When we designed our project, we had in mind that the problem we wanted to address had a socio-environmental dimension, and it was urgent to approach the stakeholders to understand the complexity of this issue. The climatic conditions of the Andes presented challenges to a vulnerable and neglected group in the Peruvian society: small-scale farmers. Because of this, we made contact with two agricultural communities of the Andean region of Peru to explain how biotechnology could be a valuable tool to approach their problems. We made this through interviews and surveys, so we could gather data that was useful for future proposed implementation. Furthermore, we presented our project to representatives of public organisms that deal with agricultural innovation and climate research, to understand the outlook of biotechnology as a tool to address the issue of frosts.
Science allows us to learn deeply about many topics and, in turn, answer various questions. However, all this knowledge should also contribute to the well-being of our society, that society that we seek to improve every day. In order to achieve this goal, we not only need the scientific component, but also the social one: the people who make up our society. Thus, human practices became one of the most important pillars of our project, since it required us to get closer to the reality of the people directly affected by frosts. For this reason, the interaction with both agricultural specialists and the farmers themselves was key to understand the reality of this problem in more detail. We were able to witness the thoughts, wishes and testimonies of people who annually face frost season in Peru, which enriched our project. In this regard, this project seeks to benefit those who constantly suffer from crop losses due to frosts, and also, generate a change in terms of prevention.
Delving into the problem
Key stakeholder interviews
Interview with the Agricultural Engineer William Carrasco Chilón, National Research Director of INIA (National Institute of Agricultural Innovation) in Cajamarca, Peru
The interview with the engineer gave us a closer look at the problem of frosts in one of the most affected regions of the country: Cajamarca. We understood what a frost really is, in what seasons and areas it occurs with greater intensity, and which are the most affected crops in Cajamarca. Likewise, we learned that the loss of the product depends on the plant’s growth phase. The most critical ones are the fertilization and flowering phases, because if frosts affect the plant during those stages it can lead to a loss of up to 100% of the product. In addition, we learned that the preventive measures taken by farmers are quite traditional and they do not use any particular product to avoid frost damage on crops. All this information allowed us to realize that the idea of making a protein-based antifreeze product for crops was something new for the agricultural sector and that it would be quite useful. Also, this interview helped us to define what would be the areas and crops that would benefit the most from our product.
Read more in the full interview to Eng. William Carrasco
Interview with the Meteorological Engineer Nelson Quispe Gutiérrez, Deputy Director of Weather Forecasting in SENAMHI (Peruvian National Service of Meteorology and Hydrology)
This interview allowed us to learn about the work of SENAMHI in the country and, specifically, in relation to the problem of frosts. We understood that this organization mainly makes predictions about the occurrence of this phenomenon, but these are not always accurate. In addition, we found out that this institution also instructs and informs the inhabitants of different agricultural communities about meteorological warnings. This is important, because if farmers receive this information in advance, they can apply better protective measures for their crops before frosts arrive. In addition, we delved into the definition of frosts and realized that the critical temperature of an agrometeorological frost depends on the affected crop; therefore, it is not always 0ºC or less. This information will be useful when developing and applying our protein-based antifreeze product to a particular crop.
Read more in the full interview to Eng. Nelson Quispe
Activities with farmers from Junin, Peru
Despite the current situation, we were able to contact farmers from two small communities of Junin, one of the most affected regions by frosts in Peru. They, annually, go through this frost season and suffer directly from all the damages that it brings, including the loss of crops.
We established a bond of trust with each one of them and, depending on their internet accessibility, we contacted them via Zoom or through phone calls. We explained to them the objective of our project, the science involved in it, and how they would be collaborating with us.
We applied surveys to the participants through phone calls or via “Google Forms”, depending on their internet accessibility. These surveys had the purpose of knowing their perceptions about science, technology and also about our project. This information provided by farmers is key to the development of our project, since they are directly affected by frosts; therefore, it is important to explore their perceptions and thoughts about the problem.
We carried out a statistical analysis to have a clear and synthesized picture of the farmers' responses. This allowed us to draw conclusions and patterns of meaning that turned out to be relevant to the project and close to the reality of this group of farmers.
We observed that the participants agreed with the entry of science and technology into their working lives, they considered both necessary and precise an improvement in the face of the problems caused by frosts. They also agreed that the project would be beneficial and useful to fight this phenomenon. Finally, they all agreed to modify their traditional preventive strategies regarding frosts. In this sense, they are willing to learn and participate more actively in the different stages of the project, in order to obtain the expected results.
Furthermore, according to the surveys, all the farmers expressed that the potato is their most important crop, which indicates that we must prioritize this crop when testing our antifreeze product.
Take a look at the complete results in our Surveys' Report
It should be noted that we preferred to use in-depth interviews rather than structured interviews, since the former ones are more open, flexible and not so rigid. Likewise, thematic axes were used to guide the conversation with the participant, but we still kept in mind that this interview had an exploratory nature. Therefore, we gave farmers a space for dialogue and also the freedom to tell us about their experiences and needs in relation to the issue of frosts.
Curious? Check here the Axes of the interviews we designed for our project.
Throughout the interviews, it was found that the participants not only suffered irreparable economic losses due to crop damage during frost season, but this also affected them both personally and emotionally. Moreover, frosts generate emotional exhaustion and collateral damage, since the fear of experiencing another possible loss persists until the following year. This last point is critical for the farmers, since it is incorporated into their lives and will probably remain until a successful solution to this problem is presented.
As part of the project, we also asked the participants about their preferences regarding the presentation of a possible antifreeze product to prevent crop damage. We presented them some options, such as: powder and liquid. All of them told us that the liquid presentation would be the most convenient and useful one, since it would be adapted to their needs, because they prefer to spray the product directly on their crops and cover them in their entirety. This information is really useful for us in order to develop an efficient and practical protein-based antifreeze product for the final users.
The way in which we approached key stakeholders and farmers, through surveys and interviews, was effective, since it allowed us to fully understand the reality of the problem. The information obtained from key and direct actors provides greater accuracy and validity to our project. We thank all the participants for their willingness and voluntary participation in this project.