Innovations to restore water ecosystems link small farmers to the market​

  Páramo Farms and Páramo Snacks have joined forces to add value to the vegetables and native potato species grown by ASOARCE (Asociación de Productores Agroecológicos del Pantano de Arce). This partnership is testing oil-free baked potato chips and vacuum-packed potatoes and vegetables in a controlled atmosphere. This article describes the processes, highlights the challenges, and explains why these are replicable efforts that could be used to restore degraded lands in water ecosystems. The Páramo de Guerrero is in the north region of the Colombian department of Cundinamarca and includes the highlands of the municipalities of Carmen de Carupa, Tausa, Zipaquirá, Subachoque, Cogua, Pacho, San Cayetano, and Susa. This páramo has a direct relationship with Bogotá because the Frío River, which originates there, supplies water to the capital and nearby cities. However, Páramo de Guerrero is one of the most degraded páramos in the country. Seventy percent of its land has deteriorated due to bad agricultural practices, intensive grazing, and indiscriminate mining. As a result, protecting this páramo (and the country’s other 35 páramos) is a priority for its residents and the Colombian government. For the last four years, ASOARCE’s growers have been planting organic crops of native Andean potatoes and vegetables to restore the degraded soil. The crops have been of excellent quality, flavor, and texture, in spite of the zone’s adverse climate and altitude. To link ASOARCE to regional markets, Páramo Farms, a private company, is developing new ways to transform and market ASOARCE’s products. The initiative will also contribute to the area's reconversion programs. Páramo Snacks, a partner company of Páramo Farms, uses the crops to make oil-free baked chips and ready-to-eat vacuum-packed potatoes and vegetables in a controlled atmosphere. Baked and oil-free Chemical engineer and Páramo Snacks partner Juan Carlos Flórez is leading the development of oil-free baked chips. Juan Carlos has been testing with different Andean roots and tubers produced by ASOARCE farmers. He has found the best results for flavor, texture, odor, and color in the native potatoes, yacon, and beets. French intern Johanna Malard'hie brought her knowledge to the process. Learn about the history . The trials also tested products beyond the páramo. Juan Carlos experimented with baked sweet plantain, pineapple, and coconut chips. After 18 months of testing, Páramo Snacks perfected the technique that makes its chips unique: They are tasty, crunchy, and oil-free—an exceptional fact, considering that a typical fried potato chip has a fat content of 35% to 40%.  The chips’ final quality depends on baking; this a delicate and demanding activity in labor and raw material. For example, to get 10 to 15 kilos of chips, it is necessary to process 100 kilos of yacon. The carbohydrates of yacon are not stored as starch?? but as fructooligosaccharides, a type of sugar that the digestive tract does not digest. For that reason, people with diabetes can eat yacon chips. To produce the best chips, the Páramo Snacks team identifies the best varieties and recognizes the best state of ripeness of each crop. Those skills have been key to the success of the product quality.  Vacuum and controlled-atmosphere packaging Vacuum and controlled-atmosphere packaging are packaging methods that seek to extend the shelf life of a fresh product. In food processing, foods preserved by these methods are known as fresh-cut (or minimally processed) foods. Fresh-cut vegetables are selected, washed, peeled, cut, dried, and packaged for the consumer. The cold chain is vital during the conservation, distribution, and marketing of fresh-cut foods because they have no preservatives or additives. Their shelf life is usually no longer than 10 days. Páramo Farms has been experimenting with ready-to-eat or ready-to-prepare convenience food under the direction of food engineer Viviana Carolina Rey. Her goal is to vacuum pack potatoes and vegetables in a controlled atmosphere for maximum shelf life.  When a product is packaged under vacuum, the air is removed from inside the package to slow the product’s decomposition. And when a product is packaged in a controlled atmosphere, the air in the package is replaced with a mixture of gases (oxygen, carbon dioxide and nitrogen). As with oil-free baked chips, this process also presents challenges and addressing those extends beyond processors. For example, people must understand the benefits of consuming organic products. Marketers must convince consumers that by buying these convenience foods, they are extending their shelf life and helping to reduce food waste. Are these efforts replicable in other páramos? Of course they are! Over 500,000 people live in the Colombian páramos. On June 28, 2018, the Senate approved Bill 233 that protects the country's páramos and their resources, but we need more than laws to protect them! The integrated effort between private companies and farming communities, and innovations like Good Chips, offer alternatives that can motivate small-scale farmers to replace high-impact agriculture and extensive cattle herds with sustainable agroecological production. The participation of private companies, like Páramo Farms and Páramo Snacks and other key players in the supply chain, is necessary to create new farmers associations and transform existing ones. For more information, you can contact Margarita Cabal at  ​

Why Colciencias And GEF Rewarded The Impressive Work Of ASOARCE’s Farmers​

ASOARCE recently received a grant for its innovative method of applying scientific and technological knowledge in the recovery of the Andean forest of the Páramo de Guerrero. The grant was awarded by the Administrative Department of Science, Technology and Innovation (Colciencias) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) through its Small Grants Programme (SGP).

Five reasons that make the Paramo de Guerrero special to complete a professional internship

  The Paramo de Guerrero is one of the most devastated paramos in Colombia. It is believed that its landhas deteriorated because of the bad agricultural practices, the intensive pasturage and the unsystematicmining. It is therefore essential to carry out activities aimed at restoring this ecosystem. The Association of agroecologic producers of Pantano de Arce, ASOARCE, has been doing so since 2015, and now with the helpof foreign interns. Learn about the story of the French student Johanna Malard'hie and the reasons thatmotivated her to do her internship at the Páramo de Guerrero.  Johanna Malard’hie My name is Johanna Malard'hie and I love working in agrifood projects. I am currently in my last year at the School of Agronomic Engineers in International Development. As a school condition to grant the degree, I specialized in agro-industry at Montpellier SupAgro, another French institution. At 22 y.o. I already was in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore (two months), working on the commercialization of products made with a tuber called konjac, and in Peru (four months), collaborating in the quality management of an agri-food company. Now I will be in Colombia for six months, contributing with my experience in the preparation of baked & oil-free chips, made with beet, yacon and native potatoes. I arrived through the French NGO “Compétences Solidaires”, an organization that connects professional volunteers with organizations in need of help in technical or management areas. There were five reasons that moved me to apply for this opportunity and come to Colombia to work at the Paramo de Guerrero. They called my attention while in France and I ascertained them here. I want to share them with you: Reason # 1: The goal of Paramo Farms Paramo Farms is the company that commercialize ASOARCE products and with which I made the first contact to accomplish the internship. I liked that beyond consolidating as a company, Páramo Farms is contributing to the sustainability of the reconversion programs at the Páramo de Guerrero. Reason # 2: Working with farmers I enjoy working with country people. They are kind, simple and have virtues that we lost when moved to the cities. The Pantano de Arce community was no exception. It wants to learn everything and cares about the environment: for three years it has grown potatoes without chemicals. The community was very successful that it started planting, other roots and tubers (beets, cubans and yacon), cabbages (broccoli and cauliflower), leafy vegetables (chard) and some species such as laurel, rosemary, calendula, quinoa and amaranth, all without any chemicals. Reason # 3: The resurgence of Andean crops I love learning that in this area they grow native species and that the farmers want to add extra value to their crops. My job is to adjust the process to industrialize potatoes, beets and yacon. The technique is currently advanced, and has provided us good results in the flavor tests. Reason # 4: The renewal of the environment It is exciting to participate in an initiative that seeks to restore degraded soils. In this case, due to intensive agriculture and inadequate livestock practices. Producers have proven to be able to produce food without harming the environment. They do it despite the adverse climate conditions and the high altitude of the Paramo. Reason # 5: The beauty of the Paramo Realizing that Colombia has half the paramos of the world and that they supply water to cities and hydroelectric plants ended convincing me to come. I am a lucky person to know this ecosystem. The French, and in general the Europeans, do not know their existence. Cubio, beet, yacon & yellow potato. Paramo Farms is a company that supports the agroforestry reconversion project of the low income farmers community of Paramo de Guerrero. The project is focused on restoring degraded and deforested areas of the paramos, and turning them into organic, diversified and sustainable production models, rescuing ancestral high mountain species (mainly,native potatoes). As part of the strategy and with the aim of guaranteeing the economic sustainability of the community,Paramo Farms has developed a line of baked chips of organic origin (100% oil-free), with great acceptance in the preliminary taste and concept tests. In that stage is where Johanna contributes her knowledge.  

Dutch NGO rewards a Colombian farmer for her work as a rural leader

 The NGO Both Ends through its JWH initiative in February 2018 awarded María Elena Pulido, a farmer from the Páramo de Guerrero, for her leadership in actions aimed at recovering the páramo through organic agriculture. The prize is an economic aid to support the award winner’s development as a rural leader and to strengthen their technical capabilities. But who is María Elena, how does she live, and what did she do to deserve the prize? María Elena Pulido has always been curious. When María Elena attended elementary school, she wanted to know more than her classmates. It was as if she knew that knowledge would open many doors for her, and it was true. But gaining that knowledge wasn’t easy. The first obstacle came when she finished his elementary school. She wanted to attend high school, but her village did not offer high school classes. She would have to study in Subachoque, a nearby town, and pay for daily transportation. But her parents could not afford it, so María Elena had to postpone her dreams. But her curiosity did not stop. She had always liked the páramo and its plants, animals, landscapes — even the intense cold, typical of those heights. And María Elena never forgot who taught her how to take care of the páramo.Whenever María Elena went with her grandmother to the farm where her grandmother worked, the farm owner told her about the importance of the páramo and why it had to be protected. How wise were those words! The Páramo de Guerrero is located north of the department of Cundinamarca, in the high areas of the municipalities of Carmen de Carupa, Tausa, Zipaquirá, Subachoque, Cogua, Pacho, San Cayetano, and Susa. Of the total area of the páramo (almost 42,000 hectares), 5,000 are in Subachoque, the municipality where María Elena lives. The Páramo de Guerrero is one of the most damaged páramos in the country. It is believed that 70% of the land has deteriorated because of harmful agricultural practices, intensive grazing, and indiscriminate mining. María Elena’s dreams of finishing school were postponed when she became a mother at 15 years old. The situation brought new responsibilities and many expenses, which she and her husband, Carlos, could not afford. So María Elena started washing clothes for her neighbors and making lunches for workers, which she distributed while carrying her daughter in her arms. It was a difficult time; but what is easy in this life? she asks. But the desire to learn was still alive. At age 27 she learned about a curriculum for adults in a school in Subachoque, and she did not think twice. She spent two years going back and forth between her village and Subachoque, but it was worth it. María Elena lives in Pantano de Arce, located in the part of the Páramo de Guerrero that corresponds to Subachoque, a municipality near Bogotá. Seventy families live in Pantano de Arce, and they derive their livelihood from agriculture, mainly from growing potatoes and raising livestock dedicated to milk production. Most of the farms belong to small farmers; the rest rent their land for potato cultivation, a crop that demands large quantities of chemical products. In 2015, María Elena’s neighbors told her about a farming technique that made rational use of natural resources. What struck her most was knowing that she could produce potatoes without using chemicals. She had always been surprised by the number of pesticides (between 15 and 20) that farmers have to apply on the crop, but everyone told her it was the only way to produce potatoes in the páramo. María Elena then decided to experiment with organic agriculture. Together with some of her neighbors, she began to plant potatoes organically, following the instructions of José Hernandez, an agronomist who lives in the village. After much trial and error, she realized that they could produce potatoes that had good taste and texture on their farms, despite the páramo’s extreme climate and altitude. Soon she had eleven committed producers. The farmers knew that the crop yield decreased if they did not use chemicals, but they also knew that they could sell their harvest at a higher price if they could give it added value.Then someone recommended that they formalize the group of producers. ASOARCE, the association of agroecological producers of the Pantano de Arce, was born. Over time they learned more about the technique and became skilled in selecting the best potato seed. They knew which biological products protected the crop from diseases, and they knew which plants repelled the insects that damage the potato. Within a year they will be certified as organic food producers, but the fruits of the work are already seen. Not only are they producing organic potatoes (commercial and native varieties), but they are also harvesting cauliflower, broccoli, onions, beets, cubios, yacon, and quinoa. María Elena is the legal representative of ASOARCE, but her work does not stop there. Besides her role as wife, mother, and grandmother, she attends weekly meetings of the Community Action Board of Pantano de Arce where she serves as secretary. She is also a delegate of the Consultative Council of Women in Subachoque. And thanks to the prize from Both Ends, she can now learn even more and share her knowledge.Her life is busy, but she likes it that way. Maria Elena’s award is granted by Both Ends, a Dutch non-governmental organization (NGO) that works with environmental justice groups* from poor and developing countries to achieve a sustainable, fair, and inclusive world. One of its projects, the Joke Waller-Hunter (JWH) Initiative, awards a small grant for the education and training of people designated by organizations as potential future leaders. * Environmental justice means that everyone has the right to live in a safe and healthy environment, regardless of race, ethnicity, or income. ​

How to restore the páramo of guerrero using organic farming the case of the potato.

How to Restore the Páramo of Guerrero Using Organic Farming: the Case of the Potato. Though they may not know it, some people of Bogotá ...