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[permaculture] Ana Primavesi, ecological soil scientist in Brazil
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Steve Diver steved at ncat.org
Sat Jul 3 22:27:15 EDT 2004
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The items below highlight Dr. Ana Primavesi's contributions to
ecological soil management in South America.
Ana Primavesi is a Brazilian soil scientist who has authored several
key books on sustainable soils and pature management as well as hundreds
of articles, yet little is published in English. The resource pointers
and links to English-language material in this resource listing provide
sufficient information to gain appreciation for her work and also to
connect several threads of interest together on soil organic matter
management, Effective Microorganisms, and life force energy in healthy
crops as measured by kirlian photography.
1.1 Nutrient Levels in Ecologically Managed Soils
In January 2002 I sent notes to SANET on Roland Bunch's paper
containing the Five Principles of Soil Management for the Humid
Date: Tue, 22 Jan 2002 22:58:14 -0600
Subject: No-till, Rolf Derpsch, Roland Bunch's 5 Principles, MOIST
At the time the emphasis of my notes were on the benefits of the
no-till approach. It contained Bunch's soil management principles
-- maximize organic matter production, keep the soil covered with
green manures and cover crop mulches, zero tillage, maximize
biodiversity, and feed crops largely through mulches.
The links to Roland Bunch's papers are noteworthy
Nutrient Quantity or Nutrient Access?: A New Understanding of How
to Maintain Soil Fertility in the Tropics
By Roland Bunch, October 2001
Bunch's paper in PDF; 19 pages
Bunch refers to Ana Primavesi's "earth-shaking book", "The Ecological
Management of Soils" (in Spanish & Portuguese) as the inspiration for
The paper addresses the failure of the Nutrient Quantity Concept -- the
dominate Western scientific agriculture paradigm -- to work on tropical
soils where many of the world's poor and small-scale farmers live. The
NQC is the typical nutrient sufficiency approach: determine soil nutrient
levels through a soil test and fertilize up to the standard level to
ensure nutrient availability, in order to reach crop yield goals.
But the NQC approach does not account for the long-term sustained yields
on tropical soils managed with organic amendments such as biomass-producing
cover crops and green manures, nor does it take into account the biological
and physical impacts of cover crop roots, soil organisms, and decomposing
mulches. According to NQC, limiting nutrients should limit crop yields,
but that is not the case. In fact, fertilizing "up" to the supposed levels
needed for NQC are adding excess nutrients; in addition, organic
matter practices tend to be neglected in NQC as "fertility management"
is focused on fertilizer inputs.
As an alternative to NQC, Roland Bunch introduces the work of Ana Primavesi
and describes what he calls the Nutrient Access Concept. He explains why
NAC -- and Primavesi's research that elucidates the framework for NAC -- is
more appropriate as a soil fertility model for ecologically managed soils.
Primavesi's research with hydroponically grown corn showed that nutrient
solutions at 1/50th the standard NAC application rate can provide equivalent
plant growth, as long as the nutrient solution was in constant supply and
roots could access the nutrients.
Bunch states, "That is, crop growth above a certain extremely low
concentration, does not depend on the concentration of nutrients. It
depends, rather, on the constant access of plant roots to the nutrients,
even when these nutrients exist in very low concentrations. The Nutrient
Quantity Concept's remedy of increasing the concentration of nutrients
by applying large amounts of chemical fertilizer misses the point almost
entirely. What is needed is a constant supply of even a very small but
well balanced amount of nutrients over time, and the unobstructed access
of plant roots to these nutrients."
Further, he lists the following principles of the Nutrient Access Concept
of soil fertility for the tropics:
Maximum plant growth can best and most cheaply be achieved in the
1) the constant supply of soil nutrients (most inexpensively achieved with
fairly low concentrations),
2) a healthy balance between the nutrients, and
3) maximum access of plant roots to these nutrients (i.e. the maintenance
of good soil structure and/or mulches)
Interestingly, the farming system examples that Bunch provides in support
of NAC include the underlying factors that are familiar to sustainable
farmers. They highlight the "five principles of soil management for
the humid tropics; i.e., they maximize organic matter production, they
keep the soil covered with green manures and cover crop mulches,
they reduce tillage, they maximize biodiversity, and they feed crops
largely through mulches.
Included among these examples are: gm/cc (green manure/cover crops) and
agroforestry systems, SRI (System of Rice Intensification), fallowing,
and rainforest ecosystems.
The relevance of NAC in SRI is particularly succinct, and Bunch refers
to this paper by Norman Uphoff:
Questions and Answers about the System of Rice Intensification
(SRI) For Raising the Productivity of Land, Labor, and Water
Norman Uphoff, Cornell Intl Inst for Food, Agriculture and Development
Upfhoff also remarks on the ground-breaking work of Ana Primavesi,
supporting the view "that plants can have normal growth with very
low concentrations of nutrients provided that there is constant supply
to the root system." He suggests "there will be compensating growth
of roots, so that small amounts are continuously accessed to support
growth of the canopy and further roots.
This statement from Uphoff grabbed my attention: "The beneficial effects
of using compost would be consistent with this understanding, as it
releases its nutrients very slowly even if they are not provided in
All in all, none of this is really new to sustainable farmers who
practice organic matter management and observe healthy plants,
focusing on a holistic approach rather than a NPK fertilizer
approach. Not that Roland Bunch or sustainable farmers neglects
the value of soil tests or supplementation / remineralization
with rock minerals, as he clearly states.
But the NAC concepts and practices that Bunch describes do lend support
to a more holistic approach to ecological soil management that goes
beyond nutrient sufficiency and NPK fertilizers as the bellwether of
modern agriculture. In addition, it highlights the contributions of
Ana Premavesi, and especially the notion that small concentrations
of nutrients in constant supply can be adequate for good crop yields,
such as those from slow-release organic fertilizers, composts,
gm/cc mulches, and worm- and microbe-decomposing organic residues.
Interestingly, in re-examining Ana Primavesi's research in this new
light I recall a very similar statement from Mark McMurtry, when
he delivered a visiting lecture on integrated aqua-vegetable culture
at the University of Arkansas in the early 1990s. He was invited to
the UA by Gordon Watkins, a well known local organic farmer who was
interested in this integrated approach that is now widely known as
McMurtry's research with Doug Sanders at North Carolina State University
resulted in great impact on integrated recirculating aquaculture and
hydroponics. The modern aquaponic industry has grown and succeeded,
largely through modifications and elaborations to the earlier NCSU
system. Aquaponics is now one of the leading examples of a
sustainable food producing system. As water becomes scare and limiting,
it is especially noteworthy as a biological filtration treatment and
water re-use system.
McMurtry stated that a low concentration nutrient level is adequate for
plant growth, as long as the nutrient is in constant supply. This would
be the case in fish effluent -- with low concentrations of nutrients from
fish manure, algae, and decomposing fish feed -- diluted into a large
volume of water. Yet, plants and the microbial populations living amongst
the plant roots and hydroponic (gravel, sand) substrate respond to
these nutrients with a flourish. As I recall, McMurtry even stated that
nitrate at 1 ppm could be adequate for plant growth, in constant
supply (though concentrations of 20 ppm on upwards are common).
McMurtry, Mark Richard. 1992. Integrated Aquaculture-Olericulture
System as Influenced by Component Ratio. Ph.D. Thesis, North
Carolina State University.
2.1 Kirlian photography and life force energy
Some years ago I heard about an IFOAM presentation from Brazil that
displayed infra-red hot spots on leaves (similar to Phil Callahan's work),
supporting the notion that improperly fertilized plants "attract" insects.
In recent research, I learned this Brazilian research was done by
Ana Primavesi. It turns out that it was kirlian photography, examining
magnetic emanations from plants.
Dr. Ana Primavesi is a well known Brazilian soils scientist who has
published extensively on ecological agriculture, including the prominent
book "Manejo Ecologico del Suelo: Le Agriculture en Regiones
To evaluate the effects of a biological inoculation system (EM, or
Effective Microorganisms) on plant health, through her work with the
Mokiti Okada Foundation in Brazil, Primavesi employed the use of
kirlian photography to examine variations in magnetic fields in crop
plants, based on different treatments.
Results showed that with nutritional unbalances, plants suffer a very
strong energy loss, reducing their resistance to insects and diseases.
When plants are attacked by insect pests, they exhibit an extremely
high energy loss. Kirlian photography can provide clues to crop
quality and biological value in addition to plant nutritional status.
Determination of Plant Health by their Magnetic Emanation and its
Improvement with EM
Ana Maria Primavesi | EM Database
Plant Energy Field Related to Health and EM treatment
IFOAM '96 Book of Abstracts | 11th IFOAM Scientific Conference
Life force energy is a term that you find in bio-dynamics, nature
farming, eco-farming, and related alternative farming systems
that recognize that physics and subtle energy -- in its many
forms within and beyond the electro-magnetic spectrum -- are
part and parcel of agriculture. These include defined and measurable
energies, such as the life force energy displayed through kirlian
This site in particular has spectacular kirlian photography that are
both fascinating and revealing. Especially see the images of healthy
leaves from vitalized crops and the images of plant leaves lacking
Kirlian photography | Mitchell May | Synergy superfoods
It would be interesting to measure the life force energy in the crops
and livestock that are found in our food supply, on our university
farms, in the corporate agricultural sector that are the model of
"success" for globalized agriculture and GMOs.
Then, compare the life force energy from crops and livestock raised
on bio-dynamic farms, nature farms, and eco-farms.
Likewise, using sensitive instrumentation to measure biophotons
Fritz-Popp found significant differences in biophoton light emissions
in organically raised eggs and fresh produce vs. conventional food
3.1 Related EM Papers from Ana Primavesi
The EM Database, hosted at EM Technology Network, contains more
than 600 research reports and conference papers. These include
papers from the International Conferences on Kyusei Nature Farming,
EM symposiums, field trials, and unpublished manuscripts.
The following papers from Ana Primavesi are notable because few
English-language papers are available among the hundreds of
articles she has written in Portuguese. Moreover, she is Science
Counselor for the Mokiti Okada Foundation in Brazil, which
conducts EM research.
Comparison of the Effect of EM and other Bacterial and Mineral
Products on Bean Yield
EM and Its Effects on Citrus
Effect of Microbial Inoculants and Mineral Elements on Drought
Resistance and Yield of Field Bean
Seed Treatment With EM and Micronutrients for Controlling Rice
and Maize Diseases
EM Technology and Organic Matter Amendments in the Tropics
Effect of Lactobacillus Inoculants, Organic Amendments and
Mineral Elements on Yield of Onion and Field Bean
Effect of EM on the Growth and Yield of Rice and Beans
Quantity of EM-4 which may be Applied to a Soil with
3% of Organic Matter
3.2 LEISA papers from Ana Primavesi
ILEIA, a Centre for Information on Low External Input and
Sustainable Agriculture, published ILEIA newsletter and now
publishes LEISA magazine. LEISA is one of the top magazines
in ecological agriculture.
LEISA Magazine, volume 18
Issue 1 - Livestock
Optimising climate-soil-pasture-cattle interactions in Brazil
Ana Primavesi and Odo Primavesi
LEISA Magazine, volume 15
Issue 3+4 - Agrobiodiversity
More rice with good soil fertility management
ILEIA Newsletter v.6 no.3 (October 1990) p.8-9
Soil life and chemical fertilizers
3.3 Soil, Food and People Conference, South America
Ecology Action, home of John Jeavons and the Biointensive Mini-Farming
system, will host a South American version of the Soil, Food and People
Conference, September 28 - October 1, 2004 in Costa Rica.
Soil, Food and People Conference, South America
Some of the well known soil scientists, agronomists, and ecological
farmers who will speak include Ana Primavesi, John Doran, Dominique
Guillete, Don Lotter, John Jeavons, Steve Moore, Reinhold Muschler,
Guillermo Romero Ibarrola, Ricardo Romero, and others.
"Ana Primavesi, Brazil, is a retired Agronomist and a PhD in Soil
Management and Crop Nutrition. She is also a Science Counselor
for the Mokiti Okada Foundation, author and a contributor to
technical newspapers, a founding member of the Organic Agriculture
Society in Brazil, of MAELA in Latin America and of