“We established a culture of teamwork and trust”
Camilo Isaacs was during 38 years in Cenicaña, 10 of them as Superintendent of the Experimental Station and the last 28 at the forefront of the strategies to transfer the technologies promoted by the Research Center. Reflections on the difficult challenge of bringing science to cane fields.
They were 38 years of work in Cenicaña. Are you satisfied with what has been done during this time?
Yes. From my point of view, a successful technology transfer methodology was established. The growers got to know Cenicaña, there was a research-grower-mill integration that allowed to better identify the technological needs of the sector, its problems in each work area and there was a permanent dialogue between all of them.
In addition, transfer strategies were implemented such as the Apprenticeship and Technical Assistance Program (PAT), the GTT Network, the training center, and a top-quality work team was formed; So much so that many professionals who went through the Technical Cooperation and Technology Transfer Service (SCTT) are today leading field processes in agribusiness.
What do you think was the key to achieving all that?
Establish a culture of teamwork and trust that was gained over time. From the Director to the researchers and all the other professionals we understood that only in this way would we achieve a complete integration that would be reflected in validated research results and in technologies and developments that meet the needs and solve, in some way, the problems of the producers.
But the culture of teamwork is one thing and the culture of innovation in a traditional and conservative sector is another ...
If we compare ourselves with advanced sugar industries in other countries, we are at a very similar or higher rate and level: the adoption of technology by farmers in Brazil is very similar to ours, even in some areas, such as Site Specific Agriculture ( AEPS) we are more innovative; And if we compare ourselves with other countries with less innovative tradition such as Mexico, Nicaragua or Peru, we have a great advantage.
However, the problem of technology adoption is complex due to the very characteristics of farmers (schooling, risk aversion, available physical infrastructure, costs, time, etc.) and because producers do not rush out to adopt technologies the next day. that the results of an investigation come out. This process is taking place slowly: as the testimonies of successful innovative cane growers are heard, as we have done with the GTT Network, trust and an opportunity for new technology are generated.
Technology transfer shortens the time in technology adoption, but shortening it does not mean that there is no process.
Does the sector trust Cenicaña today?
Yes and not only the sector. Now that I am no longer in Cenicaña, I realize that externally, especially internationally, there are appreciations by technicians and entrepreneurs from sugar industries in other countries that are very valuable about what Cenicaña does, and that perhaps we did not manage to measure ourselves.
In this sense, can we say that Colombian agribusiness is ahead in adopting innovative practices?
Of course. In the field management we have the AEPS, through which the agro-ecological conditions of each type of cane are identified and appropriate agronomic practices are applied and directed to each condition. In land adaptation a culture has been imposed around the GPS for the design and adaptation of the field; Today mechanized seeding is done with self-guided systems, there is a culture of diagnosing diseases in the seed, 95% of the area is sown with Cenicaña Colombia varieties, fertilization and harvesting practices are done with high precision.
In water management, we have made great impact advances compared to what we did before, and agribusiness can advance much more with the available technology. Regarding the transport of cane, we have achieved a jump with the light wagons of minimum weight that transport more cane and less iron with a significant reduction in costs.
Also today many processes for the production of sugarcane or cogeneration of energy and bioethanol are more efficient and sustainable thanks to methodologies and tools that we have promoted from here.
But it remains to be done ...
Of course. As I mentioned before, it is a process that requires time and that as we intensify more technology transfer actions, the faster we will see the results. It should also be understood that there is a population of more than three thousand cultivators, of which a high percentage are small and medium, characterized by being too traditional.
What do you think is pending for you to do?
There is always something to do. I would like the technical assistance methodology that we have been promoting to be consolidated in agribusiness because with the diagnosis of the existing problems in each farm and with the implementation of the improvement plans formulated for each one, its potential for production. It is therefore very important to implement the improvement plans of each farm and thus make a great leap in production. This methodology will be transcendental to increase productivity in the Cauca River Valley.
What has been the most important of all Cenicaña's developments?
There are many. For the increase of the productivity, without a doubt, the varieties have been fundamental; and from the point of view of cost reduction, water management, fertilization, mechanization and Cate are key. But the Site-Specific Agriculture approach deserves separate mention. Everything done with this approach has been shown to lower costs, improve profitability on farms, and is environmentally responsible.
Relay at the SCTT headquarters
Since June 27, 2018, Fernando Villegas Trujillo, researcher in the Maturation of sugarcane area of the Cenicaña Agronomy Program, assumed as new head of the Technical Cooperation and Technology Transfer Service (SCTT), replacing Camilo Isaacs.
The new Chief of the SCTT is an Agricultural Engineer from the Universidad del Valle and the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Palmira headquarters, with a master's degree in soil and water from the Universidad Nacional de Colombia. He joined Cenicaña in 1984, where he was a Soil and Water engineer, an Agricultural Mechanization engineer and a researcher in the Maturation area.
As a researcher, Fernando Villegas led different projects, among which the use of the water balance for irrigation scheduling, evaluation of the alternate furrow irrigation system, evaluation of the mechanical harvesters and maturation characteristics of the new varieties of cane stand out. of sugar.
It also has more than 70 publications including articles, book chapters, technical series and working documents.