Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Lindsay Emi. Lindsay is a writer and student from Los Angeles, California. She is eighteen years old and a volunteer from Princeton University’s Bridge Year Program in Bolivia. She will spend six months in Cochabamba volunteering with Mano a Mano, and then attend Princeton beginning in the fall of 2017, where she hopes to study English and creative writing.
This is Lindsay’s 3rd post; below are her first two posts:
- Mano a Mano’s Second Large-Scale Distribution Event in October: Ceremony and More Behind-the-Scenes
- My First Week at the CEA – Lindsay Emi
November 21-27: An In-Depth Look at CEA’s On-Site Agricultural Training Workshops
By Lindsay Emi
For four years, Mano a Mano’s Center for Ecological Agriculture (CEA) has been successfully running on-site workshops for groups of farmers from all geographic regions of Bolivia. To assure that the needs of these farmers are all met, Mano a Mano provides these farmers with transportation to get to the CEA, one or sometimes two days of training, and if necessary, even accommodations and boarding.
Following the two workshops on greenhouses and protected cultivation last week, the CEA hosted forty more farmers from the municipality of Capinota this week on both Friday and Saturday for a second workshop. The Friday workshop that I attended, one of CEA’s five principal workshops, is entitled “Ecological Management of Soils and Techniques of Irrigation.” Staff at the CEA designed this workshop to introduce farmers to an overview of agroecological principles, in the context of practices of soil management and irrigation.
A typical Mano a Mano workshop begins with a welcome and introduction to the CEA, followed by a presentation in one of two classrooms in CEA’s warehouse. The presentation, both partly interactive and partly lecture-based, is led by CEA agronomist Camila or Mano a Mano engineer Victor. When I dropped by the classroom on Friday, I was surprised, though I shouldn’t have been, to hear that the workshops are fully conducted in Quechua, the primary language spoken in many local indigenous communities in Cochabamba and throughout Bolivia. The presentations are about an hour or less in length, and are augmented by the use of several Mano a Mano training materials, including graphics, posters, and videos to illustrate relevant techniques.
Though the visual presentation is an important component of a Mano a Mano workshop, the most exciting parts of these on-site workshops happen outside of the classrooms and directly in our demonstration center. “We combine both [lectures and practical demonstrations] in our workshops,” Camila said. “For instance, in this first workshop, we started in the classroom, and we’ve shown a short demonstration with videos about the consequences of agrochemicals, and later, when we do another workshop in the campo, we’ll practice actually making the compost. We like to combine these two approaches because we want to maintain a certain level of alertness, interaction, and engagement with the farmers.”
Following the short introduction and presentation, in the Friday and Saturday workshops, Camila led each small group of fifteen farmers, some of whom had brought family members and even their young children, on a tour of the CEA, explaining each exhibit and its grounding agroecological principles. For example, this year, the two crops that were grown in the highest volume at the CEA were corn and alfalfa; as Camila took the group by our plots of these two crops, she described CEA’s methods and practices of crop rotation and diversification. For corn in particular, at CEA, we plant several other types of plants both around the rows of corn and after harvesting, will plant a different kind of crop in the soil where the corn had been. These techniques, Camila explained, increase the diversity of nutrients in the soil, can prevent the presence of crop diseases and pests, and even improve soil fertility.
I saw that the Capinota farmers were engaged throughout the tour, listening attentively, asking questions, and sometimes staying after an explanation to examine a particular exhibit more closely. They seemed to take particular interest in the CEA’s four types of greenhouses and composting methods. About a week after this workshop, when I went to Capinota with some Mano a Mano staff, I met some of the farmers who had come to one or both of workshops at CEA. “We’ve already started using [the techniques for making] organic compost, and we plan to build a biodigester for the whole community—we can use the manure from our cows, pigs,” one farmer, Ramon Gutierrez, said, as we rode down to a community called Corral Mayu on the flatbed of a truck. For forty years, he added, his community has been using traditional methods of agriculture, but after applying the techniques they learned at CEA, they have already noticed a significant difference in the quality of their soil.
I also later sat down for a chat with Camila about this series of workshops and their importance. “These first workshops that we held with the farmers from Capinota are important because they teach the effective management of the greenhouses and soil when the farmers begin to grow horticultural crops. Because these are farmers who have traditionally grown potatoes, haba beans, corn, and so on—and the management of these crops is different from the management of horticultural crops,” Camila explained. “In these workshops, we are trying to teach best practices—we show them this through photos, patterns, concepts—and we combine this with a practical element also, so the farmers can see these practices in the campo. They learn best through doing. These first workshops that we are doing are especially meant to educate the farmers about the susceptibilities of the land to the use of agrochemicals. In the campo, in groups, they are going to prepare small activities that will show the benefits of organic compost, organic materials, non-compacted soil, and these activities or demonstrations can help them see and understand the consequences of compacted soil or the benefits of the organic material.”
“In these workshops, we are trying to teach best practices—we show them this through photos, patterns, concepts—and we combine this with a practical element also, so the farmers can see these practices in the campo. They learn best through doing.” – Mano a Mano agronomist Camila Yavira Garcia
As Capinota faces some pressing environmental issues, the workshops were particularly timely for these farmers. Luckily, despite being located in the Department of Cochabamba, even rural communities in Capinota don’t suffer from drought and water shortages to the extreme that other communities in Cochabamba do. Capinota is situated between two rivers—the Rio Arque and the Rio Rocha—which have been used and adapted to the community’s agricultural needs and practices for literally hundreds of years. As we drove into and through Capinota, with its verdant mountains and parks, it was clear that the town’s agriculture and the landscape were still flourishing even during the drought. However, in the past few years, the health of the Rio Rocha in particular has been adversely affected by contamination and pollutants, due to the dumping of untreated wastewater, pollutants, trash, and pesticides. To counter such an issue, the sustainable, organic agricultural techniques that are taught at CEA can ultimately both teach practices for water management in these communities and consequently, in some part, protect the condition of the rivers that are so vital to the agriculture of Capinota.
We’ll be holding more workshops with the Capinota farmers over the next few months. In our next three workshops, we plan to cover responses to large-scale environmental issues and agroecological techniques in depth, more on the management of horticultural crops in greenhouses, and ecological management of pests and crop diseases. Some of these will be held at CEA again, but I can’t wait to go to Capinota in December or January with Mano a Mano staff to see and experience the most hands-on portions of the workshop—working with the farmers within their own communities to apply these low-cost, sustainable techniques in their agriculture.