Carlos Chiara - Agronomist
“We are trying to recover our ancestral breeds wheats that haven't been genetically modified”
Carlos Chiara was born in Argentina but has been living in the Canaries for 15 years on various islands depending on his occupation. He tells us that in Spain he has been specialising in fodder, meaning grains and cultures to feed animals and he has developed very important projects.
Tell us more about the projects that have been created...
On this island, I have been participating since the beginning with the development of 30 acres of systemised production in valle de Goroy that started 8 years ago. Then, I was invited to work in Las Palmas with a federation of livestock associations to create fodder. They had purchased very important equipment and they needed someone to develop the fodder system. This lasted one year, as the company changed group and they invited me to follow the fodder programme on an agricultural farm in Arucas. This is where I participated in the creation of a non-profit association called PACA (Agricultural Association for animal consumption) and within this association, after a few years, we managed to purchase over 10 fodder related machines. However, in 2013, it all stopped as a consequence of changing political decisions. I came back to work in Fuerteventura for the Cabildo at the Livestock Council, still as an expert on fodder. It is very important to point out the great diversity that exists on the islands for grains and cultures that were introduced here since antiquity from various origins.
The Canaries were a start point for boats that were going to the Americas and also the return point for many crew members who came back home.
This is correct, cereals and sugar cane arrived from the Mediterranean and various types of grains and cultures came from America to the islands. But this great diversity has been lost over the past 50 years. I have found on the islands some grain that is now superior to any other genetically modified or hybrid grains and they were simply obtained thanks to each farmer or family who selected them over manyyears. There are millet breeds that are over 300 years old that Canarian farmers still possess.
You told us that you are the deputy president of an association dedicated to recovering those grains, what is it called?
It is called VITALIS Fuerteventura, it is a non-profit association that aims at recuperating all those grains and giving them their qualification as comestible or fodder grains so that they can be brought to the tables of Canarian families with the adequate quantity and quality. There is a lot of grain that is stocked and kept in various locations but without being grown. We make a selection and we plant them, this is why our slogan is «The future is in the past».
There have been many changes in agriculture over the past few years...
Indeed, they expected genetic modification to be a great revolution but it has created many modified grains and it has been more of a trade than an agricultural solution. It was believed that genetically modified grains would improve and increase production and bring costs down in order to solve world hunger. However, it didn't work that way and our intention is to create a protection net for the islands, to prevent this type of modified grains to come to the islands. Those modified grains require the use of a herbicide called Glyphosate, known as Roundup from the Monsanto company. On all the grains it was used, it was demonstrated that it was very highly carcinogenic. So much so, that the World Health Organisation declared it as a possible cancer-causing factor five years ago. This company merged with Bayer and, therefore, Bayer is now facing 20.000 legal suits for the prejudice that Glyphosate has caused on people's health. This is the most widely sold herbicide worldwide and it is used for the most consumed grains. The European Union declared last year that this product had to disappear from the face of the earth within the next four years. This is the reason why agriculture based on a product that needs to disappear within the next four years is going to create a shock.
They are possibly already working on a new product, which hopefully won't be found to be harmful too in the next twenty years.
The advantage is that any new product will be closely scrutinised by all the scientists in the world. In Fuerteventura, we are trying to recover our ancestral wheat breeds that haven't been modified genetically. The proposal from VITALIS is to bring to people's table the same grains that our ancestors used to eat and that they have preserved until now. On the island,some people have great knowledge of the land and they have passed on this heritage. The wheat breeds that were introduced thousands of years ago had originally between 7 and 14 chromosomes, then other breeds of wheat were introduced that had more chromosomes and then we got a breed of wheat that is widely used here, Espelta, that has 28 chromosomes. When the chromosomes increase a lot (sometimes up to 55), the protein in wheat, called glutenin, causes intolerance to gluten. This is why nowadays there are so many people who suffer from coeliac disease. This protein contained in gluten is like an elastic paste that sticks to the intestine lining.