April and Kevin in Kuna Yala, the northeast coast of Panamá

Monday, March 16, 2009

Visit to Demonstration Farm (and the biggest lemon I've ever seen)

Back in December, MIDA, the Ministry of Agricultural Development, brought Dario, the owner of a finca de difusion de tecnologia, or demonstration farm, to the island to talk to some of the cattlemen about methods he'd implemented with the guidance of the MIDA tecnicos (extension agents).

I arranged a visit on 20 January to Dario's finca on the mainland so the island cattlemen could see firsthand how he was doing things. They also scored some seeds for the biggest lemon I've ever seen.

(Like all good government projects, there is a sign to explain how the money is being spent)

It turned out only three of the cattlemen were interested and able to go that day, but that was a good number, as they could see everything easily and ask questions without hiding quietly in a crowd. We started just outside his house, where his wife (who is very involved in the farm; they both made the point that it is a family farm and family effort) explained their data keeping methods and financial recording, and why it is important.

That is not something many small farmers think about, the full cost of items from the start to the end; there are stories of farmers selling their crop or animals and thinking they've made a big profit because it is much more than they paid for the seeds or baby animals, but they have never calculated in the intermediate costs of time, fertilizers or food, pesticides or vaccines, or other supplies, and in reality, they are lost money on the deal. It seems most of the larger cattlemen on the island are making money, but they may not be tracking their costs to know how much.

(The group in front of Dario's house, minus Dario. His wife (blue shirt) and two sons (red stripe and black shirts), with Maria de Yepez from MIDA, talked about bookkeeping and family farming.)

Then Dario came back and we headed out into the fields to look at the grasses and other plants he grows to feed the cattle, how he has sub-divided his pasture land to rotate the cattle, and the trees and other products he has incorporated into his farm planning.

(Alex, from the island, walking through a plot of buton de oro, which grows about eight feet tall, has pretty flowers, and is an important component of the silage they produce)

We walked past some other examples of sustainable agriculture as well, including several varieties of compost piles.
(Pedro, from the island, Maria de Yepez, and Dario, talking about compost)
The part that was of primary interest to the cattlemen however, was the chipper/shredder. Dario had talked about making ensilaje, or silage, which is a mix of plants that provide good food for the cattle, and the cattlemen wanted to know more about how hard and how expensive it was. They were surprised at the size (smaller than expected) and the fact that it ran on gas (they'd presumed electricity, since Dario had electricity, which would have ruled it out for them), as well as how easily and quickly it would chop up buton de oro and caña de azucar (sugar cane).

(Julio, who also owns the upper tienda on the island, feeds sugar cane and buton de oro into the chipper shredder)

Julio currently cuts up sugar cane by hand with a machete to feed his cattle, a process he felt was fairly easy. His mind might have been changed by trying out the chipper/shredder.

By all accounts, it was a worthwhile and enlightening trip for the cattlemen from the island and several of them said they intend to implement some of the process they'd observed. Now I just need to follow up with them occasionally to help it happen and encourage them to share what they learn with others on the island.

By late morning, we returned to port. While grabbing lunch before the return boat ride (yes, out and back in one day; while rare, it is possible, especially if you plan it and go with the capitan, who in this case was Pedro), I watched the TV in the restaurant, which for a while was on a live feed of the Presidential Inauguration from the US; as April said, I cried for the national anthem.

Oh, and if you read through all this just to see a picture of the biggest lemon I've ever seen, here you go:

(Pedro, holding up the lemon from Dario's farm that he is going to bring home and collect seeds from to try to grow his own; he told me later it made good lemonaid)
(As far as I know, the big lemon is not a part of the demonstration parts of the farm. When asked what type of lemon it was, the Panamanians said it was a limón chino; they generally apply chino to anything that is much larger/smaller/different from the normal version of itself.)


Kristin said...

I looked at this first! in case you forgot to include it...
pretty impressive! Is it bigger than your head?

Linda said...

I probably don't need to say it, but: HUGE lemon!!!