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Singing to the cows May 19th, 2019 by

I recently showed a Kenyan video about hand milking to a group of women dairy farmers in Bolivia. They laughed when Peter Ndung’u Macharia, a farmer who appears in the video, said that he sometimes sang to his cows.

I wondered why the Bolivian women laughed. People laugh for many reasons. They may find humor when they see the familiar in an unexpected context, or they can laugh at a strange idea. So, later I asked the extensionist, who was also watching the video: “Do dairy farmers here sing to their cows?”

“I wished they would sing to their cows. They argue in front of their cows, husband and wife yelling at each other, or at their kids. Sometimes they hit the cow, or they milk with all that anger inside of them, making the cow nervous.”

Access Agriculture videos are meant to be a learning experience, and serious, but it may add interest if the audience finds some unintended humor. The extensionist said that the video was excellent, and that he hoped that people here would adopt a softer touch, such as singing, instead of just corralling a cow and jerking on her unwashed teats.

After all, music is used fairly widely to calm cows – from classical concertos to Simon and Garfunkel (look up “music to soothe dairy cows”). Cows are living beings and making them comfortable during milking can only help to produce quality milk. And never argue in front of them.

Watch the video

Hand milking of dairy cows

Caring for animals, with plants May 12th, 2019 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

The yapuchiris continue to fascinate me. We’ve written about these expert farmers in the Bolivian Altiplano before, but there’s always something new to learn from them. Take Constantino Franco, for example, who is a jilakata, the highest traditional authority in self-governing rural communities.

In 2015, don Constantino began to teach other farmers about a method to treat the wounds of animals. He would gather several kinds of plants, boil them in fat and let the infusion cool. It made a salve that he could apply to the wounds of livestock.

At Prosuco, the NGO that supports the yapuchiris, agronomist Sonia Laura encouraged don Constantino to teach others about the remedy. She also wondered if it was really effective, so she asked a livestock expert, Elva Vargas, to investigate. Elva contacted a veterinarian, Sefarín Mena, who knew about the active ingredients of the plants used in salves, and who confirmed the value of don Constantino’s ointment.

Validating local knowledge in this way ensures that local treatments can be shared confidently with a wider audience.

I caught up with don Constantino recently and watched how he explained his method to yapuchiris and other farmers attending a workshop held in the remote village of Chigani Alto, on a hillside overlooking Lake Titicaca. Yapuchiris from distant communities had come to work with local farmers. They broke into groups and spent the morning on different farming topics, such as seed, weather, and soil.

Don Constantino had gathered an enthusiastic group around him. His new friends from Chigani Alto went to the nearby hills and returned with a selection of medicinal plants. They ground the plants in a metal hand-cranked grinder. Except for the gel-like aloe vera, which they scraped with a knife.

The group boiled the plants in fat in a new, earthen pot, to avoid adding a bitter taste to someone’s good cooking pot. Then they squeezed the plants in a cloth to obtain the herbal liquid extract. They ladled this into little plastic containers, so everyone at the workshop could take some of the salve away with them. The experiments would continue at home.

It was a simple but valuable exercise, sharing an effective local practice that is widely available to farmers and reduces their dependency on synthetic products. Being able to make inputs instead of buying them from agroinput dealers is important for smallholders who are often making a living on very tight profit margins.

Recipe

Ingredients:

Fresh eucalyptus leaves

Chamomile flowers

An aloe vera leaf

Some mint

Some malva

A kilo of animal fat, petroleum jelly or vegetable lard.

Equipment:

A hand-cranked metal grinder

A knife

A thick cloth

An earthen pot

Preparation:

Scrape off a handful of aloe vera gel.

Grind the other ingredients in the grinder.

Put the earthen pot on the stove.

Add the fat.

When it is melted add a handful of each of the ground plants and stir.

After five minutes remove from the heat.

Strain the mixture through a cloth to remove the solid plants parts.

Pour the mixture into a pot or other suitable container and allow it to cool.

Apply it to the wounds of animals to encourage healing.

Blog stories about yapuchiris

Inspiration from Bangladesh to Bolivia

Three generations of knowledge

Cultivating pride in the Andes

Farmers produce electronic content

Predicting the weather

Related videos

You can catch of glimpse of don Constantino, wearing the red poncho of a jilakata, in the video:

Recording the weather; you can also watch the video in Spanish, and in two Andean languages: Aymara and Quechua.

Videos from India about botanical medicines for animals:

Deworming goats and sheep with herbal medicines

Herbal medicine against fever in livestock

Herbal treatment for diarrhoea

And a video from Egypt about caring for skin ailments of horses and donkeys

Preventing fly-borne illness in donkeys and horses

CUIDANDO A LOS ANIMALES, CON PLANTAS

12 de mayo del 2019, por Jeff Bentley

Los yapuchiris me siguen fascinando. Hemos escrito antes sobre estos agricultores expertos en el Altiplano boliviano, pero siempre hay algo nuevo que aprender de ellos. Por ejemplo, Constantino Franco es jilakata, una autoridad tradicional en las comunidades originarias.

En 2015, don Constantino comenzó a enseñar a otros agricultores un método para curar las heridas de los animales. Reunía varios tipos de plantas, las hervía en grasa y dejaba enfriar la infusión. Hizo una pomada que podía aplicar a las heridas del ganado.

En Prosuco, la ONG que apoya a los yapuchiris, la ingeniera agrónoma Sonia Laura alentó a don Constantino a enseñar a otros sobre el remedio. También se preguntó si era realmente efectivo, así que pidió que una zootecnista Elva Vargas, investigara. Elva se contactó con un doctor veterinario, Sefarín Mena, quien ya sabía de los ingredientes activos de las plantas que se usaban en las pomadas, y confirmó el valor de la pomada de don Constantino.

Validando el conocimiento local de esta manera asegura que las curaciones locales puedan ser compartidas con más confianza con una audiencia más amplia.

Volví a ver a don Constantino recientemente y escuché mientras explicó su método a yapuchiris y a otros agricultores mientras asistían a un taller en la remota comunidad de Chigani Alto, en una ladera con vista al Lago Titicaca. Los yapuchiris de comunidades lejanas habían venido a trabajar con los agricultores locales. Se dividieron en grupos y pasaron la mañana en diferentes temas agrícolas, tales como semillas, clima, y suelo.

Don Constantino había reunido a un grupo entusiasta a su alrededor. Sus nuevos amigos de Chigani Alto fueron a las colinas cercanas y regresaron con una selección de plantas medicinales. Molieron las plantas en un molino metálico de manivela manual. Excepto por el gel de aloe vera, que rasparon con un cuchillo.

El grupo hirvió las plantas en grasa, en una nueva olla de barro, para evitar de añadir un sabor amargo a la buena olla de alguien. Luego exprimieron las plantas en un paño, para obtener el extracto de las plantas. Lo vertieron en pequeños recipientes de plástico, para que todos en el taller pudieran llevarse algo de la pomada. Los experimentos continuarían en casa.

Fue un ejercicio simple pero valioso, compartiendo una práctica local efectiva para hacerla más ampliamente accesible a los agricultores y reducir su dependencia de los productos sintĂ©ticos.  El poder hacer insumos en lugar de comprarlos de la tienda agro-pecuaria es importante para los campesinos, que a menudo se ganan la vida con márgenes muy estrechos.

Receta

Ingredientes:

Hojas frescas de eucalipto

Flores de manzanilla

Una hoja de sábila

Menta

Malva

Un kilo de grasa de animal, jalea de petrĂłleo (vaselina) o manteca vegetal

Equipo:

Un molino metálico manual

Un cuchillo

Una tela gruesa

Una olla de barro

PreparaciĂłn:

Raspe un puñado de gel de aloe vera.

Moler el resto de los ingredientes en el molino.

Ponga la olla de barro sobre el fuego.

Añadir la grasa.

Cuando se derrita, añadir un puñado de cada una de las plantas molidas y remover.

Después de cinco minutos, retirar del fuego.

Colar la mezcla en una tela para eliminar las partes sĂłlidas de la planta.

Vierta la mezcla en una olla u otro recipiente adecuado y deje que se enfrĂ­e.

AplĂ­quelo a las heridas de los animales para favorecer la curaciĂłn.

Blogs sobre los yapuchiris

InspiraciĂłn de Bangladesh a Bolivia

Three generations of knowledge

Cultivando orgullo en los Andes

Agricultores producen contenido electrĂłnico

Prediciendo el clima

Videos que le podrĂ­an interesar

En el video se puede ver a don Constantino, vestido con el poncho rojo de un jilakata:

Hacer un registro del clima, disponible también en dos idiomas nativos de los Andes: aymara y quechua.

Videos de la India sobre remedios botánicos para los animales:

Deworming goats and sheep with herbal medicines

Herbal medicine against fever in livestock

Herbal treatment for diarrhoea

Y un video de Egipto sobre el cuidado de enfermedades de piel de caballos y burros

Preventing fly-borne illness in donkeys and horses

The diesel wheat mills May 5th, 2019 by

The people of Yuraj Molino (“white mill”) live surrounded by wheat fields, in a large valley near the small town of Pocona, Bolivia. As the name suggests, there have been flour mills in Yuraj Molino for some time. But by the late 1970s, customers were complaining of how long it took to grind the wheat; they got tired of waiting all day for their flour. And then millers began to notice that with the warmer, dryer climate, the streams no longer carried as much stream water, to power the mills. Some of the mills closed. Ana and I visited the ruins of a miller’s house, the yard full of weeds, with the mill still there and a calendar for 1984 still on the wall.

Other mills survived. Local miller Juan Torrico showed us his old mill house, with the canal that once brought water from the mountains. In 2001, Juan’s brother Sergio designed a new mill at the mill house. He bought two large, new stones from a master craftsman near Epizana, Cochabamba, who still carves the massive limestone wheels. Sergio bought a diesel engine, and a used truck axel. The brothers built a new mill house and mounted the stones in it, fixed the axel upright below them, and then used a steel rod to connect the axel to the diesel engine, which Sergio put in the next room. This way they kept the diesel smoke and the engine noise out of the mill room. They don’t want the smoke to spoil the delicate flavor of the flour, which people love.

Five or six other mills in the valley are also sited where old water mills used to be, near running water. But most of them are also now powered by diesel motors.

One by one the old water mills around Pocona adapted to diesel, and one or two are still using water power. The change to diesel was gradual and there was never a break in service, never a time when the farmers had no mills to go to. The mills themselves also stayed in the same places. Although the mills were originally sited to be near water, they were also near the wheat fields, and the millers owned the land where their mills were, and they had community ties to the area. So, the diesel mills stayed right where the water mills had been.

There is no research institution providing expertise on how to motorize Bolivian water mills. At some point, the millers themselves had to blend their traditional knowledge with a lot of new information about motors and old truck parts. As always, people in rural areas are constantly creating and making sophisticated adaptations to changing conditions.

The Sajama Lines April 28th, 2019 by

A mystery unfolds around Mount Sajama, the highest point in Bolivia (6542 meters), a gorgeous snowcapped volcano. Even the base of the mountain is really high: 4200 meters, making the surrounding area too cold for farming, even though it is in tropical latitudes. And in ancient times, only farmers made grand monumental art. Yet the landscape around Mount Sajama is crisscrossed by some 10,000 km of perfectly straight lines, made by ancient people.

The lines are so poorly known that few people in Bolivia have heard of them. Many of the lines are in the Sajama National Park, although they are ignored in park literature. Yet the lines are clearly visible from the air, as I noticed last year when flying over them. They look a bit like giant, interlocking asterisks.

So, on a recent trip to Sajama, Ana and I were able to see that the lines up close. Up close, they look like roads, about 3 meters wide, stripped of all vegetation. Many lines run to hilltops. Some run far up the slopes of the highest mountains, but still end a long way from the icy peaks. Even today those peaks are impossible to climb, except by highly skilled (and slightly crazy) mountaineers.

From the Nazca Lines to the Pyramids of Giza, ancient monuments were made by agrarian societies. The labor came from off-season farmers.  Unskilled workers, specialists and priests were all fed with harvests wrested from farmers. But the area around Sajama is cold for most of the year. In April we woke up to a frost so thick that it covered the backs of the llamas with ice, like a blanket. Not even the hardy, native quinoa will grow here. Not even barley, which grows in the high, cold Alps. So local people continue to pasture large herds of llamas, like their ancestors before them. Hamlets are few, and far between.

Where did the labor come from to build these lines? Did workers migrate in seasonally, carrying their food with them?

On the ground, the lines look like nothing more than a band of sandy soil, where the native brush has been removed. It would have been an unimaginable amount of work to dig out all the deep-rooted needle grass and t’ola plants without steel tools. Millions of people-hours of labor. And, why have the plants not grown back in the last 500 years or so? The volcanic soil around the lines seems to have been only lightly disturbed. Are native plants really so slow to regenerate in this forbidding environment?

The lines are as straight as if made with a theodolite, even when crossing rivers or moving across slopes. Many of the lines come together at the small colonial churches. No doubt the sixteenth century chapels were built on the sites that the native people already held sacred, as jealous priests sought to co-opt the spiritual places of the Andean peoples.

The University of Pennsylvania conducted research on the lines a decade ago, but I’ve been unable to find one of their publications. Why this grand desert site is so under-researched is perhaps as great a wonder as the lines themselves.

Asking about cows April 21st, 2019 by

Officials often tell me that farmers can’t learn from smallholders on other continents. This tells us more about the limited imagination of officialdom than it does about farmers’ creativity, as I saw recently in a small town near Cochabamba, Bolivia.

I went with an extensionist colleague to show some videos to a group of women who were organized to sell milk. Their leader, doña Miguelina, met us with a big smile at the door of her home, and ushered us into a large room with tables, chairs and a refrigerated milk tank, where the women could bring their milk twice a day, for the dairy to collect.

A dozen women in broad-brimmed hats soon gathered, and we watched two videos from Nigeria. One explained how dairy producers should never blend water or anything else with their milk. Doña Miguelina had a question. “One time the dairy sent our milk back, saying that it was watery, but we hadn’t added any water to the milk.”

The extensionist gently explained that milk fat content is low if people only feed their cows water and bran. Cows need grass and grain to make rich milk. That was a good answer, and an example of expert “facilitation,” where added content can help to round out information from a video.

Next, we watched a video on keeping milk free of antibiotics. Afterwards the group had a question. “If antibiotics get into a cow’s milk, don’t the medicines also contaminate the cow’s meat?”

Yes, indeed. If a cow dies while being treated for an infection, her meat will contain antibiotics. That poses a dilemma for people if the cow dies during treatment, because they want to make use of the meat. These small-scale dairy farmers had correctly taken one idea from the video (don’t drink milk from a cow that has been recently treated with antibiotics), and extended it further (you shouldn’t eat the meat, either).

By the second video we had been joined by two agronomists from the municipal government. One asked “What breed of cow is that in the video?”

“A local breed.”

“And what is their milk yield?”

In college we used to call this game “stump the prof”, where we would ask questions we thought the professor couldn’t answer. On the other hand, the farmers were not playing games. They had gone right to the point of the video with their thoughtful questions. The farmers asked about the core topics of the videos.

I’ve never heard Latin American farmers complain, or even comment on the appearance of African farmers in the videos hosted on Access Agriculture. Even on different continents, smallholders have similar concerns, and they can identify with each other.

Related blog

Kicking the antibiotic habit

The videos we watched on dairy

Pure milk is good milk

Keeping milk free from antibiotics

And we also watched: Hand milking of dairy cows

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