APASPE’S THIRD AGRO-ECOLOGICAL FAIR AT LOS ASIENTOS

Carmela, Director of Education and Community Outreach, gives a participating family a new tree to plant and watch grow!
Carmela, Director of Education and Community Outreach, gives a participating family a new tree to plant and watch grow!

On June 19, the Association of Livestock and Agro-Silvopastoral Producers of PedasĂ­ (APASPE) held the third annual Agro-ecological fair. The fair was hosted by the school of Los Asientos, a community close to PedasĂ­. The theme? Health soil for a healthy family! This fair comes at a critical point in time, as healthy soil is considered a quickly dwindling resource.

The Perfect Earth Project Azuero (PEPA) participated with a table which taught visitors about the necessary components for healthy soil. Our table also shared other methods of increasing soil quality, such as reforestation or worm compost systems. Other participating organizations covered a variety of environmental issues, such as turtle conservation, sustainable tuna farming, reforestation or sustainable livestock production. Participants included ranged from local actors, such as different schools and NGOs, to national and international actors, such as the National Authority of the Environment (ANAM) and the FAO of the United Nations. This diversity of collaboration strengthens our ability to fight for an agriculture which supports a healthy environment and earth. Students from Las Tablas had created a model of a water-conservation irrigation system, and a competition to see which students could create outfits made entirely out of recycled material. The event was inaugurated by members of the FOA of the United Nations and representatives from ANAM.

The inauguration of the fair by representatives from ANAM and the FAO of the UN.

This type of event provides a fun and informative space for local farmers, families and communities, who are the people most immediately affected by soil decay, to meet with environmental actors who are working towards sustainable agricultural practices which best preserve biodiversity and healthy soil. PEPA greatly thanks APASPE and Los Asientos for their work in creating such a space, and for their invitation to participate! We look forward to the fourth annual fair!

 

Soil Benefits of Raising Chickens in Mobile Cages

Bruno Borsari, visiting Fulbright scholar from Winona University offered a series of in the field lectures at the USMA farm in Las Minas, Panama.  Azuero Earth Project has been fortunate to have an extended connection with the bright and vibrant Dr. Borsari. As part of continued education, our staff attended several of the lectures.  Below, we’ll share a little of what we learned.

Raising Chickens in Mobile Cages

By Sr. Jairo Batista

Design of a simple chicken tractor (Bruno Borsari, 2015)
Design of a simple chicken tractor (Bruno Borsari, 2015)

Most chickens on the market today are produced in an industrial manner. In this workshop, Dr. Borsari shared his knowledge about managing chickens in mobile cages, for a healthier animal, and also a healthier soil.

What are the advantages but also the disadvantages of vertical integration of modern poultry industry?

This industrial system has helped the chicken to become a staple of low cost to consumers. But some farmers and consumers are questioning whether the process of achieving such efficiency is worth the sacrifice of values ??they consider important-the autonomy and independence of farmers, the welfare of the birds, and the taste and quality of their meat and eggs.

Note the difference after the cage has been moved. (Bruno Borsari, 2015)
Note the difference after the cage has been moved. (Bruno Borsari, 2015)

That’s why the laws in developed countries and medium-term projections ultimately seek alternatives to provide comfort and improve the “quality of life” of animals. Among the alternatives that arise are moving structures (cages) that allow access to a pasture, establish production systems outdoors or for animals to be in open spaces, where they can develop as if they were in their natural environment, use natural power supplies 100%, and have lower incidence of diseases.

In the workshop, we learned about how to construct a simple chicken tractor, or mobile cage using available materials such as bamboo, palm reeds, and chicken wire.

Soil sample from under a chicken cage.  (Bruno Borsari, 2015)
Soil sample from under a chicken cage. (Bruno Borsari, 2015)

Hens stir and mix the soil and manure and dig for insects and worms, increasing organic matter and improving fertility.

Chicken manure is rich in calcium and can eventually increase the soil pH, making excellent soil quality for growing tasty fodder such as clover, peas and orchard grass.

The birds cannot be kept long in the same place or in high concentrations, especially when the ground is wet, as this eliminates fodder and compacts the soil, hence the necessity of making the cages mobile.

Cage 1 was moved once every 14 days Cage 2 moved once every 7 days Cage 3 was moved once
Cage 1 was moved once every 14 days
Cage 2 moved once every 7 days
Cage 3 was moved once

 

Dr. Bruno also shared some details of their investigation of mobile cages.

Overall, the best features found floor when moving the cage every 14 days, but depends on a few factors such as number of chickens in the cage and the cage size.

 

 

Stay tuned for the next post in our series, “Caring for the Soil”!  If you missed it, check out our post on Simple Methods for Evaluating Soil Quality.

Simple Methods for Evaluating Soil Quality

Bruno Borsari, visiting Fulbright scholar from Winona University, offered a series of in-the-field lectures at the USMA farm in Las Minas, Herrera, Panama.  Azuero Earth Project has been fortunate to have an extended connection with the passionate and vibrant Dr. Borsari. As part of continued education, our staff attended several of the lectures.  Below, we’ll share a little of what we learned.

Simple methods for evaluating soil quality- Jim O’ Neil

The USMA farm in Las Minas
The USMA farm in Las Minas

In Panama you can take soil samples to IDIAP and to the University of Panama for analysis, but for many people the price of analysis isn’t affordable and going to the laboratory is inconvenient. Participants in this workshop learned that with just one’s eyes, nose, simple tools, and a little bit of observation, we can find out a lot about the quality of the soil.  For example, with your eyes (and a digging stick and small quantity of water), you can evaluate soil structure, soil depth, the presence of organic matter, soil cover, level of erosion, and water retention.

A simple way to make  Burlese funnel
A simple way to make Burlese funnel

Dr. Borsari showed us a simple apparatus called the Burlese funnel, that is used for measuring the quantity of invertebrates in a soil sample.  He made the apparatus out of a cardboard box, a Cornflakes box, a plastic funnel and a simple electric light.  The quantity of invertebrates is a good indication of the quality of soil because the presence of high quantities of invertebrates indicates high quantities of soil microbes.  You can evaluate the level of microbiological activity by applying hydrogen peroxide to a few tablespoons of soil.  Large quantities of bubbles indicates a lot of microbiological activity.  Its important to apply these simple soil evaluation methods to more than one soil sample to make relative comparisons between them.  Via these comparisons you can determine what part of your land is most suited for cultivation.

Dr. Borsari
Dr. Borsari, explaining the Carbon Cycle

We also had the opportunity to practice using soil test kits, a collection of small bottles and chemicals used for in-the-field tests for Nitrogen, Potassium, Phosphorus, and pH.  It was wonderful to see the enthusiasm of the workshop participants while they practiced using the kits.  Farmers from all over Azuero were excited to be learning a simple way to evaluate their own soil scientifically.  The day’s workshop was a fantastic experience learning how to evaluate soil samples using simple and accessible methods.

In the Field Workshop: Building your Soil for a More Productive Farm

Borsari showing farmers basic soil tests using readily available materials
Borsari showing farmers basic soil tests using readily available materials

In the heat of the Panamanian summer, over 30 participants including farmers, students and Peace Corps volunteers came together in Vallerriquito to learn about cattle farming while caring for the soil.  In traditional cattle farming in Panama, soil hasn’t been a factor. But with the heat of the summer, the lack of water, and declining meat production due to stress, farmers are looking for alternatives. With the dynamic energy of his Italian roots, Dr. Bruno Borsari gave a participatory talk on bettering the soil while at the same time managing a productive cattle farm.

Energy was high, as various farmers who are already implementing Silvopastoral systems shared their experiences. After lunch, one farmer, Señor Arsenio invited us to his farm to view his SilvoPastoral system at work.  Even during the depths of dry season, one could note the difference between plain pasture, and the pasture complemented by the shade of the trees.  Here the farmers were able to see the direct connection between what Brusari was speaking about, and how other farmers were already putting these ideas into practices.

If you are interested in learning more about cattle and soil, you can find Borsari’s presentation here.   Check back soon for full video footage of the day!

Arsenio sharing his SilvoPastoral experience with the group
Arsenio sharing his SilvoPastoral experience with the group

How to Make Organic Fertilizers that Work

Mixing ingredients for Bocashi
Mixing ingredients for Bocashi

People often ask us, “But if I’m not using chemicals, how do I maintain my yields?”  Years of experience has taught many farmers that using local and natural materials can help you maintain healthy plants without contaminating the earth.  There are many different types of natural composts, and this past Saturday in Guararé, Azuero Earth Project presented a hands-on workshop to demonstrate two fast-producing organic fertilizers – Bocashi, and Biol.  Owners of a lovely property in Albina Grande, Robert and Pat Irwin offered to host our workshop at their farm. Among those in attendance were citrus farmers, corn farmers, landowners, and members of an environmental NGO from Guararé.

Bocashi, a fermented soil amendment, is ready in no time compared to other types of composts! In a matter of 15 days, your Bocashi is ready to use, using inputs commonly found in agrarian areas, such as cow manure, ash, and peels of rice. The quickness of Bocashi comes from the fermenting process- the Bocashi heats up to over 50 degrees Celsius on the first day. Subsequently, it must be turned each day to keep the temperature low.   One of the excellent benefits of Bocashi is that there are many substitutes for the ingredients. Don’t have Carbon chunks? Use ash.  Don’t have Molasses? Use miel de caña.

After 15 days of fermenting, your Bocashi is ready for use. Because this is a strong fertilizer rich in many nutrients, it can actually burn the plants if directly applied.  We recommend digging the hole deeper than necessary, adding a handful of Bocashi, cover that with another layer of soil, and then planting your seedling.  Alternatively, you can apply your Bocashi to existing plants by digging a smaller trench encircling the plant, and burying the Bocashi under a layer of soil.  For more details, check out the Powerpoint presentation here.Presentacion-del-Bocachi-131214

Jaime describing the different inputs used to make Biol
Jaime describing the different inputs used to make Biol

Biol is a fermented foliar feed.  In comparison to soil amendments, foliar feeds are faster acting, because the plants absorb the nutrients directly through their leaves.  Biol should be diluted for application to plants.  If used directly from the tank, without dilution, it can be an herbicide.  Our staff also recommends using diluted Biol to pretreat seeds- soak seeds for twenty minutes in a ratio of 8:1 water-biol before planting.  Biol has the added benefits of little labor to produce as well as low input costs.  For all the technical details, check out the Powerpoint here. Biol 131214

Attached here, you can also find the brief handout with all the quantities and ratios for each soil amendment. Bocachi Biol Handout

AEP attends Agroforestry conference in Darién

Carmela and Rebecca at the entrance to Nicholas Bravo's Agrotourism farm
Carmela and Rebecca at the entrance to Nicholas Bravo’s Agrotourism farm

Cattle farming is the principle cause of deforestation in Panama, and as you may well know, the word “ganadería” comes from ganar.  The idea of agroforestry is to find an ecologically based natural resource management system, in which both the farmer and the Earth can benefit. Saturday, November 22, members of Azuero Earth Project staff attended the first symposium on Agroforestry, hosted by the University of Panama Darien Campus.  Although far from our home base of Azuero, many of the experiences shared and lessons learned are valuable across the country. The international group of expositors included Fernando Uribe from Cipav in Colombia, Diego Tobar from CATIE in Costa Rica, as well as NGOS working in Darién. With over 100 participants, the energy of the symposium was high, with many questions asked after each presentation. After the day’s events, we were invited to the farm of Nicolas Bravo, a farmer with agroforestry farm in Sazoncito. His farm is truly a labor of love, and from just 5ha, he harvests of 200 different products. Walking through the managed forest, we were impressed to learn how well thought out each planting was, and hearing the lessons of what work and what didn’t.  Bravo told us that each day he is learning from the soil, and that if you listen, the earth itself will tell you what you need to know.

AEP kicks off the 2014 Educational Initiative in Los Asientos

The Azuero Earth Project believes that environmental education starts with the kids! Each year as part of our Educational Initiative, AEP develops didactic games, interactive activities, experiments, videos, and presentations to reinforce environmental themes in six schools in the Azuero Peninsula. Through a full day of activities, students review previously learned topics, as well as learn new themes. We kicked off the initiative this year in Los Asientos, where lesson material focused on Organic Agriculture.

Experimenting with different soil types to test water absorption rates.
Experimenting with different soil types to test water absorption rates.

Activities included:

  • Nitrogen Cycle Game – Acting as a nitrogen atom, students traveled to different stations of the atmosphere, filling out their “nitrogen passport” with different stamps in order to understand the Nitrogen Cycle
  • Soil Experiment- Students tested sand, clay, and compost to understand water filtration and soil types.
  • Crop Rotation- Acting as land owners, students decided what to plant for the following 5 years in order to maximize production AND soil health.
  • Making Compost- Students learned the principles of decomposition and then headed out the garden to mix up a batch of compost
  • Building Raised Beds- After talking about water retention and erosion, students built raised beds in their garden and seeded native cucumber and bean varieties
Deciding what to plant in a crop rotation game
Deciding what to plant in a crop rotation game

For more information, check out our Education Program.

Workshop on Small-Scale Organic Gardens

Presentation of Agricultural Engineer Meinaldo Mitre
Presentation of Agricultural Engineer Meinaldo Mitre

What began as a dreary, rainy day turned into a bright, sunny morning as Azuero Earth Project staff headed off to Los Asientos. With more than 15 people in attendance, the agricultural engineer Meinaldo Mitre gave a presentation on small-scale organic agriculture production.  Mitre, native of Herrera, works with the organization Ecotropica to teach farmers how to grow organically through a series of hands-on workshops. Mitre started from the beginning of the process of building your organic garden, from the design of your plots and took us through step by step until harvest. One point he stressed was fundamental to understanding organic growing is that the soil is the source of all life. He even joked that he doesn’t grow plants… he grows soil! Mitre also mentioned that in some ways farmers have become lazy. When they see a problem with their plant, they throw a chemical on it. If that doesn’t work, they’ll try a different chemical. In organic agriculture, Mitre told us, the farmer has to be more conscious, observing the plants, the soil, and the terrain. If a plant is being attacked by pests, there is a reason, whether it be imbalances in the soil or lack of nutrients, but the plants will let you know! After the presentacion, the group headed outside to the school garden in Los Asientos for the hands on part of the workshop. Demonstrating various techniques, Mitre spoke more in depth about soil structure, erosion, and the importance of compost.

Learning to observe the plants
Learning to observe the plants

Ing. Mitre left us with an important piece of advice, “If we don’t teach our children how to grow without poisoning the earth, they are going to sell the land, move to the city, and disconnect from where their food comes from.” To learn more, visit our office in Pedasi, check out Ecotropica’s website, and take a look at the PDF Huertos Orgánicos – Prod. Sust. de Alim. a pequeña escala.