Innovative CIAT fruit project moves into top gear

23 May, 2011 by (comments)

Traditional vehicle could drive nationwide knowledge sharing exercise

After recruiting more than a thousand farmers in its first year, an ambitious CIAT initiative to improve fruit production in Colombia through large-scale knowledge sharing, is about to be driven, quite literally, into its next phase.

The Site-Specific Agriculture based on Farmers’ Experiences (SSAFE) project could see the highly anticipated launch of a dedicated “chiva” bus, which will travel from southwestern Colombia to the country’s Atlantic coast in the north, in an effort to recruit a further 3,000 farmers.

Eye-catching due to their ornate decoration and bright colours, chivas are a traditional mode of transport for agricultural workers in Colombia, and are frequently seen on country roads. If current plans are approved, a custom-decorated “Fruti-Chiva” could depart from CIAT’s headquarters in Cali later this year and drive to Cartagena, in what promises to be an epic 900 km journey taking around two months.

The Fruti-Chiva will act as a mobile training centre, hosting farmer workshops, and will also be used to transport interested farmers to demonstration sites to show how the project can improve fruit production and farm incomes.

“The Fruiti Chiva is really going to help the project move into top gear,” said project leader Daniel Jimenez, who hopes to take the wheel as the bus travels through his mountainous home department of Caldas, in central Colombia.

“To reach one thousand farmers in time for the project’s first anniversary is fantastic. Now we’re in pole position to move into phase two.”

SSAFE treats farmer knowledge as valuable scientific information, and regards small farmers as agricultural scientists who conduct field experiments every day, making decisions about which crops to plant, how to manage them, and monitoring the results.

By collating the experiences of Colombia’s fruit farmers, SSAFE aims to produce national crop suitability maps for plantain, mango, avocado and citrus fruits, as well as site-specific recommendations for farmers looking to improve crop management, reduce the risk involved in crop substitution, and increase resilience to climate change.

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Since the project began in August 2010 with partners The Association of fruit and Vegetable Growers in Colombia (Asohofrucol), CIAT scientists have been visiting farmers in several regions of the country, documenting planting decisions and soil types, taking GPS readings and combining these with the latest climate information and production data from farmer associations.

As more farmers join the scheme, a more detailed picture of fruit production in the country emerges, and computer models are better able to depict and predict crop suitability.

SSAFE has also held 26 workshops nationwide, training over 600 farmers in using GPS equipment, the identification of soil characteristics, and using “Frutisitio” – the SSAFE project website, which contains data capture forms for registering farmers, links to information resources, and an agenda of upcoming events.

“For me it’s a dream come true,” continued Jimenez. “It’s great to be part of a project that’s really helping fruit farmers in my country.

“Sometimes it can take five years or more, from planting to the first harvest. If farmers make the wrong decisions and their crops fail, they plunge into poverty. This is a big step on the way to reducing that risk.”

We’ll bring you more as it happens.

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Filed Under: Climate Change, Crops @en, Latin America and the Caribbean, Regions, Tropical Fruits