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The kitchen training centre December 18th, 2022 by

Nederlandse versie hieronder

In an earlier blog, we wrote how indigenous women in Ecuador were trained by a theatre coach to improve their customer relations when marketing their fresh food at an agroecological fair. During our annual Access Agriculture staff meeting, this year in Cairo, Egypt, we learned about other creative ways to build rural women’s skills and confidence.

One afternoon, our local colleague, Laura Tabet who co-founded the NGO Nawaya about a decade ago, invites us all to visit Nawaya’s Kitchen Training Centre. None of us has a clue as to what to expect. Walking through the gate, we are in for one surprise after the next.

Various trees and shrubs border the green grass on which a very long table is installed. Additional shade is provided by a ramada of woven reeds from nearby wetlands. The table is covered with earthenware pots containing a rich diversity of dishes, all unknown to us. “One of our policies is to avoid plastics as much as possible in whatever we do with food,” explains Laura. But before the feast starts, we are invited to have a look at the kitchen.

Hadeer Ahmed Ali, a warmly smiling staff of Nawaya, guides the 20 visitors from Access Agriculture into the spacious kitchen in the building at the back end of the garden. Several rural women are frantically putting small earthen pots in and out of the oven, while others add the last touches to some fresh salads with cucumber and parsley. The kitchen with its stainless steel and tiled working space is immaculate and the dozen women all wear the same, yellow apron. Their group spirit is clear to see.

We are all separated from the cooking area by a long counter. When Hadeer translates our questions into Arabic, the rural women respond with great enthusiasm. One is holding a camera and takes photos of us while we interact with her colleagues. It is hard to imagine that some of these women had never left their village until a year and a half ago, when Nawaya started its Kitchen Training Centre.

Later on, Laura tells me that each woman is from a different village and is specialised in a specific dish: “We want each of them to develop their own product line, without having to deal with competition from within their own village. While the basis are traditional recipes, we also innovate by experimenting with new ingredients and flavours to appeal to urban consumers.”

The women source from local farmers who grow organic food, and cater for various events and groups. In the near future, they also want to grow some of their own vegetables and sell their own branded products to local shops, restaurants and even deliver to Cairo.

The women have sharpened their communication skills by regularly interacting with groups of school children from Cairo. But becoming confident to interact with foreigners and tourists from all over the world is a different thing. Hence Nawaya engaged Rasha Fam, who studied tourism and runs her own business. She taught the women how to interact with tourists. Unfortunately, it is against Egyptian law to bring foreign tourists to places like this, because tour operators can only take tourists to places that are on the official list of tourist destinations. The tourism industry in Egypt is a strictly regulated business.

Rasha also confirms what we had seen: these rural women are genuine and when given the opportunity it brings out the best of them. The training program helped women calculate costs, standardise recipes, host guests and deliver hands on activities in the farm and the kitchen.

When we walk out of the Kitchen Training Centre, a few women are baking fresh baladi bread (traditional Egyptian flatbread) in a large gas oven set up in the garden. Large wooden trays display the dough balls on a thin layer of flour. One of the ladies skilfully inserts her fingers under a ball to transfer it to a slated paddle-shaped tool made from palm fronds  (locally called mathraha). When she slightly throws the flat balls up, she gives the mathraha a small turn to the left. With each movement the ball becomes flatter and flatter until the right size is obtained. With a decisive movement she then transfers the flatbreads into the oven.

Nandini, our youngest colleague from India is excited to give it a try. Soon also Vinjeru from Malawi and Salahuddin from Bangladesh line up to get this experience. We all have a good laugh when we see how our colleagues struggle to do what they just observed. It is a good reminder that something that may look easy can in fact be rather difficult when doing it the first time, and that perfection comes with practice.

Our appetite raised, we all take place around the table, vegetarians on one side. The dishes reveal such a great diversity of food. It is not every day that one has a chance to eat buffalo and camel meat, so tender that they surprise many of us. The vegetarians are delighted with green wheat and fresh pea stews.

Promoting traditional food cultures can be done in many different ways. What we learned from Nawaya is that when done in an interactive way it helps to build bridges between generations and cultures. People are unique among vertebrates in that we share food. Eating and cooking together can be a fun, cross-cultural experience.

Whether people come from the capital in their own country, or from places across the world, they love to interact with rural women to experience what it takes to prepare real food. Nawaya’s Kitchen Training Centre has clearly found the right ingredients to boost people’s awareness about healthy local food cultures.

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Het keukenopleidingscentrum

In een eerdere blog schreven we hoe inheemse vrouwen in Ecuador door een theatercoach werden getraind om hun klantrelaties te verbeteren bij het vermarkten van hun verse voedsel op een agro-ecologische markt. Tijdens onze jaarlijkse Access Agriculture stafvergadering, dit jaar in Caïro, Egypte, leerden we over andere creatieve manieren om vaardigheden en vertrouwen van plattelandsvrouwen op te bouwen.

Op een middag nodigt onze lokale collega, Laura Tabet, die ongeveer tien jaar geleden de NGO Nawaya mede oprichtte, ons allemaal uit voor een bezoek aan Nawaya’s Kitchen Training Centre. Niemand van ons weet wat hij kan verwachten. Als we door de poort lopen, wacht ons de ene verrassing na de andere.

Verschillende bomen en struiken omzomen het groene gras waarop een zeer lange tafel staat. Een pergola van riet uit de nabijgelegen wetlands zorgt voor extra schaduw. De tafel is gedekt met aardewerken potten die een rijke verscheidenheid aan gerechten bevatten, allemaal onbekend voor ons. “Een van onze beleidslijnen is om zoveel mogelijk plastic te vermijden bij alles wat we met voedsel doen,” legt Laura uit. Maar voordat het feest begint, worden we uitgenodigd om een kijkje te nemen in de keuken.

Hadeer Ahmed Ali, een hartelijk lachende medewerkster van Nawaya, leidt de 20 bezoekers van Access Agriculture binnen in de ruime keuken in het gebouw achterin de tuin. Verschillende plattelandsvrouwen zijn verwoed bezig kleine aarden potjes in en uit de oven te halen, terwijl anderen de laatste hand leggen aan enkele verse salades met komkommer en peterselie. De keuken met zijn roestvrijstalen en betegelde werkruimte is onberispelijk en de twaalf vrouwen dragen allemaal hetzelfde gele schort. Hun groepsgeest is duidelijk te zien.

We zijn allemaal gescheiden van het kookgedeelte door een lange toonbank. Als Hadeer onze vragen in het Arabisch vertaalt, reageren de plattelandsvrouwen met groot enthousiasme. Eén houdt een camera vast en neemt foto’s van ons terwijl wij met haar collega’s omgaan. Het is moeilijk voor te stellen dat sommige van deze vrouwen nooit hun dorp hadden verlaten tot anderhalf jaar geleden, toen Nawaya zijn Kitchen Training Centre begon.

Later vertelt Laura me dat elke vrouw uit een ander dorp komt en gespecialiseerd is in een specifiek gerecht: “We willen dat ieder van hen zijn eigen productlijn ontwikkelt, zonder dat ze te maken krijgen met concurrentie uit hun eigen dorp. Hoewel de basis traditionele recepten zijn, innoveren we ook door te experimenteren met nieuwe ingrediënten en smaken om stedelijke consumenten aan te spreken.”

De vrouwen kopen in bij lokale boeren die biologisch voedsel verbouwen, en verzorgen de catering voor verschillende evenementen en groepen. In de nabije toekomst willen ze ook enkele van hun eigen groenten kweken en hun eigen merkproducten verkopen aan lokale winkels, restaurants en zelfs leveren aan Caïro.

De vrouwen hebben hun communicatievaardigheden aangescherpt door regelmatige interactie met groepen schoolkinderen uit Caïro. Maar vertrouwen krijgen in de omgang met buitenlanders en toeristen uit de hele wereld is iets anders. Daarom heeft Nawaya Rasha Fam aangetrokken, die toerisme heeft gestudeerd en een eigen bedrijf leidt. Zij heeft de vrouwen geleerd hoe ze met toeristen moeten omgaan. Helaas is het tegen de Egyptische wet om buitenlandse toeristen naar dit soort plaatsen te brengen, omdat touroperators toeristen alleen naar plaatsen mogen brengen die op de officiële lijst van toeristische bestemmingen staan. De toeristische industrie in Egypte is een streng gereguleerde business.

Rasha bevestigt ook wat we hadden gezien: deze plattelandsvrouwen zijn oprecht en wanneer ze de kans krijgen, komt het beste in hen naar boven. Het trainingsprogramma hielp de vrouwen bij het berekenen van kosten, het standaardiseren van recepten, het ontvangen van gasten en het uitvoeren van praktische activiteiten op de boerderij en in de keuken.

Als we het Kitchen Training Centre uitlopen, bakken enkele vrouwen vers baladi-brood (een traditioneel Egyptisch plat brood) in een grote gasoven die in de tuin staat opgesteld. Op grote houten schalen liggen de deegballen op een dun laagje bloem. Een van de dames steekt behendig haar vingers onder een bal om deze over te brengen op een schoepvormig werktuig van palmbladeren (plaatselijk mathraha genoemd). Wanneer ze de platte ballen lichtjes omhoog gooit, geeft ze de mathraha een kleine draai naar links. Met elke beweging wordt de bal platter en platter tot de juiste maat is bereikt. Met een kordate beweging schuift ze dan de platte broden in de oven.

Nandini, onze jongste collega uit India, is enthousiast om het te proberen. Al snel staan ook Vinjeru uit Malawi en Salahuddin uit Bangladesh in de rij om deze ervaring op te doen. We moeten allemaal lachen als we zien hoe onze collega’s worstelen om te doen wat ze net hebben gezien. Het is een goede herinnering aan het feit dat iets dat er gemakkelijk uitziet in feite nogal moeilijk kan zijn als je het de eerste keer doet, en dat perfectie komt met oefening.

Onze eetlust is opgewekt, we nemen allemaal plaats rond de tafel, vegetariërs aan de ene kant. De gerechten tonen een grote verscheidenheid aan voedsel. Men krijgt niet elke dag de kans om buffel- en kamelenvlees te eten, dat zo mals is dat het velen van ons verrast. De vegetariërs zijn blij met groene tarwe en verse erwtenstoofpotten.

Het bevorderen van traditionele eetculturen kan op verschillende manieren gebeuren. Wat we van Nawaya hebben geleerd is dat wanneer het op een interactieve manier gebeurt, het helpt om bruggen te slaan tussen generaties en culturen. Mensen zijn uniek onder de gewervelde dieren omdat we voedsel delen. Samen eten en koken kan een leuke, interculturele ervaring zijn.

Of mensen nu uit de hoofdstad van hun eigen land komen, of van plaatsen over de hele wereld, ze houden van interactie met plattelandsvrouwen om te ervaren wat er nodig is om echt voedsel te bereiden. Nawaya’s Kitchen Training Centre heeft duidelijk de juiste ingrediënten gevonden om mensen bewust te maken van gezonde lokale voedselculturen.

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Making pressed dates

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No-till vegetables December 11th, 2022 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

Ever since I read David Montgomery’s book, Growing a Revolution, I have appreciated the importance of no till. Forsaking the plow not only prevents soil erosion, but cares for beneficial micro-organisms living in the soil. But Montgomery doesn’t go into details about how to avoid plowing in a garden. Most gardening advice books tell you to pulverize the soil before planting vegetable seed. I don’t do that anymore.

I have tried to leave my garden soil unworked, scratching rows for the seed, with reasonable results, but the soil still seems a little hard.

I recently facilitated a workshop for script writers. One group wrote about tests to analyze the soil, including one that uses a plastic bottle and a cloth to measure particulate soil matter. A healthy soil has many small clumps of carbon.

For some added inspiration, the script writers and I went to Granja Polen, a small, ecological farm near Cochabamba, Bolivia. We were met by Willi Flores, who has worked at the farm off and on for 17 years, ever since he was in high school.

Willi showed us a system none of us had seen before for no-till vegetables.

They make a small, raised bed of soil about 20 cm high (8 inches). When the farmers made the vegetable beds, they enriched the soil with lots of small pieces of wood, like dead twigs and branches from eucalyptus and other trees on the farm.

After harvesting one crop of vegetables, the farmers avoid turning over the soil. They simply make a small hole in the soil and add a plug of soil with a seedling. The soil is so soft you can easily make a hole in it with your bare fingers. For added nutrients, the farmers add a little composted manure (from their three dairy cows) to the top of the vegetable bed.

Willi explains that the sprinkler irrigation washes the nutrients down to the roots of the vegetables.

The vegetable beds are never turned over and the wood in the soil slowly decomposes, over the years, providing a soft, rich soil, full of healthy carbon.

For the past four years, Paul has been using a similar technique in his garden: wood-rich raised vegetable and berry beds called hügelbeds, but the bare soil surface gets hard when it is exposed to the sun. It seems that the trick is to periodically add some composted manure to the surface and keep the soil covered all year round.

Related Agro-insight blogs

A revolution for our soil (A review of Growing a Revolution)

Hügelkultur

Acknowledgements

On this farm visit I was accompanied by Jhon Huaraca, Samuel Palomino and Eliseo Mamani, who are writing a video script on soil tests.

HORTALIZAS SIN LABRANZA

Jeff Bentley, 11 de diciembre del 2022

Desde que leí el libro de David Montgomery, Growing a Revolution, he apreciado la importancia de la cero labranza. Olvidándose del arado no sólo evita la erosión del suelo, sino que cuida a los microorganismos benéficos que viven en el suelo. Pero Montgomery no entra en detalles sobre cómo evitar el arar en un huerto. La mayoría de los libros de jardinería dicen que hay que pulverizar el suelo antes de sembrar las semillas de hortalizas. Yo ya no hago eso.

He intentado dejar el suelo en mi jardín sin trabajarlo, rascando las hileras para la semilla, con resultados razonables, pero la tierra todavía me parece un poco dura.

Recientemente he facilitado un taller para escritores de guiones. Un grupo escribió sobre pruebas para analizar el suelo, incluida una que usa una botella de plástico y una tela para medir las partículas de la materia orgánica. Un suelo sano tiene muchos pequeños grumos de carbono.

Para inspirarnos un poco más, los guionistas y yo fuimos a la Granja Polen, una pequeña granja ecológica cerca de Cochabamba, Bolivia. Nos recibió Willi Flores, que ha trabajado en la granja durante 17 años, desde que estaba en el colegio.

Willi nos mostró un sistema que ninguno de nosotros había visto antes para las hortalizas sin labranza.

Hacen un pequeño camellón de unos 20 cm de altura. Cuando los agricultores hicieron los camellones, enriquecieron el suelo con muchos trozos pequeños de leña, como ramitas muertas de eucaliptos y otros árboles de la finca.

Después de cosechar las hortalizas, los agricultores evitan remover el suelo. Simplemente hacen un pequeño agujero en la tierra y ponen un plantín en su pedazo de suelo. La tierra es tan blanda que se puede hacer fácilmente un agujero en ella con los dedos. Para añadir nutrientes, los agricultores añaden un poco de estiércol compostado (de sus tres vacas lecheras) en la superficie del camellón.

Willi explica que el riego por aspersión arrastra los nutrientes hasta las raíces de las verduras.

Los camellones nunca se voltean y la leña en el suelo se descompone lentamente, a lo largo de los años, proporcionando un suelo suave y rico, lleno de carbono saludable.

Durante los últimos cuatro años, Paul ha usado una práctica similar en su huerto: un camellón lleno de leña llamado hügelbed, donde produce hortalizas y bayas, pero la superficie desnuda del suelo siempre se queda dura cuando está expuesta al sol. Parece que el truco es de vez en cuando agregar un poco de estiércol compostado a la superficie, y mantener el suelo cubierto todo el año.

Previamente en el blog de Agro-Insight

Una revolución para nuestro suelo

Hügelkultur

Agradecimientos

En esta visita a la finca me acompañaron Jhon Huaraca, Samuel Palomino y Eliseo Mamani, que están escribiendo un guion de video sobre análisis de suelos.

 

Listen before you film December 4th, 2022 by

Listen before you film

Vea la versión en español a continuación

Smallholder farmers always have something thoughtful to say. At Agro-Insight when we film videos, we often start by holding a workshop where we write the scripts with local experts. We write the first draft of the script as a fact sheet. Then we share the fact sheet with communities, so they can validate the text, but also to criticize it, like a peer review.

This week in a peri-urban community on the edge of Cochabamba, Bolivia, we met eight farmers, seven women and a young man, who grow organic vegetables. Their feedback was valuable, and sometimes a little surprising.

For example, one fact sheet on agroecological marketing stressed the importance of trust between growers and consumers, who cannot tell the difference between organic and conventional tomatoes just by looking at them. But these practiced farmers can. They told us that the organic tomatoes have little freckles, and are a bit smaller than conventional tomatoes. That’s the perspective that comes from a lot of experience.

The fact sheet on the potato tuber moth, a serious global pest, had background information and some ideas on control. The moth can be controlled by dusting seed potatoes with chalk (calcium carbonate), a natural, non-metallic mineral. The chalk contains small crystals that irritate and kill the eggs and larvae of the moth. This idea caught the farmers’ imagination. They wanted to know more about the chalk, and where to get it and how to apply it. (It is a white powder, that is commonly sold in hardware stores, as a building material). Our video will have to make carefully explain how to use chalk to control the tuber moth.

The reaction that surprised me the most was from the fact sheet on soil analysis. The fact sheet described two tests, one to analyze pH and another to measure soil carbon. The tests were a bit complex, and a lot to convey in one page. I was prepared for confusion, but instead, we got curiosity. The women wanted to know more about the pH paper, where could they buy it? What would pH tell them about managing their soils? Could we come back and give them a demonstration on soil analysis? Smallholders are interested in soil, and interested in learning more about it.

As we were leaving, we thanked the farmers for their time and help.

They replied that they also wanted to thank us: for listening to them, for taking them into account. “It should always be like this.” They said “New ideas should be developed with farmers, not in the office.”

Paul and Marcella and I will be back later to make videos on these topics, to share with farmers all over the world. Listening to smallholders early in the video-making, before getting out the camera, helps to make sure that other farmers will find the videos relevant when they come out.

 

ESCUCHAR ANTES DE FILMAR

Jeff Bentley, 4 de diciembre del 2022

Los pequeños agricultores siempre tienen algo interesante que decir. En Agro-Insight, cuando filmamos vídeos, solemos empezar por celebrar un taller donde escribimos los guiones con expertos locales. Escribimos el primer borrador del guion en forma de hoja volante. Luego compartimos la hoja volante con las comunidades, para que puedan validar el texto, pero también para que lo critiquen, como una revisión por pares.

Esta semana, en una comunidad periurbana de las afueras de Cochabamba, Bolivia, nos reunimos con ocho agricultores, siete mujeres y un joven, que cultivan verduras orgánicas. Sus comentarios fueron valiosos, y a veces un poco sorprendentes.

Por ejemplo, una hoja volante sobre la comercialización agroecológica destacaba la importancia de la confianza entre los productores y los consumidores, que no pueden diferenciar los tomates ecológicos de los convencionales con sólo mirarlos. Pero estas agricultoras experimentadas sí pueden. Nos dijeron que los tomates ecológicos tienen pequeñas pecas y son un poco más pequeños que los convencionales. Esa es la perspectiva que da la experiencia.

La hoja informativa sobre la polilla de la papa, una grave plaga a nivel mundial, tenía información de fondo y algunas ideas sobre su control. La polilla puede controlarse cubriendo las papas de siembra con tiza (carbonato cálcico), un mineral natural no metálico. La tiza contiene pequeños cristales que irritan y matan los huevos y las larvas de la polilla. Esta idea llamó la atención de los agricultores. Querían saber más sobre la tiza, dónde conseguirla y cómo aplicarla. (Se trata de un polvo blanco que se vende en las ferreterías como material de construcción). Nuestro video tendrá que explicar cuidadosamente cómo usar la tiza para controlar la polilla del tubérculo.

La reacción que más me sorprendió fue la de la hoja volante sobre el análisis del suelo. La hoja volante describía dos pruebas, una para analizar el pH y otra para medir el carbono del suelo. Las pruebas eran un poco complejas, y mucho para transmitir en una página. Yo estaba preparado para la confusión, pero en lugar de eso, obtuvimos curiosidad. Las mujeres querían saber más sobre el papel de pH, ¿dónde podían comprarlo? ¿Qué les diría el pH sobre el manejo de sus suelos? ¿Podríamos volver y hacerles una demostración sobre el análisis del suelo? Los pequeños agricultores se interesan por el suelo y quieren aprender más sobre ello.

Cuando nos íbamos, dimos las gracias a las agricultoras por su tiempo y su ayuda.

Ellas respondieron que también querían darnos las gracias a nosotros: por escucharles, por tenerles en cuenta. “Siempre debería ser así”. Dijeron: “Las nuevas ideas deben desarrollarse con los agricultores, no en la oficina”.

Paul, Marcella y yo volveremos más tarde a hacer videos sobre estos temas, para compartirlos con los agricultores de todo el mundo. Escuchar a los pequeños agricultores al principio de la realización del vídeo, antes de sacar la cámara, ayuda a asegurarse de que otros agricultores encontrarán los videos pertinentes cuando se publiquen.

Toxic chemicals and bad advice November 27th, 2022 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

Imagine a situation where dangerous products are sold to anyone who wants them, with no license or prescription. You would expect that under such conditions, at least the vendors would be competent, able to advise the customers at least based on the manufacturers’ recommendations.

Sadly, in the Andes, pesticide dealers usually fail to give their customers proper advice.

In a recent study in Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, an experienced team of agriculturalists, mostly from the region, measured the accuracy of advice given at farm supply shops. Their method was ingenious and elegant. A local person (a farmer or an agronomy student) would enter the shop and ask for help with a specific plant health problem, one of the most serious pests or diseases of a major local crop (such as maize or potatoes).  The shopkeeper was not caught off guard with a rare pest or disease. The pretend customer would describe the pest or disease accurately, in local rhetoric, without scientific names or other academic terms. The shopkeeper would make a diagnosis and recommend a product to solve the problem.

On average, across the three countries, the advice was wrong 88.2% of the time, out of 1,489 pesticide retailers. The dealers also favored the more toxic chemicals.

The dealers mis-diagnosed the problem 23% of the time. Those who made an accurate diagnosis then recommended a product for the wrong group of organisms (such as an insecticide for a fungal disease) 13% of the time. They recommended the product for a pest that was not indicated on the label 51% of the time, and gave the wrong dose (ranging from eight times too high or 5 times too low) 52% of the time. There is no reason to think that the situation is much different in most of the rest of the world, outside of the Andes.

Selling agrochemicals with such sloppiness and incompetence only increases the risks to human health and the environment, while also allowing the pest to develop pesticide resistance more quickly. Yet Andean agrodealers only dispense accurate information 12% of the time.

Large agrochemical companies claim not to be accountable for the environmental damage and the frequent human catastrophes caused by the use of pesticides, saying that all the necessary information on proper use is indicated on the label. This blatantly ignores the reality of the retail trade. Authorities should raise taxes on toxic products, and invest this in research and development that supports alternatives, such as agroecology.

Further reading

Struelens, Quentin François, Marco Rivera, Mariana Alem Zabalaga, Raúl Ccanto, Reinaldo Quispe Tarqui, Diego Mina, Carlos Carpio, María Rosa Yumbla Mantilla, Mélany Osorio, Soraya Román, Diego Muñoz, Olivier Dangles 2022 Pesticide misuse among small Andean farmers stems from pervasive misinformation by retailers. PLOS Sustainability and Transformation 1, no. 6: e0000017.

QUÍMICOS TÓXICOS Y CONSEJOS MALOS

Jeff Bentley, 27 de noviembre del 2022

Imaginemos una situación en la que se venden productos peligrosos a cualquiera que los quiera, sin licencia ni receta. Uno esperaría que en esas condiciones, al menos los vendedores fueran competentes, capaces de asesorar a los clientes al menos basándose en las recomendaciones de los fabricantes.

Lamentablemente, en los Andes, los vendedores de plaguicidas no suelen asesorar adecuadamente a sus clientes.

En un reciente estudio realizado en el Perú, Bolivia y Ecuador, un experimentado equipo de ingenieros agrónomos, en su mayoría de la región, midió la exactitud de los consejos dados en las tiendas agropecuarias. Su método era ingenioso y elegante. Una persona del lugar (un agricultor o un estudiante de agronomía) entraba en la tienda y pedía ayuda para un problema fitosanitario concreto, una de las plagas o enfermedades más severas de un cultivo local importante (como el maíz o la papa).  Al tiendero no le agarraban en curva con una plaga o enfermedad rara. El supuesto cliente describiría la plaga o la enfermedad con precisión, en la retórica local, sin nombres científicos ni otros términos académicos. El vendedor hacía un diagnóstico y recomendaba un producto para solucionar el problema.

En promedio, en los tres países, el consejo fue erróneo el 88,2% de las veces, de los 1.489 vendedores de plaguicidas. Los comerciantes también se inclinaron por los productos químicos más tóxicos.

Los comerciantes se equivocaron en el diagnóstico del problema en el 23% de las ocasiones. Los que hicieron un diagnóstico correcto recomendaron un producto para el grupo de organismos equivocado (como un insecticida para un hongo) el 13% de las veces. Recomendaron el producto para una plaga que no estaba indicada en la etiqueta el 51% de las veces, y dieron la dosis equivocada (entre ocho veces demasiado alta y cinco veces demasiado baja) el 52% de las veces. No hay razón para pensar que la situación sea muy diferente en la mayor parte del resto del mundo, fuera de los Andes.

Vender agroquímicos con tanta dejadez e incompetencia sólo aumenta los riesgos para la salud humana y el medio ambiente, al tiempo que permite que la plagas desarrollen resistencia a los plaguicidas más rápidamente. Sin embargo, los agro-comerciantes andinos sólo dispensan información precisa el 12% de las veces.

Las grandes empresas agroquímicas afirman no ser responsables de los daños ambientales y de las frecuentes catástrofes humanas causadas por el uso de plaguicidas, diciendo que toda la información necesaria sobre el uso adecuado está indicada en la etiqueta. Esto ignora descaradamente la realidad del comercio minorista. Las autoridades deberían aumentar los impuestos sobre los agro-tóxicos, e invertir los fondos en la investigación y desarrollo que apoyen alternativas, como la agroecología.

Lectura adicional

Struelens, Quentin François, Marco Rivera, Mariana Alem Zabalaga, Raúl Ccanto, Reinaldo Quispe Tarqui, Diego Mina, Carlos Carpio, María Rosa Yumbla Mantilla, Mélany Osorio, Soraya Román, Diego Muñoz, Olivier Dangles 2022 Pesticide misuse among small Andean farmers stems from pervasive misinformation by retailers. PLOS Sustainability and Transformation 1, no. 6: e0000017.

The long, slow dawn of farming November 20th, 2022 by

In a recent book, The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity, David Graeber and David Wengrow summarize recent archaeological and ethnographic literature, to rethink the start of the state, social inequality, agriculture, property, monarchies, the enlightenment, and much else.

As they explain, agriculture did not start a revolution leading immediately to cities, monarchies and stratified societies with specialized artisans. Current archaeology suggests that wheat and rice may not have been fully domesticated until 3,000 years after people first began planting these crops. The early development of farming was long and slow.

When agrarian cities did eventually emerge, they were also slow to embrace autocratic rule. The earliest Mesopotamian cities, from about 3500 BC, show no signs of royal rulers for at least their first 500 years. In ancient Ukraine, sites large enough to be called cities were occupied for at least 800 years (4100 to 3300 BC) without the palaces and lavish burials left behind by kings.

Some agrarian societies also seem to have been able to shake off authoritarian rulers.  For example, in Mexico, the ancient city of Teotihuacán was certainly led by a central authority from AD 100 to 200, when the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon and the Temple of the Feathered Serpent were built, complete with human sacrifices during the construction. But after AD 300 signs of authoritarianism vanished: for example, human sacrifices stopped, and Teotihuacán was rebuilt to provide decent “social housing” for most of the 100,000 or so residents, until this central Mexican city was abandoned about AD 550.

On the Greek island of Crete, art from the Minoan Civilization (especially from 1700 to 1450 BC) depicts women in positions of leadership, holding staffs of command, performing fertility rites, sitting on thrones and meeting in assemblies with no men present. Graeber and Wengrow speculate that women in this classic agrarian civilization may have formed governing councils which ruled by consensus.

These (and other) examples of agriculture-and-cities without monarchies have been obscured in our current view of “Western Civilization”. Certainly in the past 2000 years, monarchs ruled with absolute power. But can these warlike states with their arrogant kings and their humiliated subjects really be called “civilized”?

“How did we get things so wrong?” Graeber and Wengrow ask, without answering their own question.

After I put the book down, I thought how we are getting it wrong a second time. True, in a way the nature of authoritarianism has changed, and concentration of power has shifted. However, world governments are allowing multinational corporations to dominate the global food supply, to have control over seeds, fertilizer, and even food processing and sales.

There are things we can do to help keep agriculture close to its democratic origins.

  • Plant a garden
  • Buy food from local, family farmers
  • Buy organic and agroecological produce
  • Support local food traditions
  • Experiment with organic soil fertility and other methods that allow you to avoid using chemicals in farming or gardening
  • Lobby your government to apply anti-trust legislation to large corporations in agriculture

Further reading

Graeber, David and David Wengrow 2021 The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Fuller, Dorian Q. 2010 An emerging paradigm shift in the origins of agriculture. General Anthropology 17(2): 1, 8-12.

Previous Agro-Insight blogs

In Against the Grain, James C. Scott also concludes that early agriculture in the Near East was sustainable, based on self-governing villages for thousands of years before states developed in that cradle of civilization. Paul and I like his book so much that we have reviewed it twice:

The early state and the bad old days

Against or with nature

We have also written before about the rising food oligarchy

Grocery shops and farm shops

GMOs by hook and by crooks

Formerly known as food

Fighting farmers

Family farms produce more food and jobs

Damaging the soil and our health with chemical reductionism

Our threatened farmers

The village hunter

 

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