Tuesday, May 9, 2017

10 weeks in Puyo, Ecuador: Part II

One of the many agricultural lecture/workshops at Chuya Yaku. 
This was the farm of Abel Canelos and Yolanda Vargas
Written by: Rip Winkel, F2F Volunteer

This is the second report on my Partners of the Americas' USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) volunteer assignment to Puyo Ecuador. In the first report, I outlined my schedule, and explained a bit of what the purpose of the project was about. In this second article, I would like to detail a little more on the work done, the communities and some of the folks that I was fortunate enough to get to know. And as stated before, I feel privileged to have been able to work this project for Farmer-to-Farmer program.

Each week that I was in Ecuador, it seemed that there was less and less time to get things done.  In Chuya Yaku, where the majority of the work was conducted, 8 out of 10 farms in this Kichwa territory participated in the trainings and workshops. The size of the groups attending these sessions ranged anywhere from 5 to 28 people. There were 9 to 12 people that attended regularly, and then others from the community would attend for reasons of curiosity, or for wanting to know more about the subject that was being lectured and/or practiced that day. Each session had a topic that was discussed or reviewed before the group went out to the cacao field to prune.  These topics ranged from proper pruning methods, grafting techniques, making homemade (organic) pesticides, and ways to increase yield, to soil characteristics including erosion prevention, soil structure, soil pH and nutrient availability, to organic material, etc.).

Cristian Kaisar of Chuya Yaku trying out the new pole 
pruner on cacao at the farm of Doña Clara Santí.
One of the highlights for me was when I brought a pole pruner apparatus with me to one of the workshops. The point of bringing this tool (from the States) was to demonstrate an easier way to prune the height of cacao trees. Traditionally it has been done with machetes. Using the pole pruner allowed for better control of tree height, it makes it less strenuous physically to prune and lessens the damage to the trees. When I presented it, their eyes all lit up in wonder, as they gathered around pulling on the rope and spring, touching all the pulleys and levers, and asking me how much I wanted for it as if it were an auction.  One person in particular, Benito Vargas, wanted to take it apart so his son could see the different parts and build one just like it.  
By the end of the 10 weeks, the majority of the cacao trees on each one of these 8 farms were correctly pruned, and a schedule for spaying was set up to combat the ever-advancing Monilia disease.

Another community I was conducting lecture/workshops in was Esfuerzo II. This community is in a different situation altogether.  A few years back they started a project where they took the organic trash from the markets in Puyo twice a month. With this organic trash, they would clean it, chop up large pieces and mix in biol, rice hulls, etc. and let it compost. After 6 weeks, they had rich compost which they would put in bags and sell them at $6.00 each. It sold well. Over time, they were able to take their earnings and construct a greenhouse adjacent to their warehouse. The main point of the workshops here were growing crops in this green-house, as well as learning to graft, especially citrus trees.

The community of Esfurezo II turning the organic 
material and working the compost business.
This group of 9 people on the average, (5 women and 4 men) was well organized, and had no qualms about getting the work done. They were taking steps that afforded them bigger projects, with more financial potential. They were on the verge of marketing the produce from their greenhouse and  building onto their existing composting warehouse - doubling it in size. What I appreciated was that they took time to enjoy the work they did. Toward the end of the compost turning, and just before the workshop began in the greenhouse, or on practicing grafting techniques, one of the older gentleman would pull out a bottle of homemade, fermented sugar cane juice and serve everyone a little glass full just as an enjoyment. The beverage was sweet with a real kick to it.I am hoping that this community diversifies their compost product - customizing it for individual crops so as to increase the value of the compost.

Success in the greenhouse of Esfuerzo II.
Another community I was involved with, especially the elementary school, was a community called “10 de Agosto.” There was a class of 18 eight to ten year-old students who were learning to make biol in 3 liter coke bottles, plant vegetable seeds in seed trays, and work a covered garden (in the Puyo area, the rain comes so often, so hard, and in such large amounts, that it is advisable to cover your garden area to protect your plants). These kids were great, and incredibly receptive to new methods of planting vegetables and fruits as well as learning to weed, irrigate properly, and even endure my lectures on soil fertility! What I found to be the funniest thing was in one workshop, and out in the garden, the kids would all want to plant from the seed tray all at the same time, completely oblivious to the fact that they were stepping over and on top of the plants that had just been planted. They just wanted to have that opportunity to plant something themselves. Two varieties of seeds that were presented to them and that they were excited to see grow were patty pan squash and okra, neither of which they had ever seen before.

Students at 10 de Agosto watering in the seeds they had
just planted in their covered garden area.
The fourth and last community I worked with was Kilometer 6, also known as La Libertad. As I stated in the last report, this is where the current headquarters for Arajuno Road Project (ARP) is located. This community is closest to the city of Puyo, and tends to be the busiest of the four. Having just moved out to Km 6 within the last year, ARP is working towards constructing a learning center, which would be an advantage to all the communities up and down the Arajuno road. They have constructed a covered growing area on the back side of the property, irrigated by a rainwater drip system. They have added a composting area, biol processing area, and have been planting various cultivars for demonstration plots, e.g. coffee, cacao, pineapple, yucca, banana, etc. They also provide the region with a library, computer access and teach English. The community, in conjunction with ARP, sponsors soccer game on the weekend - making it a very popular place from Puyo to Arajuno. Staying here in this community as I did kept me either busy or entertained. It was great. Laura Hepting and Rodrigo Engracia of ARP have done an incredible job over the last year, and their goals have not yet been reached.

Part of the community of Kilometer 6 at a workshop.
This meeting included planting up vegetables in seed trays

Once again, I am grateful to Farmer to Farmer, Partners of the Americas, and USAID for the opportunity they have given me in this ‘adventure’ of a life time. I can only hope that the progress in agricultural development continues for these four communities.

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