Research in plant health and microbiology, development of bio-inputs and agricultural innovation networks key to agro-ecological intensification

Sustainable agriculture
The Swedish Ambassador to Bolivia, Mr. Nicolas Weeks, recently visited the facilities of the PROINPA Foundation in Cochabamba with the aim of getting to know the technical and scientific core of one of the main partners of the Inclusive Markets project of the Swedish-Swiss development cooperation in Bolivia. The Ambassador expressed his satisfaction that the project develops scientifically based solutions in several of the production complexes prioritised for food security and sovereignty in the country.

The day began with the presentation of results achieved in maize demonstration plots in Vinto, Cochabamba. The use of EnergyTop and Tricobal represented an increase of almost double the yields typically achieved by farming families. Another result was a notable reduction in the incidence of pests, thanks to the phytosanitary control associated with the use of these bio-inputs. In this regard, both Rolando Oros of the PROINPA Foundation and Sandra Nisttahusz of Inclusive Markets stated that: "it is not just a matter of using both products as medicine against a disease; the solution lies in a systematic action, starting from research, development and scaling up, i.e. from the laboratory, to the plot and on to the consumer markets, back and forth (...) promoting the restoration of the natural balance of microorganisms in soils, as a solid alternative to the undifferentiated use of agrochemicals."

This was followed by a visit to the phytopalogy and microbiology laboratories, as well as the facilities dedicated to the industrialisation of bio-inputs, which to date are used on a productive surface area of over 115,000 hectares, according to its director Rolando Oros. The presentation was given by experts Giovanna Plata and Jimmy Ciancas, who explained the mechanisms that micro-organisms have in the control of pests, as well as in the development, health and, especially, resistance to extreme climatic events, as engineer Giovanna Plata elaborates: 

"in laboratory conditions and from the collection/identification made by our agronomists in the field, we have generated a repository of the main diseases that attack the plants, either by entomopathological or fungal intermediation" where basically "we study the performance of the microorganisms found in the soil and in all living beings with respect to the progress, control or extermination of some over others, but especially of the beneficial ones. In nature, there is a balance between the beneficial and the harmful ones. Thus, the constant challenge is to maintain a healthy balance that allows the continuity of the productive cycles, without destroying all the micro-organisms as agrochemicals normally do".

Now, all this in terms of pest management, but what is being done to deal with adverse climatic events? In Bolivia, frosts, droughts and floods cause losses that reach more than half of the production. In this respect, PROINPA, due to its vocation for Andean crops such as quinoa, cañahua and tarwi, has developed a whole line of bio-inputs that encourage growth in foliage, flowering and roots, favouring the integral development of the plant, but especially of those varieties capable of anticipating their production or that have better conditions for surviving extreme climatic events. According to one of the representatives of PROINPA's board of directors, Jorge Blajos, great strides have been made in the export production complexes of Royal Quinoa and Chia, which could well be expanded to other production complexes of high nutraceutical value of Bolivian origin, where the participation of private, community and academic actors is fundamental", emphasising once again the value of a systemic approach rather than the simple diffusion of innovations. In Bolivia, PROINPA is one of the few institutions that holds the IMOcert certification, which contributes to organic production of certain crops, such as quinoa or chia, that facilitates access to export markets in Japan, the United States or Europe.

At the end of the visit, the delegation led by Ambassador Weeks visited two PROINPA spin-offs, Biotop and Panaseri, which offer related services and products for the benefit of family farming, and expressed satisfaction that their cooperation is participating in the intensification of agroecology in Bolivia through the project. Finally, Nisttahusz and Oros pointed out that all the details of this agroecological model in which various public, private and community actors participate were shared with the Vice-Ministry of Rural Development, the Food Production Support Company (EMAPA), the Agricultural Health and Food Safety Service (SENASAG) and the National Institute for Agricultural and Forestry Innovation (INIAF), showing that there are national alternatives to intensify agroecology, improving crop yields, farmers' income and reducing the import of agrochemicals. 

In the last 18 years, the import and use of agrochemicals for agricultural production has increased by 500%, according to data from the National Institute of Statistics (2019). The Bolivian Institute of Foreign Trade (IBCE) indicated that in 2017, 164 million kilos (of agrochemicals) worth US$307 million were imported; in 2018, the figure was 148 million kilos worth US$343 million.(Los Tiempos, 2019)

Sustainable agriculture
Inclusive Markets in Bolivia
The main objective of the program is "to improve the living conditions of the target population by helping them reduce their poverty situation". The purpose is "to increase the opportunities, capacities and income of the target population".The Inclusive Markets project is implemented in Bolivia with funding from the Swiss Agency for Development and...