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August 2006: Agricultural Notes

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• This came from Roland Bunch, who visited the Ecology Action Mini-Farm in March:

“Of all the technologies we value for the tropics, I should think one would be of particular interest to those in the lowland tropics who are trying your systems [GROW BIOINTENSIVE]. That is the technology of ‘dispersed shade’. This refers to a method of deliberately planting trees (or allowing trees that volunteer to grow) in such a pattern as to have approximately 15 to 20% shade across the entire cropped area. Because we have an excess of sun in the lowland tropics (plants cease to grow during midday because of the excess), we can increase by about 50% the productivity of virtually any food crop by having this amount of shade. But this also provides the possibility of growing useful trees that also produce food or whatever in addition to the more productive vegetables or field crops. … Also important for the tropics is the chance this excess sunlight gives us for intercropping, thereby increasing tremendously (up to 80%) the biomass (carbon) we can produce in a given area. Because of these technological possibilities and several others, I have thought for many years that the tropics could and should be the breadbasket of the world.”

• This was written by Yesica Cusiyupanqui of Cusco, Peru, while she was an intern at Golden Rule Garden in 2005:

The Sacred Valley of the Incas has a wonderful climate that is suitable for the production of different kinds of crops such as vegetables, grains, fruits, tubers, and the great variety of Andean crops and tubers native to the mountains of the Valley. The main crop for most of the farmers is corn. The “Cusco Giant White Corn” variety is the crop that generates the biggest economic income for the farmers because of its great demand in the national market and abroad. This variety is characterized by its big white grains.

Every year, each farmer selects his/her own seeds before and after each harvest. Some of them do it first in the field when the plant is still in the last stage of the ripening process. The characteristics that are most taken into account are vigor, health, size of the plant, size of the cob when ripening, diameter of the cob, etc. The plants that have good characteristics are marked in order to harvest them separately. After carrying out the cultural work related to the harvest, the reselection of the marked cobs is done in the drying shed. The cobs that do not have 8 straight lines, that are not completely filled with grains, that have deformed grains, that have a different color other than white or are not healthy enough are discarded. Some farmers do the selection of the whole batch in the drying shed, always taking into account the aforementioned characteristics. The exchange or purchase of seeds is done depending on the altitude and the zone. … The seeds from the low zones are generally big but not very heavy whereas the grains from the high zones are regular in size but heavy. The size of the grains varies because of the kind of soil, the water that is used for watering, and the altitude. This activity is done only among the farmers of the Sacred Valley of the Incas because that is the only place in which this variety is grown.
From my own experience and the experience of other farmers it is very important to do the exchange of seeds in order to improve the quality and amount of production, to have plants that are more resistant to disease and pests, and to keep the purity of the variety.

• There is an excellent article about Grain Amaranth in the April 2006 issue of ECHO Development Notes (ECHO, 17391 Durrance Road, North Ft. Myers FL 33917; It is long and detailed, including information about the family, its nutritional and medicinal benefits, drought tolerance, etc. “Amaranth grain contains about 16 percent protein, compared to around 10 percent in most cereals.” The article calls it a “pseudocereal” since it doesn’t belong to the grass family. “The protein in grain amaranth is of extremely high quality, meaning that it has a good mix of essential amino acids and is easily digested, absorbed and retained. … Amaranth grain is very high in lysine” and, “according to Lost Crops of the Incas…also high in calcium, phosphorus, iron, potassium, zinc, vitamin E and vitamin B-complex.”

This comes from a Resurgence online article ( “Can Organic Farming Feed the World?” by Tewolde B.G. Egziabher and Susan Burnell Edwards. Egziabher is the Director General of the Environmental Protection Authority of Ethiopia and co-founder of the Institute of Sustainable Development. The article was taken from a lecture given in July 2005 on behalf of the Soil Association.
“The term ‘organic farming’ was coined in the second half of the 20th century to qualify the food production system that has nourished the world for 10,000 years. … Since organic farming has thus established its credentials, the real question I think we should be addressing this evening is, … ‘Can this newcomer, industrial agriculture, continue feeding the world for the coming 10,000 years and more?’ “ The article goes on to discuss qualities of organic agriculture and of industrial agriculture and then talks about the work being done “with some farming communities in Tigray, Ethiopia. These communities started working with us on degraded land. They carried out physical soil erosion control activities (terraces, check dams across gullies and trench bunds). They restricted free range grazing to small areas and cut and carried grass and other leaves to feed their animals. Trees and grass cover then returned fully to the land. This was all traditional to them, but the breakdown of their local community organization had prevented them from acting collectively to use it. We encouraged them to revive their community organization. … We trained them on how to prepare and use compost. … Latterly, we have introduced transplanting their long season crops (finger millet, sorghum, maize) to ensure a long enough growing season even when the rainy seasons become shorter. And the rainy seasons are getting shorter and more erratic owing to climate change. The change in their life and environment has been dramatic.” The authors include before and after photos of the area and charts which show the yields and income received from various crops using compost, as well as control crops grown with conventional agriculture. Yields and income of crops with compost use are considerably higher for all crops except for wheat



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