Amaranth to Zai Holes Contents
Amaranth To Zai Holes
AMARANTH TO ZAI HOLES
Ideas for growing Food
Under Difficult Conditions
Laura S. Meitzner
Martin L. Price
To all who labor in so many fields.
...if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well- watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Isaiah 58: 10-11 (NIV)
Copyright 1996 by Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization, Inc. All rights reserved. No copies of print-outs from down-loaded files from this publication may be made without permission of the copyright owner.
ECHO, 17391 Durrance Road, North Fort Myers FL 33917-2239, USA.
Telephone: (239) 543-3246 Fax: (239) 543-5317
Email: ECHO@echonet.org Web site: http://www.echonet.org
There are certain basic and important questions we receive which are so encompassing that we cannot answer them in a personal letter. One such question is, "I have just begun work in this country. My degree is not in agriculture, but I want to help local farmers. They know much more than I do about farming in this area, but there must be some ways to make improvements. Where do I begin?" This chapter gives a framework of theories and ideas on getting started in agricultural development, guidelines for selecting crops and innovations, some resources to assist you in the field, and a model for experimental work in your community.
Vegetables and small fruits supply essential vitamins and minerals while adding variety and interest to the diet. Produce can also bring a high price in the market and provide additional household income. Vegetable use varies by region, culture, and social group. One of the first changes people make when they have more income is increasing the diversity in their diets, so you may observe more interest in vegetables and small fruits as families earn more.
Since vegetables and fruits are known to have a significant impact on health and nutrition, many people are interested in promoting their greater production and use. Many vegetables native to the tropics continue producing for months or years, and these treasures should not be overlooked in favor of temperate vegetables which must be continually replanted. This chapter features resources, perspectives, and information on growing the many vegetables and fruits which have proven themselves under difficult conditions in the tropics.
Staple crops are those which are most common in people's diets. Large expanses of land are dedicated to growing these foods, compared to the smaller areas planted in fruits and vegetables. In the third world, the staples are often a starch (grain or root crop) and a pulse (dried legume seed, beans). The starch gives energy and a feeling of fullness in the stomach, while the pulse provides protein.
These crops are so important to so many people that many have spread far beyond their centers of origin; many types of cassava, corn, rice, soybeans, and pigeon peas are grown around the world. Major research centers devote much of their resources to studying and improving these crops. Other crops, such as amaranth, quinoa, and tepary beans remain localized, but they hold great potential for thriving in other places with similar conditions. ECHO's focus is on these little-known plants and some varieties of the common crops which have special characteristics.
All trees are multipurpose. They bring subsoil nutrients to the surface, provide shade, and slow erosion. Many trees provide fodder, living fenceposts, fruit and other edible parts, shade, insecticides, and wood; they all have some role in soil stabilization and offer quality-of-life benefits like beauty and a shelter for informal gatherings. Working with trees is an important investment which can be significant to the future of your Community. Developing agroforestry systems, tree nurseries, and fruit and nut tree species is most appropriate for those with a long-term commitment in an area. Learning the valued qualities of the trees already present in and native to your area is a good starting point. Ask about the best local woods for fuel, construction, musical instruments, stakes, and other uses; ask children about the season and flavor of native fruits. Observe closely how various species are propagated, harvested, and protected. This chapter gives ideas and information on the many uses of trees in agricultural systems, various species, and working with trees.
Many small farmers must grow their crops on small tracts of marginal land, which may be dry or hilly or remote. These difficult growing conditions require special techniques suited to the situation. This chapter contains some ideas which can be adapted for local circumstances.
Most of the ideas in ECHO Development Notes are concerned with sustainable agriculture, that which promotes a wise and creative use of resources to provide food and employment for the long term. People growing in marginal situations can benefit from networking, learning about techniques which have met with success both locally and in distant areas with similar challenges. We list training opportunities and publications which offer guiding principles and ideas to implement for sustainable food production. Please let us know of similar local groups which have been helpful to you.
Productive, resistant plants start with healthy soil. Crops need not only adequate nutrients, but a favorable soil structure and environment for optimal growth. In the tropics, soil conditions vary widely, and many small farmers are forced to grow their crops in very poor soils which require special methods for food production. Green manures and cover crops, which afford some protection from weathering elements and may improve the soil, have proven themselves in the field for their contribution to soil health and conservation. This chapter also offers some ideas on planting materials and fertilizers for improved plant nutrition.
Life and agriculture are dependent on water. One of the most frequent questions ECHO receives from the field reflects the need for strategies to produce food in dryland areas or in the dry season. The erratic and unpredictable rainfall in much of the tropics makes food production difficult; months of drought bake and harden the soils, so the torrential rains which follow lead to erosion. People without sufficient water for cooking and personal use are not able to irrigate crops during the dry season. This chapter gives some ideas on soil and water conservation in times of water shortage and seasonal abundance.
Protecting plants from pests, diseases, and predators is part of any agricultural system. Start by promoting healthy soil which grows strong, resistant plants, and learn about timing and conditions of disease and pest outbreaks. Attention to cultural controls, such as field preparation and correct time of sowing and harvest, can prevent disease or avoid insect outbreaks. Diversity of crops provides security from major losses. Commercial pesticides may be too costly or risky without controlled application or protective equipment, and disruptive of beneficial insects.
Close and frequent observations of plant health and other organisms in the field are instructive for the newcomer to tropical agriculture. Learn to distinguish beneficial and harmful insects. Discuss your findings with farmers, and experiment with locally-used control strategies to determine effectiveness. The best control is to prevent an outbreak if possible, and to use treatments of minimal toxicity when necessary. This chapter collects some of the ideas shared with ECHO through the years on prevention and control of disease, insect and small pests, and larger animals which damage crops in the field. ECHO is always looking for more ideas on these subjects from the field; send us what you learn for future networking through EDN.
Animals are very important to the small farm. Their integration into farming activities provides uses for many byproducts of the farm. They provide high-quality food, income, fertilizer, status, companionship, transportation, labor, and much more for rural families. But seasonal feed shortage and parasite problems can frustrate people's efforts in animal husbandry. This chapter highlights information and resources on raising and caring for animals in the tropics.
The goal of most agricultural development is to improve people's nutrition, with an increase in quality, quantity, and diversity of food produced. Each issue of ECHO Development Notes discusses plants and techniques which can enable farmers to produce more food of higher nutritional value. Beyond increased production of more nutritious crops, there is much to be done to improve nutrition. It is important to know about food preparations which enhance nutrition, and some recipes to make new plants palatable and appealing.
Another major area deserving attention is protecting food during storage. Significant percentages of harvested foods are lost to pests and spoilage. Improved techniques for protecting and preserving products can have a tremendous impact on available food supplies and nutrition during seasonal food shortages. This chapter offers ideas on improving nutrition through new methods of food storage and preparation.
Health care encompasses many areas: improved quality of life, better nutrition, safety, building good relationships, and prevention and cure of illness and disease. This chapter presents resources and ideas you may use in promoting health in your community. There are many resources available for training and technical assistance. We also focus on how several plants mentioned elsewhere in this book may be used in medicine.
Many people's first thought about ECHO is "seeds." Our seedbank specializes in little-known plants with great potential to provide food under difficult growing conditions. We also have several improved varieties of common plants. Each year we distribute hundreds of trial seed packets to development workers who grow them in their own gardens. If the plants produce well and are accepted, they may harvest the seed and distribute it in the community. In this way, a community in one part of the world may benefit from the plants of another region to which they might otherwise not have access.
Plant introduction through seeds and germplasm (living tissue that can be grown into a plant) holds tremendous promise for improving nutrition and food production. This book contains information on many such plants which can thrive in poor soils, drought, and other stresses. There are also dangers and risks in plant introduction about which we need to be aware. This chapter discusses working with underexploited plants, seeds and other germplasm, and seed production and sources.
Appropriate technologies can reduce tiresome labor and increase the efficiency of the rural family in their work at home and in the fields. There are many simple machines, tools, utensils, pumps, and other items which can make significant improvements in people's lives, but not all are suitable for the living situation. Development workers must be particularly cautious with introducing and promoting new technologies too hastily. It is essential to determine the needs and commitment of the community toward new methods.
There are many excellent organizations and resources with counsel and publications on energy systems, labor-saving devices, construction, and other areas. ECHO does not specialize in appropriate technologies, and people who send us technical questions on these areas are usually referred to the organizations listed here for specialist assistance.
Farmers everywhere want to make money from their produce. But they may find that if there is considerable money to be made on a particular crop, so many farmers will grow it that the market is soon flooded. Consequently, development groups are often looking for ways to grow a popular crop out of season, to convert it to a new form, to preserve it for later marketing, or to find a new crop or niche market. Over the years, we have come across some ideas and perspectives which are reported in this chapter.
Be aware, however, that projects requiring the cooperation of many people, demanding a high level of quality control, or depending entirely on marketing abroad are risky and are probably beyond the scope of what most NGOs will want to do. ECHO, and most people in our network, specialize in microdevelopment, "one family at a time." We hope that reading about these ideas leads you to consider what to look for in developing a small business. We also mention some ways you can use the expertise you gain in the field.
ECHO provides technical assistance to help you find practical, sustainable ways to address world hunger. We are motivated out of a Christian concern for obedience to Christ and love for our neighbors. This chapter lists many training opportunities and resources for working in development and groups that assist missionaries in their service.
Nearly every community uses oil in cooking. In some cases oil is a primary ingredient for flavor and energy, delivering needed calories and fats in a concentrated form (while in North America many people are concerned about limiting oil in their diets). Because processing equipment, oil crops, or both are frequently not available in a particular community, oil must be imported from elsewhere in-country if not from abroad. Development workers often write us with questions about producing oil locally in their communities. In future issues of EDN we hope to address this subject in more detail; these articles are an introduction to the topic.
Urban food production is an area which has been too frequently overlooked by development planners, considering global urbanization and the surprisingly large amount of food already produced in cities. Beyond the sites traditionally used by urban gardeners, there is considerable potential to involve millions of urban families, who may not at first thought seem to have a location to garden. This untapped potential is found where there is plenty of sunshine but either no soil or the soil does not lend itself to cultivation. ECHO and others have developed several "above-ground" techniques suited for such sites.
Where might sites for these above-ground gardens be found? For starters, in many cities there are countless hectares of sturdy, flat cement rooftops and many more hectares of tin roofs on insubstantial shanties. There are also steep hillsides, extremely poor soils, yards of rock or cement, spaces around tree roots, and places where land tenure is so unstable that only portable gardens are attractive.
Such areas were a natural challenge for us, since one of ECHO's purposes is to help people grow food under difficult conditions. There are few "soils" worse for gardening than a cement slab, a pile of rocks, a corrugated roof or a mass of tree roots. However, large areas of such unused but potentially prime growing space are often located in cities, near large markets and numbers of underemployed people. The potential value of creating growing areas in such locations is obvious.
Since 1982, ECHO has been working on methods for gardening in such situations, which are not nearly as difficult a challenge for gardening as one might think. In fact, cement slabs have become one of our favorite gardening spots in Florida, where sandy soils and nematodes make in-ground gardening a challenge. Urban gardening has a reputation of not being very successful. This chapter takes a second look at growing food in the city.