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Agronomic research in the developing world

Help a small Colombian university research achira, a native Andean plant that can be eaten fresh, processed for baking flour, or fed to livestock.

Short Summary

We are a small Colombian university (UPTC) in the provincial capital of Tunja.  For a year and a half now we have been researching ten Andean crops that were used by the ancient Muisca people of our region, and continue to be grown and consumed by the traditional peasantry. 

An important component of our project is an agronomic experiment on one of these crops, achira (Canna indica), carried out together with local farmers from the towns of Somondoco and Guayatá.  This plant is mainly used in Colombia for the starch that can be extracted from its root-like rhizomes and used in various traditional baked goods, though the root can also be cooked and eaten whole, like a potato.  Aside from its links to local traditional culture, achira is attractive because it is an undemanding crop, requiring few chemical inputs and very compatible with the small-scale mixed cropping system practiced by most peasants in our region of Boyacá.

Our work is important because we are doing grassroots, applied research on achira, asking the sort of basic agronomic questions that have already been largely answered for major crops like corn or wheat, but which are virtual unknowns for a minor, local crop like achira.  In particular, we are evaluating four varieties of achira to learn about yield and nutritional quality of fresh rhizomes (for eating cooked), of extracted starch (for baked goods), and of the leaves, which can be used for animal feed. 

By contributing to our project you will allow us to obtain valuable data that will comprise a reference point for farmers and researchers interested in expanding cultivation of this unique, ecologically responsible, and peasant-friendly crop.  A future of sustainable food and agriculture for all of us depends precisely on small-scale, applied research of the type we are performing, carried out by farmers and academics in different local contexts around the world.

 

What We Need & What You Get

Harvest time is approaching, and we are making all the logistical arrangements after a year of caring for our crop and taking scientific measurements.  But due to rising prices and some miscalculations in our initial budget, we are short $1500US.  This is the amount necessary for us to send 50 samples of rhizomes and extracted starch to a laboratory for a chemical analysis that will tell us what nutritional benefits achira in general has to offer small farmers and food processors, as well as the relative strengths of each variety of achira.

We are offering some perks for big donors: all donors of $20US or more will receive a shout-out on our lead researcher's blog, agrarianideas.blogspot.com.  Donors at the $50 level will get the shout-out and a pdf copy of the first article we successfully get published in a respected academic journal as a result of our research.  For those who give $100US or more to the achira cause, we will thank you in the acknowledgments section of this article.  And for any special achira godmothers (or godfathers) who give $500US, our lead researcher will offer his services as a personal tour guide if you come to visit Colombia.

All money we receive up to our goal amount will go to fund these laboratory analyses.  If we don't receive the full amount, our team of researchers will have to pitch in out of pocket to cover the difference, which represents more than a month's wages for our lead researcher, and even more for our other team members.  If we are lucky enough to exceed the $1500US we need, any surplus will go to form a fund with local farmers to finance future achira-related projects (a semi-mechanized processing plant, for instance).

 

The Impact

As noted above, your donation will fund research that is increasingly necessary in an uncertain food future.  Such grassroots, farmer-level research is too rarely financed by big public organizations, and almost never by large agricultural companies (who don't stand to earn anything from small farmers growing an undemanding crop using few purchased inputs).  Achira is versatile not only ecologically, but because it can serve the farmer as a home-grown food, a small-scale industrial/commercial product, or an animal feed.  As for many locally-adapted crops, achira cultivation is increasingly being abandoned as farmers plant other species that receive more research attention and marketing support, or as young people leave the countryside for jobs in the city.  Our research is laying the knowledge groundwork (and creating an excitement and social validation around the crop) that will encourage farmers to plant more achira.  This will lower pesticide use as compared to most other crops, as well as offering a new, viable economic option to attract and keep young farmers in the area.

 

Other Ways You Can Help

If you can't donate, or if you're able to donate less than you would have liked to, we would appreciate it if you share our project with your friends and family, via facebook, indiegogo, or good old-fashioned word of mouth or email.  

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