Thursday, January 07, 2010

The trouble with blogs...

Is that you have to have time to post...Because we spent our first week on orientation, we have only two weeks to complete all data collection and analysis, both very time consuming processes so no one has had time to post anything, let alone anything of consequence. So, here I am with a brief, apologetic post...We've had a remarkably productive week with wonderfully dry (but hot and humid) weather which has been a great boon to the ag team because we've been mapping with the GPS all week. Today we finished mapping all of the agricultural fields and animal husbandry areas so we'll be better able to calculate how much land is under cultivation, what current production is and how much it might be increased which is our primary goal for the year.

The other thing we've been doing over the last couple of days is getting to work with several of the colegio students who helped us for a while with the GPS project but we found there were too many of us for one GPS so the colegio students each took a video camera or still camera and set out to document the agricultural program from their perspective. The process worked out to be pretty simple: The students with the video cameras simply explained verbally what they were documenting while filming; the photo students had a small digital recorder into which they could explain what pictures they were taking. We haven't had time yet to look much at what they produced but what little I looked at last night was wonderfully interesting. We'll leave all the footage and photos with the school where there is a volunteer from Kentucky who is teaching digital technology to the students so they can develop short videos or other digital projects. It seemed like a lot of fun for the students so it will be interesting to see what they can do with it. Below are a few of the pictures they took.

The health team has been conducting interviews in the community and at the colegio on reproductive histories and anticipated family size to try to gauge demographic changes that have or are likely to change in the current generation. They've also had several very useful interviews with medical personnel at the clinic, in addition to the interview with Arturo, mentioned earlier.

Conducting a brief interview with Nancy, the English teacher
Nancy is a volunteer English teacher who works with the sustainable agriculture program in the mornings. She admits to knowing not much about agriculture but is enjoying the activity and the learning.

Recently harvested dry beans They planted about a hectare of dry beans three months ago and are now harvesting them (we had some for lunch--excellent!). Beans are eaten regularly and in the region because they are an inexpensive protein source and the several varieties are tasty...

Harvesting yuca (manioc) Yuca is a common staple crop in this region with a super advantage. It's ready to harvest in about 6 months but can be left in the ground for an additional 6 months thus serving as something of a reserve. If planted in succession, it's possible to have a continuous yield of a high quality starch source. They grow what's called "sweet" yuca here which means it's ready to eat with minimal processing, something like a potato. The "bitter" varieties require extensive processing to remove the toxic components.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

January 3, 2010

Learning about multi-cropping

We are in full swing with research now. The health team had a tour of the health clinic and three hour interview with Arturo yesterday; Arturo is the permanent health worker at the clinic (physicians and nurses come and go on an annual basis). This interview on the basic health status and infrastructure of the area helped them finalize their research questions so they'll have specific research tasks for the next two weeks.

The agriculture team began mapping the agriculture fields at the colegio today; we map them every year and conduct interviews on what was grown in them over the past year so we can document the broad process of development through time. A key part of our effort this year is to try to collect enough data to estimate production potential in the fields. Our central research question this year is focused on trying to understand, at least in broad strokes, the relationships among food security, sustainable agriculture, and food self sufficiency. Most of the people who live in this area produce coffee and cacao as cash crops and, plantains, yuca (manioc), and rice as subsistence crops. Because the population density is pretty low is this region, it appears that most people can produce enough food to eat a reasonable diet. Arturo from the clinic reports that childhood stunting is pretty low in this region (childhood stunting is a pretty good measure of the nutritional health of a population). If population increases or if people begin to devote more of their land to cash crops that could change. The Colegio established their sustainable agriculture program in part to produce food for the students and the lodge and in part to understand better what's involved in sustainable agriculture in this region. Part of what we're doing is documenting this process from year to year.

Every year, they experiment with new animals and crops. This year's primary animal husbandry experiment is African sheep which are smaller but more tolerant of hot, humid conditions typical of this region. The most notable thing about them is their complete lack of wool, having hair instead which of course makes them look rather naked... They're housed in a former chicken coop and seem pretty content, one of the females having just given birth to a new lamb, which is jet black with a fluffy white tip on it's tail.

More soon, John

African sheep

Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's eve

Cricket is ready for the fiesta...
La Princesa (Sarah) and Mauricio
First group photo
Play time...
After four days we've seen and done about all the tourist oriented things we can manage. These four days have been interesting and insightful and the activities have given us at least a broad understanding of Yachana, the lodge activities and what constitutes "geo-tourism" ("Geotourism is defined as tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place—its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage, and the well-being of its residents.") as defined and promoted by the National Geographic Society ( Equally, our participant-observation has raised a host of questions about tourism in general, about what constitutes sustainability in tourism, about the role of tourism in a community like this, and our role as researchers. Above are a few pictures from the last few days.

The lodge is full to bursting so we'll not doing the usual cookout on an island up the river as we've done in the past because it's logistically too complex to cook for and transport that many people. Instead, we'll have a buffet dinner, take a couple of canoes upriver for a bonfire and a toast to the outgoing and incoming year after which our group is going to the community to chase out the old new year and welcome in the new. In addition to the usual activity of drinking chicha ("corn beer") and regular beer and dancing, we'll participate in an excellent tradition: The burning of the old year (el viejo). A straw effigy of an old man is propped up in a place of honor in the community surrounded by palm leaves and flowers. Anyone who wishes writes about the negative things of the past year and puts them in the pockets, inside the shirt or anywhere else in his clothes. At midnight, he is burned, sending all the misfortune of the past year up in smoke, ready to start the new year afresh and hopeful.

Tomorrow is a day to get caught up with field notes, organizing photographs and all the little details of ethnographic research. Before leaving Denver, we defined some preliminary research questions that contribute to the long term research goals of the project while giving students opportunities to explore interests of their own within the broader framework. Now that we've been here a while, we'll refine those questions and clarify our methodological approach now that we've had a chance to learn a bit about the "lay of the land" from our peregrinations through the area, our many hours of discussion with Mauricio (a recent graduate of the Yachana high school who will be working with us over the next couple of weeks, helping us coordinate our various activities, arranging interviews, etc.), and our discussions with Douglas McMeekin (the founder of the Yachana foundation). We'll have one more round of refinement when we meet with the Yachana school director on Sunday. The two research teams are the "health team" interested in the broad question of health transition in this area, and the "agriculture team" focusing on the sustainable agriculture program being developed at the school and how that fits into the larger agricultural economy.

Saturday, we'll head across the river to the weekly market in the town of Agua Santa ('holy water'). Each research team will be looking at different aspects of the market: the health team will be looking at the medical/medicinal options available in this one place where many people who ordinarily live in relative isolation gather every week while the agricultural team will be inventorying the range of agriculture products for sale and some of the economic activities around buying and selling of products (coffee, cacao, corn, plantains, bananas, rice).

More soon, John

Monday, December 28, 2009

Day two--12-28-09

We spent the day on a mixture of activities, including a short walk through a typical rain forest farm, sampling various wild and domesticated foods, a short tour of the Colegio Tecnico de Yachana (Yachana Technical High school), the community of Mondana, and the overall infrastructure of the lodge. Looking at what's required to keep North American and European tourists comfortable and safe is a lesson in complexity. The students at the colegio are on winter break until Jan. 1 but will be arriving Saturday when we start our actual research. In the meantime, we're working to understand the broad context of the area.

We'll soon have more entries and photos. John

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Arriving in Ecuador

A short post: We arrived with no more than the usual hassles of international travel (delayed flights, missed connections, lost luggage).  It's wonderful to see all the changes as the foundation and it's mission mature.  As we settle in we'll be posting more and add pictures and video.  For those new to the blog you can check out the website for the Yachana foundation below.  Time to hike up to the sunset site; more soon, John
John Brett
Department of Anthropology
University of Colorado Denver

Friday, December 25, 2009

Getting Ready for Ecuador

It's been fun to reread posts from previous years at the field school. Tomorrow morning we leave for the fourth year of the Field School in Sustainable Development and Health in Ecuador. John Brett and I will be the faculty this year working as a team with twelve dedicated and enthusiastic students with majors or graduate study in anthropology, biology, international studies, public health, health and behavioral sciences, and business administration.

This year the agriculture group will focus on assessing the status and functioning of the various systems created as part of sustainable agriculture and animal husbandry at the colegio and lodge. The health group will focus on documenting the health transition in the region by looking at changes in health care delivery and what services people access and changes in family composition such as family size and age of marriage and childbearing.

Once again, as most years, it is snowing here in Denver and quite cold. The contrast between winter in a dry, high plains ecosystem in Denver and perpetual summer in a tropical rainforest ecosystem in Ecuador makes the journey all the more exciting.

More to come as we enter the field . . . .

Sunday, January 06, 2008

You can blame the late first entry on my lack of knowledge of blogging. I was entering the wrong address.

We have now completed a full week of research in Mondaña. It was dry and mostly sunny through the first part of the week, but today has brought true “aguacero” or tropical downpour. Although the level of the river here is more dependent on rain in the highlands, today’s rain will be good for the plants and for travel downstream.

During the week we have oriented ourselves to this complex community in which there is a Kichwa [local spelling] village with three distinct geographical “neighborhoods,” the Colegio Técnica Yachana (CTY), and the Yachana Lodge. There are many positive changes since last year including a brand new, beautiful dormitory to house the upper two grades and the microenterprise classroom, whose construction began when we were here last January, is now completed and functioning well, with students busy silk-screening T-shirts, making crafts to sell, and learning the principles of microenterprise. CTY has a new teacher in the microenterprise area and another person doing research on agricultural practices.

Mondaña now has a Peace Corps Volunteer in the area of public health who has been here four months and will stay twenty more months working on water and sanitation projects. Yachana Foundation has a new manager of the Yachana Rainforest Preserve.

Our project this year is work with the colegio students on follow-up of the portable water filter system project that began when we were here last year. We are almost finished developing a set of questions about water, sanitation, and illness and the condition and use of the filters, that we will ask of members of two nearby communities that we visited last year: Puerto Rico and 30 de Agosto. We will also be observing water sources, sanitation facilities, and community members’, students’ and teachers’ experience with the water filters over the course of the last year. This process, we hope, will yield important data about these topics specific to these two communities as well as provide methods, concepts, and key points from which colegio students can design and implement their own follow-up of the filter project in other local communities. CTY recently received a donation from a guest at the lodge so that each incoming student for the next five years will receive a filter that they can take home to their families. In addition, they just received another donation from the government in Loreto to install filters in 77 schools. Amanda Israel, who was a student in last year’s field school, is working with colegio students and teachers on this project. We hope to accompany the CTY students to Loreto on January 14th for the formal presentation and opening of the project.