Agronomy- The science of soil management and crop production, specifically for food, fuel and fiber.
Engineering- The art or science of making practical application of the knowledge of pure sciences.
Usufruct- The right to enjoy the use and advantages of another’s property short of the destruction or waste of its substance.
The group started the day off at CATIE in Turrialba. CATIE stands for Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza, translated as Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center. CATIE contains over 1000 hectares dedicated to agricultural research and education. Their mission is to “Contribute to the reduction of rural poverty and promoting agriculture natural resource management and sustainable competitive through higher education, research and technical cooperation.” CATIE works with farmers, families and local organizations to reduce rural poverty and promote sustainable agriculture.
The group enjoyed a delicious breakfast from the cafeteria at CATIE and then moved on to the botanical gardens for a tour with Dr. Werner from University of Costa Rica (UCR). The botanical gardens had a wide variety of plants that have been found to be beneficial for humans. Costa Rica has a very unique environment that allows for a large biodiversity of plants to thrive. The temperature is also relatively consistent year round, which allows for these benficial plants to be grown year round. The group walked around the beautiful garden while Dr. Werner explained the different species of plants.
The Neem tree is an example of how we can obtain beneficial products directly from plants. The Neem tree produces a fruit that can be used as an insecticide to help control harmful insect populations on many plants. The insecticide that can be obtained from the tree is also considered organic, and can therefore be used by organic farmers in replacement of synthetic chemicals.
Agronomy can help us study and identify plant species that we can utilize, but engineering is required for the application of these benefits. We need to develop systems to obtain and utilize the benefits from plants, without harming the system that produces the plants. Usufruct describes obtaining the benefits from something without destroying or harming the essence of the substance itself. Utilizing these benefits responsibly is very important in making sure that earth systems are not harmfully altered from the application of the benefits. An example of this could be overproducing the Neem tree for insecticide and creating an unsustainable production that strips the land of nutrients and soil organic matter.
Another example of the relation of agronomy and engineering that was seen in the botanical gardens was intercropping coffee plants and Inga trees. The Inga trees are legumes and therefore provide nitrogen to the soil from the nitrogen fixing bacteria that they utilize. This nitrogen can then be used by the coffee plants which will decrease the amount of fertilizer needed. The Ingas also provide shade for the coffee plants, which prevents them from getting too hot from the sun. The leaves of the Ingas can also be used in animal feed as they are high in nitrogen. This is a system that has been engineered to be more productive and more sustainable than a system with only coffee plants. Agronomy was needed to understand the plants and how they function and engineering as required to apply that knowledge to develop a system that can utilize the benefits.
The group then went to a lecture from Sergio Velasquez on watershed management. Sergio is a consultant and talked more specifically on the watersheds in Turrialba and the Turrialba River. A watershed is defined as an area or ridge of land that separates waters flowing to different rivers, basins, or seas. Watersheds are very important in relation to any type of agriculture. Agriculture changes the structure of the land and can have very dramatic effects on the flow of water over the land. An example of this is a forest that is cut down to plant rice. The forest system promoted a lot more water retention and less surface runoff. The rice field is subject to erosion which can cause a lot of the valuable top soil to get washed away. Knowing where the water is going and if water sources are decreasing is also extremely important. A common side effect that has been shown as a result of agriculture is the loss of ground water levels. Water used to irrigate crops is commonly pumped from ground water. If this water does not return to the aquifer, then the water levels will eventually deplete. Studying watersheds are extremely important in order to make sure human activities are not dramatically affecting the natural cycles of water.
A long awaited lunch was then eaten and the group prepared to leave CATIE for Tillaran. A very long bus ride awaited the group; many hoped to take this opportunity to take a well needed nap. Mariana left the group in San Jose. Her vast knowledge on plants and her good humor will be missed by all! The bus passed by the high school that Hugo went to and Dr. Werner also departed from the group.
The long bus ride through the winding roads of beautiful Costa Rica continued as the sun set and the hunger in our stomachs grew. The group stopped and had a great dinner before arriving at the hotel to end the day. It is strange how tired one can get from sitting down and napping in a bus for 6 hours. Each day has been an awesome adventure and I am sure that tomorrow will be no different!
References & Links
CATIE Watershed Management: http://translate.googleusercontent.com/translate_c?depth=1&hl=en&rurl=translate.google.com&sl=es&tl=en&twu=1&u=http://www.catie.ac.cr/TEMA_CuencasHidrograficas.asp%3FCodIdioma%3DESP%26CodSeccion%3D111%26CodMagazin%3D35%26TxtSiglaTema%3DTEMA_CuencasHidrograficas%26PaisSel%3D%26NomSeccion%3DCuencas_Hidrogr%25C3%25A1ficas%26NomMagazin%3D&usg=ALkJrhhfLdpkV7gY56VKvnISuhEUB_naHw
CATIE Botanical Gardens Virtual Tour: http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=es&tl=en&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.catie.ac.cr
Neem Tree Research: http://www.neemfoundation.org/neem-articles.html
Sustainable alternatives using Inga Trees: http://www.ingafoundation.org/the-inga-tree/#.UPMqlXck58E
Restoring Watershed in Costa Rica: http://www.ourwatershed.org/