Young Agro-environmentalists Represent Azuero at the 4th National Forum on Sustainable Land Management

The agro-environmental groups of the  Agricultural Institute (I.P.T.A.) of Tonosí (Tonosí Environmental Protection Unit) and the  Agricultural Institute (I.P.T.A.) of Las Minas (Herd of Youth Captains for the Conservation of Flora and Fauna) had the opportunity to participate in the “4th National Forum on Sustainable Land Management” held on August 30 and 31 at the Wyndham Hotel in Albrook Mall, Panama.

Fig. 1. Edward Garcia, from the AEP team, with the young participants of the 4th National Forum on Sustainable Land Management.

Why did they participate in this forum?

This forum highlighted the opportunity that land offers people to build stable, safe and sustainable communities for the future benefit of all. It also promotes the exchange and adoption of transformative initiatives to restore degraded lands in urban areas, cleaner production in and conservation of watersheds through citizen participation. One of the transformational initiatives present in the forum consisted of two groups of agro-environmental youth from rural Azuero watersheds who are committed to conserving them through developing projects such as reforestation and waterway cleanups. This forum was organized by the Panamanian Ministry of Environment (MiAmbiente) and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). We thank them for supporting this initiative and for sponsoring the participation of these youth groups in the activities.

Fig. 2. The agro-environmental youth groups from Las Minas and Tonosí visit the Chilibre hydroelectric plant during the 4th National Forum on Sustainable Land Management.

Perspectives of the participants

The creation of these two agro-environmental youth groups is geared toward conserving the Tonosí (Tonosí) and Parita (near Las Minas) river basins through sustainable community action. Participation in the Forum exposed youth in the groups to a broader conservation vision and national level discussion on these themes in order to conduct better defined actions and to lead their communities in taking into account both environmental and social values in program planning and implementation. The groups visited the Chilibre water treatment plant, considering it as a case study on how they can improve the treatment of Azuero water sources.

Agro-Environmental Youth Groups test their water

The high-schoolers of the agricultural institutes of I.P.T.A. Tonosi (@upmatonosi) and I.P.T.A. Las Minas (@manadadecapitanes) had full days on May 15th and 16th.

Fig. 1. The image samples of the water PH test of the creek of the Tonosí Cocoa River.

 

THE STUDY

The students, together with teachers, personnel from the Panamanian Environmental Ministry’s Department of Soil Management and Conservation and our own Team Monkey, performed tests to measure water quality on the grounds of their Institutes and in their communities. These nascent youth groups, called the Environmental Protection Unit (in Tonosi) and the Herd of Adolescent Captains Saving Flora y Fauna (in Las Minas), tested water for pH, dissolved oxygen, phosphate, nitrate, turbidity, and presence of coliform bacteria, as well as general characteristics of the area such as soil and water odor and color, streambank erosion, and other characteristics.

Fig. 2. The image shows the young people of the I.P.T.A. of Las Minas taking data of the results obtained

 

RESULT

We congratulate our budding citizen scientists! The results of most of their tests show normal levels of different elements (however, they are confirming their results through a professional laboratory analysis), except for the phosphate test that revealed high levels of phosphorus in the water of the El Cacao River of Tonosí that may be due to excessive levels of fertilizers. Thanks to these activities, Las Minas and Tonosi youth are inspired to continue understanding and conserving their natural resources and contribute to a better management of their watersheds.

 

 

PARTICIPANT

This initiative was adopted thanks to the combined efforts of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the Panamanian Ministry of the Environment, and the Azuero Earth Project, who are committed to an Azuero peninsula led by youth deeply connected and committed to natural resource sustainability. Stay tuned for more updates about these youth groups throughout the year!

Fig. 3. The image shows the young people of the I.P.T.A. Tonosí taking the samples in the Quebrada El Cacao

 

 

Dr. Trevor Caughlin begins reforestation research project with local landowners

IMG_0070

The project welcomes Dr. Trevor Caughlin as a new collaborator with the Program of Organiculture. Dr. Caughlin is a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Florida, School of Forest Resources and Conservation, who will be conducting a three year research project on the Azuero Peninsula. The aim of his work is study the interplay between landowner decision-making and forest regeneration, which can inform management plans for large-scale restoration.

The restoration of ecosystem functions in deforested tropical areas is necessary to sustain human well-being, conserve biodiversity and store carbon. Such restoration is difficult, given it requires increase in tree coverage at a very large scale, from landscapes to entire regions. When reforestation efforts become this big, the success of reforestation depends on both social and ecological factors. In the Azuero Peninsula, and many other landscapes in Latin America, the greatest potential for reforestation is in cattle pasture located on privately-owned land. Consequently, whether or not landowners decide to enable trees to return is paramount.

IMG_0063Dr. Caughlin is currently conducting workshops with landowners in a different communities of the region, to assess landowner interest in reforestation and better understand how forest cover could return to the Azuero Peninsula. We are overjoyed to be able to support his project, which aligns so closely with the mission of our organization, and are excited to see the process and results over the coming months and years, which we will continue to share.

 

 

 

 

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 Pedasí (APASPE) held the third annual Agro-ecological fair. The fair was hosted by the school of Los Asientos, a community close to Pedasí. 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.