Archives for 2015

Day 37 – Bolivian Anniversary Anzaldo Style!

Day 37 – Bolivian Anniversary Anzaldo Style!

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Candles burn as blessings in the chapel.

The Bolivian Anniversary is celebrated here by municipal parades celebrating the school children and village workers.  With almost 10% of this tiny town being composed of school children, there is a large, young population of marchers.  The first parade is Wednesday night and the next is the following day.  In between is a church service and lots of blessings and cheers for Bolivia, as a proud example for the world in areas of sustainability and living well.

Day 36 – Out of the quinoa heartland to the high valley – Anzaldo

Day 36 – Out of the quinoa heartland to the high valley – Anzaldo

Gazing over the new astro-turf soccor field recently installed by the central government for all rural villages.

Gazing over the new astro-turf soccor field recently installed by the central government for all rural villages.

The other day the children and I arrived in Anzaldo, a tiny, adobe-clad town of 7,200 nested in the high valley, 9,000 feet above sea level and about 30 miles, or a 90 minute car ride, from the city of Cochabamba. The region was settled in 1438 as the Incas spread out from Cuzco under the reign of Kapac Yupaqui. The quechua speaking people arrived at Quocha Pampa (quechua for “moist grasslands”) and settled in the high valleys enjoying the fertile lands and varied agriculture production the highlands provided.

In 1778, during the colonial era, the region that later became Anzaldos was identified first by a Curato named, Santiago de Peredon and was re-colonized by Spanish immigrants seeking a respite from the mines of Potosi and access to Cochabamba. In 1906 the region was renamed Villa Anzaldo. Today Anzaldos is made up of the main town plus 77 surrounding communities.

Unfortunately the rich fertile, moist grasslands are no longer. Climate change, desertification, and water demands from cities, have left the region a warm, arid climate. Average rainfall used to be 550 to 600 mm (millimeters) a year, now it’s just 480. With a loss of tree cover due to the drought and the use of wood as cooking fuel, evaporation rates have increased too. Farmers eek out a living by growing self-sustaining crops. The main crops produced here are corn, potatoes, wheat, and fava beans. But none are cultivated on a level that reaches beyond the local markets. Quinoa is present, but more as a by-product than a crop valued in its own right, as the quinoa real of the southern altiplano was. In fact no one can even quote the market price for quinoa here, unlike the folks in the southern altiplano who could recite then entire history of prices over the past three years. There are other differences here too.

Land is regarded as parcels and ownership is relaxed. There are no hectacres, yield counts, massive movements towards organic pest control, association building or technical assistance. There is no real market or real economic growth. In fact, a reverse economic curve has taken place where immigration to the cities has drained the coutryside of people, leaving many towns full of empty homes, fields fallow and development slow to happen.

“It’s hard to get people together for a project when no one is present in the community,” explained the new mayor Ruben. Severina Sotin of the local Bartolina Sisa women’s group echoed this sentiment, explaining how a group of citizens organized to get a grain transforming plant built so people could make processed foods such as cookies, breads, and noodles from their local harvests. However the project fell through due to a lack of participation. With just 27,000Bs raised, this was not enough to even cover the cost of a situational analysis, explained Severina.

Biology Professor Marisol and senion, Valerio, celebrate the Bolivian anniversary with my children in the Anzaldos Plaza.

Biology Professor Marisol and senion, Valerio, celebrate the Bolivian anniversary with my children in the Anzaldos Plaza.

But people do come together the best they can. The students I visited at the large, new regional High School reported that villagers usually got along well with each other. About 33% of these students came from the region’s far off communities where they are no schools, staying in the local church-run internado or boarding school. Here for a price of 40Bs a month, they are fed, housed and cared for during the school week. On weekends they travel the long roads home. Many students proudly declare they will be going on to college, but as the mayor explained, few ever graduate. Young pregnancies, a poor adjustment to city living, and financial restraints of housing, food and course materials work against rural students attending the country’s relatively free college system.

Dry cliffs are common in the Anzaldo landscape.

Dry cliffs are common in the Anzaldo landscape.

There is a strong migration cycle here too where people return to the Anzaldos region to plant crops and then leave for more tropical regions where there are different crop cycles and they also have land to farm. By moving with the altitude to farm in different climate zones, families are able to make Anzaldo living work. The use of circular migration through different climate zones is a custom that dates back to the pre-Inca era. Other customs that hint of indigenous knowledge is the methods families have for crop rotation and intercropping. Families report growing potatoes for one year, then wheat the next year, then corn and then letting the land lay fallow for the fourth year. Another farming method is that intercropping of rows (or circles) of quinoa, beans, and corn. The quinoa keeps away the insects, the beans put nitrogen into the earth and the corn is a heavy feeder.

However increasing periods of drought have caused Anzaldo’s crop production to diminish. Talking to the technical engineers of Proimpa, a national non-profit that works with agriculture development, they mention new crops they are looking to further develop in the region. One such product is tarhi, an ancient legume that is often boiled and served cold as mote or dried and ground into flour. Fetching 600Bs a quintal at the local market, and known as Andean soy, this is a lucrative crop for the region. However, it needs a steady water supply during its six-month growing cycle and the dryness is a challenge with this production.

The state University of San Simone (UMSS) department of Agronomy and Forests is also working to better develop products for this newly changing climate. They are working with the Creole variety of cows that still exists in the is region, having been brought over by the Spanish hundreds of years ago. This race has disappeared in other parts of the world, and now there is renewed interest in this breed. UMSS is looking to diversify the types of cows that are in this region and is also bringing in a project, papa runa, to improve the potato varieties.

Local governance is different here too. The ever present Dirigentes Originarios of the southern altipano, are nowhere to be found here. Instead there are mayors, municipal government representatives and the mancommunidad, a network of local officials and mayors. The church, which in the altiplano was present in its symbolism more than its functioning, plays a strong role here, with services in Quechua, songs adapted to Bolivian instruments such as the charango and foreign priests from Spain and Venezuela wearing traditional Bolivian woven cloth in their habits. Their sermons include many references to the beauty and growth of Bolivia and the pride of the people within this country.

My office in Anzaldo.

My office in Anzaldo.

So here I reflect over the difference of the timeless movement of slow economies, the quiet ebb and flow of village wealth where though there is now, thanks to funding from the central government, metered water delivered to each house, paved roads, a central sewage system and treatment plant, electricity and internet in the main plaza, there are still many old houses in need of renovation, empty homes, few cars and people with limited financial resources. Though income is low and local opportunities scarce, this is not very different from how it ever was. People slowly move forward making do with what they can, as they always have.

This is very different from the endless new brick houses that spring from the sandy salt lands of the southern altiplano, the constant parade of private cars and trucks, the value of the land, reverse migration as urbanized families return to their ancestral lands, and the people’s pride in directing their own growth and development. Here the economic growth from quinoa brought new opportunities but they are based on an export market that local people have no control over. The reduction in quinoa value in the world markets have caused local markets to destabilize. It is hard for people to plan for the cost of their inputs when the end price of their product is unknown and so variable. Though there was, and still is, wealth, the inconsistency of the markets make it hard to economize and bring stress and doubt to the people of the region. In contrast Anzaldo’s consistent lack of a strong economy, has created a more calm level of making do with less.

Instinctively one would think a growing though variable economy might be more desirable over a slow one. Or does the regularity of the slow market prove to be more desirable than the unpredictable ups and downs of high growth, emerging markets?

Day 35 – Research in Quillacas

Day 35 – Research in Quillacas

Women`s meeting at Quillacas.

Women`s meeting at Quillacas.

Now that school is back in session, it has been much easier to do my research.  Here at Quillacas, we quickly aranged an impromptu meeting of women quinoa growers and the Dirigentes Originarios. 

Quillacas High School seniors, survey administrators.

Quillacas High School seniors, survey administrators.

I also was able to meet with the high school seniors and teach them to administer my circels of sustainability surveys.  The students surveyed over 57 community members in just 10 days!  I donated 300Bs to their end of the year school trip as a thank-you for their good work.

Photo in heading: My “office” at Ester’s house in Quillacas.  Thank you Ester!

Day 36 – A quick note from Andean Family Farmers

Day 36 – A quick note from Andean Family Farmers

 

Dona Veri and her chicharon de llama.  A fried llama dish served  with local mote and chuno.

Dona Veri and her chicharon de llama. A fried llama dish served with local mote and chuno.

      As I explored the Fair Trade value chain, I visited with Yeres and Ghita of Andean Family Farmers, the technical/producer arm of Andean Naturals, one Saturday morning at their Oruro office located in a tall building in the middle of the busy Cochabamba street market. There they shared some stories and data with me. Their Fair Trade certification is managed by Europe’s FLO Cert (I have an interview with Tito the certifier, in two weeks). They tend to work more with smaller producer groups and independent farmers than their European Fair trade counterparts who prefer large worker-managed associations. Their US certification comes form Fair trade USA. Andean Naturals ships an average of 20 to 25 containers of both Fair Trade and organic quinoa flakes and grains from Bolivia a month. They are hoping to soon to be working with Costco as a US client.

            The minimum Fair Trade price for a ton of quinoa is set by FLO at a world standard of $2,600 a tonelada. Currently the Bolivia Fair Trade price is at $2,800 to $3,000 a tonelada, which is significantly lower from last year’s $6,000+ a tonelada price. The FLO Fair Trade world price for quinoa, is not at a sustainable level for the Bolivian farmers who purposely produce lower yields using more artisanal, indigenous methods, being careful not to overplant their lands. Despite lower world prices for Fair Trade quinoa, Andean Naturals strives to continue to create value and develop new market ways to maintain their Fair Trade purchases at a fair price for the Bolivian farmers.

            Yeres and Ghita admit that sometimes it has been difficult to administer the social premium fund paid by Andean Family Farmers, but as their producers are becoming more organized and understand better how the funds are to be used (for community, not association development), these funds are arriving at producer locations. One association used their funds to benefit the community school children providing books, pencils, pens and backpacks for all children. Another association invested into a study of beneficial plants for pest control, natural fertilizers for the soil and a higher quality pre-cleaning system. Andean Naturals is helping a Kellogg Foundation project to partner with another community to bring solar panels and basic sanitation in the forms of wells and latrines to a quinoa growing region that has not yet been electrified or received these services.

            At this meeting (two weeks ago), we set up my travels to Quillacas to meet some of their Fair Trade producers. Now I am in Quillacas with the producers and it has been a great visit. Yesterday, Ghita and Ximena from Andean Family Farmers stopped by to introduce a La Paz reporter, Cecilia, who was studying rural child nutrition, to the community and see how Eufraen’s quinoa shipment was going. We had a nice lunch together of chicharon of llama (fried llama), mote (rehydrated corn) and chunos (recydrated pottoes) all local and organic, very delicious! Then I was off to teach a marketing lesson to the Quillacas 8th graders while the women went to visit a rural community they had arranged to see. It was a short, but nice visit.

Day 35 – Jatun de Quillacas

Day 35 – Jatun de Quillacas

The church and the mountain the Guacho climbed in Quillacas.

The church and the mountain the Guacho climbed in Quillacas.

     In the colonial era, Quillacas was founded May 20, 1501 by Juan Pio Choqueticlla and confirmed by the judge, Jose de la Vega Lavarada who visited the area and confirmed the measurement of the land and its ownership.   Prior to colonial rule, Quillacas was the center of the Federation of Quillacus Aranaque located on the southern side of Lake Poopo. It was divided into two ecological zones, Haranaya and Kusisaya.

 

View of Quillacas quinoa fields awaiting spring planting extending to the far shores of Lake Poopo in the distance.

View of Quillacas quinoa fields awaiting spring planting extending to the far shores of Lake Poopo in the distance.

           Besides its vast acreage of quinoa fields that extend far across the altiplano, Quillacas is also known for its church, the Sanctuary of Quillacas. The (now written) oral history states that in the 17th century, an Argentinean businessman traveling to an international trade fair with a herd of mules for sale, settled down for a short nap. When the guacho awoke, his mules were nowhere to be found! Desperately he looked everywhere for them, finally climbing Saint Juan Mallcu Mountain. They were nowhere to be seen. Crying, the forlorn mad began to descend the mountain. He came across an old man who said, “Don’t cry, my son! You will find what you seek.” Sure enough around the next turn, the guacho found his herd of mules happily drinking from an oasis of water (however there is no water in this area). He was so happy that he climbed up the mountain to thank the old man. Much to his surprise, when he returned to where the old man w, he found instead the image of a crucified Christ. He thought for sure this was a miracle. The gaucho could not sleep without dreaming of the crucified Christ. Years later he returned and built the Sanctuary of Christ of Quillacas right on that spot (the church marker has the date as 1873).

            Today people come from around the world for the healing powers of the church, kneeling in processions across the stone courtyard, circling the cross. It is said that a few years ago, a crippled boy came and after dragging himself around the rough stone courtyard path three times, he later returned being able to fully walk on his own again. Such is the power of Christ of Quillacas!

Day 34 – Following the value chain – quinoa cookies!

Day 34 – Following the value chain – quinoa cookies!

           On my way off to Bolivia last month, the kids slipped a few boxes of quinoa cookies made in Bolivia that they had found on the discount shelf in our local grocery outlet store. $2.99 was the discount sale price, though I do not know what the original price was.

            We had had these cookies before, Andean Dream, coffee flavored. Each 2″ size cookie came individually wrapped in foil. There were maybe 30 cookies in each box. I had originally banned the cookies from our snack shelf because of the packaging, it was too much garbage. Though the cookies themselves were flavorful enough, nice and crunchy. But as a special treat for our Bolivia trip, I let a few boxes of the cookies slip into our suitcases. It is always fun to show people in Bolivia how their products end up in other countries. I was pretty certain there were no Andean Dream cookies for sale in Bolivia.

            Working on the quinoa story in Bolivia and following the value chain for the bulk quinoa grains made me wonder what the value chain for that box of cookies was. I asked Juan Pablo of Quinoa Foods if he knew. He suggested that La Francessa or Coronilla, two well established Bolivian food processing companies with national and international sales, could have made them. I had worked with Coronilla in 1997 on an export project for their quinoa noodles but La Francessa I did not know. Coronilla was in Cochabamba 12 hours away. La Francessa was right here in El Alto, La Paz so I visited them first, Andean Dream cookie box in hand.

Edson Alba Lavayen, La Francesa

            Here I met with Edson Alba Lavayen, the Executive Director of Exports. He looked at the cookie box with curiosity and a bit of confusion. Years ago he had produced cookies for this company but sales were slow and after a while ended altogether. It seems they had changed manufacturers and was now working with Coronilla. This box of cookies was not his. However, other cookie boxes were. For the past nine years, La Francessa, a 57 year old company, and the country’s first mechanized cookie maker, had been exporting gluten free quinoa cookies all over the world; to France, Mexico, Germany, England, Chile, U.S. and Canada with brand names such as Vivir Bien, Punco, Mesonot, Gogo Quinoa, Costco and 10 other smaller, lesser known names.

            Founded in 1958 by a family of Lebonese immigrants, La Francessa had humble beginnings as a bakery specializing in bread and hand made cookies. Now with 45workers, 80% of which are women, they just received gluten free certification for an entire cookie processing plant. Currently they are exporting four containers of cookies a year to the U.S. but with the new plant, they have the capacity to export 12 containers. They are looking for new clients and hope to soon have a deal with Whole Foods. Edson had hoped I was a new client. When he realized I was doing research on quinoa value chains and not placing bulk export orders for cookies, he was not dismayed.

            Edson explained how his cookies were made of 25% quinoa with tapioca, rice, and kanawa, another Andean grain that is good for the stomach. Though not certified organic, they were made of all natural, nationally sources ingredients. Edson explained if there was enough demand from his buyers for an organic cookie, he would develop one, though so far there had been no requests. La Francessa offers 12 different cookie favors though chocolate chip is the most popular, accounting for 80% of all sales. La Francessa buys raw chocolate from El Ceibo, a Bolivian Fair Trade association that produces the country’s best chocolate, and makes their own chocolate chips customized for their quinoa cookies. Much of their quinoa is from Jachay Inti, Juan Pablo’s quinoa processing plant. La Francessa makes their own quinoa flour to the exact consistency needed for its cookies. The result of using such carefully sourced, customized ingredients is delicious.

            La Francessa is also known as a good place to work. They provide professional development training, are SCORE certified in safety and quality control, and have an excellent customer service record. I was dismayed to see that the cookies were exported in bulk, individually wrapped in plastic and packed into large sacks. The cookie export buyers place these pre-wrapped cookies in their own cookie boxes and sell them under their own name. When I asked why the cookies had to be pre-wrapped, Edson explained that it kept the cookies from rubbing against each other and crumbling apart. I voiced my concern about the waste packaging and Edson agreed it was a problem, but he could not come up with a better solution yet and his clients did not mind, so he was going to continue to use it for now. Perhaps I’ll give my students a case study of developing a market for quinoa cookies in the US.

Day 33 – Following the Fair Trade value chain

Day 33 – Following the Fair Trade value chain

As I follow value chains: the organic Bolivian quinoa from the Brattleboro Food Co-op to the US UNFI distributor, to the Quinoa Foods Company exporter in La Paz, to the farmer, the Beliz family in the community of Ciqulacca, outside of Salinas (which I hope to visit on Monday), I start to see values in the relationships, points of view, cost structures, and challenges that the people on each link of the chain face.

Fair Trade brings a new dynamic to the chain where more complex relationships are formed. The standard organic value chain is one of pre-set prices, filled orders and compliance. However the Fair Trade, organic value chain also brings an important relationship exchange. No longer are producers simply responding to the demands of the exporters; they are collaborative partners with them. The exporters bring producers to their export countries in Europe and the US, introduce them to international markets, and work with them to determine fair prices and export strategies. The result is a more robust relationship, loyalty, a greater understanding of the markets and customer demands, and more autonomy and empowerment for producers.

Fair Trade organic quinoa producer association AIPQUISA-C in SauSau, Bolivia

Fair Trade organic quinoa producer association AIPQUISA-C in SauSau, Bolivia

I find the Fair Trade producers to be more open to new market approaches, diversification, and branding. They are empowered and are more apt to take the initiative on new ventures and act as leaders both within their organization and their community. I took you to the APQUISA Fair Trade organic quinoa growers association of Salinas a week or so ago, and we will visit them again this Sunday when they hold their annual meeting to determine what their export quinoa price will be with FLO (the European Fair Trade certifier). Now I am in the small town of Quillacas, at the entrance of the Quinoa Real growing region close to the quinoa Black Market of Challapata. Here members of APROQAY (Association of Producers of Quinoa, Cayne) are preparing 5,000 pounds of quinoa for export through Andean Family Farmers, the Oruro-based producer branch of the US Fair Trade, organic quinoa company, Andean Naturals (Featured in the Day 16 posting on the blog). A truck is coming later today to take the grains to Andean Natural’s Jacha Inti processing plant in El Alto, 7 hours away.

Loading Fair Trade  quinoa into the sorter and cleaning machine. APROCAY, Quillacas, Bolivia.  This quinoa will then be professionally cleaned and processed at the Jacha Inti plant in El Alto, 9 hours away.

Loading Fair Trade quinoa into the sorter and cleaning machine. APROCAY, Quillacas, Bolivia. This quinoa will then be professionally cleaned and processed at the Jacha Inti plant in El Alto, 9 hours away.

Eufraén Huaylla Mamani is the president of APROCAY, a small Fair Trade, organic producer group made up of 52 families form the Cayne community outside of Quillacas. A heavy-set man with a broad, happy face, he gladly spent the afternoon with me, his technical assistant Milton, from the non-profit organization FAUTAPO and Ester Chambi Marca, a political leader and leadership instructor in the community. He spoke of the history of APROCAY, how he met Sergio and became a Fair Trade producer, and a recent trip to the US sponsored by Andean Naturals, where he attended an international quinoa growers conference. Here’s the highlights of this conversation…

Originally Eufraén and 300+ other organic quinoa growers in Quillacas were members of PRODESQUI (Inter-salar Producers of Quinoa) in early 2010 or so. This large group was producing organic quinoa but did not know about certification processes, organizational leadership or how to manage large projects, such as a quinoa processing plant the Bolivian president had recently built in their community. Never-the-less with the growing demand for quinoa and raising prices, there were determined to learn what they needed to in order to produce the best quality qinuoa for the best markets. Their big break came when representative of ENRI, a US quinoa buyer was introduced to the community by Wilson’s QUINBOLSUR.

Eufraén, seeing this as a big opportunity, made sure the visitor was well received. There was dancing, music, food, farm tours and presentations. Though the buyer, who was of Indian origin, did not speak Spanish and Eufraén did not speak English, a QUINBOLSUR translator, Raul Beliz (the same Beliz famil

QUinoa being sorted into seed sizes and dirt content...

QUinoa being sorted into seed sizes and dirt content…

y who’s quinoa was in the Brattleboro Food Co-op), was present to help with the communications. All seemed to have gone very well and Eufraén and PRODESQUI were proud of the presentation they made feeling certain it would lead to new quinoa sales through QUIMBOLSUR. A few weeks later a PRODESQUI member looked up the ENRI website and found a posting of the visit to Bolivia, with photos of Quillacas and the celebrations there. However, there was no mention of Quillacas nor PRODESQUI, all was presented as if it was QUIMBOLSUR. The members of PRODESQUI were dismayed and felt cheated and taken advantage of. They lost their confidence in QUIMBOLSUR and did not want to work with them.

Meanwhile another opportunity came. This time it was ZTA and APAE. They wanted to purchase a container of quinoa (5,000 pounds) direct from PRODESQUI. They gave PRODESQUI a month to clean the quinoa and three months to get the container through customs to the port of entry. However PRODESQUI felt the risk was too great. They would be putting thousands of dollars of their own product in the hands of others they did not know, plus they would need thousands of dollars more for the cleaning, shipping, and documentation. They would need to take out a loan, hope the shipment was received, of god quality, that payment made and they were able to pay back the loan in time as well as themselves. It was too much. “What if the boat sank or their container was lost?” they asked. They declined the offer.

Three grades of quinoa: 1. Small sandy quinosa that gets sold at half price where it will be cleaned and ground into quinoa flour sold in the local market. 2. SMall quinos seeds ready for final processing.  3. Larger quinoa seeds ready for final processing. 4.  Quinoa seeds that still need to be removed from the seedhead plus plant debris.

Three grades of quinoa: 1. Small sandy quinosa that gets sold at half price where it will be cleaned and ground into quinoa flour sold in the local market. 2. SMall quinos seeds ready for final processing. 3. Larger quinoa seeds ready for final processing. 4. Quinoa seeds that still need to be removed from the seedhead plus plant debris.

A third opportunity came with the offer of a $2,000 organic certification. At this time, the price for certified and non-certified organic quinoa was essentially equal so many producers dismissed the certification as unnecessary. However something about this caught Eufraén’s attention. He looked into this more and soon met Sergio from Andean Foods, who was in the country looking for certified organic growers to partner with in his Fair Trade company. They immediately struck up a friendship and Eufraén and 24 other producers left PRODESQUI to form APROCAY, collectively paid for their organic certification, and started producing for Andean Family Farmers (the Bolivian production branch of Andean Naturals). Eufraén in particular liked the terms that Andean Family Farmers provided, Andean Family Farmers was obligated to buy the APROCAY organic quinoa no matter what, though APROCAY could decide how much of their product they wanted to sell. Prices were set together, with APROCAY suggesting the price they wanted and a final price being agreed upon at Andean Natural’s Jacha Inti processing plant once the quinoa was reviewed for quality, moisture content and cleanliness, which affects the product’s final weight. Quinoa is purchased in 5,000 pound lotes (lots) or 500, one quintal bags weighing 100 pounds each, so weight is an important variant in final purchase prices.

Loading 100 pound sacks of cleaned and weighed quinoa for final processing.

Loading 100 pound sacks of cleaned and weighed quinoa for final processing.

Last year APROCAY was earning about $6,000 a ton for their quinoa though this year Eufraen expects he might get only $3,000 with the current price drop. However to get to this point of trust and level of sales was not easy. Andean Family Farmers purchased their Fair Trade quinoa in 5,000 pound lotes with a promise of payment once the quinoa was received at the Jacha Inti plant in La Paz. At the time, quinoa was selling fin the black market of Challapata for 1500Bs per quintal (100 pounds). Jatun Acha was paying a pre-negotiated 1700Bs per quintal for the quinoa or $243 a bag. With 500 bags making an order, this was $121,500 that the producers were trusting someone else they hardly knew would pay them. When Eufraen first announced the sale, producers promised 500 bags of quinoa, but only delivered 150. Eufraen had to hustle to get enough certified organic quinoa from elsewhere to fill the order. He did it and payment was received within one week, almost 1 million Bolivianos. “How do you manage something like this?” asked Eufraen laughing, “the money was in boxes, it was crazy!”

For the next shipment, Andean Family Farmers suggested APROCAY open a bank account at the Central Bolivian Bank (BCB) in the nearby city of Oruro. They would send payment to this bank account and Eufraen could write checks to the member producers which they could come to the city of Oruro to cash. He was dubious. He did not think the farmers would believe in this system. Besides the market price in Challapata had just risen to 1750Bs a quintal, higher than the Jacha Inti price, but less stable too. Never-the-less, he gave it a try. Working with Jacha Inti and using a bank account seemed better than carrying around boxes of Bolivian money and relaying on the whims of the Challapata market. This time he received 380 bags of quinoa (from the 500 that were pledged). The producers immediately received their checks, brought the pieces of paper to the bank, and sure enough received cash for them. They were sold! Next time an order came, all 500 bags of quinoa were present. The long term result of this was that farmers learned how to open bank accounts, save their money and plan their finances. A down side of this is that with such easy access to banking, many (about 70% to 80% of all members) also took out mortgages for a house in the city of Oruro, construction or car/tractor loans (amounting to a maximum of $10,000 per loan). With this year’s lower quinoa prices, these loans are more difficult to manage. Before the loan was easily paid with the money earned from the sale of just 20 bags (quintals) of quinoa, now it is more difficult. The average family is produces about 76 bags of quinoa a year, so loan payments today can take up almost half of their earnings.

Today APROCAY has doubled in size to include 52 families with over 300 acres in rotation. This means that at any given year about hectactres of quinoa will be planted. With an average yield of 10-14 quintals per hectacre, this represents about four lotes of quinoa a year that can be sold to Andean Family Farmers.

In 2014, Eufraen took his first trip abroad, to the quinoa grower’s conference in California, at the invitation of Andean Family Farmers. Here he saw many new innovations in the quinoa market, met producers, researchers, agronomists and visited businesses such as Eden Foods and college campuses in Washington state. He had cultural exchanges with the US as well, visiting migrant communities and learning of the hardships that many Americans faced with housing and food insecurity. As impressed as he was with the US zeal and energy in support of the growing quinoa market, he was glad to return to the US when the visit was over. He likes the quiet pace of Quillacas, the friendly villagers who he all knows by name, and the celebrations and festivals which the Bolivians are so good at hosting. He continues to refer fondly to his friendship with Sergio and is proud of the relationship that has formed with Andean Family Farmers. I wished him a good trip as he and Milton boarded the large truck loaded with 5,000 pounds of APROCAY quinoa en route to the Jacha Inti processing plant. He expected to get about 700Bs ($100) per quintal for his quinoa this time, 60% less than last year’s price. Often APROCAY pays 8,000 to 9,000Bs for the trucking of the quinoa, as well as a 3Bs for every sack carried by the workers and 2Bs for maintenance, amounting to about 15Bs per sack, paid for by the producers. Eufraen and his technical staff always accompany the quinoa to the plant where it is then analyzed. This is how they learn of improvements or variations in the product which they can then address back in Quillacas. It is also a good time to touch base with the Andean Natural counterparts and celebrate in the work well done.

Another benefit APROCAY receives through their relationship with Andean Foods is a social premium paid back to the community. Two years ago, the Fair Trade certification from FLO cost APROCAPY $4,000. They received half of that back from their social premium fund valued at $250 per ton of product sold, explained Eufraen. APROCAPY expects to receive as much as $15,000 in social premium funds for last year’s sale plus another $5,000 from the year before which were not paid yet. According to Fair Trade rules, 30% of these funds need to go towards natural environment projects. The rest, about $14,000, APROCAY decides themselves what to with in an assembly. Eufraen thinks the funds should go towards an interest bearing “social security” fund to cover medical costs for illness or injury amongst APROCAPY members and their families. Once the funds come in, the association will take a vote and a decision will be made as to how to best use them.

Day 32 – A family festival – Santiago Yonguyo de Espana Celebration in Poopo.

Day 32 – A family festival – Santiago Yonguyo de Espana Celebration in Poopo.

WIth the kids and cousins in Poopo!

WIth the kids and cousins in Poopo!

This weekend long festival, the family and I spent in the family hometown of Poopo (pronounced Poe Poe), a well-known small, mining town located about 30 minutes from the city of Oruro. Celebrated all around the country, Santiago Yonguyo de Espana, is about Santiago, a Spanish priest who arrived in Bolivia and was very much in favor of the rural people. Later, the “force of G-d” found him and “cured” him of his erroneous ways, making him a very pro-Catholic priest. After explaining this to me, one celebrator reflected a moment and remarked, “I don´t know why we are celebrating this but we are. It´s more habit than anything.”

Leaving the city of Oruro for Poopo became a challenge as more and more neighborhood folklore dance troops hit the streets, oblivious to the local traffic that had to stop and wait as they danced up and down the avenues. Finally we arrived in Poopo, just in time for the dancers in the plaza to reach a new level of cheer and celebration.

My son and cousins swimming in the Poopo hot springs pool.

My son and cousins swimming in the Poopo hot springs pool.

My Bolivian family was there and many “aunts” and “uncles” from the rural countryside too. In Poopo they use the terms tia and tio instead of hermano and hermana like they do in Salinas, so instead of brothers and sisters and I have aunts and uncles. I have been a part of the community for over 18 years, and as the only foreign community member, I am usually pretty well known and recognized. It was my first time at this particular festival though. Many people came up welcoming me back, asking where I had been, how long I was staying, when the last time I was there way, etc…. Beer flowed freely and the olsito (my neighbor dressed up like a bear) took me to dance in the plaza. Soon everyone was dancing as musicians played traditional flutes and drums, circling in ponchos, as is the indigenous tradition. As the hours passed the dancing became more staggered as people started appearing more and more drunk.

2 doctors, me and my cousin.

2 doctors, me and my cousin.

Finally with the fading light, all retreated to the numerous house parties being held around this town of about 1,500. Plates overflowed with rehydrated dried potatoes (chuno) in a ground peanut sauce, potatoes fresh from the countryside and grilled lamb also from the neighboring farms. Beer continued to flow and loud, amplified dance music pounded out late into the night, finally quieting down around 4am.

I observed to others that the people in Poopo celebrate, much harder than for example, the farmers in Salinas. The folks in Poopo dance more, drink more and stay around until much later than other towns I have gone too (not just Salinas). I ventured to guess it was the touch constitution of the miners and the dangerous lives that they led that led to Poopo being such robust celebrators. Others agreed and a cheer went around to the strong miners of Poopo who really know how to celebrate!

Grandpa's grave.

Grandpa’s grave.

The next day we went about the town visiting friends, the hot springs, and the cemetery where my children’s grandfather, a minor, is buried. Here’s the photo essay…

(PS: Tomorrow I’m off to the quinoa growing community of Quillacas and may be out of communication for a week or so.)

Day 32 – An indigenous women leader’s view of sustainability, quinoa production and Andean women’s well being.

Day 32 – An indigenous women leader’s view of sustainability, quinoa production and Andean women’s well being.

Marka Salinas

Marka Salinas

As spoken by Mama Mallku, Florinda Condales of Marka Salinas.  (Shared with permission)

On the theme of sustainability, as the sisters said, before there was production that was all natural. But now we have a production that is more open and requires other methods of production. We have insecticides but they are organic. Some we make ourselves with the plants and herbs and others are done with the authority of another such as UTO (university) or INIAF (technical assistance). We now have associations that we are members of. They make sure we have the certifications and help us with our organic production. How does it benefit the woman? This is what we are manifesting.

When a woman marries, she leaves her home family and is part of another family. How she participates equally with the man, with the new family is now different. Now people have tractors and they work with them more. But the planting is the same. It has to be done by hand.   The work is done by everyone so it is personal enough. One can have more land or less. Some may have 1 or 2 hectacres (2.5 to 5 acres). Another may have 10. Another may have 20 hectacres. It depends on the community, how extended they are. And it depends on the father, how much land he has to parcel out.

But also another result of the expansion of organic production has been the increase of cultivated crop land and a reduction of grazing land and animals. This is why the farmers are buying the manure. Now they say it costs 1000Bs a truckload, but this is a low price. Last year it cost more then 2000Bs. So this is how the soil is fertilized. But fertilizing is not all of it. One part is to fertilize the other is to do the rest, the weeding, planting and harvest. We do not just plant and wait. And that is where the other parts come in. If it rains we say good, welcome rain. But if it does rain or if it rains and freezes…

I have 10 or 11 hectacres. Twice it froze and this is what happened: I was only able to harvest one (hectacre?) and lost the other. This is the situation. It is an investment made first (up front) that may not be able to be recovered. If the price of quinoa is not sufficient, lets say that you are making enough that you are earning 20Bs (per quintal?) or 500Bs and you have five children and three are in school, two in the university, what can you do? There is not enough money to cover even two months or three months of the costs. This is the reality. People always say the quinoa growers have so much money, but it is not like that. Also there has not been a lot of time, maybe two or three years since the quinoa production improved. Before that, there were hardly any earnings. But a lot also depends on the climate. You can plant up to 40 hectacres. If the frost comes, it will take it all. If the rain does not come, the plant will germinate, grow 10 or 15 centimeters and there if still there is no rain, it will die, all of it. These are the risks that we have here. We need to start over each year.

In these last years the problem we’ve been having in the provinces is that if the woman is in the countryside and is single, with children, the situation is very hard in the communities. Because the woman no longer has the right to access the lands of her father anymore. If the community begins to criticize her and asks, “Where is your children’s father?” and demand she bring the children to his land and family, this is discrimination. “Why do you have to be here?” they will ask. And if she is the only child and is a woman and she marries and brings her husband to her land this also causes problems because she suffers. “Why is he not a man?” “Why is he not bringing you to his community?” “Why are you not there?’’ The woman has to confront this. This we forget. It is difficult in the communities. Since you are here. We need to confront this too.

And in the theme of leadership, this is also difficult to find in the woman. Especially for the Andean woman. The reason why is that it is chacha-warmi, man-woman. This way the women does not talk. She has to be at her husband’s side. Her husband will talk, but how many times do you ever heard the woman talk? It is very difficult. An all of us have good ideas, why not? But the space is more for the man to be the leader. And this is where I have to live until now. Because to be a woman leader (Mallku) for the first time one has to have to have allies. I have to be with my ayllu (community), to be strong. But this is how we are pillars. We always have to be next to men. We suffer. But the quinoa puts us in better parts. Never-the-less the chacha-warmi is very strong here. A place for a woman to be a leader is very difficult. It is not going to change quickly. I don’t know how much longer it will be before another woman has the place (position) to be the Mallku. But it costs (one must pay the price). It is a step for the woman and it’s also a challenge. It is not simple and the woman is not strong like a man.

A man has a voice to make demands, a woman has a voice to bring us together at the same level. These things hold us back. Psychologically we have to overcome these things. Psychologically they hold us back. More than anything, psychological violence is strong. If we don’t improve ourselves this can very easily hold us back. He can speak because he is close to the quinoa and he can say help us and take the salaries. But if a woman was to do this, the others would say “Oh look at how this woman speaks!” other same women would criticize this woman. If one of us (women) was a technico (extension agent), amongst ourselves as woman, we will hate this woman, hate her! This is how the machismo is amongst women. It is strong.

Never-the-less, the work in quinoa helps to give us peace. This production of quinoa for example, the work. The work that we live by and do together. It is not considered a valuable job but it is a job that we will see is something that the women will come to participate in; talking and stating what their needs are. The day before yesterday I was in a course describing how violence against women happens daily. We have to withstand so many assaults that we don’t even know it and sometimes we are assaulted every second, for example. The discrimination can unite us. When we can understand this then we will be a better place. In this moment in this reality, we know as quinoa producers we are more involved with the production than the organization. Because we work with the llama, sheep, the land and in the fields, we plant the quinoa the beans, the potato, the alfalfa and this is our world. The farm plus the food, the children at home, the children in the university… and this is how we loose ourselves if we do not take the time to stop and say, “I am an important person, I can move forward and improve myself.” And in this workshop we were just five. But there are other things to prioritize too. I believe that all woman and men want to participate in the sustainable development of quinoa and this is what interests us most.

Day 31– Quinoa cooking secrets

Day 31– Quinoa cooking secrets

Dona Emma, Number 1 quinoa chef of Salinas!

Dona Emma, Number 1 quinoa chef of Salinas!

How can you enjoy quinoa? Let me count they ways…. (and the web sites! Here’s two of my favorites with yummy creative recipes from around the world: http://www.cookinglight.com/food/recipe-finder/cooking-with-quinoa/, http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/collection/quinoa). This is my own personal cooling tips and observations from the quinoa heartland, the Southern Altiplano of Bolivia…

First off, the key to amazing, fresh, nutty flavored quinoa is to wash it well before cooking with it. I usually put my pre-measured amount of quinoa in a bowl and fill it with about twice the amount of water than quinoa. Then with my hands, I rub it together for a minute or less, using medium pressure with my hands. Soon the water turns be a bit cloudy. I pour off this water (using a sieve to catch the tiny quinoa grains) and fill it again. I rub the grains together a bit more. This time the water stays more clear. The quinoa is clean. I drain off this water (don’t forget the sieve) and set it aside. It is ready for most any recipe.

I am not home in my kitchen so I cannot try out the recipes exactly, but I’ve been cooking with quinoa for 20 years and can give you some tips based on what I observed here. Feel free to experiment yourselves. Most grocery stores now carry quinoa, usually in the aisle next to the rice. It comes in three main colors: white, red, black and mixed. The black is more nutritious and makes for a dramatic presentation when served. I hear that Japan is wacko over this black quinoa right now! All colors work in all recipes, but I prefer to use different colors for different dishes.

The most common way quinoa is consumed outside of Bolivia is prepared like rice (or in the p’ischqa style as they call it here). To make the p’ischqa (quinoa prepared like rice). Simply boil 2 cups of water with a teaspoon of salt added. When the water is at a boil, add the quinoa, stir it around a bit, lower the flame to medium/low and let it simmer partially covered (or uncovered) for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until all of the liquid is absorbed or boiled off. Theh fluff with a fork or mash it around with a spoon (more of the Bolivian way), season with salt to your liking and you are all set. In Bolivia a rich stew of re-hydrated dried llama meet (charque), dried potatoes (chunos), diced fresh potatoes, onions, peas, fava beans, ground powdered yellow and red sweet pepper (aji), garlic is added on top. Or sometimes a thinly sliced pan fried and salted piece of fresh llama meat or grilled llama meat is added, with a few small boiled potatoes on the side. In the US, I often just add a bit of butter to my quinoa p’ischa and it is delicious too. Yum!

My favorite use of the red quinoa is in a cold quinoa salad. This I discovered at my local food co-op and it’s been one of my favorites. Simply cook the red quinoa s described above. Then let it sit aside while you add the ingredients – the idea is to do a sweat-sour combo with some texture. The easy way is to add about 2 tablespoons of good quality Balsamic vinegar to about a cup of quinoa, 2 tablespoons of first cold pressed olive oil (in cold salads the quality of your oils and vinegars make a big difference as the flavors stand out more), ¼ cup of fresh chopped parsley, a handful (1/4 cup or less) of sliced almonds, a handful (1/4 cup or less) of raisins or dried cranberries (these look nicer!), half (or a whole) fresh sliced mango (optional but delicious). Toss it all together and you are done! The taste soaks through it as it sits, so ideally plan to make this about 3 hours before serving so the flavors all soak through. I like to serve it at room temperature too, though it keeps well in the fridge for about a week. Feel free to taste it and adjust it as you wish too. I often make this when I have a last minute potluck to go to that I forgot to get ready for. It is so easy to make, tastes and looks delicious and can be thrown together in just a few minutes!

Black quinoa I like to think of as a fancy dessert quinoa. At the Keene State College Dining Hall, there was a rice pudding version made with black quinoa that was outstanding. I would recommend playing around with different recipes. Here’s one I found: http://www.fivehearthome.com/2014/01/11/quinoa-pudding-with-coconut-milk-maple-syrup/ If I was home, I would make it with raw milk from the farmer down the road, add a cinnamon stick and a few cloves while cooking it. And then serve it with a sprinkling of nutmeg. Yummy! Another idea, to bring out the drama of the black quinoa (which has white specs as it cooks) is to add tiny mandarin oranges slices to it.

White quinoa is the most common in the US and here in Bolivia too. The secret to delicious Bolivian quinoa soup is to slice the vegetables really thin, even grating them. A good veggi combo for 6 cups of soup can be 1 onion, 2 carrots, 3 cloves of garlic. Start out by sautéing these veggis in about 2 tablespoons of oil in the bottom of a cook pot. Then add 6 cups of water, a soup bone and/or stew meat (about ½ cup cubed) – this is optional, and about 5 small fresh potatoes (the Bolivians peel theirs but I like to keep on the skins for the nutrition value – my favorites are the tiny purple or red potatoes) and let boil until the potatoes are almost done (about 10 min.). Then add 2 cups of quinoa and let cook another 15 min. Extra ingredients can be added at this time too such as corn, peas, and small cubes of butternut squash. As a special treat, you can also stir in ½ cup of fresh chopped spinach. To serve the soup, cut one of the boiled potatoes in half and place both halves in each bowl. Pour the soup over this and garnish it with parsley. Bolivians like to eat this soup as a morning belly warmer and also as a favorite lunch dish. In the city they will often have a fresh roll they will dip in the soup as they eat it. Most folks will also add a generous teaspoon of fresh, hand-ground hot sauce to their bowl of soup. Provecho! (good eating).