, videos in Quechua or Kichwa are rare. The farmers were absorbed in the 15-minute video all the way to the end.

Afterwards, Diego asked if they understood it. One person said he understood half. Another said ‚ÄúMore than half, maybe 60%.‚ÄĚ Then Diego asked the crucial question, ‚ÄúWhat was the video about?‚ÄĚ

The villagers neatly summarized the video. Diseases of the lupin bean could be controlled by selecting the healthiest grains as seed, and burying the sick ones. But the video had also sparked their imaginations. One said that in a previous experience they had learned to sort healthy seed potatoes, and now that they had seen the same idea with lupin beans, they wondered if the seed of broad beans could also be sorted, to produce a healthier crop.

Diego still felt that the farmers hadn’t quite understood the video, so he showed the Spanish version. But this time, the reaction was muted. People watched politely, but they seemed a bit bored and at the end there was no new discussion.

Language and dialect are valid concepts, but ‚Äúmutual intelligibility‚ÄĚ can be influenced by visual communication, enunciation, and motivation. For example in this video, carefully edited images showed people separating healthy and diseased lupin beans, which may have helped the audience to understand the main idea, even if some of the words were unfamiliar.

Clarity of the speech also counts; this video was narrated by professional broadcasters who spoke Quechua as their native language, so it was well enunciated. Motivation also matters; if a topic is of interest, people will strain to understand it. Lupin beans are widely grown in Cuturiví Chico, and these farmers really wanted to know about managing the crop’s diseases.

Whether Ecuadorian Kichwa and Bolivian Quechua are separate languages or dialects of the same tongue is still up for debate among linguists. Fortunately, people also communicate visually (for example, with excellent photography); they understand more if the words are carefully and distinctly pronounced, and if the listeners are motivated by a topic that interests them.

Watch the video

You can see the video, Growing lupin without disease, in Quechua, Spanish, and English (besides other languages).

Further reading

Shariatmadari, David 2019 Don’t Believe a Word: The Surprising Truth about Language. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

Note on names

The lupine bean (Lupinus mutabilis) is called chocho in Ecuador, and tarwi in Bolivia.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Diego Mina and Mayra Coro for introducing us the farmers in Cotopaxi, and for sharing their knowledge with us. Thanks also to Mayra and Diego, and to Eric Boa and Paul Van Mele for their valuable comments on a previous version of this blog. Diego and Mayra work for IRD (Institut de Recherche pour le Développement) with the AMIGO project. Our work was funded by the McKnight Foundation’s Collaborative Crop Research Program (CCRP).

Photos

Photos by Paul Van Mele and Jeff Bentley. Map from Wikimedia Commons

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Quechua_(with_country_names).svg.

¬ŅIDIOMA O DIALECT? ES COMPLICADO

Jeff Bentley, 13 de marzo del 2021

Cuando la gente habla diferentes dialectos de una misma lengua, se entiende. A diferencia de los idiomas distintos, los dialectos de esas lenguas son “mutuamente inteligibles”. Los estadounidenses y los brit√°nicos se entienden (casi siempre), porque los Estados Unidos y el Reino Unido hablan dialectos de la misma lengua inglesa.

Sin embargo, es complicado, como explica David Shariatmadari, editor de libros de no ficci√≥n en The Guardian. √Čl comienza con el viejo chiste: un idioma es un dialecto con un ej√©rcito. El ejemplo cl√°sico es el dan√©s, el noruego y el sueco, que son bastante similares, pero por razones pol√≠ticas y de orgullo nacional sus gobiernos usan las escuelas y los medios de comunicaci√≥n para mantener cierta separaci√≥n entre estas lenguas, que a menudo son mutuamente inteligibles.

El árabe es un ejemplo en la otra dirección. Hablado con importantes diferencias en una veintena de países, los países árabes se consideran hablantes de una sola lengua, basándose en su tradición compartida de la literatura árabe clásica, entre otras cosas.

Shariatmadari no menciona el quechua, una lengua nativa que todav√≠a se habla en los Andes, en el Ecuador, Per√ļ y Bolivia. El quechua, que fue la lengua del Imperio Inca, no ha tenido un ej√©rcito propio desde la conquista espa√Īola. Pero los sacerdotes espa√Īoles del siglo XVI fomentaron la lengua quechua, porque ya mucha gente la hablaba, y era √ļtil para la labor misionera. Cuando los jesuitas llegaron a los Andes en el siglo XVI, aprendieron r√°pidamente el quechua, publicaron un diccionario de la lengua y comenzaron a ense√Īarla en sus universidades.

Después de las guerras de independencia hispanoamericanas (1810-1825), los nuevos gobiernos republicanos desprestigiaron en gran medida el quechua, ignorándolo en las escuelas y fueron olvidando su escritura.

En la actualidad, el quechua est√° resurgiendo un poco en Bolivia, Per√ļ y Ecuador. Por ejemplo, en algunos colegios lo est√°n ense√Īando. Google est√° disponible en quechua, y Wikipedia tiene art√≠culos en quechua (busque ‚ÄúRuna Simi‚ÄĚ). Algunos discuten si el quechua es una lengua con varios dialectos o si son varios idiomas estrechamente relacionados. El gobierno boliviano insiste en que el quechua es una sola lengua. En Ecuador, el “quechua” se llama “kichwa”, para subrayar que es una lengua propia y no un dialecto del quechua.

Con Paul y Marcella, de Agro-Insight, visitamos la provincia de Cotopaxi, en los Andes del Ecuador, donde trabajan los ingenieros agrónomos Diego Mina y Mayra Coro, quienes investigan el chocho (lupino) con algunas comunidades. Diego y Mayra nos llevaron a una comunidad kichwa-hablante, Cuturiví Chico, donde pudimos averiguar si la gente local entendería la versión de nuestro video en quechua sobre lupino o tarwi. Durante una reunión con la comunidad, Diego y Mayra les pidieron que observen el video explicándoles que se había filmado en Bolivia.

Mientras se reproduc√≠a la versi√≥n quechua del video, observ√© la reacci√≥n del p√ļblico. Sonrieron del puro gusto de ver el video. Despu√©s de todo, hay pocos videos en quechua o kichwa. Los campesinos estuvieron bien metidos en el video de 15 minutos hasta el final.

Despu√©s, Diego les pregunt√≥ si lo hab√≠an entendido. Uno de ellos dijo que hab√≠a entendido la mitad. Otro dijo: “M√°s de la mitad, quiz√° el 60%”. Entonces Diego hizo la pregunta crucial: “¬ŅDe qu√© trataba el video?”.

Resumieron claramente el video. Las enfermedades del lupino podían controlarse seleccionando los granos más sanos como semilla y enterrando los enfermos. Pero el video también había despertado su imaginación. Uno de ellos dijo que en una experiencia anterior habían aprendido a clasificar semilla sana de papa, y ahora que habían visto la misma idea con el lupino, se preguntaban si la semilla de las habas también podría clasificarse, para producir una cosecha más sana.

Diego a√ļn dudaba si los agricultores hab√≠an entendido bien el video, as√≠ que les mostr√≥ la versi√≥n en espa√Īol. Esta vez la reacci√≥n fue m√°s silenciosa. La gente parec√≠a un poco aburrida, y al final no hubo ninguna nueva discusi√≥n.

La diferencia entre idioma y dialecto es real, pero la “inteligibilidad mutua” a menudo se influye por la comunicaci√≥n visual, la pronunciaci√≥n clara, y la motivaci√≥n. Por ejemplo, en este video, las im√°genes cuidadosamente editadas mostraban a personas que separaban los granos de lupino sanos de los enfermos, lo que puede haber ayudado a la audiencia a entender la idea principal, aunque desconoc√≠an algunas de las palabras.

La claridad del discurso también cuenta; este video fue narrado por locutores profesionales que hablaban quechua como lengua materna, por lo que estaba bien enunciado. La motivación también importa; si un tema es de interés, la gente se esfuerza por entenderlo. Los lupinos se cultivan ampliamente en Cuturiví Chico, y estos agricultores realmente querían saber cómo manejar las enfermedades del cultivo.

Si el kichwa ecuatoriano y el quechua boliviano son distintos idiomas o dialectos de una sola lengua es algo que los ling√ľistas todav√≠a pueden discutir. Afortunadamente, las personas tambi√©n se comunican visualmente (por ejemplo, con una excelente fotograf√≠a); entienden mejor si las palabras se pronuncian con cuidado y nitidez, y si los oyentes est√°n motivados por un tema que les interesa.

Para ver el video

Puede ver el video, Producir tarwi sin enfermedad, en quechua, espa√Īol, e ingl√©s (adem√°s de otros idiomas).

Lectura adicional

Shariatmadari, David 2019 Don’t Believe a Word: The Surprising Truth about Language. Londres: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

Una nota sobre los nombres

El lupino (Lupinus mutabilis) se llama chocho en el Ecuador, y tarwi en Bolivia.

Agradecimientos

Gracias a Diego Mina y Mayra Coro por presentarnos a la gente de Cotopaxi, y por compartir su conocimiento con nosotros. Gracias a Mayra y Diego, y a Eric Boa y Paul VAn Mele por sus valiosos comentarios sobre una versión previa de este blog. Diego y Mayra trabajan para IRD (Institut de Recherche pour le Développement), con el proyecto AMIGO. Nuestro trabajo fue financiado por Programa Colaborativo de Investigación de Cultivos (CCRP) de la Fundación McKnight.

Fotos

Fotos por Paul Van Mele y Jeff Bentley. Mapa de Wikimedia Commons

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Quechua_(with_country_names).svg.

 

More insects, fewer pests February 20th, 2022 by

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

It’s one of the great secrets of ecology that few insect species are pests. Most insects help us, by pollinating our crops, making honey, or silk and by killing pest insects, either by hunting them or by parasitizing them. I was in Ecuador recently with Paul and Marcella from Agro-Insight, along with Ecuadorian colleagues Carmen Castillo, Mayra Coro and Diego Mina, to make a video on the insects that help us.

Our first stop was the home of Emma Rom√°n and her husband, Luis Plazarte, in Al√°quez, a parish near the city of Latacunga, in the central Andes. On a small field behind their house, Emma explained that all flowering plants (trees, ornamentals or crops) attract insects, which feed on the pollen and nectar in the flowers. She has seen many beneficial insects: the bee fly, and the hairy fly, beetles (like the lady bird beetle), and true bugs. She adds ‚ÄúAnd there is a new one, the soldier fly.‚ÄĚ

I was puzzled about new insect. Perhaps an introduced one? Then I realized that since do√Īa Emma has received training in insect ecology from Mayra and Diego, and has planted more flowering plants, she has begun to notice more kinds of insects, which are also becoming more abundant, because of the flowers she plants. For example, she planted a row of lantana flowers to mark the boundary of her field. On the ground nearby, she pointed out some tiny spiders which we had not even noticed. ‚ÄúYou can see this one is carrying her eggs with her,‚ÄĚ she said, pointing to a whitish spider the size of a grain of rice. The family‚Äôs small field of oats is surrounded by pullilli shrubs, and other plants like chilca and the Andean cherry, which are visited by pollinating insects and others attracted by the plants‚Äô flowers.

As do√Īa Emma‚Äôs farm becomes insect-friendly, she notices more helpful insects. The larva of the bee fly hunts and eats small, soft insects. The hairy fly lays its eggs in other insects. The hairy fly larva hatches inside the victim, eating it from the inside out. That‚Äôs why do√Īa Emma has few pests, even as she has more insects.

For do√Īa Emma the big advantage is that she can produce maize, blackberries, and several kinds of vegetables with no pesticides. She says this means that she has tastier food that is healthier for her and for her family. And the diverse flowers around her house give her a sense of tranquility and harmony.

As do√Īa Emma put it, ‚ÄúWe plant a variety of plants for all kinds of insects, so that all the birds come, and they help us to conserve this ecosystem ‚Ķ to teach our children that there are these good insects and birds.‚ÄĚ

Scientific names

Pullilli (familia Solanaceae)

Chilca is Baccharis latifolia

The Andean Cherry (Spanish: capulí) is Prunus serotina

The bee fly (Spanish: moscabeja) is Eristalis spp. (Syrphidae)

The hairy fly is the family Tachinidae.

The soldier fly (Spanish: mosca sapito) is Hedriodiscus spp.

Related video

The wasp that protects our crops

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Diego Mina and Mayra Coro for introducing us to do√Īa Emma, and for identifying the plants and insects. Thanks also to Mayra and Diego for their valuable comments on a previous version of this blog. Diego and Mayra work for IRD (Institut de Recherche pour le D√©veloppement). Our work was funded by the McKnight Foundation‚Äôs Collaborative Crop Research Program (CCRP)

M√ĀS INSECTOS, MENOS PLAGAS

Por Jeff Bentley, 20 de febrero del 2022

Uno de los grandes secretos de la ecología es que pocas especies de insectos son plagas. La mayoría de los insectos nos ayudan polinizando nuestros cultivos, haciendo miel y matando a los insectos plaga, ya sea cazándolos o parasitándolos. Hace poco estuve en Ecuador con Paul y Marcella, de Agro-Insight, y los colegas ecuatorianos Carmen Castillo, Mayra Coro y Diego Mina, para hacer un video sobre los insectos que nos ayudan.

Primero, visitamos la casa de Emma Rom√°n y su marido, Luis Plazarte, en Al√°quez, una parroquia cercana a la ciudad de Latacunga, en los Andes centrales. En un peque√Īo sembr√≠o detr√°s de su casa, do√Īa Emma nos explic√≥ que todas las plantas con flores (√°rboles, plantas ornamentales o cultivos) atraen a los insectos, que se alimentan del polen y n√©ctar. Ella ha visto muchos insectos que le ayudan: la moscabeja, la mosca peluda y escarabajos (como la mariquita) y algunos de los chinches. Y a√Īade: “Y hay uno nuevo, la mosca sapito”.

Me qued√© perplejo ante la idea de un nuevo insecto. ¬ŅQuiz√°s uno introducido? Entonces me di cuenta de que desde que do√Īa Emma ha recibido capacitaci√≥n en la ecolog√≠a de los insectos de parte de Mayra y Diego, y ha plantado m√°s plantas con flores, ella ha empezado a fijarse en m√°s tipos de insectos. Por ejemplo, tambi√©n plant√≥ una hilera de flores de lantana para marcar el l√≠mite de su campo. En el suelo, debajo de los arbustos, se√Īala unas ara√Īas diminutas en las que no hab√≠amos reparado. “Puedes ver que esta lleva sus huevos”, dice, se√Īalando una ara√Īa blanquecina del tama√Īo de un grano de arroz. Su peque√Īo campo de avena est√° rodeado de arbustos de pullilli, chilca y capul√≠ a donde llegan los insectos polinizadores, y adem√°s otros insectos son atra√≠dos por las flores de estas plantas.

A medida que la granja de do√Īa Emma se convierte en un lugar acogedor para los insectos, se da cuenta de que hay m√°s insectos √ļtiles. La larva de la mosca abeja caza y come insectos peque√Īos y blandos. Mientras que la mosca peluda pone sus huevos dentro de otros insectos, y las larvas de la mosca peluda nacen dentro de la v√≠ctima, comi√©ndola de adentro hacia afuera. Por eso do√Īa Emma tiene pocas plagas, aunque tenga m√°s insectos.

Para do√Īa Emma, la gran ventaja es que puede producir ma√≠z, moras y varios tipos de hortalizas sin plaguicidas. Dice que esto significa que tiene alimentos m√°s sabrosos y saludables para ella y su familia. Y las diversas flores que rodean su casa le dan una sensaci√≥n de tranquilidad y armon√≠a.

Como dice do√Īa Emma: ‚ÄúSembramos variedades de plantas para que todo insecto, todo p√°jaro venga, y est√© all√≠, nos ayudan a conservar este ecosistema, la naturaleza que es bien bonita para nosotros, para ense√Īar a nuestros hijos que tales insectos hay, tales p√°jaros existen.‚ÄĚ

Nombres científicos

Pullilli (familia Solanaceae)

Chilca es Baccharis latifolia

Capulí es Prunus serotina

La moscabeja es Eristalis spp. (Syrphidae)

La mosca peluda es familia Tachinidae.

La mosca sapito es Hedriodiscus spp.

Video relacionado

La avispa que protege nuestros cultivos

Agradecimientos

Gracias a Diego Mina y Mayra Coro por presentarnos a do√Īa Emma, y por identificar las plantas e insectos. Gracias a Mayra y Diego por sus valiosos comentarios sobre una versi√≥n previa de este blog. Diego y Mayra trabajan para IRD (Institut de Recherche pour le D√©veloppement). Nuestro trabajo fue financiado por Programa Colaborativo de Investigaci√≥n de Cultivos (CCRP) de la Fundaci√≥n McKnight.

 

Coconut coir dust July 4th, 2021 by

Many years ago, I wrote one of my first articles, on ‚ÄúCoconut Coir Dust Mulch in the Tropics‚ÄĚ and published it in Humus News, a trilingual (Dutch, French, English) magazine from Comit√© Jean Pain, a Belgian non-profit association that has trained people from across the globe on compost making since 1978.

So recently, when one of our Indian video partners decided to make a training video on composting coir dust, I dug up my old article, and was pleasantly surprised to see that it still contained useful information.

Coconut coir dust or coir pith is the material that is left over after the fibres have been removed from the coconut husk. Coconut factories often have no idea what to do with this waste, so in many coastal areas in the humid tropics one can find heaps of this natural resource.

Whether economical or ecological motives are the driving force, in low external input agriculture systems in the tropics, farmers often use biowaste for soil conservation and sustainable land use.

While coir dust has negligible amounts of nitrogen, phosphorous, calcium and magnesium, making it a poor source of nutrients, it can store up to 8 times its dry weight in water. By applying a 15 cm thick layer of coir dust mulch around coconut seedlings in Sri Lanka, irrigation needs could be reduced by up to 55 %. In a pineapple coconut intercrop during the dry season, my coir paper reported that the top soil layer had a moisture content of 49 % under the mulch, compared to 10 % under a sandy ridge of the same height.

When coir dust mulch is applied to salt-sensitive plants care, has to be taken that the concentration of salt is not too high. The highest salt concentrations, though still low, are mainly observed in coir dust which is fresh and from coastal coconut trees. This salt concentration can be reduced by leaving the material in the rain, before applying the mulch in the field or nursery.

In a commercial tree nursery in Kenya, germination of cashew seeds is enhanced by applying a coir dust mulch. Besides, roots are not damaged after transplanting, thanks to the loose structure of the coir dust. Weeds in cashew plantations in India are suppressed by applying a layer of 7.5 cm of mulch in a 1.5 m radius around the trees. In Sri Lanka, this kind of mulch is mainly used in semi-perennial crops like pineapple and ginger. Coir dust mulch suppressed some of the world’s worst weeds, namely goatweed, purple nutsedge and the sensitive mimosa plant.

Besides suppressing weeds, coir dust mulch also helps to establish cover crops. Herbaceous legumes are often used as cover crop under coconut in Sri Lanka, but they are suppressed by weeds in dry weather. Applying coir dust tackles the weeds, but favors the leguminous cover crop during the dry season.

Coir dust consists mainly of lignin, a woody substance which is poorly biodegradable. About 90 % is organic matter and the C/N ratio is extremely high (> 130). The low pH of 4.5 Р5.5 offers an extra protection against biodegradation, as many micro-organisms do not survive once the pH drops below 4. Slow biodegradation of organic mulches has been recently more and more looked for, especially in the humid and sub-humid tropics, where fast mineralization of the organic matter and leaching of minterals are big problems. While coir dust can easily be applied as a mulch, the recently produced video suggests that it is better to compost the coir dust first when one wants to use it to improve the soil structure. The video shows how one can easily make one’s own organic decomposer that is rich in good microbes to break down the lignin.

Coir dust, being important to control weeds, improve soil physical conditions and increase water retention capacity, should be regarded as an important resource for soil conservation and sustainable land use in integrated cropping systems, and not as waste. The use of coir dust in the tropics, however, is not only hindered by a lack of knowledge, which the video aims to share, but is also seriously threatened as coir dust is increasingly exported to Europe where it is used as an horticulture substrate.

Further reading

Van Mele, P. 1997. Utilization of Coconut Coir Dust Mulch in the Tropics. Humus News, 13(1), p. 3-4.

Related blogs

Reviving soils

A revolution for our soil

Damaging the soil and our health with chemical reductionism

Related video

Coir pith – from waste to wealth

Inspiring platforms

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

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

Teaching the farmers of tomorrow with videos May 23rd, 2021 by

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

Youth around the world are leaving agriculture, but many would stay on the farm if they had appropriate technologies and better social services, as Professor Alejandro Bonifacio explained to me recently.

Dr. Bonifacio is from the rural Altiplano, the high plains of Bolivia. At 4,000 meters above sea level, it is some of the highest farmland in the world. Bonifacio has a PhD in plant breeding, and besides directing an agricultural research station in Viacha on the Altiplano, he teaches plant breeding part-time at the public university in La Paz (Universidad Mayor de San Andrés).

The university attracts many rural youths. Every year Bonifacio asks his new class of students to introduce themselves one-by-one and to tell where they come from, and to talk about their parents and their grandparents.

This year about 20% of the students in Bonifacio’s class are still living on the farm, and taking their classes online. Another 50% are the children or grandchildren of farmers, but are now living in the city. Many of these agronomy students would be more interested in taking over their parents’ farm, if not for a couple of problems.

One limitation is the lack of services in the rural areas: poor schools, bad roads, the lack of clinics, and no electricity or running water. While this is slowly improving, Covid has added a new twist, locking young people out of many of the places they liked to go to, and not just bars and restaurants. One advantage of city life is having access to medical attention, but this past year the students said it was as though the cities had no hospitals, because they were full of Covid patients. Classes were all on-line, and so the countryside began to look like a nicer place to live than the city. Many students went home to their rural communities, where there was much more freedom of movement than in the city.

Dr. Bonifacio told me that even when the youth do go home, they don’t want to farm exactly like their parents did. The youngsters don’t go in for all the backbreaking work with picks and shovels, but there is a lack of appropriate technology oriented towards young, family farmers, such as small, affordable machinery. Young farmers are also interested in exploiting emerging markets for differentiated produce, such as food that is free of pesticides. Organic agriculture also helps to save on production costs, as long as farmers have practical alternatives to agrochemicals.

Fortunately, there are videos on appropriate technologies, and Professor Bonifacio shows them in class. Today‚Äôs youth have grown up with videos, and find them convincing. Every year, Bonifacio organizes a forum for about 50 students on plant breeding and crop disease. He assigns the students three videos to watch, to discuss later in the forum. One of his favorites is Growing lupin without disease, which shows some organic methods for keeping the crop healthy. Bonifacio encourages the students to watch the video in Spanish, and Quechua or Aymara. Many of the students speak Quechua or Aymara, or both, besides Spanish. Some feel that they are forgetting their native language. ‚ÄúThe videos help the students to learn technical terms, like the names of plant diseases, in their native languages,‚ÄĚ Bonifacio says.

During the Covid lockdown, Prof. Bonifacio moved his forum online and sent the students links to the videos. In the forum, some of the students said that while they were home they could identify the symptoms of lupine disease, thanks to the video.

Bonifacio logs onto Access Agriculture from time to time to see which new videos have been posted in Spanish, to select some to show to his students, so they can get some of the information they need to become the farmers of tomorrow.

Kids who grow up on small farms often go to university as a bridge to getting a decent job in the city. But others study agriculture, and would return to farming, if they had appropriate technology for family farming, and services like electricity and high-speed internet.

Related Agro-Insight blogs

Awakening the seeds

Quinoa, lost and found

Videos to teach kids good attitudes

No land, no water, no problem

Videos from Access Agriculture

Check out these youth-friendly videos with appropriate technology. Besides videos in English, www.accessagriculture.org has:

104 videos in Spanish

Eight videos in Aymara

And eight in Quechua

ENSE√ĎAR A LOS AGRICULTORES DEL MA√ĎANA CON VIDEOS

Por Jeff Bentley, 23 de mayo del 2021

Por todas partes del mundo, los jóvenes abandonan la agricultura, pero muchos seguirían cultivando si tuvieran tecnologías apropiadas y mejores servicios sociales, como me explicó recientemente el docente Alejandro Bonifacio.

El Dr. Bonifacio es originario del Altiplano de Bolivia. A 4.000 metros sobre el nivel del mar, es una de las tierras agr√≠colas m√°s altas del mundo. Bonifacio tiene un doctorado en fitomejoramiento y, adem√°s de ser jefe de una estaci√≥n de investigaci√≥n agr√≠cola en Viacha, en el Altiplano, ense√Īa fitomeoramiento a tiempo parcial en la universidad p√ļblica de La Paz (Universidad Mayor de San Andr√©s).

La universidad atrae a muchos j√≥venes rurales. Cada a√Īo, Bonifacio pide a su nueva clase de estudiantes que se presenten uno por uno y digan de d√≥nde vienen, y que hablen de sus padres y sus abuelos.

Este a√Īo, alrededor del 20% de los estudiantes de la clase de Bonifacio siguen viviendo en el √°rea rural, desde donde se conectan a las clases virtuales. Otro 50% son hijos o nietos de agricultores, pero ahora viven en la ciudad. Muchos de estos estudiantes de agronom√≠a estar√≠an m√°s interesados en trabajar el terreno sus padres, si no fuera por un par de problemas.

Una limitaci√≥n es la falta de servicios en las zonas rurales: colegios deficientes, carreteras en mal estado, la falta de cl√≠nicas, luz y agua potable. Aunque esto est√° mejorando poco a poco, Covid ha introducido cambios, porque los j√≥venes ya no pueden ir a muchos de los lugares que les gustaban, y no s√≥lo las discotecas y los restaurantes. Una de las ventajas de la vida urbana es tener acceso a la atenci√≥n m√©dica, pero este √ļltimo a√Īo los estudiantes dijeron que era como si las ciudades no tuvieran hospitales, porque estaban llenos de pacientes de Covid. Las clases eran todas en l√≠nea, por lo que el campo empez√≥ a parecer un lugar m√°s agradable para vivir que la ciudad. Muchos estudiantes se fueron a sus comunidades rurales, donde hab√≠a m√°s libertad de movimiento que en la ciudad.

El Dr. Bonifacio me dijo que, incluso cuando los j√≥venes vuelven a casa, no quieren trabajar la tierra tal como lo hac√≠an sus padres. Los j√≥venes no se dedican al trabajo agotador con palas y picotas, pero hace falta la tecnolog√≠a adecuada orientada a los j√≥venes agricultores familiares, por ejemplo, la maquinaria peque√Īa y asequible. Los j√≥venes agricultores tambi√©n quieren explotar los mercados emergentes de productos diferenciados, como los alimentos libres de plaguicidas. La agricultura org√°nica tambi√©n ayuda a ahorrar costes de producci√≥n, siempre que los agricultores tengan alternativas pr√°cticas a los productos agroqu√≠micos.

Afortunadamente, existen videos sobre tecnolog√≠as adecuadas, y el Dr. Bonifacio los muestra en clase. Los j√≥venes de hoy conocen los videos desde su infancia, y los encuentran convincentes. Cada a√Īo, Bonifacio organiza un foro para unos 50 estudiantes sobre el fitomejoramiento y las enfermedades. Asigna a los alumnos tres videos para que los vean y los discutan despu√©s en el foro. Uno de sus favoritos es Producir tarwi sin enfermedad, que muestra algunos m√©todos org√°nicos para mantener el lupino sano. Bonifacio anima a los estudiantes a ver el video en espa√Īol y en quechua o aymara. Muchos de los estudiantes hablan quechua o aymara, o ambos, adem√°s del castellano. Algunos sienten que est√°n olvidando su lengua materna. “Los videos ayudan a los alumnos a aprender t√©rminos t√©cnicos, como los nombres de las enfermedades de las plantas, en sus idiomas nativos”, dice Bonifacio.

Durante la cuarentena de Covid, el Dr. Bonifacio trasladó su foro a Internet y envió a los estudiantes enlaces a los videos. En el foro, algunos de los estudiantes dijeron que mientras estaban en casa podían identificar los síntomas de la enfermedad del tarwi (lupino), gracias al video.

Bonifacio entra en la p√°gina web de Access Agriculture de vez en cuando para ver qu√© nuevos videos se han publicado en espa√Īol, para seleccionar algunos y ense√Ī√°rselos a sus alumnos, para que aprendan algo de la informaci√≥n que necesitan para ser los agricultores del futuro.

Los hijos de agricultores suelen usar a la universidad como puente para conseguir un buen trabajo en la ciudad. Pero otros estudian agronomía, y volverían al agro, si tuvieran tecnología apropiada para la agricultura familiar, y servicios como electricidad e Internet de alta velocidad.

Historias relacionadas en el blog de Agro-Insight

Despertando las semillas

Quinoa, lost and found

Videos to teach kids good attitudes

Sin tierra, sin agua, no hay problema

Videos de Access Agriculture

Vea algunos de estos videos apropiados para agricultores jóvenes en https://www.accessagriculture.org/es. Incluso, Access Agriculture tiene:

104 videos en castellano

Ocho videos en aymara

Y ocho en quechua

 

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