Participating farmers each planted an area of about 12m2, which was divided into three replications, each containing five 3 x 2.7 m plots. The small plot size reduced the cost risk -- a key issue for small farmers -- and made smaller harvests easier to document and compare. This was particularly important for crops like potatoes that produce large volumes of plant material. The four subplots were planted with various treatments of the farmer's choosing; for example, varying compost applications, or diverse potato varieties such as Waycha, Alqaimilla, Diseree and Cardinal. Two-day monthly seminars followed to provide instruction in appropriate agronomic practices such as pest control. Extensionists and farmers visited the test sites every 10 to 15 days to evaluate progress and to help farmers address any problems that arose.
One month prior to harvest, farmers attended the second seminar to learn data collection and statistical analysis. They were taught to calculate yields in kilograms per hectare, the sum of squares and coefficient variability plus other statistical measures. Farmers found that mathematical formulas using their own data were far more interesting than anticipated.
Farmers were proud to invite their neighbors to attend the harvest of the field trials. Farmers produced their own data, which were double checked and prepared for publication. The results were shared with the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Agriculture and scientists at the International Potato Center (IPC.)
Farmer research helped scientists to conclude that the Diseree and Cardinal potato varieties developed in Holland do not perform well at Andean elevations of 3,500 meters. The Waycha variety introduced from IPC's experimental station, on the other hand, did quite well in the sandy loam soils. The importance of conserving native potato varieties was demonstrated by the flavor and high yield of the indigenous Alqaimilla variety. Trials demonstrated the importance of proper seed selection and treatment. They also demonstrated the benefit of rotational cropping in smaller areas, rather than planting a greater area to one crop to meet subsistence needs.
Based on what they learned, these farmers can select potato varieties better suited to their locations and use appropriate practices such as deep tillage prior to planting to help them increase yields. Moreover, the farmers now have the skills to conduct their own research so that they can continue to improve their practices.
E. Ruddell, World Neighbors