Agriculture knows no quarantine

Agriculture knows no quarantine

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Judith Vanegas
Judith Vanegas
Consultora de comunicación del Proyecto Gestión de Conocimiento de la cadena de valor del cacao en Centroamérica

"Agriculture knows no quarantine and cocoa producers know it," reads Santiago's WhatsApp publication where it describes how grafting is done for cocoa. Santiago is a producer, facilitator and founding member of the Omoa Cocoa Farmers' Cooperative "San Fernando Limitada" (CACAOSAFER), in the community of San Rafael, Honduras.

He and the cocoa producers have not stopped their agricultural work in spite of Covid-19. What has changed is the way of transferring knowledge and providing technical assistance.

Santiago is one of six producers who have a Dynamic Successional Agroforestry Systems demonstration plot as part of the activities of the Knowledge Management Project of the Central American cocoa value chain in Honduras, in collaboration with the company Chocolats Halba. This is a Rikolto initiative that is supported by the World Cocoa Foundation and the Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC).

Under "normal" conditions, more producers would gather in Santiago’s demonstration plot to learn about the benefits of Agroforestry Systems. This leader supports more than 20 producers from five communities in Farmer Field Schools (FFS) when it comes to cocoa grafting. They exchange the adult plantations that no longer produce for other genetic material that is highly productive and resistant to diseases.

"We're not doing group field schools to avoid crowds. Right now, we are doing a cocoa grafting practice on Paula Ramírez Calderón's farm, because she does not produce much. As a member, she wants to change the genetics of her cocoa and is applying what she learned in grafting with five highly productive varieties," he explains in the cell phone interview.

Within minutes, he was sharing Mrs. Paula's grafting experience with several groups on WhatsApp. "I always share the knowledge in the WhatsApp groups for Dynamic Forestry, Cacao Móvil Honduras, PROCACAO, MOCCA Program and the group of Facilitators at the national level" he adds.

The networks have helped to overcome the lack of training and technical assistance during this time of quarantine in Honduras.

What are Dynamic Agroforestry Systems?

What are Dynamic Agroforestry Systems?

Dynamic Successional Agroforestry Systems (DAF) are production systems where cocoa cultivation is managed under agroforestry systems in association with other crops in order to produce nutritious food and at the same time improve the fertility of the soil with nitrogen fixatives, through legumes. The success of this form of production is that it combines forestry species, fruit trees, agricultural plantations, fodder crops, ornamental plants, medicinal plants, mussels, legumes and others.

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The 54-year-old producer is making the most of (mobile) technology. On each visit he takes pictures of the field activity and exchanges the knowledge of the practice with other producers by means of pictures and messages.

Santiago and other producers receive technical assistance through the WhatsApp groups from international specialists and national technicians from Chocolats Halba and Rikolto.

The Field School that Oviedo manages is made up of producers from five communities. At the moment, due to the quarantine and all the biosecurity measures, he can only visit producers from two communities in San Rafael (where he lives) and the neighbouring community of Barba Cheles.

He adds that he follows up with producers in the other three communities by phone every week, providing them with information on the activities he and others are involved in.

The work in the field doesn't stop. Tomorrow, he says, he has to work on the Agroforestry plot. "I'm going to remove the rootstocks so that the graft can develop further, and I'm also going to clean up and plant pigeon peas, canavalia, maize and beans."

He pointed out that the greatest motivation for cocoa producers is to continue to harvest in spite of the crisis. Biosecurity measures have been incorporated into the field work. "Those who harvest cocoa come with a mask, and so do we. Our work doesn't stop," he emphasised.