Carlos Hernando Molina is one of the members of the Molina Durán family, at the head of the El Hatico nature reserve. Informative Letter interviewed him to learn a little more about this family life project that bet on the agroecological management of sugarcane.
How was the El Hatico nature reserve born?
Carlos Hernando Molina:
The name of natural reserve is the result of the reflection that many individuals made in 1993 on the role of civil society in conservation. Thus was born the National Network of Civil Society Reserves, which today brings together more than two hundred owners.
But this is not an effort of just twenty-three years, but of nine generations of the Molina family. One of those generations, the sixth, was that of Ciro Molina Garcés and my grandfather, Carlos Hernando Molina Garcés, who made valuable contributions to the agricultural development of the Cauca River Valley and Colombia.
Already in texts from the 285s, Ciro Molina emphasized the importance of agroforestry for livestock and agriculture. The following generations of the family followed his guidelines and today El Hatico, with 15 hectares, has the largest tropical dry forest in the geographical valley of the Cauca River (25 hectares), an extensive area planted with guadua (110 hectares), 135 cultivated hectares with sugar cane, and XNUMX hectares destined to livestock activities for the production of milk and beef, buffalo and sheep, based on a rational management of agroforestry resources.
CI: How did they come to implement agroecological management in the cultivation of sugar cane?
CHM: A characterization of the soils of El Hatico carried out in 1994 concerned us with the decrease in organic matter in the soils, which led to a drop in production and a greater dependence on inputs. This situation, added to the impact generated by climate change, led us to wonder under what conditions we were going to hand over our children's assets.
CI: And what does agroecological management of sugarcane include?
CHM: This agroecological management integrates agriculture, livestock and forestry.
Sugarcane is not the enemy of this type of integration; on the contrary, every day more than four hundred El Hatico sheep consume the weeds associated with their cultivation, what we popularly call weeds.
Sugarcane crops are lined with living fences of trees that produce fruits and flowers. This diversity allows allies of the production system to emerge, such as pest control insects.
After the green harvest, the residues are used in the field, which are decisive in the recovery of the fertility of the soils. Litter, for example, helps conserve soil moisture, thereby significantly reducing irrigation costs, the highest item in the system.
On the other hand, every day we seek to increase production by reducing costs. In 2014 we reached a production of 10,28 tons of sugarcane per hectare month (TCHM), with 14 cuts on average
In addition, we promote employment. Only for clearance and weed control twenty wages per hectare are required, which means that we maintain a permanent group of eight to ten workers for one hundred hectares.
CI: According to this management, is there no biological control in El Hatico?
CHM: Of course yes. What is not carried out are releases of parasitoids, because the diversity, stimulated by clean management, is very high and is responsible for controlling possible pest insects, such as Diatraea, which in the last four years has remained at levels below 2.5%.
CI: And what about other tasks such as soil preparation, fertilization, irrigation ...?
CHM: We use the minimum necessary mechanization. It all depends on the conditions of the harvest; but the trend is to reduce mechanization more and more, since the mere fact of breaking or raking stimulates the release of CO2 and decreases organic matter.
For fertilization we take advantage of the manure residues of the livestock species present in the reserve, chicken manure or chicken manure, from outside the production system, and green manures such as cowpea beans, research that we have been carrying out with Cenicaña.
For irrigation, we implement the open channel system with tethers every twenty meters, and we use the water that comes to us from the Amaime River, because thanks to the work with user associations and the Water for Life and Sustainability Fund, the basins are recovering their regulation capacity, which allows us to use deep water less every day.
The new research carried out by Cenicaña with weighing lysimeters to calculate evapotranspiration with greater precision will give us tools to manage this resource more efficiently and to challenge those who claim that sugarcane crops use more water than other crops. With the use of pipes with windows, drip irrigation or micro-sprinklers, the sector has been using less and less water, and to the extent that producers adopt the green harvesting system, the harvest residues will increase the organic matter of the plant. floor.
CI: Wasn't it risky to change the tasks and processes of conventional management to adopt those of agroecological management?
CHM: In many respects, yes. For example, the decision not to apply more urea cost us three years of decreased production. Today, twenty years later, we can tell farmers that changes, especially in fertilization, imply a transition period of at least three years. The difference and the significant benefit are obtained especially by taking advantage of the crop residues without burning. This is a decision that sugarcane growers should make for the benefit of their heritage and the health of the planet.
The economic aspect is important for our family business, because we are aware that the acceptance of this approach is based on its viability and economic efficiency. This is not a romantic project: it is an economic reality with strong social and environmental impacts.
Who was Ciro Molina Garcés?
He was the first secretary of Industries of Valle del Cauca (1926-1930) and secretary of Agriculture and Development (1942-1947), also of the department. Among his most outstanding works is the organization of the first agronomic study of Valle del Cauca or Mission Chardon (1929), the conception of the Palmira Agricultural Experiment Station (today ICA), the promotion of the formation of the Departmental Committee of Coffee Growers (1928) , the installation of the Palmira National University of Colombia, the creation of the CVC and the construction of the Salvajina dam.
Blue Planet Award
On June 4, the Banco de Occidente awarded the Planeta Azul award in the SME category to the El Hatico nature reserve, for the efforts of: several generations in the conservation of a native forest area in Valle del Cauca and in the development of an agroecological production model of sugarcane and intensive silvopastoral systems.