Monday, May 9, 2016

Sustainable Agriculture and Cacao Best Management Practices in Ecuador

by F2F volunteer Thomas "Rip" Winkel, F2F Volunteer to Ecuador. Read about Rip's previous assignment in Ecuador here

EducaFuturo certificate recipients in
cacao and soil management
Yet again I have been fortunate to have worked on another Farmer to Farmer assignment, an organization that is supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) via the Partners of the Americas. This time, however, it was on the northwest side of Ecuador, in a town named Viche, located in the coastal province of Esmeraldas. The date for this project was February 27th through March 11th, 2016, and was in conjunction with EducaFuturo, an Ecuadorian organization directly affiliated with Partners of the Americas. The mission of EducaFuturo is to significantly reduce child labor in Ecuador (and Panama), especially among Afro-descendants, indigenous, and migrant populations. Its desire is to improve educational outcome for children and teens involved in labor, while working towards increasing family income at the same time.

The main objective of this assignment was to train EducaFuturo field technicians and participating community members in sustainable agricultural as well as cacao best management practices. This short-term project was divided into two main endeavors; the first was a series of lectures that dealt with various agricultural topics, where the second effort was to conduct hands-on workshops both in the field and in the classroom [...]. 

Workshop participant trying out grafting techniques
There were a total of six slightly informal lectures given, covering subjects such as: the evolution and cultivation of cacao (background), the objectives, purposes and proper techniques of pruning cacao, the various methods and techniques of grafting possible with cacao. Also discussed at some length were organic (homemade) pesticides including discussions of certain diseases and plagues common with cacao, of soil pH and nutrient availability, of various soil qualities (structure, and texture), and alternative cash crops with basic information about each. A number of informative hand-outs were given in support the topics being presented, and to offer as a source of information for future references. Many questions were asked by the class participants over the topics being discussed as well as other agricultural issues, like crop marketability/prices, synthetic vs. organic fertilizers, etc.

In addition to the lectures, there were four workshops given; three of them were in the field, and the fourth was a hands-on laboratory styled class conducted back at the school complex. The first field workshop entailed a review and a demonstration on correct methods and procedures of pruning, as well as grafting methods and techniques of cacao trees as per the lecture given on the subjects. The second field workshop consisted of each class member having to correctly prune an entire cacao tree according to the criteria given in class and on the hand-out. 

Laboratory workshop on soil analysis
The third workshop was a hands-on practicum where each participant was asked to single-out healthy scions (a bud strip or a small branch with buds) and prepare them for grafting. They were also asked to locate cacao trees that would best be benefited from the graft, and then to graft the scion onto the root stock (cacao tree) in tee-bud and side-veneer graft methods. This class also included wrapping the graft up correctly for protection. The fourth workshop was a laboratory session, where the class participants took soil samples brought in from various farms around the area, and analyzed them for pH, nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium levels, using the LaMotte Portable Soil Test Kit with which to analyze.

Overall, I feel that the time spent in Viche with the field technicians and the members of EducaFuturo was not only well spent, but was a great experience for everyone involved. There was a lot of information presented, discussed, reviewed and applied in cacao best management practices as well as issues in sustainable agriculture that these members waded through. And yet, they were patient with my Spanish blunders, helping me with pronunciations whenever needed. It was a definite pleasure to have worked with the EducaFuturo staff, and especially with those community members and field technicians in Viche-Esmeraldas, Ecuador.

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