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Killing the soil with chemicals (and bringing it back to life) August 14th, 2022 by

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

Paul, and Marcella and I were filming recently in Quilcas, a village in Junín of the central Andes of Peru. A farmer and a former president of the community, Marcelo Tiza was spending the day with us. As we were admiring the mountain peaks and the green hillsides surrounding the community, we noticed that the steep slopes were divided up into a faint green checker board pattern, like a patchwork of abandoned fields. Then don Marcelo remarked offhand that all of that land had once been farmed, but that the soil had been destroyed by chemical fertilizer.

According to the community, these hillsides had always been cultivated, in a long rotation called ‚Äúturns,‚ÄĚ where they divided their high lands into several large fields, each with the same harvest potential. They would open one field the first year and divide it into family parcels of land to plant potatoes. The next year, they would open another big field for potatoes, and the first one, where they had already harvested potatoes, would be planted in other Andean tubers, or broad beans, or some other crop. Then the land would rest for five years, until the land became fertile again and people would plant potatoes again.

Then in the 1970s, the people of Quilcas began to use chemical fertilizer to boost their potato yields. Some people could afford chemical fertilizer, and those who couldn’t would apply sheep manure to their land. But after just 25 years of using chemical fertilizer, the communal land had been ruined. By 1999, community members noticed that even after they let the land rest for five years, it no longer recovered its fertility. It was missing its thick cover of vegetation and plants like trébol de carretilla that local people recognized as the signs of healthy land, ready to plant.

So the people of Quilcas moved their communal land higher, from about 3,800 meters above sea level to nearly 4,000. Having learned their lesson, the people prohibited the use of any chemical fertilizer or pesticides on these lands. The community regulations prohibited the use of chemical fertilizer or other chemicals in the communal fields, and people who broke these rules could be fined or even lose their rights to the lands.

Since 2000, the community of Quilcas (in collaboration with the NGO Yanapai) has also learned to use a long rotation of fodder crops (grasses and legumes). For several years, they plant potato in rotation with other tubers, as well as with barley and oats. Then the land is rested for several years, by planting a cover of fodder crops, which enrich the soil.  They have perfected the system in the individual lands near their homes, in the lower parts of the community (at about 3,500 meters above sea level).  And now they are experimenting with planting fodder above the villages, in the soil spoiled by chemicals. The first yields have been good, and people are encouraged. Ecological farming may be able to restore soils that have been ruined by the intense use of chemicals.

Paul and I have devoted much of this blog to the power of individual farmers to perform creative experiments. But farmer experiments can be more powerful than we have given them credit for. This story highlights the ability of communities to notice change that unfolded over several decades, at the level of whole landscapes, and to proactively experiment with ways of restoring the soil their lives depend on.

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Scientific name

Tr√©bol de carretilla is Medicago polymorpha or Medicago hispida (English ‚Äúburr medic‚ÄĚ)

Acknowledgements

The visit to Peru to film various farmer-to-farmer training videos, including this one, was made possible with the kind support of the Collaborative Crop Research Program (CCRP) of the McKnight Foundation. Thanks to Edgar Olivera, Ra√ļl Ccanto, Jhon Huaraca and colleagues of the Grupo Yanapai for introducing us to Quilcas and for sharing their knowledge with us. Edgar Olivera and Paul Van Mele read and made valuable comments on an earlier version of this story.

MATAR EL SUELO CON QU√ćMICOS (Y DEVOLVERLE LA VIDA)

Jeff Bentley, 14 de agosto del 2022

Hace poco, Paul, Marcella y yo film√°bamos un video en Quilcas, en el departamento de Jun√≠n, en los Andes centrales del Per√ļ. Un agricultor y antiguo presidente de la comunidad, Marcelo Tiza, estaba pasando el d√≠a con nosotros. Mientras admir√°bamos las cumbres de los cerros y las laderas que rodeaban la comunidad, nos dimos cuenta de que las inclinadas faldas del cerro estaban divididas en un borroso tablero de ajedrez verde: un mosaico de campos abandonados. Entonces don Marcelo explic√≥ que en el pasado toda esa tierra s√≠ hab√≠a sido cultivada, pero que el suelo hab√≠a sido destruido por los fertilizantes qu√≠micos.

Seg√ļn la comunidad, esas laderas siempre se hab√≠an cultivado, en una especie de rotaci√≥n por ‚Äúturnos‚ÄĚ donde divid√≠an sus tierras altas en varios sectores, cada uno con casi la misma capacidad productiva. Abr√≠an un sector el primer a√Īo y lo divid√≠an en parcelas familiares para sembrar papa. El siguiente a√Īo, abr√≠an otro terreno grande para papas, y en el primer campo, donde hab√≠an cosechado las papas, se sembraba otros tub√©rculos andinos, o habas, u otro cultivo. Luego la tierra descansaba por cinco a√Īos, hasta volverse f√©rtil y se pod√≠a sembrar papas de nuevo.

Luego, en la d√©cada de 1970, la gente de Quilcas empez√≥ a usar fertilizantes qu√≠micos para aumentar el rendimiento de las papas. Algunas personas pod√≠an darse el lujo de aplicar esos qu√≠micos, y las que no pod√≠an hacerlo, pon√≠an guano de oveja a sus tierras. Pero tras s√≥lo 25 a√Īos de uso de fertilizantes qu√≠micos, la tierra comunal se hab√≠a arruinado. En 1999, los miembros de la comunidad se dieron cuenta de que, incluso despu√©s de dejar descansar la tierra durante cinco a√Īos, ya no recuperaba su fertilidad. Le faltaba su espesa capa de vegetaci√≥n y plantas como el tr√©bol de carretilla, que la poblaci√≥n local reconoc√≠a como signo de una tierra sana, lista para sembrar.

Así que la gente de Quilcas trasladó sus campos comunales más arriba, de unos 3.800 metros sobre el nivel del mar a casi 4.000. Habiendo aprendido su lección, la gente prohibió el uso de cualquier fertilizante químico o plaguicida en estas tierras. Los estatutos de la comunidad prohíben el uso de fertilizantes y agroquímicos en tierras comunales, caso contrario el comunero será sancionado, hasta con la separación de la comunidad.

Desde el a√Īo 2000, la comunidad de Quilcas (en colaboraci√≥n con la ONG Yanapai) tambi√©n ha aprendido a usar una larga rotaci√≥n de cultivos forrajeros (gram√≠neas y leguminosas). Durante varios a√Īos, siembran la papa en rotaci√≥n con otros tub√©rculos, y cebada y avena. Luego la tierra descansa por varios a√Īos, con una cobertura de pasto cultivado, lo cual enriquece el suelo. ¬†Han perfeccionado el sistema en las tierras individuales cercanas a sus casas, en las partes bajas de la comunidad (a unos 3.500 metros sobre el nivel del mar).¬† Y ahora est√°n experimentando con la siembra de forraje en tierras m√°s altas, hasta en los terrenos arruinados por los productos qu√≠micos. Los primeros rendimientos han sido buenos, y la gente est√° animada. La agricultura ecol√≥gica podr√≠a restaurar los suelos destruidos por el uso intensivo de qu√≠micos.

Paul y yo hemos dedicado gran parte de este blog al reconocer a los agricultores individuales y sus experimentos creativos. Pero los experimentos de los agricultores pueden ser más poderosos de lo que les hemos atribuido. Esta historia pone de relieve la capacidad de las comunidades para darse cuenta del cambio que se ha producido a lo largo de varias décadas, a nivel de paisajes enteros, y para experimentar proactivamente con formas de restaurar el suelo del que dependen sus vidas.

Previamente en el blog de Agro-Insight

200 cuyes

Silent Spring, Better living through biology

Una revolución para nuestro suelo

Nombre científico

Trébol de carretilla es Medicago polymorpha o Medicago hispida

Agradecimiento

Nuestra visita al Per√ļ para filmar varios videos, incluso este, fue posible gracias al generoso apoyo del Programa Colaborativo de Investigaci√≥n de Cultivos (CCRP) de la Fundaci√≥n McKnight. Gracias a Edgar Olivera, Ra√ļl Ccanto, Jhon Huaraca y colegas del Grupo Yanapai por presentarnos a Quilcas y por compartir su conocimiento con nosotros. Edgar Olivera y Paul Van Mele hicieron comentarios valiosos sobre una versi√≥n previa de este relato.

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