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.

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