WHO WE ARE SERVICES RESOURCES




Most recent stories ›
AgroInsight RSS feed
Blog

Sorghum and millets on the rise December 10th, 2017 by

For decades, various international aid agencies have pushed Africa towards adopting maize as the hunger-saving technical solution, with traditional crops such as sorghum and pearl millet only receiving a fraction of the support. But climate change is forcing donors and governments to re-think their food security strategies. Recent research in Mali highlights the importance of research and communication to help improve traditional crops and to support farmers as they cope with climate change.

While maize was first domesticated some 7,000 years ago in Mexico, sorghum and pearl millet have their origin in Africa. Sorghum domestication started in Ethiopia and sub-saharan Africa some 5,000 to 6,000 years ago. Through farmer selection numerous improved sorghum types were developed, which then spread via trade routes into other regions of Africa and India. Domestication of pearl millet started only around 2500 BC, in eastern Mali, and spread rapidly to other countries through pastoralists, spurred by the increasing desiccation of the Sahara desert at the time.

The rich genetic diversity of these traditional African crops and the wealth of farmers’ knowledge have formed the basis of recent crop improvement programmes. In West Africa, a handful of devoted sorghum and millet breeders, Drs Eva and Fred Weltzien-Rattunde, Bettina Haussmann and Kirsten vom Brocke, in close collaboration with partners, were able to develop improved sorghum and millet varieties by improving local germplasm. The new varieties cope better with pests and diseases, as well as with rainy seasons that are becoming shorter and more unpredictable.

But these breeders, then working for ICRISAT, did not limit their efforts to participatory plant breeding alone: they also invested heavily in supporting farmer cooperatives to become seed producers and sellers. Some of these examples were captured in a chapter written by Daniel Dalohoun as part of the book African Seed Enterprises that Jeff and I edited with Robert Guei from FAO.

Farmers across Africa are keen to learn how to better conserve, produce and market seed of their traditional crops. While making a video on Farmers’ rights to seed a few months ago at a seed fair in Malawi, farmers eagerly exchanged traditional sorghum and millet varieties with each other. As the government had so far focused on maize only as a food security crop, some communities lost certain traditional sorghum and millet varieties , but seed fairs and community seed banks helped them to again access these varieties. In addition to seed, farmers also want new knowledge about farming practices. Mr. Lovemore Tachokera, a farmer from the south who attended a seed fair in the north, told me: “The one thing I will make sure to tell my fellow farmers back home regarding conservation of indigenous crops is that we should also practice new farming technologies even on the indigenous crops.”

And right he was. Treasuring and improving traditional crops is important, but alone is insufficient to cope with climate change; good agricultural adaptation strategies also matter. Gérard Zoundji, a Beninese PhD student, investigated how a series of farmer training videos on weed and soil management helped farmers in Mali to use climate-smart technologies.

The differences he found between video-villages (where farmers had watched the videos) versus non-video-villages were very significant:

  • crop rotation combined with  intercropping (99% in video villages vs 57% in other villages)
  • compost or microdosing fertiliser application (99% in video villages vs 0%)
  • crop diversification (94% vs 52%)
  • use of improved short-cycle seed varieties (78% vs 17%)
  • use of zaï pits (51% vs 0%)

Zoundji also found that after watching the videos on Fighting striga and improving soil fertility (see the related blog: Killing the vampire flower), farmers started demanding improved cereal seed. And as a result some women’s groups in the villages of Daga and Sirakélé became seed dealers in their village. Sorghum, millet and maize yields in the video-villages increased by 14%, 30% and 15% respectively when compared to non-video villages.

While maize crops are increasingly failing in parts of Africa due to climate change, the robustness of traditional African cereal crops contributes to to their renewed appeal to African farmers. The improved cultivation of traditional, drought-resistant crops, benefiting from research and training on improved cropping practices, will enable farmers to adapt to a harsher and more variable climate.

Watch the videos

Farmers’ rights to seed

Succeed with seeds

Various farmer training videos on Sorghum & Millets

Further reading

Dalohoun, Daniel, Van Mele, P., Weltzien, E., Diallo, D., Guindo, H. and vom Brocke, K. (2010) Mali: When governments give entrepreneurs room to grow. In P. Van Mele, J. Bentley and R. Guei (eds.) African Seed Enterprises (pp. 65-88). Wallingfrod: CABI. Download chapter from: http://agroinsight.com/books.php

Dillon, Sally L.. Frances M. Shapter, Robert J. Henry, Giovanni Cordeiro, Liz Izquierdo, and L. Slade Lee 2007. Domestication to Crop Improvement: Genetic Resources for Sorghum and Saccharum (Andropogoneae). Annals of Botany, 100(5): 975–989. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2759214/

Hirst, K. Kris 2017. Pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum) – Domestication and History. https://www.thoughtco.com/pearl-millet-domestication-170647

Zoundji, Gérard, Okry, F., Vodouhê, S.D., Bentley, J.W. and Tossou, R.C. 2018. Beyond Striga management: Learning videos enhanced farmers’ knowledge on climate-smart agriculture beyond Striga management. Sustainable Agriculture Research 7(1), 80-91. Download article from: https://www.accessagriculture.org/publications

Share on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

Richness in diversity December 3rd, 2017 by

For decades, new crop varieties have been bred by relying heavily on farmers’ knowledge and the local landraces they grow. Landraces have provided a major gene pool readily used by breeders to make crops better adapted to drought, floods, pests and diseases. But with increased pressure from the private sector and insufficient support from the public sector, many rural communities struggle to maintain their diversity of crops and food, as I recently learned in Malawi.

When Marcella and I were asked by the Global Forum on Agricultural Research and Innovation (GFAR) to make a video on Farmers’ Rights to seed, we only had a faint idea of how strong the debate raged among development organisations, policy-makers and farmers. We were surprised to learn that in Malawi, a draft seed policy had been written that would force farmers to buy commercial seed only.

Driving from Lilongwe to the northern town of Rumphi we passed many fields with dried stubble, where maize and tobacco had been recently harvested. Beyond these bleak fields lie rolling, dusty hills, but decorated during the dry season by trees flowering in white, orange, purple and other colours. But the beauty of the landscape doesn’t stop one from seeing the dire poverty in which the people live.

Maize is the staple food and many farmers grow it as a cash crop, encouraged by government fertilizer subsidies. Farmers who accept the subsidy are obliged to plant only hybrid maize seed.

Families growing tobacco for multinational companies have basically sacrificed their lives to the crop, but unlike the fluctuating world market price for tobacco over the years, their living conditions have remained stubbornly low at all times.

The reliance on these two key crops is beginning to change. Recent development efforts have started to take crop and food diversification seriously. As I talked to farmers over the next few days, it dawned on me how much effort is required for farmers to preserve local crop varieties that have been nurtured over many years. Many families have abandoned their traditional crops and dishes and the current generation of farmers has little idea of how to grow anything else apart from maize and tobacco.

On our first day of filming we visited the community seed bank in Mkombezi. As member farmers arrived in small groups, we filmed the shelves lined with glass jars full of seeds of local varieties of sorghum, millet, maize, beans, groundnuts and Bambara groundnuts.

“We keep seed of our local varieties and multiply them to share with our members, and also to supply non-members. At this moment we have 14 tons of seed in our store room,” proudly explains Shadreck Kapira, secretary of the seed bank.

Outside the seed bank more farmers have gathered. With the support of a local NGO, some eight farmers from southern Malawi have travelled over 600 kilometres to meet fellow farmers in the north. The next day, they will all attend a seed fair to exchange and sell seed of their food crops. The visiting farmers proudly display small plastic bags, each containing precious seeds. Each lot is poured onto a red, blue or green plastic plate and a label attached with the name of the farmer and seed variety.

During the group discussion the farmers from the north show great interest in the sorghum varieties on offer by their colleagues from the south. With the changing climate the hybrid maize varieties do not perform as well as they used to. If rains are not good, a farmer risks losing her entire crop. Some of the local sorghum varieties mature in just 2 months, a month earlier than the hybrid maize, and they can better withstand drought.

Farmers also talk about how they use different crops to prepare food and drinks for special events, such as weddings or the nomination of village chiefs. Millet is one of their favourite crops. It produces a porridge which is not only more nutritious than that made from maize, but can be prepared with less water and without cooking, so there is no need for fuel wood. Millet is also an essential ingredient of traditional sweet and sour beers.

The next morning we leave early, just before dawn at 5 o’clock, to reach Mpherembe on time for a seed and food fair. The local community has fenced off an area near the water well and tied bundles of local grasses to sturdy poles to keep out the dust-laden wind. Local NGO staff register each farmer, the type and amount of seed they bring to the fair. Women have also prepared a diverse range of foods and when I peek under the lid of the occasional plastic bucket I find millet beer, an important part of a fair.

According to the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, signed by over 140 governments across the world, every farmer has the right to exchange and sell their local seed. When we interview Bena Phiri, she is very explicit: “My rights, I can say that my local crops that I grow are mine and no one can have control over my seed. I have the right to sell them at my own will and no one can say anything because they are mine.”

However, a draft seed policy wants to force farmers to buy all their seed at agro dealer shops. If approved, it would spell disaster for local crop varieties. Most agro dealers have few varieties for sale, and hardly any are local. The stores mainly sell hybrid maize from Monsanto, Syngenta and perhaps one or two other multi-national companies. Fortunately, pressure from development agencies and farmer organisations has delayed the new regulation and the draft seed policy has not yet passed Cabinet.

We hope that our video on Farmers’ right to seed, available in English and two Malawian languages (Chichewa and Tumbuka) will help to raise farmers’ awareness across the country. Distributed by Access Agriculture and its diverse partners in Malawi with the support of GFAR, the videos will soon be shown in farm clubs, on local TV, and aired on the radio. We also expect many farmers will view the video directly on their inexpensive mobile phones.

It is ironic that wealthy people are now able to access more food diversity than ever, at a time when the poor could have many of their local crop varieties wiped out by misguided laws. The media has a role to play in raising awareness among farmers, legislators and consumers and to ensure that local cultures based on a rich diversity of crops and foods is maintained.

Further viewing

Watch the training video Farmers’ rights to seed

Related blogs

Bolivian peanuts

Forgotten vegetables

Forty farmer innovations

Homegrown seed can be good

Meeting the need for groundnut seed

Onions from Agadez

The sunflower: from Russia with love, and oil

We share

Quinoa, lost and found

Further reading

Van Mele, P., Bentley, J.W and Guéi, R.G. (eds.) 2011. African Seed Enterprises: Sowing the Seeds of Food Security. CABI Publishing, UK, 256 pp. Download chapters here.

Timothy A. Wise. 2017. Did Monsanto Write Malawi’s Seed Policy? https://foodtank.com/news/2017/08/monsanto-malawis-seed-policy/

Acknowledgements

Thanks to the Global Forum on Agricultural Research and Innovation (GFAR). Support in Malawi was kindly provided by the Development Fund of Norway, Biodiversity Conservation Initiative and the Centre for Environmental Policy and Advocacy.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

Farewell coca, hello cocoa November 26th, 2017 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación.

Enrique Arévalo is the general coordinator at the Instituto de Cultivos Tropicales (ICT) or Tropical Crops Institute, based in Tarapoto, the capital of San Martín department in northern Peru. I met my old colleague last week at an international symposium on cocoa in Lima, before visiting ICT and learning more about the rise in importance of cocoa in Peru – and the challenges in supporting farmers.

Cocoa is ICT’s most important crop and increasingly popular with farmers in San Martín, one of the main production areas. But, as Enrique explained in his introduction to ICT, San Martín is also a major coca producer. Coca is the plant from which cocaine is made. Although it is illegal to make cocaine, coca is a legal crop in Peru and Bolivia, where the partially dried leaves are chewed to ward off altitude sickness, dampen hunger and produce a soothing tea known as mate de coca.

In its early days, ICT, a private institute, did research on coca yields but that has faded away. Although cocoa is one of the key crops promoted as an alternative to coca in Peru (and elsewhere), support for cocoa research and development is far from guaranteed, as Enrique explained.

Enrique outlined what ICT did. “We offer technical support to farmers, in soil testing and diagnosis of pests and diseases, for example. We organise training for extension agents who work for the many cooperatives that buy and process cocoa.” ICT also works with tropical fruits, including banana, and popular medicinal crops such as noni and sacha inchi (Plukenetia volubilis). Despite responding directly to farmers’ needs, Enrique said it was difficult to sustain existing services while, as he put it, ”doing research for the future”, such as a new cocoa grafting technique that ICT had developed.

ICT relies on project funding plus some support from farmer associations, cocoa buyers and local government. The reduction in US funding has been particularly steep. As funds have dried up so staff numbers have declined. It was sad to hear Enrique tell me that ICTused to have over 60 staff. “Now there are only six of us to provide support to farmers while maintaining laboratory equipment and germplasm collections.” The germplasm collections are particularly important, a vital resource for understanding and exploiting the full genetic potential of of cocoa and other ICT crops.

Crippling an institute takes an instant while re-establishing staff capacity can take years. The best staff find jobs elsewhere and won’t return. Experience fades quickly when one is no longer working on a particular crop. Building up the next generation of knowledgeable scientists is a lengthy task. Rehabilitating neglected germplasm collections takes years, assuming that they can be resurrected from overgrown plots.

Cocoa production is on the up in Peru, with over 100,000 tonnes produced in 2016. The work of Enrique and his fellow scientists has done much to develop cocoa as a viable crop. The cocoa germplasm collections at ICT (one next to the laboratories and another in a separate plot) contain an invaluable store of both local varieties – Peru has the largest cocoa diversity in the world – and those introduced from other major collections, particularly Trinidad and Tobago. ICT ensures that trees are regularly pruned and plots are kept clean and free from disease. It was good to see how well the collections were being maintained through the dedication of ICT staff. But, as Enrique explained, “we need to do more to safeguard cocoa genetic resources for Peruvian farmers.”

I was part of a group of scientists and representatives from leading chocolate companies, such as Mars and Mondelēz, that visited ICT. The companies already support a lot of cocoa research and development and though more funding is always welcome it is governments that are responsible for their farmers. A swelling influx of tourists has helped promote fine flavour and aroma chocolate made in Peru. The national and international profile of Peruvian cocoa is growing and needs to be matched by reliable funding that allows dedicated scientists such as Enrique and his colleagues at ICT to stay on top of existing technical challenges while innovating for the future.

Eating chocolate is a fleeting indulgence for consumers; cocoa income is an everyday lifeline for 90,000 families in Peru, paying for food, schooling, healthcare and other essentials. You can’t sustain cocoa production without sustaining cocoa science. Identifying new funding streams is the key challenge for maintaining innovation and development of the cocoa sector in Peru.

Without the necessary support, farmers may not be able to earn enough from cocoa to support their families, and return to coca.

Other blogs on cocoa:

Out of the shade (Ecuador)

Congo cocoa  

On the road (DR Congo)

Related blogs on chocolate:

Chocolate evolution

ADIOS COCA, HOLA CACAO

Enrique Arévalo es el coordinador general del Instituto de Cultivos Tropicales (ICT), con sede en Tarapoto, capital del departamento de San Martín situado en el norte del Perú. Me encontré con mi viejo colega la semana pasada en un simposio internacional sobre el cacao en Lima, antes de visitar el ICT y aprender más sobre el aumento de la importancia del cacao en Perú, y los desafíos en el apoyo a los agricultores.

El cacao es el cultivo más importante del ICT y cada vez es más popular entre los agricultores de San Martín, una de las principales áreas de producción. Pero, como Enrique explicó en su introducción al ICT, San Martín también es un importante productor de coca. La coca es la planta a partir de la cual se produce la cocaína. Aunque es ilegal producirla, la coca es un cultivo legal en Perú y Bolivia, donde las hojas parcialmente secas se mastican para evitar el mal de altura, reducir el hambre y producir un té relajante llamado mate de coca.

En sus inicios, el ICT, un instituto privado, investigaba sobre el rendimiento de la coca pero eso se ha desvanecido. Aunque el cacao es uno de los principales cultivos promovidos como alternativa a la coca en Perú (y en otros lugares), el apoyo para la investigación y el desarrollo del cacao está lejos de estar garantizado, como Enrique explicó.

Enrique describió lo que el ICT hizo: “Ofrecemos soporte técnico a los agricultores, en pruebas de suelo y diagnóstico de plagas y enfermedades, por ejemplo. Organizamos cursos de formación para los agentes de extensión que trabajan para las muchas cooperativas que compran y procesan el cacao “. El ICT también trabaja con frutas tropicales, incluido el banano, y cultivos medicinales populares como el noni y el sacha inchi (Plukenetia volubilis). A pesar de responder directamente a las necesidades de los agricultores, Enrique dijo que era difícil mantener los servicios existentes mientras “se investiga para el futuro”, como por ejemplo, una nueva técnica de injerto de cacao que el ICT había desarrollado.

El ICT se basa en el financiamiento de proyectos además de obtener cierto apoyo de asociaciones de agricultores, compradores de cacao y del gobierno local. La reducción de la financiación de los Estados Unidos ha sido particularmente pronunciada. Como los fondos se han “secado”, el número de empleados ha disminuido. Fue triste escuchar a Enrique decirme que el ICT solía tener más de 60 empleados. “Ahora solo somos seis los que apoyamos a los agricultores mientras mantenemos equipo de laboratorio y las colecciones de germoplasma”. Estas colecciones de germoplasma son particularmente importantes, ya que son un recurso vital para comprender y explotar todo el potencial genético del cacao y otros cultivos del ICT.

Se require un instante para paralizar un instituto, mientras que restablecer la capacidad del personal puede llevar años. El mejor personal encuentra trabajo en otro lugar y no regresará. La experiencia se desvanece rápidamente cuando uno ya no está trabajando en un cultivo en particular. Desarrollar la próxima generación de científicos expertos es una tarea larga. La rehabilitación de colecciones de germoplasma abandonadas lleva años, suponiendo que se puedan resucitar de parcelas descuidadas.

La producción de cacao está en alza en Perú, con más de 100.000 toneladas producidas en 2016. El trabajo de Enrique y sus colegas científicos ha contribuido mucho a desarrollar el cacao como un cultivo viable. Las colecciones de germoplasma de cacao en el ICT (una al lado de los laboratorios y otra en una parcela separada) contienen una valiosa reserva de ambas variedades locales – Perú tiene la mayor diversidad de cacao del mundo – y de variedades introducidas de otras colecciones importantes, particularmente de Trinidad y Tobago . El ICT asegura que los árboles se podan regularmente y las parcelas se mantienen limpias y libres de enfermedades. Estuvo bien ver lo bien se mantenían las colecciones gracias a la dedicación del personal de ICT. Pero, como explicó Enrique, “tenemos que hacer más para salvaguardar los recursos genéticos del cacao para los agricultores peruanos”.

Formé parte de un grupo de científicos y representantes de compañías líderes de chocolate, como Mars y Mondelēz, que visitaron el ICT. Las compañías ya apoyan una gran cantidad de investigación y desarrollo del cacao, y aunque más financiación siempre es bienvenida, son los gobiernos los responsables de sus agricultores. Una creciente afluencia de turistas ha ayudado a promover el sabor fino y el aroma del chocolate hecho en Perú. El perfil nacional e internacional del cacao peruano está creciendo y debe ser acompañado por un financiamiento fiable que permita a científicos dedicados como Enrique y sus colegas del ICT mantenerse al tanto de los desafíos técnicos existentes mientras innovan para el futuro.

Comer chocolate es una indulgencia pasajera para los consumidores; los ingresos del cacao son una línea de vida cotidiana para 90,000 familias en el Perú, que permite pagar sus alimentos, la educación, sus gastos para la salud y otros artículos esenciales. No se puede mantener la producción de cacao sin sustentar la ciencia del cacao. Identificar nuevas fuentes de financiamiento es el desafío clave para mantener la innovación y el desarrollo del sector del cacao en Perú. Sin el apoyo necesario, los agricultores tal vez no puedan ganar lo suficiente del cacao para mantener a sus familias y para no volver a la coca.

Artículos relacionados del blog:

Out of the shade (Ecuador)

Congo cocoa  

On the road (DR Congo)

Blog relacionado sobre chocolate:

Chocolate evolution

Share on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

Honest farming November 19th, 2017 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación.

You can’t teach a skill that you don’t practice, yet many agricultural scientists try to do just that, lecturing at universities or writing extension messages without spending time a farm. So I was pleased this week to meet a scientist who was getting on-farm experience, and loving it.

My wife Ana and I met Dr. Alberto Centellas on the small farm, about a hectare, which he works with a business partner in the Cochabamba Valley, here in Bolivia. We heard that he sold fruit tree seedlings, and we went to buy some. I had barely closed the farm gate when Dr. Centellas walked up to me, wearing a grin and a straw hat. Without waiting for introductions, Dr. Centellas (“call me Alberto”) began to show us his projects, passionately explaining each one.

Dr. Centellas is Bolivian, but he earned his Ph.D. in Brazil, in temperate fruit production. Then he worked for Embrapa, the Brazilian agricultural research agency, for eight years, followed by another stint at Proinpa, an agricultural research organization in Bolivia. Now he teaches fruticulture at the university in Cochabamba. Teaching and administration don’t always leave much time to spend in the greenhouse, so to hone his agricultural skills, Alberto works on the farm every Saturday.

He had planted new varieties of apples from Brazil, bred to yield fruit in warm climates. After just two years the little trees were head-high. The orchard was enclosed in a large net to keep out the birds. “We won’t harvest anything if we let in the birds.”

The Tahiti lemon trees were full of bright, round green fruits the size of walnuts. “These are seedless. You can just wash them and drop them whole in the blender, rind and all. They are perfect for mixing with cachaça (the Brazilian cane liquor).”

Besides lemon and apple trees, he also has a collection of pears, avocados, peaches and cherimoyas.

Like a lot of researchers, Dr. Centellas is regularly invited to conferences in other countries. But he uses his trips as more than talking shops. He also collects tree varieties. “But only from research centers,” he hastens to add. He gets new tree varieties from reliable sources where the trees are certified and guaranteed to be healthy.

The farm is also a serious business, called Tecnoplant, and it is state of the art. Avocado tree seedlings are expertly grafted and growing in the protected cover of a tidy greenhouse. Other trees have been planted in a small orchard.

Avocados are tricky. Unlike many trees, each variety belongs to one of several pollination groups, including A, B and AB. They yield more if the varieties are grown in mixed groves. Dr. Centellas has carefully set out one row of the variety Fuerte, and one of the variety Lamb Hass. The little trees are watered with drip irrigation and growing under plastic mulch, to keep out the weeds. This is cutting edge tree culture.

I ask Dr. Centellas what motivates him to invest so much time and effort in the farm. I thought he might say something about boosting commercial fruit production, or contributing to agricultural development, but I was pleasantly surprised when he said “I was teaching other people how to farm, and then I got tired of them asking me how many trees I had on my own farm. And I would have to answer that I had none.”

It is more honest to teach techniques that one actually practices. Farming helps Dr. Centellas to understand the real problems that farmers face, making him a better teacher.

Related blog story

Head transplant: The art of avocado grafting

EL AGRO HONESTO

por Jeff Bentley

No se puede enseñar una habilidad que uno no practica, aunque muchos científicos agrícolas tratan de hacer eso, dando clases en las universidades o escribiendo mensajes de extensión sin pisar tierra agrícola. Entonces me dio gusto esta semana conocer a un científico que sí ganaba experiencia agrícola, y le encantaba.

Con mi esposa Ana, conocimos al Dr. Alberto Centellas en la pequeña finca, tal vez una hectárea, que él trabaja con un socio en el Valle de Cochabamba, aquí en Bolivia. Habíamos escuchado que él vendía plantines de frutales, y fuimos a comprar. Yo apenas había cerrado el portón cuando el Dr. Centellas se me acercó, con una sonrisa y su sombrero de paja. Sin esperar que nos presentáramos, el Dr. Centellas (“llámeme Alberto”) empezó a mostrarnos sus proyectos, explicando cada uno con pasión.

El Dr. Centellas es boliviano, pero ganó su doctorado en el Brasil, en la fruticultura de climas templados. Luego trabajó para Embrapa, la agencia de investigación agrícola brasileña, por ocho años, seguido por un tiempo en Proinpa, una organización de investigación agrícola en Bolivia. Ahora enseña fruticultura en la universidad en Cochabamba. La docencia y la administración no siempre dejan mucho tiempo para estar en el invernadero, así que, para pulir sus habilidades agrícolas, Alberto trabaja en la finca todos los sábados.

Había plantado nuevas variedades de manzanos del Brasil, mejorados para dar fruta en climas calientes. Después de solo dos años los arbolitos estaban a la altura de unapersona. El huerto se encubría de una gran red contra los pájaros. “No cosecharemos nada si dejamos entrar a los pájaros.”

El limonero Tahití estaba lleno de brillantes frutos redondos y verdes, del tamaño de una nuez.  “No tienen semilla. Se los puede lavar y echarlos enteros al licuador, con todo y cáscara. Son perfectos para mezclar con cachaza (licor de caña brasileño).”

Además de limoneros y manzanos, él también tiene una colección de peros, paltos, durazneros y chirimoyas.

Como muchos investigadores, el Dr. Centellas es invitado frecuentemente a conferencias en otros países. Sin embargo, se aprovecha de sus viajes para hacer más que intercambiar información. También recolecta variedades de árboles. “Pero solo de los centros de investigación,” aclara. Recibe nuevas variedades de frutales de fuentes confiables, donde los arbolitos son certificados y garantizados de estar sanos.

La finca también es una empresa formal, llamada Tecnoplant, y es tecnología actualizada. Los plantines de palto están expertamente injertados y creciendo bajo la protección de un invernadero ordenado. Otros árboles se han plantado en un pequeño huerto.

El palto tiene sus mañas. A cambio de muchos otros árboles, cada variedad pertenece a uno de varios grupos de polinización, como el A, B y el AB. Rinden más si las variedades se cultivan en huertos mezclados. El Dr. Centellas ha cuidadosamente plantado un surco de la variedad Fuerte, y una de la variedad Lamb Hass. Los arbolitos se riegan por goteo y crecen bajo un mulch de plástico, para que no crezcan las malezas. Es lo último en la fruticultura.

Le pregunto al Dr. Centellas qué le motiva invertir tanto tiempo y esfuerzo en la finca. Pensé que diría algo sobre promover la fruticultura comercial, o contribuir al desarrollo agrícola, pero era una grata sorpresa cuando dijo “Yo enseñaba a la otra gente cómo tenían que producir ellos, y me aburrí de que me preguntaban cuántos árboles tenía yo en mi finca. Y yo tenía que responder que no tenía nada.”

Es más honesto enseñar las técnicas que uno realmente practica. El trabajar con sus árboles ayuda al Dr. Centellas a entender los problemas reales que enfrentan a los agricultores, y por eso es un mejor profesor.

Artículo relacionado del blog

Head transplant: The art of avocado grafting

 

Share on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

Fishing changes November 12th, 2017 by

Two million years ago in East Africa, long before humans lived on any other continent, our ancestors followed the receding shorelines of shallow ponds and lakes, during each annual dry season, scooping up the stranded catfish and eels. People have eaten fish ever since, and fishing may have shaped humans more than big game hunting.

From Rome to China, early civilizations would have been impossible without fish, as renowned archaeologist Brian Fagan tells us in a new book, Fishing. Mesopotamians could always rely on fish, even when the flooding Tigris and Euphrates failed to water the crops. When the Nile flooded, it covered the land in fish, as well as water. The pyramids of Egypt were built by laborers fed on rations of beer, bread and dried catfish, caught every year in the shallow, receding flood waters of the Nile.

Ancient sailors in small boats could not carry enough provisions for long voyages. The mariners would never have been able to explore the Indian Ocean and create the trade routes that linked Europe and Asia, without settled communities of fisherfolk, who caught and dried fish to sell or trade.

Fishing would have been impossible without local knowledge. The Tahitians sailed sophisticated, deep-sea canoes to catch large, predatory fish. The big fish and the sea birds both followed dense schools of smaller fish. The Tahitians recognized that the big fish followed the birds to find the small fish. Fishers scanned the horizon for birds, and could tell by the species flying over the water what type of fish to expect there.

Commercial fishing began with herring in the North Sea in the 1300s. Dutch and Flemish crews caught the fish from deep-water wooden ships called busses, which required a large crew and started the season every year on the night of St. John, 24 June. The fish were salted, packed into standard-sized barrels, branded with the seals of the merchants who sold them, and traded all over Europe until 1810. By then the herring were becoming scarce, and salted cod from the Atlantic had captured the market. While there is still fishing in the North Sea, before the 1800s the herring were so abundant they were compared to ants.

As waters were fished out, fishers sailed farther and farther from home. The English were fishing off the shores of Iceland in 1420 and off the banks of Newfoundland in 1600. By about 1880, new technologies such as steam trawlers extended the reach of commercial fishing to deep ocean water. But some modern techniques are devastating, such as the large nets that drag the bottom, destroying the places where the fish spawn.

Many countries have reacted to over-fishing by creating 200-mile exclusion zones and limiting catches. The Canadian government closed the cod fishery in 1992 when stocks hit 1% of their peak. Thanks to the ban, the cod have since partially recovered.

Although subsistence fishing is ancient, it has never destroyed the fishery it depended upon. Salmon and sturgeon once swam up the Danube River to spawn. Communities of fishers had survived for thousands of years at the Iron Gates (on the Danube between Serbia and Romania), until nineteenth century pollution, dam-building and over-fishing destroyed the stocks.

But waters far from home, as in the Antarctic, are uncontrolled and fished recklessly, as though there were no tomorrow. Commercial fishing is now in a slow decline, while artisanal and subsistence fishing are both on the rise. Fish farming is increasing rapidly. By 2012, for the first time in history, more fish were farmed than caught wild.

I saw a glimpse of artisanal, peasant fishing recently in Bangladesh, where many villages have fields interspersed with fish ponds. Farmers throw nets and use various other techniques, bringing home one small bag of fish at a time for the supper pot.

On one especially rainy day, the ponds were over-flowing, and some people were setting up long, gently tapering nets over the drainage ditches, to catch any fish that may have escaped from the ponds. No fish was going to be wasted.

Subsistence fishers are often smallholder farmers. Fishing and farming combine easily. If fishing fed civilization, as Fagan explains, it is the smallholders who will keep fishing alive into the future. The fish ponds in Bangladesh are highly commercial, run by knowledgeable farmers. With the increasing demand for proteins, fish species will continue to feed humanity only with a good balance between open sea fishing that respects quotas (based on science and policy) and fish farming that will require stringent food safety measures, such as guarding against the abuse of antibiotics.

Further reading

Fagan, Brian 2017 Fishing: How the Sea Fed Civilization. New Have: Yale University Press. 346 pp.

Related blog stories

Cake for fish? hold the coconut, please

Fishing on a hill

Further viewing

Food for fish

Stocking fingerlings in a nursery pond

Preparing low-cost concentrate feed

Growing azolla for feed

Share on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

Design by Olean webdesign