Frank was both a Peace Corps Volunteer and a graduate student in the Loret Miller Ruppe Peace Corps Masters International Program at Michigan Tech. Find out more about this program at http://peacecorps.mtu.edu/ .
Frank Aragona began Peace Corps training in Bolivia on August 21, 2000.
31 August 2000
I live on a farm with a small Bolivian family, mom dad and two little girls, Carola and Sandra, 5 and 3. The girls are obsessed with me, they are like my appendages. They are a little bit in your face at times, and I can't understand a word that the three year old says. The family speaks Quecha and Spanish, mostly Quecha if they aren't speaking to me, so their Spanish has a strange rhythm and intonation. I have Spanish classes everyday, and that's fine, I'm in an intermediate class and picking it up quickly. You'd probably be amazed at how much better I can speak now, I can actually have conversations without resorting to too much English.
The farm has the whole deal, cows, chickens, sheep, a big garden and a huge farm field. Even guinea pigs (for consumption of course). And yes, I had chicken claw soup the other day, although they didn't put the claws in my dish, the girls ate them. The food? Potatoes, pasta, rice, and sometimes meat, potatoes pasta and more rice. Very binding for the bowels. Training is going okay, we've started to learn about soil conservation techniques, Spanish of course, and health. I've never had an hour and half lecture on diarrhea before.
9 September 2000
I'm living with a host family in a village about 30 minutes outside of the city of Cochabamba. Its a nice place. My host family is really nice, a family of four with two children ages 3 and 5. Training is slow, lots of Spanish class (which I'm picking up quite nicely but I have some work to do before I'm fluent), and technical training about three times a week. Tech training is fun, we dig holes, plant trees, do compost piles. Every Wednesday we go to the training center in Cochabamba for more training. This is about the equivalent of watching paint dry. I can feel myself getting dumber as I'm sitting there (Haven't I heard someone else say that about Peace Corps training? Maybe that was Judd talking about Fall Camp). All in all I don't really have anything to complain about. Doña Carmen (my host mother) taught me how to wash my clothes by hand. Its quite meditative, but I'm not good enough to just use my hands yet like she can, I have to use a brush. She finds my ability very amusing. I've also set up a cool job where I'm going to help this guy down the street build a latrine out of adobe bricks. They start everything from scratch. Basically they turn a big pile of mud and straw into a bathroom. Problems with soil are everywhere here. I look at the soils and I'm amazed that they can grow anything at all. Water is extremely limited, and organic matter is nil. They find their way around this by putting guano on the fields. Unfortunately it isn't enough. The weather here is just about perfect, reminds me a lot of Albuquerque, except this is winter and its warm all year round. I'm doing my best to keep the Vinchuga out of my bedroom (its an insect that sucks your blood and shits in the wound, the shit has a nice little organism that slowly gives the victim an enlarged heart after about 20 years, and then you die). Actually there aren't many Vinchugas where I live, but that hasn't prevented me from taking all the precautions.
14 September 2000
I´ve been here in Bolivia for about three weeks now, my first impressions and experiences have been somewhat sheltered by the fact that Peace Corps eases you into the whole process, but overall I´ve been making progress in my understanding and especially my language ability. I´ll try to keep this report nicely structured, and surprisingly I have a lot to write about even though I´ve only been here a short time.
First of all, people. I´ve met a lot of interesting people so far, volunteers, Peace Corps personnel, and Bolivians. The people most relevant to what I´m doing now are my technical trainers. First we have Ken Goodson, an all around good chap and a former environmental volunteer in Bolivia. Now he´s a trainer, and since he´s been here for four years he knows what´s up. He speaks pretty good Quechua and great Spanish, and he knows a lot about agricultural practices in Bolivia.
Next is Jose´ Salinas, or Pepe, as everyone calls him. Got his Ph.D. in soils and has studied all around Latin America. I´ve learned a great deal from him already about soil science and soil conservation. Its a hot topic here because the problems with soils are so severe. Pepe is a Bolivian with a pretty laid back attitude. Still, he knows how to things get done here in Bolivia and he understands what types of things will be successful and what types of things won´t. I have a feeling he will be a great resource during my service, both for the work I do in my community and for my thesis work.
Finally is Remigio Ancalle, our APCD. I don´t see him too much, but when he does come around its usually to talk about projects or site placement. In fact, yesterday was only the second time I saw him and that´s because we had our site fair. They´ve given us ten sheets of paper each with a different site and description. We choose two, without ranking them, and then try to work it out with Remigio and the others as to where we are going to go. Its nice and democratic. I´ve already got an idea of where I want to go.
The village I´m staying in is a constant source of fascination for me, both technically and culturally. I live on a farm with a family of four, los padres and the two girls, ages 5 and 3. The farm is pretty small, I´ve eyeballed it as a little over an acre but I haven´t gone out and paced it or measured it yet. Half of the farm belongs to Humberto (the dueño) and the other half belongs to his sister. In his half he plants alfa, or alfalfa, which grows pretty well here. They feed the alfa to the animals: three cows, two sheep, a goat, three chickens, nine guinea pigs, three dogs, and two cats. The guinea pigs are the main recipients of the alfa, and they are supposedly delicious when eaten, but I haven´t tried one yet. The plant is good because it fixes N, but I haven´t figured out if the rotate alfa with something else or not. Sometimes they will bring the cows, the sheep, and the goat out to the alfa field to graze. They also use the old corn stalks for the cows and the goat to eat. The animals consume a lot. The main food source for the larger animals is some kind of grain that they buy in 10 kilo sacks and mix with water. I don´t know how expensive this stuff is but they have a huge store room full of it. I´d imagine the investment pays off because the animals are a pretty important component of the farm system. They produce a tremendous amount of manure. I wish I would have measured it just out of curiosity because they just harvested the past years worth of manure this past week. 13 or so bags of it were sold to Pepe and Ken for our technical practices, and the rest is to be put on the field (the rest is a small hill in the backyard). The other half of the field, the half that receives the manure, belongs to Humberto´s sister and they plant maize, or corn, on that. It´s a little bigger than the alfa field, and it´s an annual crop, unlike alfalfa which can be harvested year round.
Water is a huge issue here. They need it for the crops, for the household, for gardens, of course, for everything. Cochambamba valley gets about 450 mm of rain a year (I think but I need to double check that number), and the majority of that rain comes between the months of November and February. Naturally that´s the planting-harvesting season. Basically its high (8,300 ft.) and dry here. The water that is used on the fields during the dry season is done through irrigation. I believe the source is quite far from our village, but the network is very extensive, and most of the water for crops in our village comes from a high lake near the outskirts of the city. A lot of households have concrete irrigation ditches, which reduce water loss into the very clayey soils by about 70%. Unfortunately my family doesn´t have any concrete, and the irrigation ditch is about a kilometer long ditch that runs behind all the houses (with houses on both sides). They block it up and move the water around by using big chunks of mud as a barrier. There just isn´t enough water for all the fields all the time. One night I was out late with Don Humberto working on the irrigation. He had to go to several houses trying to convince people to let him have some more water in his field. He was successful, but there were a lot of por favor´s in his speech. I didn´t understand everything he said because a lot of it was in Quechua, but the context was enough for me to realize that there is a water problem in our village. I asked Doña Carmen about it. Why, I asked, don´t you have concrete ditches behind your house like a lot of other people do? She said it was because nobody could agree to it. Some people wanted it and others didn´t. The expenses for concrete, labor, and other materials are pretty high, and some people just don´t see it as a priority. "No hay union," There is no unity, was her response. Either way, the water loss by the time it reaches our house is very high. The clay soils absorb a lot, but on the other hand if they were sandy the infiltration would be so high and rapid that nobody would get very much water at all.
I realized an even more extreme example of water problems when I saw a huge field, about 10 minutes away from my family´s house, that is completely unused. It belongs to the mother of Humberto, and there is absolutely no water there to plant anything. It must be between 1 and 2 hectares in size (if I can ever figure out what a hectare actually is), so its pretty big. But its worthless to them because they can´t get any water to it. They want to sell it. I wonder if there´s some crop that would grow there sufficiently with the rain water? Another option, of course, is a water catchment, but that´s expensive. My guess is they will sell the land or trade it for other land.
Trees. Gotta talk about those. I´ve learned by now to identify several species, but the most prominent species in the area is Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globose). It is everywhere. Mainly around farm fields as a wind break, but also in plantations. It grows incredibly fast, I mean, like 20 feet in height a year. It coppices well too, cut a stump and five more grow back from it. That´s the system here, grow the tree to a certain diameter, which doesn´t take long, then coppice it and let it stump sprout. The farmers use it for fire wood and construction poles. The wood is hard and durable. It grows fast and they can sell it for a decent price on the market (not much but it is income). A forestry student in the area told me that this species of Eucalypt has been in the Cochabamba valley for over 300 hundred years. Seems a bit long to me sine Oz wasn´t really colonized till about 1790. I do wonder, however, who introduced the tree and how the coppice system that´s being used now was developed. Despite its many uses and its fast growth rates, the tree is somewhat of a nightmare to those foresters and agronomists who are trying to increase agricultural sustainability and tree species diversity. This is the case for several reasons. First of all, it uses a lot of water. Naturally, if it grows that fast its going to be fixing a lot of carbon and need a lot of water for it. Water, as I mentioned, is not the most abundant resource here. And it roots deep and far, so it competes with crops for water. It also casts a lot of shade because its tall. Ken says it pollutes the soil to discourage other species from competing with it, but Pepe said it just uses a lot of water. I´m not sure which is true, but it certainly dries out the soil. Moreover, its incredibly weedy. If, but some miracle, you could convince farmers to get rid of it and plant something else, it would be an enormous chore to actually get rid of the trees. They sprout like crazy and the stumps are huge. Either oil or lots of digging will kill the trees. The alternative, in my mind, is shade. The tree is shade intolerant. If you could plant something in the understory that would eventually overtop the trees, you could still thin for several years, letting the good competitors grow out fat and have some nice timber to sell by the time your shade tolerant tree had taken over. The type of silviculture needed for a project like that, not to mention the time scale, is somewhat beyond the level of your average Cochabamba farmer...even if you could find the ideal species to plant in the understory, that is.
Another tree in the area is Molle, a native N fixer that seems to grow best along riparian edges (i.e. irrigation canals). A lot of people, Ken and Pepe, for example, seem to think its a good alternative to E. globose, but it grows a lot slower and doesn´t grow a straight bole. The farmers say its only good for fire wood, which isn´t entirely true because some farmers use it to build their plows, its very hard and very durable.
A few other trees I´ve run across are Sauce, a native tree that is used for construction sometimes and seems to me to be in the Saliacae. And Takcho, a native acacia with heavy spines used a lot of times to make live fences. Home gardens vary in complexity from house to house, and there seems to be a correlation between level of education and species diversity in home gardens. Our home garden, for example, has very little. Artichokes, a few medicinal plants, peach trees, and chamomile, but that´s about it. Where Kristina lives, on the other hand, is very nice. The species diversity there is extremely high: fruit trees, medicinal plants, flowers, bee hives, vegetables...a beautiful set up. I could spend a year just doing a taxonomic study back there. They also seem to be better educated and have more money. Still, my family is a lot younger and they are just starting out. That could be part of it too.
The primary crop where I live is corn. The also plant a lot of habas (Phaselous lunapus), which fixes N and produces a lima bean like fruit which I don´t particularly care for. Its a good crop because it fixes N, and N is very limiting in the soils here. The soils here are very young. The mountains here are not very old geologically, and the dry climate and low primary productivity have made for a slow development of soils. In the mountains the soils are primarily entisols, a shallow rocky soil low in organic matter with a high silt content. Lower down there are inceptisols, another young soil low in organic matter and high in silt, but not quite as rocky as the entisols. There are also a lot of vertisols, which have a lot of clay and they are easy to identify because they just have these huge blocky chunks of clay caused by expanding clays as the soil dries out. All of the soils here are low in N and P. It is somewhat reasonable to assume that farmers can find ways to increase N levels in the soil, primarily by increasing organic matter content and using N fixers. This is a matter of awareness, I think. P, on the other hand, is very expensive to buy in fertilizer form, and I believe it is cycled geologically more than its cycled biologically. How can poor farmers add P to their badly depleted soils? The soil is tilled by tractors, they don´t use much animal traction where I live anymore. From what I can gather there is a guy who owns a tractor and he just goes around and tills the field for 60 bolivianos an hour. That´s about 10 bucks an hour, and it´ll take him three hours to till Humberto´s field, 30 bucks. It isn´t too expensive, but its more than it seems like for the people here, they are pretty poor farmers, after all. It´s certainly faster and more efficient than using bulls or donkeys, but it does put more money into the hands of a person or family that probably already has a lot in the first place.
The community I live in has been inundated with settlers, people migrating from the campo to move closer to the city. Five years ago, I´ve been told, it was once all agricultural land. Now its a mix of small fields, houses, tiendas, and the odd shop here and there. Farm fields have become smaller and smaller as the pressure of migration and a growing population has become more intense. There is still a strong Quechua culture in the community, but I sense it is being displaced and assimilated in the larger Spanish speaking culture of the nearby city. My family speaks Quechua for example, and Spanish, and many grandmothers speak only Quechua, but the children usually only speak Spanish and a little bit of Quechua. It seems that the school system discourages extensive use of Quechua in education. The migration from the campo is logical in the context of a search for greater opportunity, better schools, and more access to the modern products that the city can provide. Humberto works around the house on the weeks, but during the week he works as a construction worker to provide a cash income for his family. One week he went off for 5 days into the mountains to build a school. The women, therefore, are the backbone of the family. They are the mainstays. They stay out of the chicharia´s (basically a local bar), they watch the kids, tend the animals, cook, and clean. For the system to function well both partners have to do their share, but if the man should slack off on his part it is always the women who pick up the slack. Alcoholism is usually the main culprit. The family I live with, thankfully, is free from this disease.
Everyone seems to know each other, and everyone seems somehow related, but I haven´t nearly been around long enough to figure out all the relationships. What a complicated web! Tenure is also sticky, as different people seem to own fields scattered all over the place. Who owns what? You got me! I´m only there for three months, so its like a practice session for the real thing, but all of it intrigues me.
Now for my description of tech training. Our first session was a lesson in slopes. How to measure them in simple ways that don´t require a lot of tools. We also used the A-frame to measure out contour lines. A lot of people here plow up and down the field, a huge no no since the erosion problems are so insane here and the slopes are so steep. They do it, Pepe said, out of tradition. He argued that the traditional farming practices of the Incas were lost during colonization, and now people have ingrained in them some pretty terrible soil management practices. I´m not sure if I buy the historical argument, but its worth looking into. On really steep slopes its necessary to build a terrace. Which requires a lot of man power but will save a farm field from being totally destroyed by erosion. The trick mainly involves convincing people that they´ve got to do something to save their field. Some don´t want to listen, for all sorts of reasons: fear of foreigners improving their land and then claiming it, distrust of foreigners, adherence to tradition, or an unwillingness to put the labor and resources into farm field improvement.
During another session we learned about composting. The concept of taking kitchen scraps, straw, corn husks, guano, ash, a dirt and turning it into rich organic matter. Why is this important? Bolivian soils are extremely low in organic matter. A compost heap isn´t going to produce enough to put on your farm field, but it will help with gardening and therefore improved nutrition. It also shows people the potential use for a lot of stuff that gets thrown away. And of course it increases awareness to the problems with Bolivian soils, which most people don´t really know too much about.
We´ve also made a few seed beds for cover crops (Red clover, alfalfa, avana, vicia, cabada, and triticale...are these Latin? Spanish? I need to ask), and trees: three or four types of acacia, eucalypt, and Pinus radiata. We will give these crops to our host families to do with as they please. Its only for practice. My host family was pretty excited about planting all the trees in their field. That´s a good sign.
One day we went out to a field to look at some of the problems with water and soil erosion. Upon arriving and walking out onto the farm field we noticed a bunch of holes in the soil. This is caused by the draining of the surface water supply. Coca-Cola, everybody´s favorite beverage, has a large factory down hill of the farm fields, and they are using a lot of water. Furthermore, farmers are digging wells like crazy to get water to their crops. The result has been a drop in the water table and a collapse of the surface soil in many places. Now a lot of farmers can´t even get a tractor onto the field, its too dangerous. The hydrologists have recommended digging deep, into an aquifer that is about 250 meters below the surface, where plentiful water abounds. But this is too expensive for the average farmer to afford. The water hoarding eucalyptus in the area doesn't help. What´s the solution? I don´t know.
2 October 2000
Finally have been able to get into to the city. All is well here, things have started to quiet down, and we are back in classes once again. I'm doing well, really getting to work on my garden and I'm starting to learn a lot about agroforestry. Technical training is okay, but it mostly consists of building up useful connections. I've met a lot of great people already, and I think they will be good resources when I get to my site. I'm almost certain I'll be going to Tipa Tipa, about 7 hours from Coch., a pretty rural site with lots of irrigation and soil conservation work to be done. This Friday I hope to go to the city to work with a beekeeper. He's going to show me the ropes and get me started. I want to put a hive in the backyard. It'll be the perfect complement to the small agroforestry system/homegarden that I want to try and set up in the backyard of Don Humberto and Doña Carmen.
23 October 2000
Everything is quiet now, we left the hotel over a week ago, and all of the political turmoil has wound down and it seems that for now the problems have been resolved. We just spent the past week in Northern Potosí, which is an amazing place. The culture is very rich there, and the conditions are very primitive. Little Spanish is spoken, most conversation is done in Quechua, which I've managed to pick up a little bit of...simple things like how are you, good bye, and I don't speak Quechua. I just got back yesterday. Training is almost over. My garden was completely destroyed by my absence...too much water and too much sun make for a poor seedbed. I'll have to start a new one when I get to my site. Next week is site visits, and that should be interesting. We don't swear in until November 17, so I still have another month here in Cochabamba.
21 November 2000
I´m moving to my Peace Corps site today, and little village called Tipa Tipa located in the Department of Cochabamba, about six hours away from the city. My village is a town of about 700 people. They are a motivated group of people who requested a volunteer to help them with some of the administrative and proposal aspects of community projects. They have no potable water, and they have no latrines. Both of these are huge projects that could take my whole two years. Right now its just a matter of moving out there and settling in, buying a stove, pots and pans, all of that stuff that we need just to live from day to day. The community seems very well organized and they really seem to know what they want and how I can help them with it, so I think they will put me to work right away. I´ll have my hands full just trying to learn Quechua, which is the dominant language in the village.
Second Quarterly Report: December 17th 2000
Nevertheless, the number of potential projects that exist in my site is encouraging. Thus far, my main research interests lie in the area of agroforestry. Up till now I have seen little work being done by research agencies or extension agents in this field. Yet there remains an enormous amount of potential to do agroforestry work in Bolivia. The potential is there not only on steeply graded farm fields, but also in areas with little or no slope. There is room for research in species selection (both natives and exotics), agroforestry for forage production, soil conservation, water conservation (which has special relevance in my situation), soil fertility management, fruit production, reclamation forestry, and range management (to name a few). All of these things are relevant to some of the work I can do in my site, and I will explain some of that relevance once I begin a more detailed description of the local farming systems and environment.
By far the most pressing need in my site, and the one most eagerly sought by the community members where I live, is the desire to get potable water. Water is taken from the irrigation ditch which runs behind the local plaza. It is sediment laden and full of harmful microbes, not to mention the fact people are forced to haul water from the ditch in buckets to bring it to their homes. Right now the community is engaged in trying to install a water system. Since there is not sufficient clean water in the surrounding hills, the only alternative is to dig a well. The depth of plentiful water is estimated at 100 meters. The estimated cost of such a project is $14,000 US, far beyond the means of a poor, rural Bolivian community. The community, therefore, has been forced to seek outside funding for the project. The community is working with three or four sources of financing.
The first is the municipality of Mizque, to which the community belongs. The nature of politics being what it is here in Bolivia, this source of funding had to be fought for. According to the law of popular participation, enacted in 1994, the national government is obliged to distribute community development funds through the hierarchy of provincial and local governments until it reaches the community level. Each community in every municipality has a right to these funds in order to meet their most pressing needs. When the community of Tipa Tipa introduced their water systems project to the municipality of Mizque, one critical member of the committee refused to sign the approval papers because of the fact that Tipa Tipa was affiliated with an opposing political party. This rattled the community so much that they loaded themselves in two camiones (the Bolivian equivalent of a semi), and men, women and children marched into the mayor's office demanding this man to sign the papers. The issue of drinking water, they claimed, is apolitical, and all communities, regardless of their political affiliation, have a right to clean, readily accessible water. The recalcitrant official was forced to sign the papers. A remarkable show of solidarity on the part of this small, poor community.
The second source of funding is the community itself. All homeowners were obliged to pay a certain sum of money, I can't remember the sum but I think it was a hundred dollars. For those who have two homes the sum was doubled. I believe the community has been able to fund 10-20% of the project this way.
The third source of funding comes from an NGO called Plan International de Sucre. They came to Tipa Tipa on Thanksgiving day to take photos of the young children in the village. These photos are then sent to the developed nations of the world to arouse pity in those who live more comfortably than the children of the third world. Those who choose to do so then become padrinos, and are asked to send money to the children to improve their standard of living. We've all seen this on TV, with the images of starving young children in Africa or Latin America, and Sally Struthers imploring viewers to send 11 cents a day to save the life of a poor child. Well, this is the same sort of deal, and this program is able to fund projects through this type of work. The also collected a tremendous amount of information in the process of taking photos, things like wood use, water availability, health status, religion, age, occupation, etc. This type of information could be extremely useful for my own work as a volunteer and a master's student, but one of the workers for the NGO informed me that I would not be given access to any of the information they had collected. If we are both working towards the goal of community development, then why would an organization refuse to give out information that has the potential to help the community? Regulations . power . bureaucracy. Stupidity.
The final potential source of funding is UNICEF. This was mentioned to me in passing by a community member. I don't know much about UNICEF, except they are involved in water development projects around the world. Even though the issue of agua potable is a hot one in Tipa Tipa, all of the information has been really hard to collect. Mainly because people speak in Quechua, all the meetings and casual conversations take place in Quechua, and I'm simply at a loss to understand what people are saying. Furthermore, people don't seem to see much benefit in including me in the project. Perhaps they are right, but I've still been eager to learn as much as I can about it.
Reforestation is another project that has a lot of potential in the area. The plaza and village itself has been completely deforested, and the planting of shade trees in the area would do a lot to reduce brutal day time temperatures. I don't think it would be too hard to drum up community support for a small community reforestation project. Reforestation in the surrounding hills, on the other hand, is probably more necessary, and yet it would be infinitely more difficult to convince people of the need to invest time and resources in a project whose time scale is that of decades, and whose material results are almost never immediately apparent, if at all. Still, I see it as a worthwhile project. It would require an enormous amount of community trust and solidarity to undertake such a task. I have yet to earn this respect in my community. I don't foresee myself even using the word reforestation in my community for at least six months, but perhaps even more likely a year.
Introduction of integrated pest management techniques is definitely something worth considering. Dr. Walter Kaiser, who lives in Sucre and is a Peace Corps Volunteer, is a plant pathologist with years of experience in his field. I hope to work with Dr. Walter, and I have already spoken to him about it, to help reduce yield losses to insect and pest problems while reducing the use of costly and harmful pesticides.
Latrines is another pressing need in my community. The lack of a sanitary place to defecate is surely the source of numerous avoidable illnesses in Tipa Tipa. Six years ago, some community members began a pit latrine project. Evidence of this lies all around the village in the form of unutilized concrete slabs designed as latrine floors. Apparently the community members decided that a pit latrine was an unsanitary thing to have in one's backyard, and they abandoned the half completed project. More than anything I see this as a lack of education. When designed correctly, pit latrines are a clean and cheap means of disposing of human excrement. I've shown some community members plans of proper latrine designs, but their reception was luke warm, and I think they were rather unwilling to believe me. They insist that a pour flush toilet is the way to go (even though they don't have running water!). The excrement is flushed into a deposit that is unexposed to the open air.
Some community members have already started building such latrines in their yards (slowly, I might add). The drawback, first of all, is water. They hope to have showers and flush toilets after the well project is completed. One rural san volunteer informed me that these facilities were a sign of status, and campesinos desire them for this reason more than anything. But few people seem to know the amount of water that will be provided to the community after the well project is completed, nor the cost. Pour flush toilets, moreover, are more expensive to construct and maintain. Not very suitable for a community where some members barely scrape by in a year of little rain. I hope to bring several community members to some well designed pit latrines, so they can see for themselves the benefits of having a more simple design, and to address their concerns about the uncleanness of such a design. If they still insist on flush toilets, at least I tried. Though I am hopeful that at least a few community members will prove willing to try the pit latrine design, and perhaps this will be the catalyst for those who are less willing.
People have also shown an interest in beekeeping. We had a short tech session on beekeeping during tech training, and the possibility of having an apiculture IST (In Service Training), is very high. The production of honey would bring in extra income and add diversity to a very simple, high carbohydrate diet. I am also curious about the potential of bees to increase pollination in farming systems, and wonder if the use of bees in a farm system increases yield of bee pollinated crops. The problem with apiculture, which hopefully will be address in our IST, is initial cost. The wooden boxes that professional apiculturists sell run between $80-$100, quite expensive for a poor farmer. I'm hoping we will be able to find ways to construct our own boxes that will be well suited to the job but cheaper than the cost from a professional agency.
Another project that has recently germinated in my brain is the idea of cultivating mushrooms for local consumption and sale. As far as I know, there is little work being done with this here in Bolivia (what would that be called, mycoculture?). I'm aware that some temperate agroforestry systems inoculate tree stumps and wooden logs with oyster mushrooms or shiitake mushrooms, which are then harvested and consumed or sold. I'm also aware that the Applied Mycology professor in the Veracruz program is working with growing mushrooms on bales of hay in order to introduce more diversity into the campesino diet. I've recently talked to a business volunteer in nearby Mizque about the potential of working together to secure markets for the products. My end would be the technical end. I'd like to try it on my own on a very small scale, to see if I could work out the growing and harvesting of the mushrooms, and to see if the taste would please the sometimes fickle palate of the rural Bolivian. What species would I use? Could Dana, or the mycology professor in Mexico, offer any technical advice?
Yes, I've been wrangled in to teaching English. It seems people are more interested in my presence there as their personal English teacher than as their natural resource consultant. Everybody wants to learn English. With a years overseas experience teaching English to somewhat enthusiastic (but often lazy), Turkish students and professionals, I can say with some confidence that the prospect of campesinos speaking English is pretty slim. My motivations for teaching English are somewhat different than the motivations of the students who want to learn it. I see it as a great way to get to know people, a good way to encourage discussion (especially among the women if I can get them into class), and a nice way to demonstrate my willingness to work for and with the community in the projects that interest them. Still, I plan to work hard at it, and I plan to use whatever resources available to me (including my experience and training as an EFL teacher), to help the students who are genuinely motivated. I informed the community that my job description isn't English teacher, and therefore I would limit classes to twice a week, one hour for each class. They accepted this, seeming somewhat deflated when I told them so, but I don't want it to interfere with what I perceive as my goals as a student and a professional. Two days ago I went with a community member to ask for tables and chairs from the mayor's office so that we could pass classes. They agreed to give us 15. A nice step in the right direction for my service.
Finally, I have in my mind to set up a farmer to farmer extension program as outlined in the book you gave us before departing. This seems a long way off, but it seems like the mark of sustainability for any good natural resource project. If I am able to work with some of the projects outlined above, the natural compliment to it, and the best way to "work Peace Corps out of a job", would be to set up an extension service run for and by farmers. All techniques and experiments could be transmitted to surrounding communities by farmers who have gone through the development of them personally. Whether it be agroforestry, animal husbandry, apiculture, or whatever, the best extentionists, with the chance of having the most success and the most convincing arguments (mainly physical proof), would be the farmers themselves. There would need to be funding or some material benefit for those farmers who were to become the extension agents, and I plan to work this idea out in my head slowly as I progressively learn more about how things work in the campo, and what projects farmers might be interested in acting as extension agents for. I really think it's a great idea, and it acts as the perfect complement and logical completion to any Peace Corps project.
I've met a lot of people already, some of them more significant than others, but all of them interesting. First of all there's my "counterpart". My placement is a community placement, having no affiliation with an NGO or other agency, I work directly with the community, which is the main reason why I chose my site. My counterpart is the dirigente of the OTB (I forget what that stands for), but basically he's the elected leader of the village government, which initiates projects, calls and runs meetings, etc. etc. His name is Rogelio Alvarez, and he's a pretty simple guy, a farmer like 99% of the people in Tipa Tipa, with a good amount of trust and authority invested in him by the community members. I've gone out and planted tomatoes with him a few times, and he's helped me out with a few practical matters. He's a man of few words, but he seems to want what is best for the community.
Don Filberto is perhaps one of the most influential figures in Tipa Tipa´s recent history. He grew up a poor farm boy, was converted to evangelism at the age of 14, taught himself Spanish and decided to educate himself for the sake of his self improvement and for the development of his community. He went to University and obtained his licensure to teach, afterwards returning to Tipa Tipa to work as a teacher for 25 years. At the age of 22 (I'm not sure exactly how old he was), he had a tragic accident in the gymnasium, where he fell and received a strong blow to the head, leaving the entire left side of his body paralyzed for life. Yet this tragedy seems to have strengthened his resolve to help his community, for although to this day he walks with great difficulty and always with the aid of a cane, he has done a number of projects to help his community throughout the years. One of his greatest successes, or so it seems to me, was the construction of the concrete irrigation ditch that provides Tipa Tipa with the majority of the water it receives today. This is the water we use to drink, to wash clothes, to bathe, and to water crops during the dry season. He, along with several other members of the community, designed, organized, and obtained the materials for the construction of the ditch. This was about twenty years ago. People refer to him as the veteran of the community. And young people have told me much of his work is responsible for the level of organization and the optimism that exists among the people of the village. Today he remains a great resource to the community, and he has already been very helpful in giving me information about Tipa Tipa´s history, and the current status of projects that are underway right now.
I've been reading a lot lately about agroforestry as a means for soil conservation. Particularly I've been reading the Anthony Young book cited above. It seems there isn't all that much work that much research or experimental work that goes on with agroforestry in the Bolivian highlands. As I said, there's so much potential for it, but little work is actually being done. I'd like to see if it would be possible to set up a support network within Peace Corps for those volunteers who have an interest in doing work with agroforestry. There are several volunteers who are studying now or already have master's degrees who would be interested in doing this. In this context I begin a more detailed description of the farm systems in Tipa Tipa. I hope to articulate some of my ideas on the potential for improvements in the existing systems, and the potential to incorporate trees as into these systems.
Local crops are grown and harvested for the purposes of sale and consumption. The majority of what is produced is sold, but enough is kept aside for consumption by families. Tomatoes are cultivated in a majority of people's fields. It's a good cash crop, and the people seem to have some pretty intimate knowledge of how to grow and harvest tomatoes. I often see farmers fumigating the tomatoes with chemical pesticides. So far I've been shown a small insect on the underside of the leaves that looked very much like mites. They've also told me that leaf cutter ants will eat the plants when they are very young, after they've been planted from the seedbed in the farm field. They use seedbeds to germinate the seeds, then transfer them to the field. I've seen some yellowing in the leafs of the plants, but I'm not sure how to diagnose what this means, if it is a nutrient deficiency, a lack of water, or what. They always complain about a lack of water. The tomatoes leaves, they say, often turn yellow without enough water. I've asked some farmers to estimate the production of tomatoes. When the tomatoes are harvested they are put in wooden crates they weigh about 22 kilos. For each crate one can earn 20 Bs. A yunta, which is the amount of land a man can plant in a day with a team of two oxen, produces anywhere from between 300-400 crates. There are 4 yuntas in a hectare. That makes the rate of return for one hectare of land between 26,400 and 35,200 kilos/ha. And the monetary value is between 24,000 Bs. And 32,000 Bs. (between $4,000 US and $5,333 US). I'm not really sure what these types of numbers should look like, and I'm only going on what was told to me in a casual conversation, so I'm not sure how close to reality they are.
Onions are another of the most important crops grown in the area. They are planted in the middle of the rainy season, which is between February and April, and I was told that this is the time where the farmers are forced to work the hardest to get the onions planted. When the onions reach a certain size the farmers take a metal barrel and roll it over the green leaves, flattening them out. They told me this lets the onions get big. Three to four weeks later they harvest them. Why would they flatten the leaves out this way? One farmer told me he was curious to calculate the optimal spacing at which they should plant their onions, and this, according to him, would be a good undertaking for me.
Corn is another crop planted in many fields. Right now, at the beginning of the rains, is the season when many people plant corn. The corn is not the sweet corn we are used to, but is called "choclo" in Spanish, and it has a harder, large kernel that is boiled and eaten as a snack, or with dinner. Sweet corn is tastier.
And of course there are potatoes. The national food of Bolivia. People plant, harvest, sell, and consume an enormous amount of potatoes in this country. The other day I spent the entire day planting potatoes in a farmer's field. My job was to spread guano in the rows after the plough had gone by and after the women had put the tubers into the ground. It was hard work carrying bags of guano on my shoulder, but it was fun.
Animal traction, as I've noted, is the major form of traction used to plow the fields here in Bolivia. I've been learning how to plow the fields, but its way harder than it looks, and their teaching me little by little. Not all the people have bulls, which are used in pairs to plow, so they rent them by the day, and as far as I can tell the price varies according to the relationship between the renter and the rentee. The traditional tool used to plow a field is the yunta, which is a long piece of wood with another slanted piece of wood fastened into it, and within the slanted piece is a metal tongue used to get deep into the soil. It works well but it doesn't get all that deep. CIFEMA, an organization I mentioned in my previous report, has worked in Tipa Tipa to introduce metal tools that dig deeper down into the soil. I mentioned before that these are expensive, some farmers have them, all seem to want them. But I'm not really sure how much of a difference it makes.
Tractors are also used, but there is only one tractor that exists in the whole village. It gets deeper, but I imagine there is more soil compaction with a tractor. It certainly is faster, and people cite the speed of using a tractor as the primary motivation for hiring out the tractor. Ganan tiempo, as they say in Spanish.
As the fields are plowed people apply fertilizers in different forms. One man who lives in the village owns 100 goats, he keeps them in a corral and puts the guano on his fields. He says he's been doing this for 12 years, and his soil looks pretty good, and he says it produces well. He also sells the goat manure to other farmers in the village, and they put the guano in the rows as they bulls pass by. Another form of guano they use, which is imported from Santa Cruz, is chicken manure. This is the most rancid stuff I've ever worked with. It reeks like ammonium, and you can hardly breath as your shoveling it into the bags. What an awful day of work that was. They say they've been working with it for ten years, and I guess it gets the job done. Chemical fertilizers are also used, in combination with organics, but they are used sparingly and only by those who can afford them. I don't know how much it costs, but they claim its expensive.
Most of the parcels are on slopes. The slopes aren't particularly steep, and I haven't gone out and measured any of them yet, but before the rains many of the fields are left bare, roasting in the hot sun, and when the rain comes I'm sure that people must experience a great deal of erosion. Loss of organic matter in the fields must be particularly high, as a result of irrigation practices, sloping fields, and exposed soil in the early rainy season. Most farmers I've talked don't seem to identify erosion as a major problem. I am sure that some measures taken to prevent erosion could increase crop productivity, reduce the use of fertilizers, and improve soil organic matter contents and therefore soil water holding capacity. The Young book, mentioned above, deals with these issues extensively, arguing that agroforestry has potential to resolve many of the associated problems with erosion. The main cause of erosion, Young argues, is bare fields. Organic matter is carried away in higher quantities relative to its proportion in the soil profile, and overall reductions in organic matter have numerous physical, chemical, and biological consequences, most of them affecting soil fertility and therefore, crop production, negatively.
This problem poses two challenges. First, of course, is convincing the farmers that erosion exists on their fields. I myself am not totally convinced erosion is a problem, and to what extent does the problem exist in the fields of Tipa Tipa? I can say with certainty that very steep slopes are experience a great deal of erosion, but most people own fields with moderate or gentle slopes. Does this indicate then, a need to measure the rates of erosion on different peoples fields? Would that help me to argue my case, certainly I would feel more confident, in taking measures to check erosion while increasing soil organic matter content?
Lack of water is also another issue that famers are constantly complaining about. About 5-10 years ago, different NGO's in the area started projects with atojados, which is a system of water harvesting that catches run off during the rainy season, to be used later in irrigation during the dry season. This has increased the farmer's potential to produce more, and I believe it has allowed for the production of a second crop in some areas. I would be interested in taking some measurements on the the volumes of these water catchments, and trying to estimate how much it has increased water supply, and therefore productivity potential. Still, farmers complain that the construction of water catchments has only led to a marginal increase in the quanitity of water available for agriculture. A possible way to maximize the use of the small water catchment ponds would be to put fish in them. My knowledge about fisheries is very scanty. What I can say is people are lacking protein in their diets, and fish production would increase protein intake and possibly provide extra income. The water in atajados is very murky, and temperatures are rather high, certainly not suitable for trout.
While an increase in the total quantity of overall water is difficult to achieve, water conservation measures to encourage more efficient use of existing supply has great potential. I see mulching as one of the most simple and possibly beneficial measures farmers could take to increase crop productivity. The production of mulch could take the form of grasses used in live barriers on steep slopes, tree hedgerows, or windbreaks, to name a few. Other measures that can be taken include improved irrigation schemes, construction of concrete irrigation ditches to reduce water loss through infiltration, and increased organic matter input to increase soil water holding capacity (perhaps an increase in woody biomass inputs might lead to greater increases, since many soil scientists argue that the woody component in soil humus is an important component often absent in cultivated fields).
As I've already mentioned, I believe that agroforestry has great potential to help farmers achieve higher productivity and maintain a greater level of sustainability. Yet a number of obstacles exist in the elaboration of a more integrated agroforestry system. Bolivian farmers are generally reluctant to plant trees within their fields. Parcels, moreover, are small, generally not larger than a hectare. It would be hard to convince people to put trees in their already small fields, especially when we would be unaware of the cost benefit ratios. Young presents a case where a cost benefit analysis is done on different agroforestry systems, some of which, as a result of competition for light and essentially poor design, leave the farmer with less than a traditional monocrop system. Other systems break even, and yet other systems increase overall production of the cash crop while providing additional marketable products from the trees. The essence of Young's argument in this case is the value of research and farmer participation in system design. Only well designed systems yield positive results.
Along those lines, identifying tree species that are suitable to farm systems in Bolivia is one of the most crucial areas of research to be undertaken. As far as I can tell, there is a scarcity of information on this topic. Schinus molle, a native tree with a number of medicinal properties, has potential. Growth rates aren't phenomenal, but it's a tree I've seen left in some farm fields in the general area. Tarco, (Jacaranda mimosifolia), also shows great potential. It grows fast, I've seen people plant it on the side of their fields. It can be coppiced, and I believe it fixes N, but I'm not sure. Farmers use the wood for firewood and to make plows, currently I'm not aware of other potential uses the tree might have. Tipa (I meant to look up the Latin but forgot), also seems to be a leguminous species that grows natively. It grows rather slowly, but it gets very big, and is a beautiful shade tree that must have once been an important part of the forests that existed in the region before deforestation occurred. People also use a number of thorny species, which I haven't yet been able to identify, as live fences. Every farmer has their field surrounded by a thick fence of thorns, impenetrable by livestock, and sometimes humans too.
Concluding my discussion of agroforestry, I am generally interested in taking a number of important and general measurements about the area. Total precipitation, available water for irrigation, soil types, erosion rates...for example. I plan to use Beets' description of the physical farm system as a guide to help me identify what physical characteristics are important, and to go from there. Perhaps this would help in system design, and the information might prove useful in my thesis. Any suggestions, comments or questions would be extremely useful, as I feel I'm just sort of mentally (and physically) wandering around on my own. Especially useful would be some suggestions on what to measure, how to measure it, and how to use the information in system design. I could see physical characteristics as especially important in the process of tree species selection.
The local environment is certainly a pretty one, characterized by red soils. The soils seems to have a higher sand and silt content than the clayey soils I was exposed to during training, just outside of Cochabamba. A lot of fields are littered with rocks, which poses a problem for soil structure, and also for plowing the fields. People who I've talked to have described the soil has having an average level of fertility, not bad, they say, but room for improvement.
The climate is dry, as is probably obvious since farmers constantly complain about lack of water. The sun is brutally strong, and if I go outside without sunscreen for fifteen minutes I start to get burned. The rains have just started, several months late, as I've been informed, and I've been told it will continue until about May. People are concerned about the late start, and one man has told me that if the quantity of rain is not sufficient, then he will go to Argentina to earn extra money. This, by the way, is common, men between the ages of 20 and 40 are often leaving to Buenos Aires to work as construction workers.
Tipa Tipa sits in a valley between the larger towns of Mizque and Aiquile. The vegetation is characterized, of course, by the dry climate. Cactus thrive in the area, some of them growing as big as trees, with woody trunks that look to be about 14" in diameter. Tipa, Molle, and Tarco are the main trees in the area. Although some of the native forest still exists in the area, it seems that succession has been radically altered by the cutting of trees for fuelwood, and overgrazing. The hills experience serious gulleying in some areas. What comes up everywhere in place of where the trees once were, is what looks to me like a shrubby willow. I would guess that the goats and sheep don't like the stuff. I see very little natural regen of native tree species. Any attempt at reforestation in the area would involve, more than anything I believe, measures to control grazing (which perhaps could be done by the creation of grass paddocks grazed on a managed rotation to reduce pressure on native forest, and also the production of forage within the farm system).
20 March 2001 - Excerpts from the quarterly report.
Another three months gone by, now I'm finally settled in to my site, and man did that really take a long time, it took my two months to get settled in, but now I'm living comfortably, probably more comfortably than any of the campesino families that live in my site, which is probably a function of a higher income, more free time, and different nutritional/sanitary standards. All is well, and now I really feel like I am able to start getting some work done.
I guess I'll start with what I've done in the past three months. I spent most of December and half of January just buying things like baskets, a bed, tables, chairs, and the like. It sure took a long time to get that stuff out there. I also just spent time getting to know people, hanging out, showing my face in the village, figuring out who lives where, what peoples names are, etc. Those first three months surely must be some of the hardest.
February was more productive from a work perspective. I spent almost all of February working in people's fields, getting to know their farm systems, getting them used to the idea of me coming out to the fields and chatting with me about their farms, tilling the fields, trying to learn how to do things, chewing coca and just generally hanging out making friends. I also got my English classes rolling, which is a moderate success in both attendance (which is pretty poor for all age groups except the children), and their actual progress with the language, which is also pretty poor, even for those who come. But they think they are learning English, which kind of poses the dilemma of being truthful and telling them that they aren't and chances are they won't, or just sort of keeping low key about it, keep teaching classes, and pretend that they are actually learning it. It's tough to be dishonest about the thing, but the fact that I am their English teacher has given them a sense of pride and somewhat demonstrated the utility of my existence in the village (other than my role as an infallible source of something to laugh at). I've already noticed among the more dedicated students that they are more willing to open up to me with problems that they have in their farm fields, which is the real reason I'm there, and the real reason why I wanted to teach English in the first place. Plus, I've also found that it gives me a forum to have small, short meetings with farmers that trust me in order to collect information.
I've also been working on the project of getting water to the school. What a mess! The well was dug five years ago, and the professors (who apparently were organizing the project?) failed to get any of the hydrological data about the well when it was dug. Apparently it is standard practice after digging a well to take certain measurements which allow for the selection of the appropriate pump. The engineer who's advising me on the project told me to find the company who dug the well and get the necessary data from them. Sounds easy, right? They can hardly remember the name of the group who did it, and the name they've given me (GEOBOL), doesn't seem to exist anymore in Bolivia, if it ever did. The classic Peace Corps problem: they expect me to do all the footwork for a project they should be extremely concerned about. Their level of motivation amounts to encouraging me to figure out how to get this thing done. And of course my feelings are mixed. I want the children in the school to have access to clean water for drinking and washing; but, on the other hand, how sustainable is it when a foreign volunteer does all the work to get the job done? Which raises perhaps the primary and most important question: Will the pump be maintained once its been installed? That is a question that I definitely must address if this project is to reach its conclusion during my service.
I've also been doing a little bit of work around my house compound to get myself comfortable and happy. I've started to get a nice compost pit going, which is going to go on the garden, which I will prepare for the next rainy season. Having a nice, organic garden will be great for demonstrations, and it will make my life easier in terms of not needing to go into town to get fresh vegetables and the like. I'm also going to start raising chickens. Having eggs and meat will give me more protein, which (besides green vegetables) is one of the primary things missing in most people's diets.
I've also been trying to get a latrine project started in Tipa Tipa. Professor Filiberto has expressed interest in building one, and he's willing to use the standard PC design, which is relatively inexpensive to build, and doesn't require water to flush. There are about thirty latrine floors already in existence in Tipa Tipa, which will save some material cost, but they don't fit the specs given by the standard PC design that volunteers use when they build their own latrines. Since I'm not exactly a seasoned construction worker and I can't confidently readjust the design, I need someone to come out and help me build it, making sure that the adjustments are made safely without any risks. I also want the latrine to be perfect, relatively odorless, clean, and comfortable. People in Tipa Tipa are very reluctant to accept the pit latrine design, claiming that it is a breeding ground for flies and unpleasant odors. Therefore they want either pour flush toilets (more expensive), or a sewage system!? (very expensive). I hope by constructing a good latrine in the community it will show people that its easy to build, clean and healthy (certainly healthier than the current shit where you will situation), and we can put together a budget outline, materials list, and work time required, which I will make accessible to community members who show an interest in building their own.
Don Rosendo, a neighbor of mine, is teaching me how to identify and use local medicinal plants. He has a pretty good knowledge of local plants and their uses. He claims the knowledge is from his grandfather. I'm not sure how effective all the plants actually are, but I'm making a list of all the names, and he has a photocopy list of all the plants, with Quechua, Spanish, and Latin names. This is certainly a good way to identify plants, and it might come in useful for future thesis research. Right now I just enjoy learning about it, and he's a fun guy to hang out with. Well, I think that's a pretty comprehensive summary of all the things I've been doing in the past month and half or so.
Another project that I'm working on is the concept of micro-credit. I have three general ideas that could be incorporated into the micro-credit scheme, and since each one of them has their own dynamics, I'll explain all of them separately. I first became aware of the concept of micro-credit in Houghton, when NPR had a special about an organization that loans a small amount of money to peasant women in the Phillipines to help them buy cell phones. The women use the phones to start up small businesses, which can be anything from providing telephone access in rural communities for a small fee, to selling hand made sweaters, to starting a local vegetable cooperative. The money is not a hand out, and it must be paid back with interest. This is sustainable development. The key is to have a general plan that will enable the recipient to pay back the money and use the investment to generate a steady source of income.
I started thinking of the prospects of micro-credit development when a farmer friend of mine approached me asking me if the Peace Corps could give him money to buy a pump. He has eleven children, and they are almost always hungry. I know this is true, because his five year old son Wilder comes to my house to hang out everyday, and he is always hopeful that I'll give him some bread, or a piece of cheese, or anything. The land he works has no irrigation, which severely limits the amount of crops he can produce on a hectare of land. His situation motivated him to dig a well. He dug 18 meters into the ground with a pick, a shovel, and bucket to excavate the dirt. This type of work is extremely dangerous and very difficult. By a stroke of genius or a piece of luck, he managed to find, what he says is a fairly constant supply of water. He paid for the concrete rings and installed them into the well, which prevents the well from collapsing in on itself. He claims to know the exact kind of pump he needs and the cost, which is $300. The problem is, he doesn't have three hundred dollars laying around to invest in a pump. I told him Peace Corps doesn't provide that type of financial assistance, but it was my job to help him find it.
Then, after thinking about if for a while, I remember the lady in the Phillipines who received a $100 loan to buy a cell phone. It dawned on me that this man was a perfect candidate for a micro-credit loan. He put in hour's worth of work to dig a well, invested what money he had to keep the well from collapsing, and now is just $300 short of greatly increasing his crop production. A low interest loan of three hundred, that could be paid back over the course of two or three years, would allow him to buy the pump he needs. The increased production from his field would give him the money he needs to pay back the loan, and with proper maintenance the pump should last him for quite a while, increasing his crop production and helping him to feed his family.
There are several aspects to this project that need to be considered before we can be successful. The first aspect is the solicitude for the loan. I've looked on the net and found a list of six possible donors, all of whom work in Bolivia and give micro-credit loans for the purposes of rural development (I'll include the list in this report). Our written solicitude must be well organized, and must include all the technical and cost details involved in the project. Here is a list of things I think we need to include in the solicitude for it to be considered viable:
1. Hydrologic information about the well: We need to be certain that about the quantity of water, the appropriate selection of the pump, and the long term sustainability of the well.
2. Personal investment in dollars: This would include hours of work in excavation(a worker costs 20 Bs./day, so we need to count how many people were working for how long), and the cost of the concrete rings installed in the well. This demonstrates that the farmer has invested labor and capital in the well, which justifies the solicitude in terms of sustainability. The farmer clearly wants the project, and has personally committed himself to making it work.
3. Agro-technical info: The amount of land being put under cultivation, projected productivity increase, which includes current production compared to projected future production. The current rain fed situation allows him to produce one crop a year. The introduction of a pump, depending on the quantity of water, would allow him to produce at least one, perhaps two more crops a year. It would also mitigate the effects of erratic rainfall during the rainy season, which can induce drought stress in crops since rainfall tends to fall in torrential, infrequent storms during the rainy season.
4. Socio-economic info: The amount of people affected by the project; the prospects of improved family nutrition which will be generated by increased income and/or food production. The projected ability of the farmer to be able to repay the loan based on expected increases in production.
5. Long term sustainability: We must insure the farmer knows or has access to the necessary information needed to maintain the pump, and also that the farmer is fully aware of the nature of the loan, what collateral and interest rates are, and when and how he has to pay the loan. I will be in my site to advise him if he needs it, and there is a farmer in our village who is also a mechanic, who can help with the technical details of owning an electric pump (He too owns a pump).
Well, that's basically my approach to this pump project. I
plan to involve the farmer in every step of the process, which
is perhaps one of the most important aspects: the development
of human capital. Helping a farmer understand how to do such a
solicitude capacitates him. Obviously he isn't quite sure how
to go about looking for the financing he needs, that's why he
asked me to help. If he can get the thing figured out in the process,
he might one day be able to help someone else do a similar thing,
or he might find the need to do it again for his own family. A
critic on my approach to the project would be helpful.
Another idea I have for micro-finance is in the area of beekeeping. Farmers have already expressed an interest in the production of honey, perhaps to sell on the market, or perhaps for their own consumption. They'll probably do a little bit of both, although I'm not sure what kind of cash crop honey will be in the area because the market is already somewhat saturated. Bees do provide a number of useful services, from the pollination of crops to the production of energy-rich honey and pollen, which is very high in protein. Wax is another bee product. Apparently it's a Bolivian custom to use pure beeswax candles during Easter, which is another potential market which could be exploited.
A typical bee project in Bolivia involves an organization giving the boxes with the bees to a community, then giving a few technical demonstrations teaching people how to manage them. There is really not that much capacity building involved, and it creates that dependence "hand-out" mentality that I hate so much. I call it the blank check syndrome, and its arguably one of the biggest obstacles to development in the Third World. Furthermore, if a community member wants to increase his number of hives, he either has to ask the organization for more boxes or go buy them on his own. For an amateur beekeeper in the States, $50-$100 is not that expensive, but for a poor campesino that's an awful lot of money.
My approach is similar to what the farmer with the well has done. Why can't people learn how to build their own boxes? It builds skills (which are potentially marketable), and increases the versatility of the beekeeper, giving him more leeway to control how his production system grows without having to spend a lot of money buying boxes. The project also becomes more sustainable by eliminating those people who want something for nothing and then, in the long run, prove unwilling to take care of the bees.
Granted, there are some things that the farmers won't be able to buy themselves. A queen excluder (a piece of wire or screen used to separate the laying queen from the upper box, where the honey is harvested from), is fairly complicated, I think, because the size of the holes has to be pretty precisely measured. Other tools like smoke blower, or a face net, are also difficult to build in the campo. Add these costs with the cost of buying material to build the boxes, and it might put the project out of the reach of some poorer community members. That's where the micro-credit aspect comes in. A micro-lender might be willing to loan a small amount, maybe as low as $50-$100 to get the farmer started. It is possible that getting people involved in every aspect of the project will build local enthusiasm and make the bank more willing to loan the money; a similar situation to the well project, where the farmer put in as much labor and capital as he could. Then, when he exhausted his own resources, he went looking for a small sum to borrow in order to complete the project. Though the market for honey might not be that spectacular, the sum to be borrowed would, theoretically, be rather small. Farmers could earn the loan money back selling honey, or quite possibly by teaching other people the entire beekeeping process, from building a box, to boxing a swarm, to managing a hive, to harvesting and marketing honey.
I'm educating myself on the technical aspects of beekeeping in several ways. Right now I'm reading a great book called The Hive and the Honey Bee, which is an extremely comprehensive set of technical papers on everything from the behavior of the honey bee to the marketing of honey. When I finish that I plan to look for a professional beekeeper (there are several in Mizque), and stay there for a week or two, learning how to harvest, how to identify queens, how to box a swarm, or basically whatever a good seasoned hand and a little bit of hands on work can teach me in a short amount of time. After that I'm going to talk to the village carpenter and ask him if he can help teach how to make a box if I provide him with the wood and the design, and either a little bit of cash to make it worthwhile or the finished box product when we are done. From there I figure it won't be that hard to convince people that it's not all that hard to build your own box. After all, if the gringo can do it (he doesn't even know how to work a team of oxen, can you imagine that?) anybody can do it. Also, there are honey bees in the surrounding hills, in April people go to harvest honey. If we can box our swarms from there, we won't even have to pay for a queen or workers.
I'll have more to say on this project as it develops. I have no illusion about the speed at which things get done here. It may take me another year just to get a box built. I'm not in any hurry. I also plan to write up a similar type budget plan if it turns out that we have to look for micro-credit loans to finance the project. By the time I've gone through the whole process myself, I'll have a better idea of cost, labor inputs, management requirements, etc. I personally find bees and beekeeping to be fascinating, and even though the community has identified it as a desired project in a town meeting, I might not be so enthusiastic if the topic didn't interest me so much.
My last idea involves doing a milk-cow project. A doctor in Aiquile informed me that 1/3 of the children in the surrounding countryside are malnourished. A high carbohydrate diet, that lacks high protein foods, green vegetables, and milk is responsible. The source of malnutrition is rather easy to identify, anyone with a basic knowledge of balanced nutrition could do so. Rectifying the problem, on the other hand, is not nearly so simple.
Yesterday a volunteer told me about the Heifer Project, which involves a well off family in the developed world raising a cow and sending it to the Third World to provide milk to malnourished families. Generally, he informed me, the family will either kill the cow for meat or sell it. Why? Because incorporating a cow into a farm system is complicated, and some families don't have the technical know how, or more likely, the forage resources to do so. If milk-cows are to be incorporated into a farm household, it is possible that many aspects of the farming system will be altered. If the cow puts the farmer to work, rather than the other way around, the cow is likely to be sold or butchered, and the children won't benefit from the consumption of cow's milk.
The dynamics of introducing milk cows into the farm systems in Tipa Tipa has numerous potential benefits, ranging from soil conversation to improved nutrition, from better crop rotation schemes to the sale of cheese on the local market. The key, once again, is working with farmers to see what changes they are willing to make before any purchases or changes are made, then developing a management plan. If the farmer is in agreement with the plan, then a cow can be purchased and the project can begin from there. If not, the only resource that is lost is time in the discussion process.
First of all, by introducing cows into the system we will be able to achieve some of the soil conservation project goals which we are supposed to be working towards. Although some people have livestock in the village, the majority don't, which deprives them of the valuable guano which can be applied to the fields, in pure form in the form of compost. Instead, people are forced to buy chicken or goat manure from distributors in Santa Cruz, which certainly helps to maintain production, but as a result of fluctuating agricultural prices the market price of onions or tomatoes will often only pay for the cost of labor and manure. Certainly one or two milk cows won't produce enough guano for an entire field. But, if the material is composted with weeds that are removed from the field and thrown aside to dry, then this will create a tighter nutrient cycle within the system, and also increase the amount of land that the cow manure will cover. The compost can be used as a mulch or incorporated into the soil as is. I built one compost pile with a farmer who owns a hundred goats, and although the cranky old man complained about the amount of work, we made pretty good use of all the dried weeds he took out of his field to plant onions. Of course people will probably have to keep buying manure from Santa Cruz to maintain production, but composting will increase sustainability, possibly reduce the amount of manure needed, or make available more N for increased crop production.
If cows are to be introduced into the system, people will need more forage. Alfalfa is an excellent forage crop. It fixes N, is drought resistant, provides excellent forage for bees, and can be harvested several times by cutting it at the base, from where it grows back quite prolifically in reasonable growing conditions. By working with Dr. Walter Kaiser I hope to be able to use alfalfa as an alternative to tomatoes and onions, where certain pathogenic fungi have started to build up after years and years of planting the same crops. There are a number of other forage crops that can be used as well, and perhaps a combination of different crops would be better suited that just pure alfalfa. This is something we'll have to determine after further research of bovine nutrition, disease and pest dynamics in Tipa Tipa, and physical constraints regarding certain potential forage crops. Agroforestry tree shrubs and species can also be incorporated into the system to provide additional forage and other services that farmers might find useful. Improved pasture and reclamation forestry is another added dimension of work that we can do in the eroding hills surrounding Tipa Tipa. I'll have more to say about this later.
Finally, of course, there is the obvious benefit provided by the production of milk. Milk can be sold locally, consumed by the household, or processed and made into cheese and then sold. Hunter Smith, a volunteer in Mizque, is working on a cheese project, trying to figure out how to make different kinds of cheese. The information he is gathering could be useful to us if we ever get as far as actually having milk producing cows in the community. Since bulls are plentiful, once people own the cows they can use the traction animals to reproduce their own stock. In terms of people having interest in the project, I didn't just think of it on my own. I've heard people casually mention to me several times that they would like to have a milk cow so their children could have fresh milk.
One of the primary obstacles, after inadequate planning, is having the initial investment to put into a milk cow. This, once again, is where micro-credit comes in. Considering the multi-faceted approach of pest management, soil fertility, improved nutrition, and possible marketability, it seems like a highly fundable project, so long as we can develop a similar project proposal.
I'm starting to take a process-oriented approach to development. I believe that the final product of a project is extremely important, but perhaps more important is the process of development itself, which involves acquiring skills, and actually learning the process of developing a project with minimal outside resources. The Third World lacks well- developed human resources more than it lacks physical material goods. Natural resources exist here in abundance, but the training that people need to extract and make use of those resources within their own socio-economic/ecological context is what is really lacking. Historically, few development projects have taken that into account, and they have failed or achieved ambiguous results either by forcing an inappropriate Western approach (the Green Revolution) or by dumping enormous amounts of money on a project without the necessary human resource development necessary to sustain the project.
Of course, I'm still working on mushroom cultivation. I got all the books you sent me, and Walter and I have been looking at them. Walter says the books are great, the information is invaluable, and he seems a lot more hopeful that we can have success now that we have access to such great technical info. He's got Oyster and Shiitake in pure culture, so I'm going to go out to the campo and read as much as I can about those two species. I'm just going to read as much of the technical stuff as I can, look for suitable substrates and find the other necessary materials. Then, when I come back to Sucre in May, I can get the prepared fungi from Walter, and I can give it a go. I really think, with enough patience and practice that I can get the fungi to grow, but I'm not sure if I can get it to catch on in the campo. There are other complicated questions of whether or not they'll eat the mushrooms, or whether we can find markets to sell them in. First I need to see if I can get it to work technically, and if so I need to see if I can get other people in my site interested and willing to try it. Then I'll go from there. In my next report I'll include a detailed explanation of the technical process that we've developed (if, of course, we can do it), and perhaps some more information on the prospects of involving community members.
Now that I've got a good compost going, I'm going to see if I can start raising worms to really get my garden going. Walter has given me an excellent book, in Spanish, to give me some of the basic technical information that I need. He also knows someone here in Sucre who can supply us with California red worms, the ideal worm to use for humus formation. It's a possibility that if I can get a good worm farm going in my back yard, people might be more interested in composting in their fields. We might be able to raise some worms for people's fields. Who knows?
25 May 2001
I am in Cochabamba now for IST. Its gotten intense since I am taking Quechua classes. Six hours a day, and I am putting my all into it. My teacher says I am right on track to leave Bolivia with fluent Quechua. I am super busy these days, working on getting the water project finished in the school, designing the forage production project, and studying Quechua. Not to worry about having an escape, when I come to the city, even if its to study Quechua or work with Walter in his lab, I have no problem enjoying myself, throwing back some beers, going dancing, and just generally having a great time. I feel really balanced, even though my life has its ups and downs, I'm enjoying every minute of it. A member of the Vigilance Committee, who happens to be my neighbor, has invited me to present the project to the committee. This means the possibility of receiving technical and financial support. The presentation will take place on June 15.
29 June 2001
After five months of looking for this diagnostic that the mayors office has done for the entire region of Mizque, I finally got my hands on it thirty minutes ago. I must say they did a pretty good job on the whole thing, and I think there is a lot of invaluable information in this thing, once I actually get a chance to go through it. But it took alot of asking, looking, pleading, and cajoling to finally find the thing and get it on disk. I'm attaching everything in a Zip file. I find myself in a sort of contradictory existence, hour upon hour of welcome free time (which is broken up by time spent with farmers in their fields), followed by moments of frenzied activity. I have been working on this water project for the school more than anything lately. According to my timetable we were supposed to have water...well, yesterday. So far I'm only a month behind schedule. So my new timetable says 30 days from now. Hmmm...
Mushroom production is coming along, tomorrow I'm going to inoculate.
bought a laptop and it should be coming down in the next month. Since 1/3 of my village has electricity (and I live in that third), its totally possible, and I really realize that Ill be able to do more work in less time at a higher quality. I think it will make my life a lot easier, too, when I go back to Tech. Quechua, by the way, is coming along nicely, I have another week long of classes coming up in mid-July. I think at the one year point in my service I will be able to conduct meetings and such in mostly Quechua, but perhaps some sort of Quechua/Spanish amalgam.
Project planning is starting to become a lot more concrete,
I have become very interested in the idea of forage production,
I have a lot more information...including some soils info, plant
pathology info, climate info, and whatever is in the diagnostic
I am sending. I will be receiving more community information from
another NGO in about a week.
13 July 2001
I really feel like I am in my site now, and I don't feel quite so obligated to spend all of my time there. Everybody knows me, my broken but functional Quechua has helped me earn a lot of trust within the community, and people have become used to me as an everyday fixture in their lives (although some people, especially women and children, will still react strangely to the white guy). In the beginning, I spent about 80 to 90 percent of my time in the campo. This made helped me earn community trust and get really good at Spanish, but I wasn't able to get started on any work. That's for two reasons. One, I didn't know what the hell was going on, especially in the case of farming systems. And two, (as in the case of this well project that I have been working on), a lot of my work seems to require time spent in the city. So now, though I have yet to leave my site for something that isn't work related, I have spent 50% of the past six weeks in the city.
So, what have I been working on? My primary concern, since IST, has been the completion of this well project in the school. As I have mentioned, the previous volunteer got started on this project, got money for it, then ET'd. Unfortunately for the children, the project has been waiting for the next Peace Corps volunteer to come along and finish it. I have encountered so many unexpected obstacles along the way; this project has turned out to be a lot more work than it originally seemed like on paper. In the beginning, I was working with this great engineer who was included on my contact list in my second quarterly report. His name is Humberto Sanchez, an older guy whose help has proved absolutely invaluable in the implementation of this project. So I basically waited five months before I went to Cochabamba and spoke with the engineers in Geobol, the organization that drilled the well. Although I mentioned to the professors several times that we needed to find this organization and get the hydrological study that was performed shortly after the drilling, nobody was willing to get up off their ass and go get it. A pattern that would become very familiar as the project progressed. The fact is, laziness and apathy are some of the biggest obstacles to development in all of Bolivia. So after five months of mentioning, I finally went to Cochabamba for IST, and got the information that we needed in order to select the pump. I found out the well was dug in 1991; after 7 years of neglect, it seems the previous volunteer decided this was the project he wanted to do. I am not sure I would have made the same decision if I was in his shoes. Apparently, the well was dug in an election year. A political party came in, offered the well to the school as a means of buying votes. The election came and went, and if they won or lost it doesn't really matter, because immediately thereafter the project was abandoned.
We prepared a preliminary budget based on some phone calls, and I went back to Tipa Tipa to present the project budget to the school. I thought we were ready to go. I thought I had all my bases covered. I went back to Cochabamba and got a final estimate on the entire installation of the pump. The total came out to around $1,400, everything included. Then I found out I had to wait another ten days for the check to clear. No problem, wait ten days, hang out in the campo, come back and get the thing paid for and installed. Immediately upon my arrival back to my site, a truck driver friend of mine informed me he was going to Cochabamba with a cargo of tomatoes to sell on the market. I needed to deliver a 1000 liter tank to the school. That night I hopped in the back of his open bed camion (the Bolivian equivalent of a semi), and froze my ass off driving at about 3,500 meters (over ten thousand feet), through one of the colder nights of the year. I had blankets, no problem. I loaded the tank onto the truck that afternoon.
Earlier, I had been assured by several groups that the installation of electricity would not be a problem. Again, I solicited the professors to contract the electric company to come and install an electric meter. But if you want something done On my way to Cochabamba for the final payment, passing through Mizque, once again I consulted the electric company. I was informed that a meter wouldn't be sufficient, we would need a transformer. This would require a solicitude and a project. Argghhh! I have this nagging sensation that everybody sort of knew about this a long time ago. So instead of making the final payment, I made a deposit, and went to the electric company to solicit for electricity in the school: "Bueno, lo vamos a hacer." I called back yesterday. Apparently the entire community wants electricity, and they want to do the whole project at once. But someone has to give the mayor's office of Aiquile "a little push", because they have to send the request.
Even though the project isn't done yet, we're close. The electric company is private, and by Bolivian standards fairly efficient. Once they get the request, it will be about a month; and then we can install the pump and have clean water in the school. So in some ways it has been a success, but the whole process has left me with very mixed feelings. I don't mind jumping in the back of camions at midnight or going from place to place looking for information and soliciting projects. And of course I am happy that the kids are finally going to have clean water to drink. That single reality is what has kept me going. But what really bothers me, what saddens me more than anything, is I am the only one willing to do any of this. I have become more and more convinced over the past 3 months or so that poverty is a state of mind. Without vision and motiviation on the part of local communities, I see no solution to the poverty that continues to plague this country.
I have a great book entitled Flora medicinal de Bolivia which I plan to do some work with. There is also a person in my site who has some knowledge on medicinal plants. My sister is sending me a camera. I plan to take some photos of some plants, scan them, and then maybe put together some kind of Powerpoint presentation. Not a thesis topic, just something of interest that I'd like to put together while I'm down here. The information could prove useful in my thesis, as well.
I have also solicited the community nurse to put together information on child nutrition among children between the ages of 0-5. She's been slow to get me the info (surprise), but if I can get my hands on it within a month it could prove useful in demonstrating the need for a latrine project. And perhaps we might see some positive results from some of the work that I want to do with the introduction of different crops.
The final chunk of work that I've been chipping away at for the past 3 or 4 months is the language of Quechua. I had 5 pretty intense days of language class during IST, and I made a lot of progress. Since then I haven't spent enough time in my site to really get good, but my Quechua continues to improve. I have another week of classes coming up the week of July 16th.
I continue to go out to the fields and work with farmers whenever I have the chance. My decision to do so in the beginning was a good one. I understand what and how things are planted and harvested, I can identify diseases by sight, I've gotten fairly handy with a pick and hoe (though I always get outworked by the campesinos), and I can do a decent job at plowing a field by myself now. I have less time to spend in the fields now, but I can always find a few free days to go out and dig potatoes, harvest onions, or spread manure on the fields.
I've also managed to get my hands on a special type of grass that Prolade has been working with (contact info in 2nd Q.R.). The grass is called Phalaris (Phalaris tuberoarundinaceae). It grows quickly and forms an excellent live barrier on steep slopes. I don't know if the average field in Tipa Tipa is steep enough to warrant the use of this grass, I haven't measured any slopes yet. If not, deforested, eroded hillsides are an excellent place to plant Phalaris. Its seeds are sterile, but it reproduces from a rhizome in the root structure, which is actually an advantage because any sample of the plant can be used to produce others. Moises was interested in the grass because it is also an excellent forage, and we are both interested in milk cow and guinea pig management.
The other day I was chatting with my good friend's mother. We were speaking in Quechua about my chickens (I have a small chicken coop in my backyard). She asked me why I was so interested in having chickens, anyway. What I wanted to tell her was the following: "runtusllatapuni munani" Which means, in a somewhat non-literal translation, "I just want them for their eggs." What came out of my mouth was this: "runtuyllatapuni munani". Which means, in a very literal translation, "I just want to fuck all the time." Apparently the word for eggs in Quechua (runtus), is very close to the verb to fuck (runtuy). If you look at the two above sentences in Quechua, you'll see that the difference is really only one letter, but the difference in meaning is, obviously, quite significant. Fortunately, or perhaps rather unfortunately, I knew exactly what I had said as soon as it came out of my mouth (I've learned some very colorful words by having conversations with teenage boys in Quechua). I think we both realized my mistake as soon as it came out of my mouth, but both of us were too embarrassed to say anything. After that the conversation came to an awkward and silent conclusion.
Here's another chicken story that's somewhat entertaining. After building my chicken coop, a friend of mine sold me a fighting cock and hen, so that I could raise fighting roosters. I was kind of keen on the idea. After all, there's something powerfully macho about having a fighting cock. Having a tough rooster made me feel tougher, because if my rooster is tough, well, maybe I'm tough too. So one day I'm working in the fields with the very same guy who sold me my rooster in the first place.
"Let's make our roosters fight after we finish working," he tells me.
"Sounds like a good idea," I say.
"But there's gotta be stakes," he says.
"If my rooster loses, you take it home with you. If your rooster loses, he stays with me."
"I don't really want your rooster, though. What about that hat?" I had taken a fancy to his typical, felt, campesino hat.
"Deal. But I think your rooster is gonna win. My rooster isn't that tough."
Suddenly I feel myself getting real macho. "Of course my rooster is going to win. He's a son of a bitch. He's gonna kick the shit out of that bitch whore you call a rooster."
"Yeah," he agreed. "My rooster isn't all that fast. But we'll see."
So we finished working and went up to the house. We took the two roosters down and put them together. The feathers around their necks fanned out, and they started to peck at each others heads, trying to kick each others eyeballs out. God damn, I thought to myself, my rooster is a son of a bitch. Usually a good cock fight will last about half an hour to 45 minutes before you can really tell who the winner is. I sat down to watch the show. About ten minutes into it my rooster starts running away.
"Grab him!" I said. "Make him fight."
We grabbed him and put him back in the fighting circle, but he started to run away again, with his enemy chasing after him, trying to peck out his tail feathers. He hid under some boards and some old tires. We grabbed him again and tried to make him fight. He started to run.
"You lost," he tells me.
I get real deflated. "That fast! Damn!"
"Are you mad?"
I shake my head. "I'm not all that mad that I lost. I'm more pissed off that my rooster lost like a little whore. You can keep him. I don't want a fighting cock that fights like bitch." I said, triumphantly.
"Look at my rooster!" says my friend. "That bastard still wants to fight." His rooster let out a crow and started to strut around, looking for something else to kick the crap out of. My friend picked up my rooster (which was now his), and started to inspect it. There was blood coming out of the top of his neck. "Look, he got injured. That's why he started running away."
"Hmmm," I said. I traded my hen for the hat that
I liked so much and started to make my way home. Even though everybody
in my village knows what happened to my chickens, people still
ask me about it because they think the story is so funny. I've
decided that raising fighting cocks isn't for me. And just because
my rooster wasn't all that tough, well, so what?
Here's [report] number six; though I don't feel as if much has happened since number five, actually a lot probably has. I guess now its just a matter of things becoming more defined, the work I am involved in has started to become a lot clearer, and so I have been focusing on implementing a few ideas rather than just tossing around a thousand. This marks a year in site, and I am really content here. I love the scenery; I have decided who and what I like and don't like, which makes uncomfortable situations a lot easier to avoid. A neighbor of mine (one of the wealthiest guys in Tipa Tipa) is building a brand new house, which will be the nicest house in the village. He's going to rent his old house out to me (which was formerly the nicest house in the village), so I am going to be moving. Thank God. I hate where I live now. I don't mind the simplicity of having one room, but not having a yard really sucks; and having two rooms, namely a kitchen and a bedroom, is just ideal. I really think I could live the rest of my life in a two room house, just so long as I have a yard. Unlike most things in Bolivia, the construction on this house is really progressing (though they are about 2 months behind schedule, that's pretty damn good for here), and the house should be done in mid-January.
So, all things considered, it looks like a six month extension for me. I mean, what's not to like? I love my work. I have the perfect balance of academic oriented writing and calculating mixed in with the brute labor of the farm fields. The one compliments the other: what I do in the field is related to what I am writing about and vice-versa. I have unlimited sources of intellectual stimulation: languages, culture, agronomy, history its all right here. And I have freedom. I do what I want when I want. I work as hard as I want to, and if I decide to rest, I rest, and there is no ass-hole boss looking over my shoulder telling me what to do.
There's nothing heroic or self-sacrificing about being a Peace Corps volunteer. Yeah we live in poor communities, but we sure live pretty damn comfortably. It isn't that someone who decides to join PC is some amazing altruist, either; it's just that we're smarter than everyone else. After all, we are the ones getting paid by the government to help poor people, and live in some of the coolest places in the world while doing it. Who says JFK wasn't a genius?
So life is good. How about work? Work is good too, everything is coming along really nicely, though it seems that there are always obstacles in my path.
School water project: Well, this was supposed to be finished how many months ago? I think its going on six. But we are closer now then we ever were before. After months of hounding the electric company to do the installation, its finally complete. Here's a typical example of how things get done here. As I mentioned in my last report, it took quite a while to get the community to actually complete the paperwork. What an ugly set of circumstances that was! Once that was done, I had to pester the electric company for four months to get them to come out and finish the project. Interesting since they told me it would be done in two weeks. More interesting that I actually believed them. Well, after three months of hounding they finally showed up and did half of the project. Then they disappeared, leaving the thing half-finished. So once again I started to pester (it was the last weapon left to me), and after another month they finally came and finished another half of the job. Turns out the job is still unfinished according to the plans they originally drew up, but I don't care so much now because now there is electricity in the school, which was my original goal anyway. Just yesterday I made a quick trip to Cochabamba (hopefully my final trip to that place for a while), and paid out for the pump. Minus any unforeseen obstacles (and there are always unforeseen obstacles), this thing should be ready to go by the New Year.
Mushrooms: No, I haven't given up yet. As I was saying in my last report, the best way to go with this is to bring the inoculated grain spawn from a laboratory. And that's just what we did. I got Walter to inoculate three jars of wheat seed, and I then brought that out to the campo with me. I pasteurized several gallons of wheat straw, spread it out on a clean surface, inoculated and mixed, then put the newly inoculated straw in an autoclaved plastic bag. That was about a week ago. The mycelium is colonizing the wheat straw beautifully. There is no infection, and I should be ready for a harvest in about 3 weeks time.
The problem here is sustainability. But I am taking this one step at a time, trying to solve each problem as it comes, rather than just giving up and saying its impossible. Clearly, if we want to develop this further, there are a number of issues to address. First things first. Walter is gone. I just said good-bye to him yesterday. No more expert pathologist/mycologist to give me good clean grain spawn. There is a younger volunteer, Lindsey Yerkes, working on her Masters in plant pathology, and she uses Walter's old lab to do a lot of her work. First step is to spend some time with her in the lab, see if she can help me learn to isolate Oyster mycelium in pure culture, and then we can do some inoculations from there. She is working with a young Bolivian student, Susy something, can't remember her name, that might be interested in continuing some of the work Walter was doing. I hope that Lindsey, using Walter's good name as backup, can help me get in good with the lab director. Maybe they will let me, and perhaps Susy, do inoculations in the lab in Sucre once a month or so. Then I can bring the clean grain spawn out to the campo and do my inoculations from there. My goal is to create a type of lab-campo relationship between the lab in Sucre and Peace Corps volunteers (ideally with a Bolivian lab technician that knows how to do this). Then we can start bringing these mushrooms out to our communities, and we can experiment with them with community members. We'll see how far I get with this approach. If it works, then we can possibly start playing around with different ways to cook the mushrooms, and we can start looking for markets for the product. The ultimate goal would be to eliminate the need for a volunteer as an intermediary. If well developed, all transactions would take place directly between the lab and the campo community/family that wants the inoculum. If beneficiaries paid a small price for the inoculum (which would be based on the cost of production from both ends), sustainability could be achieved. This is the ideal, and it really is a long way off. This is a project that will take many years in the making.
Here's an interesting cultural aspect to mushroom cultivation that I've just been learning about recently. I don't know if this is a weird localism or what, but apparently all the people in and around my village believe that mushrooms are donkey piss. I cooked and ate a puffball in my community a while back, and people were revolted, accusing my friend who brought me the puffball of tricking me into eating donkey urine. Well, these people have never taken a course in biology or mycology (or a course in anything, for that matter), so when they see a mushroom coming out of the moist place where the donkey urinated, well they tend to be overly empirical at times. I have taken great pains to explain to people that mushrooms are not wurro jisp'ay (as they say in Quechua), but they are instead the fruiting body of a soil dwelling organism that decomposes plant material. As you can imagine, I haven't had much success. What I have had success with is showing people the mycelial mass as it colonizes wheat seeds or straw, and telling them that it's the very same thing as a mushroom. As soon as they see mushrooms coming out of my mushroom patch, maybe they will be a little more willing to believe me. I think this is a great example of social customs/mythology adding a new dimension to a development project.
Guinea pig project: This thing is starting to get interesting, and most of my energy these days is invested in trying to make this thing work. We were unable to come across the source of financing that we were looking for, but with the money I got from Tech and my parents, I've really been able to get the ball rolling. A lot of what's going on is described in the Natural Resources Management Project that is included in the zip file. Writing up and implementing what's in that project has started to consume the majority of my mental and physical energy. I am really enjoying the process and the challenge. I sometimes find that lack of deadlines and supervision makes it harder to produce lots of written material, but it also makes my quality of life a whole lot better. Nevertheless, I try to stay disciplined, and I am not dissatisfied with the quantity or quality of the work that I have produced up till now.
I have really started to think about this project in a very integrated way, so for me it's not really a "Guinea pig project", but it's more like a "Farm Systems Management Project", or, as the current title states, "Natural Resource Management Project". My original approach to divide the project up into several sub-projects has provided a useful distinction. In a theoretical sense, the lands in Tipa Tipa can be divided up according to current use and location, which indicates the land's economic value. Any land below the irrigation canal is the most valuable land in the village. This land receives the highest amount of inputs in the form of labor and outside farm inputs, and is relied upon the most to provide money for family needs. For simplicity's sake, I have labeled this category of land as commercial lands.
The second category of lands I have labeled seasonal corn lands. Arable lands above the canal are used primarily for corn, a crop that is usually grown with seasonal rains on marginal lands. This land is relied upon for subsistence purposes, and harkens back to the days before irrigation, when most land was used for the production of corn. Corn is useful in that it provides a number of different products: choclo (the freshly harvested edible ear), maiz (the dried kernels), wiru (the sweet stalk that is sucked on as a snack), and chala (dried stalks that can be stored during the dry season as forage for farm animals). The valleys of Cochabamba have been the corn belt of the central Andes since the rise of the Incan empire. Lands dedicated to corn production are less valuable, experience higher rates of erosion and less soil fertility management. They are degraded and in need of restoration.
Finally, there are the degraded hillsides. Forgotten lands, eroded and deforested by centuries of cultivation, grazing and timber harvesting, in the eyes of community members these lands have little commercial or subsistence value. They do manage to provide a modest amount of pasture and wood products, but productivity continues to decrease as soils erode. People are forced to travel further and further into the hills to gather useful forest products.
This creates a logical division for four distinct projects, each one a sub-project within the entire Natural Resources Management Project. The first project is Proyecto Cuy. Although the project's focus is on the development of guinea pig raising, I am forced to include experimentation and the possibility of other animals in the picture. Not all families are interested in guinea pigs; some are interested in cows, or goats. The idea is to provide a flexible approach to producing forage, which I argue is the most serious limiting factor in livestock production. Many people already have animals. In some cases some families may want to improve the diet of the animals they already have; in other cases it will be necessary to start the family out with a few animals. I need to think of all these possibilities as I am planning this.
My approach revolves around setting up a base within a family (the Jimenez family) in the community as a means of technology diffusion. This family will have to serve as a source of information, possibly seed, and possibly animals-all of which will have to be paid for in some form if the family is going to see a benefit from helping out the community. I am already starting with the process. I have provided the Jimenez family with a substantial quantity of seed, some animals, and laborers for particular jobs. We are going to help his wife learn how to prepare the meat so she can teach other women in the community. He must become familiar with the cultivation of all the forage crops we are experimenting with, especially the successful ones. Then his role will be to help farmers implement the same system on their farms.
I would like to do this with a few exceptional families, choosing one family for each sub-project and having them work with several more families to get them started. I would like, rather than just training one farmer extension worker, to train (or start the process of training) at least three or four. After April, when the results of our work and the number of interested community members will be more clear, I would like to try and form a committee, or a group, or whatever the community wants to call it, within the sindicato. They would be the committee responsible for executing a Natural Resources Management project. Each member of the four man team would have a specialty. Each specialty would relate to one of the specific sub-projects included in the entire NRM project. The four could organize themselves to discuss technique, to organize meetings or instructional demonstrations. The possibilities are limitless.
The four sub-projects are as follows:
1. Project Cuy-the production of forage and the management of animals for edible and marketable animal products. The emphasis will be on the restoration of seasonal corn lands and degraded hillsides, but forage can be produced on commercialized lands when necessary or desirable.
2. Ag. Marketing and Crop Rotation Project-involves the introduction of marketable or potentially marketable crops that require less chemical inputs than onions and tomatoes. Cost-benefit analysis is really key to success here. A lot of potential to work with the mayor's office on this one.
3. Agro-forestry-the introduction of trees into farming systems. The first phase of this project involves the construction of family nurseries; outplanting to take place 6 months or a year later. This, in part, is aimed at a special group of people: owners of hillside lands. But fruit trees will increase the scope of interested people, and are definitely an option that must be included in the project. Maybe in a year to two year's time.
4. Raising Bees, Mushrooms, and Fish-I figure it might be possible to put all these together, but the most important aspect is raising bees. They take up no space, require minimal management, and produce a marketable product. It might not be until another three years down the line that this gets started.
I guess everything down here just becomes this sort of montage blur. I can't separate the poor people from the people who live next door because the people that live next door are the poor people. Development isn't just a concept that can be conveyed through literature or scientific research. This thing is my life right now. My neighbors' children suffer from hunger, some families lose babies as a result of malnutrition and sickness. My best friend is poor and in debt; people are migrating to the cities, to other countries looking for work. I have two young friends (brothers) who are getting into debt because they spend so much money on pesticides and fungicides, and they work so hard and then the price of their products are so low that they don't even have enough to cover the cost of what they wasted so they start to get into debt and then they try to plant onions or tomatoes again, but the same thing happens so they get even deeper into debt.
23 July 2002 - Excerpts from Frank's Quarterly Report.
I finally moved into the house that I wanted to move into for so long. After about a month and a half in the house, the great novelty has worn off a bit, and though I am much happier than I was before, my crumbling campo home doesn't seem like quite the playboy mansion that I once imagined it to be when I was living in a shoe-box sized room. That's due to a number of reasons. One, some of the windows don't have glass, so chickens, cats, and who knows what other animals enter when I am sleeping or not home, eating what they will and generally just having a grand old time trying to test the patience of the gringo. Another reason is that I share a wall with the neighbors. It turns out that adobe walls aren't really all that insulating against sound, so I can hear the babies crying, the children chattering away in Quechua, and the mother as she blows her cooking fire through a metal tube (phhoooo, phhoooo), or as she grinds peppers on a grinding stone (slok slok, slok slok, slok slok). Sometimes she grinds the peppers for maddening intervals of time. But all in all I guess I can't complain, since my old house was not only a kindergarten (with an old auto-rim as a bell, the kids hit it with a rock before and after every recess DONG! DONG!-many many times, they seem to like the ear-splitting sound), it was also a sleeping ground for homeless migrant workers (not to mention their outhouse), and the meetinghouse for the community. It must be said that in comparison with all of the other people who live in my village, I have a pretty good life, but it must also be said that maybe that's not saying all that much.
I have spent the last two months trying to get funding for different projects, and thus far it seems that I have been sucessful. I applied for a $1,000 SPA Grant, which I was given to do a beekeeping project. I just deposited the money in the bank today. The emphasis of the project is in the capacitacion of the project counterpart as a farmer-to-farmer extension worker in apiculture. The farmer I am working with is already a beekeeper. Sometimes he has moments where I am optimistic about his potential, and others not so much. The idea is that he will construct all of the hives, and at the end of the entire deal he will receive a certificate of recognition or whatever saying that he is a certified apiculture extensionist. We'll see how this goes. Now that I have the money in the bank, I feel like I have a lot of leeway in terms of making sure that I feel comfortable whether or not he is really putting forth the effort to train himself and take full advantage of the opportunity. As with all things, I must constantly fight with a backward mentality to get this person to actually do this thing right.
The process of the SPA Grant gave me a lot of insight into how the process of applying for financing actually works, and what a financing agency looks for in a grant proposal. So far, what I've seen, is that few agencies are really interested in a lot of technical detail. Now, from my point of view I think these are some of the most important details a written project can include. If a project isn't technically sound, then we can be sure that it won't work. It seems, however, that most of the people that work in these agencies, especially the people who make the decisions, are not agronomists or foresters (who knows what they are, probably accounting majors or psychology majors). Essentially they are interested in three things. One, how much is it going to cost? Two, what will it do to fill our sheets up with the numbers that our donors demand? Three, What's the work plan? Of course they have fancy project formats that attempt to address all the social and economic issues involved in the problem, but the translation of such complicated realities into a three paragraph format does very little to actually address the issue. Really, to me, none of it matters. I feel if there is any foreigner (or perhaps professional) in the world at this point entitled to an opinion on my community, its me. I wouldn't be applying for funding if I didn't feel like I had some sort of idea as how to make this work. I am learning a hell of a lot in the process, and I make mistakes everyday, but I get better at this as I go along.
So I applied for my funding from a group called Plan International.
I have talked about them in previous Q.R.s. They manage a lot
of money. I applied for a grant for about $8,500, which includes
four sub-projects (the beekeeping included as a PC contribution).
I was informed yesterday that this thing is for sure, and I the
community will be receiving the money in early Sept.
The project really focuses on the development of farmer promoters for each sub-project. I feel that the best way a farmer promoter can be trained is through the hands on experience of actually implementing a project. The four projects are as follows:
1. Crop Rotation and Ag. Marketing
2. Guinea Pigs and Forage Production
So these projects end up coming out a little bit similar to what I was thinking from the beginning, which is kind of funny because as I was working on them I didn't even realize it, until I went back and read my old quarterly reports. Each project has a different level of development, as each promoter has a different level of experience and training in their fields.
I am starting to understand how to make the promoters do what is best for the projects (they can sometimes be stubborn, and as this is a new thing to them, sometimes they are doubtful about the outcome). What I have done is form an Ag. Committee, which is composed of myself and the four farmer promoters. The further we go along the more I realize that this was a good idea, for although nobody really understood what this committee that I was forming was, now they are starting to understand. It turns out that I have actually given myself a formal structure that I can use to make rules with. The first rule that I want to make is that each farmer promoter must attend all educational seminars that relate to his project when the costs are covered by a funding source. One would think that a farmer would jump at the chance to attend an all costs covered educational seminar directly related to the farmer's field of interest. That isn't the case. Jeez, how I have to battle sometimes with these guys to get them to educate themselves! I must say that it gets easier over time as they start to realize how important it is, but this job continues to remain a great test of patience for me.
I'm not sure if I mentioned this in the last report, but this all started when we presented our guinea pig farm (which was built with the money I got from MTU) to the community in a half day presentation. We showed them the forage crops, and the small farm we had built in Moises' house, and then we had a talk on nutrition with a nice balanced meal of guinea pig meat, salad, quinoa, and some other stuff. The thing was a really big success, and for the first time I had many families approaching me asking me what it was they needed to do so they could do a similar project with their families. I finally felt like I was ready to do a project with the community as a whole. It took me so long to get to this point, and at times it had gotten to the point where the community was beginning to have bitter feelings towards me for lack of any concrete results. It was a timely presentation and a very successful one. I cannot emphasize the importance of having something visual to be able to show the community so that they can really believe that the volunteer is capable of helping them do agricultural development. And to do that, the volunteer needs a family or two that is willing to sacrifice their time and resources to do some kind of demonstration parcel.
All of the success I have had up till now is because of Moises and his family. I would not have been able to win over the other families that are included in our current project if it wasn't for them. Change really does come from within. All it took in our case was two young people (one from the U.S. and the other from Bolivia) both willing to learn from one another, both open to new ideas, and both willing to work. From there, it seems, after many hours of sweat and labor and thinking and talking, everything just seemed to fall into place. We continue to talk and work and sweat and think, but the process and the friendship has become natural now, and sometimes I feel that given the chance and the resources, there is no project that Moises and I couldn't do together here in Bolivia. He possesses the most impressive combination of intelligence, creativity and hard-work. I have never known anyone quite like him, and he's dirt poor.
I am also working with a group called Fundacion Valles, which is a multi-million dollar project funded by USAID to do a project in the commercialization of onions. FV steps in during the harvest and post-harvest, teaching farmers how to harvest their onions properly, how to cure them, grade them, and then put them in a standard bag with a nice label to be sent to the market and sold. The onions come out looking beautifully, they can be stored for 2 months (as opposed to 3 days), and they are separated according to size and quality. The technology is simple to implement, and FV has offered me all the educational tools that I need to do this.
Now, as you now, Tipa Tipa is a big onion place, and I have been struggling all this time to get rid of onions, which I have known all along is an impossible task. Well, after seeing the work that FV is doing, I realize that it isn't a reasonable goal (nor necessarily a desirable one) to get rid of onions all together. Rather then get rid of onions, the idea is to reduce the size parcel that the farmer cultivates. In Tipa Tipa, a farmer produces ~15 tons/ha, and it costs him about $1,500 to produce. The farmer is extremely inefficient. The goal is to eliminate this inefficiency, which can be done by
1. Reducing the size of onion parcels-Farmers are unable to control disease or maintain soil fertility cost effectively. The average farmer cultive ~1 ha of onions a year, which, considering the labor/input intensive nature of the crop, is very difficult, thereby making the farmer more inefficient. I propose that with proper management, a farmer can produce the same amount of onions (perhaps more) on ½ ha as he currently produces on 1 ha.
2. Controlling Disease-There are many methods for controlling
disease that are not incorporated. Smaller parcels will make these
measures easier and more practical to implement. The following
things must be done to control disease
a. Making the distance between plants and rows greater to reduce the moisture that forms in plant sets
b. Not watering at night reduces evaporation from the soil during cool mornings, when the extremely damaging Peronospora and Stemphylium are sporulating
c. Fumigating with the correct product, in the correct dosage, at the correct time of day. Different products are better at different stages for different diseases. This must be taken into account and applied if these diseases are to be controlled.
d. The use of certified seed guarantees a clean product, free of disease that will germinate and bulbify uniformly.
e. Crop residues must be burned after each harvest.
f. The reduction of onion parcel sizes allows for the control of soil born diseases like Pink Root or Fusarium with rotation, as the farmer will have irrigated land where onions were not produced the year before.
If these simple measures can be followed, we will reduce incidence of disease, therby increasing yields and efficiency of production.
3. More efficient soil management-Encouraging farmers to take
soil samples to the lab before the cropping season will indicate
exactly how much NPK their soil needs, instead of just buying
whichever fertilizer and applying it in the quantity they think
they need. Green manures become a possibility as farmers will
have more free land during the onion cropping season.
4. Joining the Association formed by FV in the Mizque valley for onion producers-For a farmer to earn money from the market rather than be raped by it he must do several things
a. Calculate the cost of production-Easy to do, but not done. This requires education.
b. Listen to the radio for prices-the farmer can compare his production costs to the prices and decide which price is convenient , along with FVs curing process a farmer can store his onions for up to two months, and sell at the price he wants
c. Implement all of the grading and curing process FV teaches, using the bags provided, the quality of the product increases exponentially using these simple technologies. An onion of export quality is the end result.
Finally, the land freed up by the reduction in the size of onion parcels can be used to diversify production by introducing the technologies that are being put on trial runs in the project that I am currently implementing.
The extra water and land can be used to grow 1/8th of a hectare of alfalfa, which, as always with proper management, is sufficient for maintaining the guinea pig population in the standard reproduction sheds that we are building. Supplemented with a concentrated ration of corn (70%) soy beans (30%) and crushed egg shells, and using improved breeds, the farmer can have a harvestable crop for consumption or sale on the market (at Bs. 20/kilo) every 2 to 3 months. Such a ration can be grown on rain fed hillside lands, which are abundant but infertile. Green manure technologies and terracing (which are somewhat beyond the scope of my current work) could improve soil fertility at low costs.
That leaves the average farmer with a little less than half a hectare to produce other winter hardy vegetable crops during the onion season, such as beets, radishes, cabbage, peas, or carrots (for example), for home consumption and sale on the market.
It should also be noted that very little land is needed to produce tree seedlings. This takes a little bit of practice and special know-how, but that's why I am training a farmer promoter in just this sort of thing. My goal is to set up a parcel where we have fenced off and planted the trees, in a nice diverse system that I won't really bother explaining now. I have that information, but its in my harddrive lost somehwere between North and South America.
Bees of course, enter into the picture. They can be maintained with low cost, they can take advantage of the flowering forage crops, some of the flowering vegetable crops, and even most of the flowering tree crops, if and when the mature. They also produce several different products for sale and home consumption. All of this adds up to higher yields, fewer inputs, higher earnings, better nutrition, and greater overall productivity. Willem Beets would be proud.
On paper this all looks great, but implementing it all is generally less pretty, and oftentimes downright discouraging. If I didn't think this was possible, I wouldn't be doing it, but I am still aware that there are many obstacles in the way, both seen and unseen, and my chances for failure are just as great, if not greater, than my chances for success. My approach has always been and continues to be one of passive action. I do what I can with what I have at the time, hope it sticks, and figure that if one family or one person gets one thing out of all of this, then my work isn't in vain.
Early September 2002
Last week the agricultural committee, as a group, attended four days of courses in the improvement of onion production. I wrote about this in my last Q.R. In July, one of the farmer promoters and I attended a workshop that Fundacion Valles was organizing in Cochabamba. Well the workshop went so well that we decided to go back. Fundacion has a PCV and a contract with PC saying they will fund such educational trips. I took full advantage, and we had four days of good one on one with several different agronomists who are experts in different aspects of onion production. Not only did I learn a lot, I think the farmers learned a lot too. More importantly, it was a nice chance to actually go out as a group and generate some 'team spirit'. It's funny that I should use those words, because in high school I was usually the guy skipping school rallies . But generating team spirit among farmers has a much different feel than cheering for the varsity football team at a homecoming game. It fits my personality a bit more.
Last night, after much concern on my part, I think the community finally came together and decided that they really want to participate in the project. Though I feel that I have done a good job in preparing this project, I was also convinced for several days that it was about to fall apart for lack of community will. I guess what I am learning is that when a lot of groups are involved there are many bases to be covered. In other words, there are a lot of things that a person needs to take into account, and many times these are things we are unable to predict.
For example, at MTU and in Peace Corps training a lot of emphasis is placed on understanding the dynamics of the community. We are reminded to pay close attention to seasonal shifts in labor availability and the times during the year at which the community participates in different social and work related events. We are also encouraged to try and understand the ways in which the village and provincial governments function. These are sound suggestions, and I have tried to keep all of this in mind during the preparation process.
The construction of beehives and guinea pig sheds is occurring during the time of year when most villagers are making adobes and doing other construction work. This is because the onion harvest is mostly finished and there isn't much water at this time of the year. The campesinos take a several month break from agricultural work to do construction work around the farm and household. It also turns out that I presented the project at a fortuitous time, because Plan International approves their yearly budget in the months of July and August.
What I have found difficult to anticipate is how the community was going to react to the prospect of receiving financing. When the moment came for the community members to start digging and making adobes, they balked. I got frustrated, and thought the project was going to fizzle out. They were losing motivation. The amount of work that the project requires caused some to drop out altogether. Others expressed their doubts.
I am starting to think that part of the problem was an uncertainty as to whether they would receive materials or not. My first move to counter this problem was to get a letter from the financing agency that stated that the funds were guaranteed. I then called a meeting, read the letter, and we talked about how the project would work, and people's concerns. In that moment the community demonstrated that not only were some members losing motivation, they were also suspicious as where the money would be going. They further indicated that they didn't like the idea of the agronomy technicians living in the community and doing work in other communities.
Last night we had yet another meeting, but this time the agronomy students were there, the project beneficiaries, myself, and a representative from the financing agency. I think this coming together finally convinced the community that this project is something that they need to take seriously. That doesn't mean that I don't need to keep pushing in the right spots, but I also think that once they decide to do something, then they put their hearts into it. If that is the case, then I believe this project will be successful.
Essentially, I am the technical consultant on the project who is responsible for its execution. It's kind of nice because I get to decide how a good part of the money is to be spent. I mean, I designed the project and wrote the budget. Part of the game is convincing every party that they are receiving some type of benefit from the work that is being done. The NGO gets a project handed to them and free labor in the form of Peace Corps; the community gets a free human resource from PC as well. The agreement, of course, involves that everybody put in their part: I as a technical consultant, the community members in the form of land, water, labor and other local farm resources, and the NGO in the form of money to pay for materials, tools, and other off farm resources. Basically, what I get out of this (besides being able to help the community, which has been a primary goal from the start), is two technicians to help me collect data for my thesis. That was one of the primary things that motivated me to stick around for a bit longer. I feel like I can actually get a substantial amount of good data to make it worth my while.
22 November 2002
So I have been working on the soils map stuff that I was talking about, and things have been coming along nicely. I borrowed a GPS and I should have the tool for another week or two. I will keep taking waypoints, and I now have the software to download them into my computer.
I had a meeting this afternoon with PROMIC (Integrated Watershed Management Program) in Cochabamba. They have the whole works, all the tools and software I could possibly need, plus the personnel to use it. As I was informed, even though they receive no benefit whatsoever from helping me, they are still willing to do it. I love when people tell me that. So I can digitize the soils and coverage maps that I have, and they will even hook me up with ARCVIEW so that I can maybe do some GIS work with all of the data that I am collecting. Not only is this free training and practice, its just downright interesting.
Another great stroke of luck, there's a PCV in Oruro with an MSc in Geology/Remote Sensing. I believe he has the software and access to satellite images. He just wrote me today, says he would love to work with me. Great guy. So everything is coming along.
My onion data is coming along nicely. Everything that has been collected up to now has been entered into the computer. I will reach the 5% confidence interval goal quite easily. As you said, I can calculate my own confidence intervals with the software packages at Tech, so I assume that I am correct in saying that if we cant get a few difficult to find families, then it wont be a problem.
Beekeeping project is coming along nicely, though some families, as usual, are more conscientious in taking care of their hives than others. Tomorrow we buy all the materials to finish the very badly delayed construction of the guinea pig farms. Turns out that most of what I will be measuring is the establishment of the animals, as it can take at least half a year for bees to colonize a hive, and starting with a few guinea pigs in each farm it will take a while to fill the reproduction sheds. Still, there is other referential data that I can use to support my arguments.
All in all, I realize that proposing an "improved system" really has very little meaning in the long term for the farmers of my village. Things change, diseases come and crops must be rotated, markets crash and others grow. An article that you sent me that evaluated 20 years of ag. development in Central America really hit home: it is the spirit of experimentation and the idea of empowerment that really means something to farmers. Though I am leaving an element of that behind me as I slowly, but surely, prepare to leave...well, I guess I will never be guilty of overvaluing my contribution to these people's lives.
The new pump in Tipa Tipa - watering trees in the agroforestry project:
8 January 2003 - Excerpts from Frank's quarterly report.
Well, I've extended, which has been known for a while now, and I remain here in Bolivia, working away. All is well. I am, for the most part, enjoying work, making a lot of progress, and generally feeling that I have actually come a long way since the beginning, especially in terms of personal growth. I have come to the point where I am sort of astounded by all that I have learned in the past two years or so, and how really essential it is to get hands on experience in the messier world of reality. Its amazing how one learns to work around obstacles (which are a constant sort of frustration), but being prepared for them is key, and then it's important to think sharply. I don't get so frustrated as I used to. Sure, we are always facing setbacks, delays, and other generally annoying things, but I guess I have gotten used to that. It's hard for me to imagine what things are like in the States. I have a vague recollection that things are somewhat easier. I certainly used to eat a lot better. I wonder if I am going to be amazed by the efficiency of things when I go home.
It turns out that Plan is bringing in about $500,000 to do agricultural development projects in the valleys of Bolivia. I have become convinced that one of the best ways to do this is through the establishment of farmer field schools. These schools need to be staffed by educated, knowledgeable farmers who have the training and the ability to execute experimental plots and then demonstrate the results to interested community members. This is advantageous in a number of ways. First of all, it allows us to invest resources into intelligent, respected and hard working farmers who have the potential to work in other fields besides subsistence agriculture. The pressure for these farmers to abandon their lands and move to the city is enormous. They are young and innovative, and generally have a better education than the average farmer. These people are, in fact, the hope of the communities where they live. Land pressure is so great, and farming has become so unprofitable, that there is very little incentive for these people to stay in their communities and work. Training them as farmer promoters offers them the hope to put their unique interests and abilities to work for the communities where they live, and the possibility of having extra sources of income means that they will be motivated to stay and dedicate themselves to the work that they love so much. For in reality, they love farming and wouldn't rather be doing anything else, but the poverty which they are forced to endure because of it is often times too much for them to inflict on themselves, and most of all, on their children.
It must also be said that the risk involved in agricultural experimentation is too great for the farmer to bear. This makes experimentation progress at a snail's pace. As onion and tomato farming becomes less profitable, even the best farmers are scared not to plant these cash crops, because they are so unsure of the alternatives that we are proposing that they cannot possibly dedicate their scarce resources to something that, for whatever reason, may result in total failure. This doesn't mean that they don't experiment, it just means that we experiment in such small parcels that the results are minimal. If the good farmers could be provided with a place that is dedicated solely to the search for alternative crops and methods of production, then the results would be more concrete and even failure would be taken in stride. The objective being that a failure under conditions where alternative sources of income exist won't destroy a farmer's life. Better to fail under such conditions and then to demonstrate the results of our failures to other farmers, ensuring that they too won't make the same mistakes.
In the meantime, I have to finish collecting my data, and continue to work on the execution of the agricultural project that we have going on currently in Tipa Tipa. This involves mostly micro-management. Solving conflicts between promoters and beneficiaries, making sure people are doing things correctly, teaching classes on the life cycle of the honey bee and how to plant alfalfa, and the like. It also involved continued capacitation of the farmer promoters, because I really try to invest a lot of resources into these four people, with the hope that they can get something lasting out of the time that I spend with them. We continue to experiment with alternative crops (forage nuts, green manure crops, chickpeas, lentils, etc.), and we have several demonstration parcels that are partially planted at this point.
My time has started to become limited in terms of how much time I am actually out in the farm fields with the promoters, but at this point I can convince them to plant certain things fairly easily. They are smart enough that if I give them some seed, give them the dimensions and some inoculum, they can do it all themselves. If we are doing something totally new, I generally try to be there, or even better put them in contact with someone who has a lot of experience, and let them learn from that person. These farmers are really great. I don't understand why other institutions don't focus more on in depth training of farmer promoters in technologies of the promoter's choice. I think it has something to do with the numbers game. If an institution is only training five farmers instead of 500, well it doesn't look good on paper. The catch is, if the five farmers learn a few technologies really well, then with the proper resources they have the potential to reach thousands. Certainly much more than I, as a foreigner with only moderate skills in Quechua, will ever have.
Yesterday I took my standardized language tests, and tested out at the highest level in Spanish and as advanced in Quechua. This is a rare occurrence on both accounts, and I felt good about my linguistic achievements. I'm hoping both languages will serve me in the next few years working on agroforestry projects and extension work in the Amazon basin. We'll see.
Leaving my community, I didn't feel overly philosophical or overwhelmed emotionally. I guess I was ready to go. The people who said goodbye to me did shed some tears, but my despedida (going away party) was small and humble, which is really what I wanted. Everybody, not just in Tipa Tipa but in Mizque and Aiquile, knew I was leaving, so I guess it didn't all come as a great shock.
Anyway, I am going back right before I fly out, mostly to make sure that things are going smoothly with my replacement, Joe Lowe. As I've said to other volunteers, its his gig now. He seems motivated, and I was excited for him when I realized that he has to start everything over again. Though the environment had become stale for me, I haven't forgotten how stimulating and exciting it was during most of my Peace Corps service. Peace Corps has been the best experience of my life. But its time to move on to other things.
My greatest achievement as a PCV (yes, this is straight from
COS conference), was my ability to broaden the perspectives and
abilities of the farmer promoters that I put so much work and
heart into training. They are amazing workers, intelligent, innovative
and open to new ideas. Our main obstacle was their primal needs:
putting food on the table, scraping a living to buy shoes and
books for their children, paying off debts that continue to accrue
interest, etc. This saddened me very much. I truly believe that
for a farmer promoter to be really dedicated and successful, there
has to be some monetary payment for his services. If I ever do
such work again, I will make sure that this is so. I have said
from the beginning that if I was able to help one family, then
my service was a success.
There are many good web pages about Bolivia. Here are just a few:
The US State Dept page on Bolivia.
The Instituto Nacional de Estadistica.
*Andean Culture, which includes Bolivia.
*Frank's web page on Soil Erosion in Bolivia.
A few books on Bolivia recommended by Frank:
Bodley, J.H. 2000. Cultural Anthropology: Tribes, States and the Global System, Mayfield Publishing Company. 490 pp. This is a standard textbook on cultural anthropology, but it has a good chapter on Andean/Incan civilization and the glossary can be useful for interpreting anthropological jargon.
Godoy, R.A. 1990. Mining and Agriculture in Highland Bolivia, The University of Arizona Press. 169 pp. An ethnography that deals more with mining than agriculture, focusing on the Jukumani tribe of the altiplano. A number of theoretical models are presented here to explain the allocation of risk by peasants in mining operations. Also some great information on the cultural and ecological consequences of deforestation in highland Bolivia.
Klein, H.S. 1992. Bolivia: The Evolution of a Multi-Ethnic Society, Oxford University Press. 343 pp. This is the most comprehensive survey of Bolivian history that I have found. Political and economic trends are the focus throughout, with careful attention paid to important details. This also has a great bibliographical essay at the end. Certainly an invaluable resource.
Knudson, J.W. 1986. Bolivia Press and Revolution 1932-1964, University Press of America Inc. 488 pp. This is an excellent survey of the role of the press during the period of revolution in Bolivia. Detailed and comprehensive.
Lagos, M.L. 1994. Autonomy and Power: The Dynamics of Class
and Culture in Rural Bolivia, University of Pennsylvania Press.
206 pp. An ethnography written about the Cochabamba area that
relates the social and economic tensions between maintaining autonomy
and engaging in local and global commerce. Not very readable,
but loaded with useful ethnographic information.
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