Organic Agriculture

Project title: Building soils, communities, and profits with organic farming systems.

Principal investigators: Dr. Lori Hoagland, and Dennis Macedo,

Problem statement and need

Demand for food grown using organic farming practices is growing rapidly - providing an opportunity for farmers in the Colca River Valley to increase the profitability and sustainability of their operations. Reasons for growth in the demand for organic farming includes perceptions around greater safety and nutritional quality of organically-grown crops, and fewer negative impacts of organic production systems on the environment due to factors that include lower pesticide use and application of natural rather than synthetic fertilizers. While evidence to support greater quality and safety of organic products is still controversial, many studies have demonstrated that organic practices do improve the health of soils and crops, and can increase profits for growers. Nevertheless, organic farmers often struggle to meet nutrient needs and control pests in these systems, which can limit crop yields and reduce capacity to meet food security goals. Moreover, soils and water within the Colca Valley may be contaminated with toxic heavy metals and metalloids such as arsenic and cadmium, which can exacerbate pest problems, lower crop yields, and negatively impact human health when these elements are taken up into edible plant tissues. Farmers in the Colca Valley need help in developing locally-adapted solutions to overcome these challenges and realize the benefits of organic systems.

Proposed research program and outputs

The main objectives and outputs of the project are:

1) Increase adoption of organic farming practices by identifying specific barriers and conducting targeted training programs to help farmers overcome these barriers.

  • Comprehensive assessment of the opportunities and needs of organic farmers and those hoping to transition to organic production in the Colca River Valley.
  • Local workshops demonstrating how to successfully transition to organic production, obtain organic certification, develop business plans, etc.
  • Technical reports/journal articles that will be shared with UNSA and local political agencies.

2) Increase crop productivity and food safety by identifying management practices that improve soil health and reduce the uptake of heavy metals into crops.

  • Soil quality assessments from a diverse set of farms using traditional and molecular tools.
  • Local workshops demonstrating how to quantify general soil health properties on farms using Pacha Kits that will be supported by local agronomists’ knowledge on soils and crop needs.

3) Further improve soil, crop, and human health by developing new, more effective ways to generate high-quality compost using a modified bokashi system.

  • Five prototype bokashi bins outfitted with state-of-the-art sensors to track critical factors associated with the development of quality compost, and on-farm test kits that can be used to quantify the quality and safety of locally-made composts. Both outputs will be patentable.
  • Feedstocks and processing conditions that can contribute to the development of disease-suppressive compost that increase soil health and crop productivity.
  • Hands-on workshops associated that will help local stakeholders learn how to improve the health of their soils and crops, and the uptake of toxic heavy metals via on-farm trials.

4) Train local growers how to sustainably grow high-value warm season crops like tomato in earthen, greenhouse-like structures.

  • A simple greenhouse-like structure established at the CIBCI-Sumbay that will be outfitted with environmental sensors and showcased during crop production workshops.

5) Establish the framework for a new graduate certificate in Agroecology and Sustainable Agriculture Development that will serve as the foundation for a graduate program in Agronomy at UNSA.

  • New course plan and graduate-level course that can be co-taught by UNSA and Purdue faculty.


Lori Hoagland

Lori Hoagland
Professor, Purdue University
Horticulture And Landscape Architecture
Nexus Institute Co-Director

Walter Daniel Leon-Salas

Walter Daniel Leon-Salas
Associate Professor, Purdue University
Purdue Polytechnic Institute
Nexus Institute Co-Director

Dennis Macedo

Dennis Macedo
Associate Professor, UNSA
Nexus Institute Co-Director

Purdue University