Archives for August 2015

Day 70 – Returning Home – Reflections…

Day 70 – Returning Home – Reflections…

It is 6:57am, August 26, 2015. In 48 hours we will be heading home. Still meeting with counterparts, presenting findings, making new contacts, it’s a scramble more than a reflection. Then dealing with a technology slow down; no laptop, no wifi, limited Internet, it becomes a moment of isolation too, suspended between two worlds, the up close and personal everyday interactions here, hugs, shared transportation, face to face meetings, hours of down time, planned schedules that take on an unplanned life of their own and work out in their own way, completely unplugged versus the jazzy, slick, fast paced, immediacy of my USA world.

I think to the immediately busy world I will be returning to; kids start school in 2 days, a joint paper to be written and presented in DC in 2 weeks, explaining the human development side of the quinoa story, and the HR Departments I need to visit for my adjunct contracts, U Mass fora special issues in economics senior seminar, Mount Holyoke College (MHC) where I am teaching and developing social business programs, and the School for International Training (SIT) needs my syllabus for the Service Learning and Management marketing course I will be teaching.

My nine UMass students will be learning how to do an in depth analysis of Bolivia quinoa as a case study and then doing their own analysis of an industry or phenomenon that interests them. Maybe we will collaborate on an economic paper about Bolivian quinoa, they are senior economic majors, it will be a good item for their portfolio/resume to have co-authored a paper.

I am looking for Fair Trade, organic quinoa products made in Bolivia and being sold in the U.S. For my MHC students to do a market study and feasibility analysis on how to access US markets with quinoa products. this ties in with the recommendations from my report that calls for a diversification of Bolivian quinoa markets, with emphasis being put on product transformation for both export and local market development. I still am seeking out counterparts and products in this, part of the last minute scramble.

For my SIT graduate students, we will be learning social marketing through a partnership with the Brattleboro Winter Farmers Market. This ties in with my work in Social Solidarity Economy (SSE) which is so new in the U.S. But common here in Bolivia, though in the U.S. There are pockets of folks in places such as Brattleboro, VT, Keene, NH, Amherst, MA and many places in between where SSE is functioning and thriving in much more creative ways than in Bolivia.

Part of my “next steps” will be unifying the two worlds a bit more. Bringing more of the Bolivian participatory governance, the system of Dirigentes Orginarios, Mallkus and Markas to my small town of Brattleboro and more of the ideas of Time Banks, Community Sponsored Agriculture (CSA), partnerships with university students, and social business development to Bolivia.

And another part is to take time off for nothing. Not to be working day and night like a “loco” and keep, make time for and value a network of interested folks, neighbors and collaborators, both locally and online to contribute to, facilitate and support exchanges. To paint, run, enjoy my family and community. To have a balance, relax, and know that all is functioning just as it should. In Bolivia it is so easy for me to wait an hour or so for a late counterpart, meeting, transportation though in the U.S. A 15 minute wait is excruciating, as I think of everything else I could be doing in that time instead.

I will focus on not thinking so much of the doing, but of the being, reflecting in my day, contacts, valuing others around me more and appreciating who they are instead of just what they are doing. In the U.S. I have a hard time remembering names and tend to have more superficial relationships with many people, while in Bolivia I feel I know and remember the people interact with much more. Things have to be slow and personal in Bolivia, otherwise people will not work with you. There has to be a personal exchange before work is discussed; a conversation about local events, family and a feeling of knowing who each other is. Talk is slow and calm. Key phases are repeated often. Explanations are clear and logical, there is no assumed knowledge. When new ideas are presented the presenter will ask “por que?” (Why) and reply with “porque” (because) and the explain the concept. This captures people’s attention and is a key phase indicating that something important is being presented. I will use this in my US teaching.

I have conducted workshops with Catholic University (UCB) students and practitioners in La Paz, high school seniors in Quillacas and Anzaldo, agronomy students and ago-engineer doctoral students at San Simon University (UMSS) in Cochabamba. There are many small lessons learned her. I notice how different my lessons are when spoken in Spanish as opposed to English. Spanish is more expressive and indirect, I speak it more slowly and clearly, repeating key information more and putting more vocal emphasis on key terms. I used to do this more in the U.S. When working with international students and corporate employees (as a corporate trainer) but then sped things up over time, assuming students were already familiar with the materials I was so familiar with. Though sometimes they are not. I will remember to slow down and be more clear again.

So this moment of reflection is coming to a close as time passes and I need to get the children and myself relay to travel from Oruro, where we arrived yesterday from Cochabamba, to La Paz in preparation for the final part of our trip…back to the U.S.!

 

Day 69 – Quillacas – circles analysis

Day 69 – Quillacas – circles analysis

The church and the mountain the Guacho climbed in Quillacas.

The church and the mountain the Guacho climbed in Quillacas.

Located near the northern edge of the Quinoa Real heartland, Quillacas is a small volcanic town located amongst a vast expanse of flatlands. Known for its church, the site of a colonial era miracle, Salinas is home to ____ people. Economically people are farmers and merchants, being located alongside the main highway to the Salar (salt flats) and close to the “Quinoa Wall Street” of Challapata, where quinoa prices are determined daily. Woman operate small neighborhood stores and food stands alongside the main highway selling dishes such as chairo, a regional soup made of barley and chunos (dried potatoes) with llama meat, and chicharron de llama (fried llama). Though llama is featured prominently in dishes quinoa is not. The women say the quinoa is too expensive and they prefer to use it occasionally in their dishes, not daily.

The Circles of Sustainability study was conducted in Quillacas from July 24th to 28th, 2015. The town was a regional education center and housed an internado for the students living further away to stay at. I worked with the graduating seniors, a class of nine students. Of this class, three lived in the internado (school housing). This study was conducted during the weekday so the students from the internado worked with people in the town (they return home to their rural communities on weekends). This resulted in the sampling being largely of the people living in Quillacas proper, not the outlying communities. I trained the students how to conduct the surveys and had each student complete at least six  surveys, though some opted to complete more and two students left their surveys home and were unable get them to me before I left Bolivia. I conducted three surveys myself. In total the Quillacas sample size was 49. Though Quillacas is certainly an important quinoa growing region producing ____ tons of quinoa valued at $____ in ____, it was interesting to note that only __% of the people surveyed were associated with a quinoa producing/export group. I thought this could have been because sample was largely town based and the producers may have been living more in their rural communities, though I was told that in general few people from the Quillacas region belonged to producer groups. One of the few groups in the region, APROCAY,is made up of 52-families and works with Andean Family Farmers.

Results

Economically it seemed the people studied in Quillacas were the most negatively effected by the quinoa market crash than the other committees studied. The people ranked Quillacas as “bad” in their economic well-being, market access, access to consumer goods, and the local and export economy. There was a satisfactory ranking in the area of economic opportunities indicating that though times were hard now, the people believed things could improve. This was interesting because there had been several economic development projects funded by the Federal Government over recent years, with none every being used. A new market area had been constructed alongside the road with a parking area, bathrooms and ample market stalls but never used because the people could not agree on which stall each person would use. There was also tourism infrastructure built a few years ago including a roadside tourism center and a tourism outlook nearby. Neither were used because of a lack of leadership. No one could decide on how to use these structures. There were also new houses that had been built in a public housing project which remained empty because people could not decide on a fair way to organize their use.   There was also an unused, commercial grade, quinoa processing plant which was built five years ago. it seems this lack of leadership and ability to work together is having a strong negative impact on the people of Quillacas’ well-being. Perhaps too, Quillacas’ extreme negativity was due to their proximity to Challapata 20 miles away which put them in closer contact with the dropping prices, which they learned of daily, or perhaps it was due to the lack of support the members received, due to their low participation in producer groups. A broader study which includes more of the rural communities and a deeper look at leadership is recommended.

The natural environment was also ranked low in Salinas, perhaps reflecting the challenges of climate change and recently yields which were lower than other years. People reported being satisfied with the wildlife, though the overall environment, climate change, drinking water and energy (electricity and cooking gas) access, a clean environment and recreational spaces were all reported as being “bad.” The negative opinion of recreational spaces is interesting to note since there was a large plaza in the town which was rarely used as well as a new astro-turf soccer facility being built with funding provided by the national government.

Like other towns in the Southern Altiplano, the cultural environment of Quillacas was more robust. People felt in general the community valued their culture, traditional dress, religion, and indigenous wisdom well enough. They were particularly pleased with their community festivals, family celebrations and language use with ___% people speaking Aymara and (insert language breakdown data).
On the average, people reported the social environment in Quillacas as bad. There were poor health services, education, decision making and trust. People often opted to travel to the city of Oruro, two hours away, to have their babies with some giving birth on the roadside not making it to the city hospital in time. In addition, the newly elected mayor, a woman,  was not well viewed by the town. She was from a rural community and seemed to be favoring her community with her staff selection. She was not often in he office and provided little communication or transportation to the town. There was not known about the projects or opportunities she would be working on. Though I met her briefly, she was traveling elsewhere and could not be interviewed during this study.

Conclusion

Quillacas was a surprise in that it had such varied economic opportunities but seemed to be making little use of them. The women I interviewed spoke of the lost opportunities with a wistful air and were hopeful for new ones to come their way. They voiced hope that they would be more successful with future opportunities though seemed unable to step forward in resolving their past development challenges. Many of the all male, Native Governors were present throughout the Quillacas study though they did not seem closely aligned with the town needs They readily participated in the Circles Study and helped to quickly organize a women’s meeting for later that evening, however the meeting took place the same time as parent-teacher conferences at the school, resulting in many mothers not being able to make the women’s meeting. In addition, in the meeting they challenged the women when the women began to speak about their extra roles as housekeepers and child care takers. The male governors also asked for more machinery to help with their quinoa harvest but did not seem particularly interested in the other areas of development or well being.

The leadership and gender challenges that Quillacas faces, in leu of many opportunities, are interesting to examine in future studies. In addition, including Uyuni and the Potosi region in future studies (which was prevented this time by political upheavals and blockades) will provide a larger data base and help to better define the “norm” in women’s well being in Bolivia’s principle quinoa growing region. Is the positive cohesiveness of Salinas or the start lack of cooperation of Quillacas more the norm, is it something in-between or perhaps something else completely different. The next study in December 2016 – February 2017 will be looking at these differences more deeply and also examining how people’s perception of their well-being changes over time.

Day 68 – Anzaldo – circles analysis

Day 68 – Anzaldo – circles analysis

Students parade a model airplain in Bolivia's colors in celevration of the country of Bolivia's  birthday, August 6th.

Students parade a model airplain in Bolivia’s colors in celevration of the country of Bolivia’s birthday, August 6th.

Anzaldo, a small high valley town has a small economy of local production of foods for family consumption. Production includes fava beans, corn, potatoes, wheat, quinoa, chickens and sheep. In addition there are some fruit trees in the region producing peaches and apples. Spanning a region covering ___ (size) and ranging in altitude from ___ to ___, Anzaldo has a population of _____ and is known for its regional hospital and education center which includes an internando (boarding school) with 200 students. In total 770 students are enrolled in the school system, with 77 graduating this year. Migration as well as drought are two challenges this colonial town is facing. Many families now live in the city of Cochabamba an hour-and-a-half away, or have migrated to Argentina, Chile or Spain in search of work. They maintain houses in the town of Anzaldos and the countryside, returning for holiday festivals and to farm the land. It is estimated that 40% of Anzaldo’s population live in this migratory way. Over the years, average rainfall has dropped 20% in particular affecting quinoa production. Quinoa in Anzaldo is intercropped with potatoes and corn to help protect the more delicate plants from frost and insects. It is usually produced for personal consumption with surpluses sold in local markets. Traditionally, farmers in Anzaldo, like many of the high valley towns maintained several varieties of quinoa which they planted in different places according to rainfall, elevation, and exposure to cold. However, due to migration and the drought, many farmers are no longer planting quinoa and this knowledge is getting lost. The Agronomy Department of the local state university of San Simon is maintaining a seed bank and developing a technical training program to help to strengthen Anzaldo’s local quinoa production
The Circles of Sustainability study was conducted in Anzaldo from August 4th to 9th, 2015. In a one hour interactive, demonstration, I trained a total of 77 students in two separate graduating classes (approximately 38 students per class) to conduct the survey with family and community members. Each student was given two surveys to complete over the weekend when many would be returning to their home communities. They were asked to pay attention to the gender and age diversity of their samples making sure to survey a male and female member and to include an age difference. In exchange for their participation in surveying, the students would receive a donation of 300Bs to their end of the year class trip. The students were familiar with surveys having completed an environmental survey study the year prior. In total 110 surveys were completed in Anzaldo representing a 71% rate of return.
Circles Survey
The Circles studies create a visual story of how people are perceiving their wellbeing in a particular moment of time. The data is based on a scale of 1 for very bad and and 5 for excellent. People are asked to provide basic demographic information such as age, education, family size, use of loans, property ownership, and political participation. Then they respond to 33 opinion questions in the Circles’ four study areas: culture, social, economic, environment. The questions are similar to those used in Circles studies worldwide but are modified to best reflect the realities of rural Bolivia. For example, in other Circles models the section “social” is called “political” but due to cultural sensitivities in Bolivia about engagement is politics which is often assumed to be activism, I re-named the section “social” since the data is really directed more towards a social assessment of one’s well-being rather than a political statement. In addition, Circle’s surveys have a seven point range of opinion, however this would have been too complicated for the rural Bolivian farmers who were not used to this type of assessment so I modified the range to be just five points However, for assessment and comparison purposes, we wanted to maintain the seven-point range so a schematic was created to expand the five ranges into seven.
The Circles survey was used in three different quinoa growing regions: Anzaldo, Quillacas and Salinas. Though there was little variance between gender, age and education, there was statistically significant variation between places.
Results
There were some inconsistencies in the way the surveys were competed. In the Economy section, there were seven questions which applied to specific industries; mining, herding, tourism, handicrafts, non-quinoa farming, quinoa farming and business. Very few, if any of the people in Salinas work in mining, though several surveys had data indicating that perhaps they did. This will need further follow up for clarification. In addition it was unclear which community, if any, the people surveyed were from and if they house they had was in the town, community or both. Lastly many people indicated that they only spoke Quechua, even though the survey was being presented in Spanish. I suspect that there was a misunderstanding in this question with most of the people using the term Castellano to refer to the Spanish language so either the term Spanish was not properly recognized, there was an assumption that Spanish meant “no quechua” or in fact there are quite a few mono-lingual people in Anzaldo who only speak Quechua. Historically this would be found more amongst the women who had little formal education (which is conducted in Spanish). In the surveys both men and women with a formal education indicated they only spoke Quechua. Existing regional data can verify the language used in this region. For the Circles analysis, the information about the specific industry was dropped since no one place in the study had all of these industries and response rates were low. However this data per industry is useful in other studies and analysis. It will be safe to assume that at least half of the people surveyed lived in the local communities (as opposed to the town). Further studies of the communities themselves will be completed in the December – February 2016-2017.
From a brief, visual overview, the overall economic well-being of Anzaldo is satisfactory, falling in the midrange value of three. People are reporting to have satisfactory levels of economic well being, market access for their products, access to consumer goods, and adequate production for regional/national consumption. However the community showed a stronger dissatisfaction (bad) in their production of goods for export (which they do no have any) and economic opportunities to improve one’s economic livelihood. This negative opinion of opportunity is also reflected in the migration rates, where people are tending to move elsewhere for work and opportunities.
The environment also has an overall mid-range onion of being satisfactory. Participants are generally satisfied with their access to drinking water, the state of the local wild-life (rabbits, foxes, birds), community access to energy such as electricity and cooking gas, and recreational spaces. However there is a degree of dissatisfaction with the natural environment in general as well as the presence of environmental contaminate, mostly discarded garbage in the form of plastic bags and discarded containers. Climate change and drought no doubt at behind the negative perception of the natural environment, the weather is less predictable and frosts and hail come at different times than before, damaging crops. In addition, with the improvement of roads and electricity over the last 10 years, more consumer goods are coming to small towns. The increasingly sophisticated packaging such as plastic bags, bottles and laminated containers, especially with refrigerated goods, is causing much environmental contamination. Many municipalities do not have a regular garbage collection service or plan. So often garbage is discarded in the streets or burned.
Culturally, people in Anzaldo are generally satisfied. They feel their culture is adequately valued as is their dress, religion, festivals, family traditions and indigenous knowledge. There is a large presence of the Catholic Church in this town with a church run boarding school and priests from Spain and Venezuela. Often Spanish volunteers come to perform work with for the church in the areas of education and community development. Sunday Church services include songs in Quechua and broadcasts in the main plaza. In addition, there are financial investments which the church makes in the area of education and youth development. The local school has a large supply of sports equipment and the town soccer team is known for its skill and being well prepared.
Socially the town is suffering. Though people have a satisfactory view of education, they feel that the overall political environment in Bolivia is poor, as is the community access to healthcare (even though there are two regional hospitals in the community), the overall physical health of the community, and the ability of community members to make decisions together and to trust each other. There was a recent election and the new mayor had been in office for just a month at the time of the study, so uncertainty in how the mayor will be managing the town might have influenced peoples views. In addition,the mayor mentioned to me that though they have the hospitals, there are not many doctors since city doctors do not want to work in such a rural location and there are not many rural doctors. Overall, more research needs to be done to better understand the poor social climate found in Anzaldo.
Conclusion
In conclusion, the town of Anzaldo is more or less a contented community of small farmers. In comparison to the large quinoa export regions, they are much more satisfied with their steady, local economy and well-being than those who have more earnings, but a less stable economic environment. Culturally they rank lower than their counterparts in the quinoa export regions. Perhaps this is because in the quinoa regions indigenous leadership and pride is much stronger with elected Native Leaders taking active roles in community development. With new agricultural development focus from UMSS and also existing programs from the development organization Pro-INPA, which has an office in Anzaldo, new opportunities can be created. Women also expressed interest in developing stronger local markets and local food processing. This can lead to the creation of a more robust and diverse local economy as well.

Day 67 – Salinas Garci de Mendoza – circles analysis

Day 67 – Salinas Garci de Mendoza – circles analysis

Children line up in Salnas’s main plaza for the annual “Little Salts” celebration.

The self-declared capital of the prized Quinoa Real, Salinas, a town of ____ (population) sits on the northwestern edge of the vast Uyuni salt flats. Here ____ hectares of quinoa is cultivated yielding quantities of ___ valued at _____ (2014). Once a remote outpost at the edge of the Oruro Department, Salinas is now connected to the world markets via a recently paved highway. It has electricity, a hospital, a small military base, cell phone and internet service. It is also Bolivia’s first quinoa exporter having sent a container of quinoa to Peru in 1984 and is home to the Fair Trade association APQUISA and the privately owned QUIMBOLSUR, two large quinoa exporting organizations.

The Circles of Sustainability study was conducted in Salinas from July 15th to 21st, 2015. It was winter vacation for the schoolchildren so I was unable to solicit student help for the study. However it was also the village celebration of the Salititas (little salts) and hundreds of families came in from the countryside and cities to march, dance and celebrate the children and folkloric history of the town. I surveyed 31 people myself and APQUISA adminisrator Omar Nina and his sister, Melva Nina surveyed 40 more people in total giving us a sample size of 71. Omar and Melva were trained in how to conduct the survey with family and community members and earned 5Bs for each properly completed survey (a total of 200Bs). Most  (__%) of the surveys were completed by community members who were also associated with a quinoa producing/export group giving Salinas the largest percentage of community members associated with an organization.

Results

Overall the participants of Salinas reported a robust cultural well-being with a deteriorated social, economic and environmental well being. More specifically in the area of economics people reported being satisfied with their local quinoa production and consumption however their export production, market access, financial well-being and overall economic opportunities were poor. This was due to an unexpected plummeting of quinoa market prices, which had been increasing by __% annually for the past five years. A year ago quinoa prices were at 1,800Bs a quintal. During the week of the study they dropped from 800 to 600 to 500Bs. This was due to the introduction of high yield, dual harvest, conventional quinoa production from Peru which flooded the market causing prices to plummet and put Peru ahead of Bolivia as the number one quinoa producer worldwide. The prices continued to drop to 250Bs at the time of this being written, a month later. Though production costs and yields can vary, a certified organic quinoa farmer needs to sell his product for at least 600Bs a quintal to cover his costs and 800Bs a quintal to have adequate earnings. The world Fair Trade price for quinoa has be set at 920 a quintal, a dignified price for the quinoa farmers, though only a very small percentage of all quinoa is sold at Fair Trade prices. The organically certified quinoa has held its value maintaining itself at 600-650Bs a quintal.

Environmentally people were effected by climate change reporting overall poor to satisfactory environmental conditions. The general state of the natural environment, the climate and access to drinking water, energy, electricity and cooking gas were all looked at as poor. There were still a few communities who did not have electricity, drinking water was often not available especially in the town, and gas tank deliveries were made weekly to the town, causing people to have to conserve their gas use for cooking so as not to run out and to also have to carry the heavy tanks to and from their rural communities. Though people complained of birds, rabbits and moles eating their quinoa production, they did report satisfactory levels of wildlife in the area.

Participants reported Salinas’ culture to be from good to excellent. The overall culture was well valued as was traditional dress, language (most people spoke Spanish and Aymara and a few were tri-lingual, also speaking Quechua), religion, family and community celebrations. People reported an excellent transference of indigenous knowledge and proudly shared ancestral wisdom in relation to quinoa planting. Previous studies of this ancestral knowledge which uses the stars, animal behaviors, birds, wind and plants as indicators of frost, yields, good planting times and harvests have shown them to be effective in predicting climatic conditions in relation to quinoa cultivation. In addition, there is a strong indigenous leadership in the region for which people showed much cultural respect and pride.

Salinas’ social well being shows the most variation in this study. Decision making and trust is satisfactory most likely due to the large number of participants involved with producer organizations which tend to take on a social role and are strong leaders and organizers in the community. However their health and education are poor. Rural community members reported having their local schools shut down and children having to attend school in the town which was not very accessible. Others reported elementary school leachers not being well prepared, falling asleep during videos they showed the children, and not being engaged or committed to educating the children. Many people complained about there not being doctors or medical specialists in the area and that the health care the received was of poor quality. Others reported traveling to the city of Oruro, three hours away, for better medical attention. The overall political environment of the country was listed as being very poor. This could be from the lack of support the people were feeling from the government for the economic crisis of the quinoa. It could also be due to the lack of further development the town received in areas of drinking water, health services and education. Or it could be due to a growing mistrust of the current government, which has been limiting people’s access to free speech, controlling he press and engaging in activities such as gas exploration in protected forests, previously prohibited by the current constitution.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Salinas, is a town with a robust culture and strong sense of community that is struggling under the current financial crisis for quinoa and is still at the intersection of development, needing better support for key structures such as education and health care. Something not captured in the study which I would recommend be looked at in future studies, is migration. It is estimated that 70% to 75% of the people of Salinas do not live there full time. They have houses in the town and rural areas which they visit during village festivals and quinoa planting and harvest. Otherwise, community members are living in cities such as Oruro or La Paz or in other countries such as Argentine, Chile and Spain. The members living in other countries call on their cell phones to direct how much acreage needs to be planted while the urban residents travel to the region in their newly purchased cars and trucks, forming traffic jams in the countryside as families arrive and drive to their scattered plots to plant their quinoa. Not so long ago, they would have spent days walking to get this work done. Families also take turns staying in the countryside watching over the quinoa production. It is reported that when not growing quinoa, many migrants, especially the urban ones, do not work, preferring to simply live off their quinoa earnings.   Another aspect of the migration is the large number of urban migrants who rarely visited Salinas in the past but now returned to the Salinas region regularly to grow quinoa.

The days move on…

The days move on…

Though I originally intended to do a post a day, and often did, the web service was so poor or non-existent that it became impossible to maintain that intention online.  When I did find sufficient band width and a functioning computer, I often combined several days of writing into a single post.  So now at the end of our journey, we are not at the end of he days listed.

In reality, it is now the final week of my work in Bolivia this time.  All sites have been visited, surveys done, workshops completed, interviews conducted, observations recorded and analysis made. The work has been presented in La Paz, Cochabamba, Anzaldo to university students at Catholic University and Sam Simone University, counterparts have reviewed the results including our friends in Australia at the United Nations Circles Program.

I will now accelerate the posting dates to the place where we actually are in the calendar. Enjoy sharing in my final days!

Day 46 – Circles of Sustainability Results

Day 46 – Circles of Sustainability Results

My computer completely died and my charger got lost.  So now it´s a tablet and internet cafes until next week when we come back to the US… Communication will be sparse but lots of work is getting done here in Bolivia.  Final presentations, meetings, strategizing and new projects… It will all be coming here soon!

Here´s a brief overview of the Circles of sustainability study results, sans the final image which is having formatting issues with the old PCs here.  More explanation coming next week…

Social – (orange) In Bolivia there is a growing amount of distrust and disappointment in the national government, specifically the leadership of President, Evo Morales. Though his government improved life in the countryside bringing water, electricity, education, roads and healthcare facilities to some of Bolivia’s poorest people, his current policies favoring large development over the environment and are inhibiting the freedom of expression. Part of this study was cancelled due to political upheavals aimed at the Morales government which prevented my counterparts from working with me in the Uyuni-Potosi region of quinoa production. The other aspects of social included the community’s ability to work together and trust each other. These areas were low due to habit of mistrust which has roots in the colonial area when people’s original customs, governance and culture were banned what ensued was a period of repression which though many advances have been made to honor and reinstate the indigenous traditions, is still not fully healed. In addition, areas of health and education are still developing and can use improvement in areas of access and quality. (Note: in subsequent analysis by our Circles Team in Australia, the orange coloring was replaced by yellow.  Further analysis of this sector will ensue in an academic paper and book coming out soon.)

Environment – (yellow) In general there was a positive feel for the natural environment largely due to the benefits of the organic production. More attention was placed on composting, recycling and keeping the soil and homes clean. However climate change was problematic for people as was consistent access to basic resources such as gas (for cooking), electricity and drinking water. (green) The wildlife was particularly interesting, because though many people commented on its negative aspect with birds and rabbits eating their quinoa, they ranked it as positive because wildlife was intact and present.

Economy – (yellow). Here there is little variation. People are feeling weak though not hopeless due to the fluctuating quinoa prices resulting in the unexpected 60% drop in value from the previous year. This effects all economic activities as the quinoa earnings slow down, so does local spending in other areas. In addition, the climate has made quinoa yields hard to predict, resulting in people being worried both about the low price for the quinoa and this year’s low yields as well. Currently people are looking at their 2014-2015 harvest as a financial loss. However, people are used to fluctuations and are not giving up (which will put the category into the orange or red zone), though they are worried.

Culture – (green) In general the indigenous culture, practiced in the countryside is robust and well respected. There is much value and pride in indigenous customs, language, dress and expression amongst all populations in relation to place, age, gender and level of education. In addition, there were many village celebrations taking place during this study which could have influenced people’s strongly positive feelings of their culture. Areas of particular strengths included cultural value in general, language, festivals, and the sharing of indigenous knowledge.

Day 45 – Back in the snow again!

Day 45 – Back in the snow again!

Leaving the tropics for Oruro and La Paz again… fresh snow.  Bundled up again. Winter coat on.  Cold hands on the keyboard…

Day 44 – Urkupina – Luck for the Quinoa

Day 44 – Urkupina – Luck for the Quinoa

Approaching the gates of Urkupina.

Approaching the gates of Urkupina.

Today we attended the Urkupina Festival, dating back to the 18th century, in honor of a miracle witnessed by a young woman tending sheep on the outskirts of Cochabamba during the colonial era hundreds of years ago. The woman saw the image of a virgin on a local hilltop. Since then, that spot has become the place for sacred pilgrimages where people travel from all around to visit the site: breaking rocks from the ground to symbolize wealth, purchasing miniatures of their hopes and dreams, lighting candles, saying blessings, visiting medicine men and women and priests, visiting the shrine of the Virgin of Urkapina and getting blessings and wishes for health, prosperity, abundance, luck and well-being.

Items for sale for blessings

Items for sale for blessings

Lighting candles.

Lighting candles.

Academic studies have shown that this powerful celebration of faith and hope has real results, with many of the items that people wishing for such as college degrees, Bolivian passports, babies, houses, food, cars, computers, and cell phones actually are realized. Once the items are blessed, people bring them home and the first Friday of each month, they have a ch’alla and gather together to light incense and remember the items they desired and thank the earth mother, rivers, mountains and their ancestors for helping them to realize these dreams. It is believed best to return to Urkapina three years in a row for the most luck. People who have cut rocks from the hilltop return them to get others the next year. The larger the rock, the more luck one’s family will receive. It’s hard work, and like the man lending out sledgehammers last night explained, “luck does not come easily, you have to work for it.” Just like the hard work it took to break off some rock with the sledge hammer.

Festival dancers 0 Caparel!

Festival dancers 0 Caparel!

Here is my Ukapina hopes and dreams. I have quinoa for food abundance, health and wealth, a frog which represents wealth and well-being because the frog lives both under the mud (underworld) and on the land thus having the ability to travel between two worlds, an abundance of Bolivian money for my work here, and a long-term 20-year work contract as I an am adjunct faculty member working on a short term contractual basis.

Day 43 – An impromptu visit to Sau Sau

Day 43 – An impromptu visit to Sau Sau

As I returned from visiting a now defunct tourism office built in Quillacas, the roadside quinoa sellers informed me that the Andean Family Famers crew had just passed by in their truck. I quickly called Yeris and asked where they were going. Yeris Ivo Peric, Gilha Gina Prado and the staff agronomer, Edson Choque, were on their way to visit Sau-Sau a small Fair Trade producer group located in Marka Caroma on the outskirts of the Department of Potosi, about two hours away. I asked if I could come and they turned around to pick me up, luckily there were not that far away.

After an impressive off-road drive on a barely visible, winding track through vast empty quinoa plots waiting for planting, a shallow river crossing (with no bridge), and the passing of several herds of wild vicuna, we arrived in the tiny village of Sau Sau. Here President, Teofilo Coca Martinez was directing the Annual Assembly of the Integral Association of Quinoa and Camelid Production of he Southern Altiplano (AIPQUISA-C) the community’s Fair Trade, organic quinoa growers association. His wife, Dona Maria had recently returned from a two week trip to the US to participate in the ExpoWest trade show in California. Women were preparing roasted lamb and quinoa in the large adobe wood fired oven. They used poquera, a powered volcanic rock to toast with the quinoa, adding an extra depth, heat and nutritional value to the grain. Children played about. A few trucks were parked around the dusty yard. The community had been waiting for Andean Family Farmer’s arrival and quickly invited us in to the meeting. A typed agenda was passed around showing the meeting had advanced past several parts that now it was time for the Fair Trade agenda items to be addressed.

There were some formalities to address. The community members needed to legally register themselves as small producers with less than 40 (or 30?) hectacres in production for compliance with national tax laws then Yeris reviewed the importance of maintaining organic standards with all production. Apparently some of the FLO certified producers had lost clients when pesticide residue was found in their quinoa. Andean Family Farmers wanted to prevent this from occurring with their own producer groups.

Though a small community made up of maybe 20 or so adobe houses, with 33 members total, this group had ample quinoa production. Delivering 15 truckloads (500 tons each) of Fair Trade, organic quinoa, they had earned a social premium of $520 per truckload, a total of $7,800. Now Yeris was there to help them to decide how to spend this. He had a powerpoint presentation prepared with a laptop and projector. Producers sat in the President’s large living room as the points were reviewed, most of the women remained outside cooking and caring for the children.

A definition of Fair Trade was presented with a detailed explanation of how all quinoa was organically certified by Biolatina and of this, most could be sold as Fair Trade, depending on market needs. The quinoa sold as Fair Trade received the additional social premium which was delivered annually and determined by the association on how to be used. The rest was sold at current organic market prices, which at the moment was 650 BS ($92) a quintal. Yeris reminded the people of the Fair Trade rules which seemed very similar to those of FLO and CLAC: the need for transparency and democratic functioning, the creating of opportunities and improved working conditions, long term client relations (through the processing plant Yacha Inti), fair pricing, gender equity, dignified labor conditions, care of the natural environment, a fight against child labor, the payment of Fair Trade premiums and the right for all to vote.

He explained that an independent SCS, Fair Trade certifier from FairTradeUSA and IMO (another Fair Trade organization), will be checking for records of these principles being followed. In addition a Market Access Consultant (SAM) would be present as well. Members needed to sign a 16 point contract, noting that they were and would continue to comply with Fair Trade guidelines and would develop a Fair Trade Plan for their social premium funds.   All of this signing and paperwork seemed to be making the men nervous. Hushed side conversations began to break out. They had been working together for about three to four years and this was their second year working with Fair Trade certification. It was also their first time getting a social premium. Though they knew Yeris and his wife, they did not regularly work with them. In addition Yeris was an ex-government minister, a tall man from the city, he was not one of them. However they knew and trusted Edson, the agronomist they worked with for years and who visited them at least monthly throughout the entire growing season. Edson intervened and explained to the people that these contracts were formalities and part of the Fair Trade certification process. After a short question and answer period led by Edson and Yeris, the producers seemed a bit more willing to continue with the paperwork, though there was an overall air of apprehension.

After this Yeres went on to offer several suggestions on how the group could spend their approximately 50,000Bs of social premium funds ($7,800). Thirty percent of this was required for environmental improvements. These suggestions included improving the soil’s fertility though the purchasing of llama manure. 15,000 or 30% of the funds could go towards this he explained. I noted that this would be enough to purchase about 10 truckloads of manure – enough for about 10 hectacres of land. He also recommended a storage area be built for the quinoa, noting that many farmers had their quinoa stored in the houses, alongside their beds and in their living rooms, the quinoa could get damaged being stored this way. The farmers seemed to agree. Then he also recommended that the community buy into a bulk shipment of certified organic pesticides from Peru that Andean Family Farmers had tested with six other products and felt would work well in Bolivia. The farmers showed interest in this. Finally he revealed a three-year irrigation plan that included a site visit form a geologist to source ground water spots, a well digging company to determine water quantities and flow and the installation of electric or solar solar pumps for use with an irrigation system based on Israeli technologies. He projected that this could cost $10,000 to $15,000 per system. Andean Family Farmers works with 30 different producer groups, three to four which like Sau Sau have the Fair Trade certification and social premium funding. They plan to install about 10 such systems this year anticipating that this year will be dry from November to December (when rain is needed for quinoa seedlings) with rain coming later in the season until May.

This was quite impressive and made me think of the benefits that well-trained technical, market-driven initiatives brought to projects. I did not know of any other groups or communities which had access to such direct, well-developed assistance and global resources.

However, it also made me wonder what they women were thinking. They were not there during this meeting, being busy cooking and caring for the children. They were not on the board either. Technically there men were supposed to discuss these decisions with the women privately and then collectively make a decision. But I wonder how much of this they men would explain or how much was actually understood. I also wonder what projects the women might have come up with on their own (and the men too at that point) if they were given that opportunity first.

Though the Andean Family Farmers Fair Trade approach had many merits such as market access, dedicated technical support, new technology and projects, social premiums and fair market prices, the top down approach with required signatures, pre-determined rules, and pre-packaged projects, made me uneasy. When I mentioned this to Gilhka she was very open to developing more participative approaches for he groups. Perhaps in the future Andean Family Farmers will develop a more collaborative approach to their Fair trade development.

Day 42 – Fair Trade Bolivia, FLO style

Day 42 – Fair Trade Bolivia, FLO style

searchFollowing my local quinoa value chain brought me from the Brattleboro Food Co-op to the outskirts of Salinas Bolivia. However this bypassed the Fair trade aspect of production, which as my study progresses and market prices continue to deteriorate, is suddenly becoming critical in the quinoa story.   Right now the non-fair trade market prices for export quality quinoa ranges from 400Bs a quintal for black market conventional to 500Bs a quintal for organically certified product. Some private producer groups are now getting 600Bs to 650Bs a quintal for their certified organic grain as are the Fair Trade Andean Naturals clients (Andean Family Farmers). The extra benefit Andean Family Farmers members receives is the social premium which is paid annually once all export counts are in and amounts to a considerable sum of money (A report on the town of Sau Sau and their FTUSA social premium payment is coming). We visited with Andean Naturals a US business certified by FairTradeUSA and learned of their work with quinoa in Bolivia, but they are just one company exporting a few dozen containers a year of Fair Trade quinoa. What about the rest?

fairTradeLogoThe other Fair Trade story is that of FLO – the Bonn, Germany based Fair Labeling Organization which has recently expanded to include more producer participation, with the arrival of the Latin-American and Caribbean Coordinator of Small Producers and Workers for Fair Trade (CLAC) – an independent group of small farmers who developed their own Fair Trade label that had more rules and self determination than the larger European and US Fair Trade organizations. CLAC works to strengthen institutional bonds, provide networking and communication through its vast membership, promote the values and principles of fair trade through college-based educational campaigns, provide market access, and support programs focused on climate change, food security, child labor, worker security and well-being and intergenerational representation.

The CLAC Latin-American Universities for Fair Trade initiative engages universities with Fair Trade consumption, forms formal alliances between the university and CLAC members, has universities working directly with Fair Trade producers and local Fair Trade initiatives, and requires students groups to help in different Fair trade initiatives such as the Internaitonal Fair Trade Day, research papers on Solidarity Economy, Fair Trade and Responsible Consumption to be published yearly, and requires at least one course a year to be offered in the theme of Solidarity Economy, Fair Trade and Responsible Consumption. Currently, there are no Bolivian universities supporting this initiative though students in Costa Rico, Coluombia and Peru have active campaigns started.

In Bolivia, Tito Medrano, manages much of the Fair Trade training and communication for FLO members. Based out of Cochabamba, he is in constant motion, traveling from coffee mountainsides, to quinoa highlands to FLO’s National Committee for Fair Trade (CNCJ) in La Paz. The CNCJ is headed by El Ceibo, a large 20+ year old cooperative that specializes in organic and Fair Trade cacao (chocolate) production. FECAFEB, the Bolivian Fair Trade coffee exporter, is the secretary and Red OPAIC, a large consortium of Fair Trade handicraft producers, acts as the treasurer. Quinoa was once represented by ANAPQUI, another large, older cooperative, but like many organizations in the FLO network, they lost their certification due to poor bookkeeping during an audit. Now once again re-certified by FLO, ANAPQUI continues to work with Fair Trade and organic quinoa production. The CNCJ holds regular elections and ANAPQUI has held leadership positions in this Committee in the past and most likely will in the future as well.

Market access through FLO is much less centralized then the market access provided by FairTradeUSA, who specializes almost exclusively in the US market and acts as a go-between for US buyers and Fair Trade producers. FLO works with 24 Fair Trade initiatives in areas such as trade show representation and educational consumer campaigns in 19 different countries. Some of the key European trade shows for Bolivia’s Fair Trade products include Germany’s BIOFAT and the Feria de Milan in Italy. European buyers approach Bolivian producers directly through their own in-country visits and arrangements. Because of this, there is no centralized record keeping of quantities and contracts managed through FLO certified producers.