Archives for February 18, 2017

DAY 48 – The women’s quinoa bakery in Anzaldo

DAY 48 – The women’s quinoa bakery in Anzaldo

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Margarita with her butter bread.

Margarita Blanca had a dream.  She saw the hard working women of her and the neighboring communities all working together to grind their own wheat and make it into the best, most delicious professional bread imaginable – and selling it around the region.  She saw women working together, employed and earning a premium price for their wheat.  She saw the mayor helping out and all communities working together to pool resources, funding and successes.

            She saw this but it was not happening. The neighboring community had a gas fired oven but would not share it with people outside of their community.  Why should they give work to someone else – it’s their oven and they should be using it for their own things and that’s it, they explained – except they weren’t.  Her own community liked the idea of a shared bakery but wanted it in their community for more secure and constant access.  Margarita explained the bakery needed to be in the large town of Anzaldo, an hour away on foot, because there was where the market was.  She explained that it would be easier to distribute fresh hot bread in the town, than to bring the bread to town and have it arrive cold and no longer fresh.  She wanted to make and sell hundreds of breads all around the region and benefit all women wheat growers.  She also wanted to in improve child nutrition and add quinoa flour to the breads.  But the communities were not in agreement.

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Margarita did not give up.  She traveled to meetings in the mayor’s office, met with developers and shared her vision with anyone who would listen. Little by little she started to get supporters: other women from her community and others, the school, the church and the mayor.  But the real support needed to come from the rural women themselves.  Margarita saw other communities in places such as Rachay Pampa, who had successful programs started.  She knew this could happen in Anzaldo too.

Her big break came in June 2016 when the Center for the Research and Promotion of Rural People  (CIPCA) – a Bolivian non-profit development organization – hosted a workshop with the Anzaldo mayor and community at their annual Water Festival.  Here Margarita learned CIPCA was working with rural nutrition and could help her start her bakery!

She traveled to the city of Cochabamba 2 hours away, on her own dime and time, to meet with CIPCA and present her vision for the Anzaldo bakery.  CIPCA was in!  The bakery idea met their goals of supporting rural development and nutrition and was an economically feasible enterprise – there was a market, infrastructure and opportunity. They gave Margarita the go ahead under the condition that she form an official women’s association and secure some financial backing from the town mayor.

Within a few days, Margarita had the mayor’s attention.  There was an unused medical post in town that could be lent to the women for three years – as long as they paid the utilities to use it, mainly electric lights and gas for the stove.   He later gave them a 2 month grace period on their first utility bill. Margarita went from community to community meeting with the rural leaders and soliciting support for the bakery project.  Finally she had seven communities (out of 15) on board.  It was enough to get started!

The women cleaned and painted the building a bright cheerful green, received from CIPCA a new commercial oven with electronic temperature control and the ability to not just make bread but also cakes and cookies.  Bakery members each paid either 32 pounds of wheat (a $14 value) or $7 cash – whatever they preferred, to be a member of the baking association.  This got the women the raw materials and cash they needed to begin.

The women had their local, organic wheat ground into flour and CIPCA sent down a professional baker and nutritionist from the city to help create recipes for the women.  They also sent an accountant to help the women set up the books and controls for the flow of ingredients, inputs, costs and earnings.  Production would be local, organic and of the highest quality.  The mayor put in an order for quinoa breakfast breads to be baked for school nutrition programs.  He would order 100 breads at 40 centavos each – committing an order of 100 breads delivered daily to the school.  This hardly covered the cost of producing the bread, but it gave the women a space to use their wheat and produce product.

The bakery officially opened in December 2016 and currently produces 120 breads a day for outside sales of 1Bs each.  The women sell their hot quinoa bread in the afternoon to making rounds to the local hospital, boarding school, and main plaza the town.  They have the capacity to make three times that amount but are holding off until they know there is better market access.

One goal that Margarita has is to make bread in the morning.  This will give here access to the most popular morning bread market.  To do this she (and the women members) would need to sleep in the bakery, which has a bedroom.  However, that is not allowed by husbands who need the women to be home getting the children ready for school, the farm animals ready for the day, and the afternoon meal prepared  – and not sleeping in Bakeries far away. But Margarita is patient and persistent.  She is confident that in time a solution will be found and the bakery can operate in the mornings producing the daily bread (instead of the afternoon snack).  Future plans also include sales in the large commercial center of Cliza and a distribution in the city of Cochabamba.

Besides bread, Margarita’s team makes butter rolls, quinoa bread with 17% quinoa, quinoa cakes, quinoa and cheese empanadas, and quinoa chocolate chip cookies.  Women take turns working in the bakery in pairs usually putting in two turns a week and earning 20Bs a turn.  Local ingredients used in the recipes include wheat, potatoes, dried corn and peas, cheese, honey and eggs.  The women are paid an extra 10% for their products used in production. The women are investing their savings into a fund to pay for their own building to be built when their 3-year lease is up on the borrowed health post.

DAY 47 – Quinoa gardens – valley style!

DAY 47 – Quinoa gardens – valley style!

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The high tropical valleys of Anzaldo.

Two hundred miles as the crow flies and 3,500 feet lower in altitude – which is actually 9 hours of bus rides through winding mountain roads – sits the high tropical valleys of the Cochabamba Department.  Here too is the homeland of quinoa – though without the deep folklore tradition that the salt flats quinoa shares.  Most likely quinoa in this region was brought in by pre-inca ancestors (and not gods) via trade thousands of years ago.  New varieties were developed, adapted to the rich, slightly acidic, Noncalcic Brown soil present in light-pink and reddish-brown hues.  This was a big contrast to the gray desert soils, or sierozem, found in the Southern Altiplano Quinoa Real region.

Within this valley region is the colonial town of Anzaldo, home to 1,100 in-town residents and 6,000 farmers in the outlying communities. Quechua is the principal language here with Spanish being understood by almost all.

Quinoa here is grown very differently from the Royal Quinoa of the southern altiplano.  Here a handful of seeds is sprinkled amongst crops such as corn and potatoes as a supplemental crop to help ward off insects (through the saponins in the seeds) and as an extra food source.  Anzaldos’ principal cash crops are corn – mostly dried and fermented into chicha, a mild homebrew that is popular in the valley regions – and wheat which is sold at 450Bs a quintal (20% higher value than the altiplano quinoa) in the regional Cliza market. Farmers claim to sow the “criollo variety” of quinoa.  This is a general term used in the area to refer to anything that has a colonial history to it.  Chickens and cows are often referred to as being of the criollo variety too.

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Quiet town of Anzaldo.

Agronomist, Jorge Rojas, my counterpart from the state  San Simon University (UMSS) Agronomy Department assures me that within this “criollo” variety actually exists hundreds of distinct quinoa varieties.  He shows me how in a single seed planting there already is evidence of four or five different varieties as distinguished by stem color and seed head formation.  Rojas proposes to develop a seed bank for the quinoa varieties in Anzaldo.  He predicts there will be at least 500 varieties identified.  It will be part of a multi-year study he is developing for the quinoa of this region.

Unlike the women of the altiplano, valley women consume their quinoa, mostly white, as a single grain – either in soups, as rice, or ground into flour and mixed with wheat flour to make high protein breads.  The valley’s stone ground, hand made breads often baked in wood fired adobe ovens are famous throughout the valley and sold weekly in regional markets.

Families claim to harvest about 90 pounds of quinoa a year for their own family use and consume it weekly.  This is Quinoa Dulce (sweet quinoa)– a lowland variety of quinoa that has a smaller seed and less saponin than the Royal Quinoa of the altiplano.  In addition, family members eat steamed quinoa leaves as a spinach product and feed the damaged seeds and chaff to their chickens and animals.

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Anzaldo farmers discuss their wellbeing at our talking stick meeting.

Altiplano agronomists claim it is impossible to grow quinoa and potatoes or corn together, since both are such heavy feeders, but I witnessed healthy plants side by side in the rich valley soils – with all crops appearing robust and healthy.  Though I also noticed some quinoa with mildew and fungal diseases from the recent rain.  The people here did not tend to their quinoa, it was grown more as a wild species left to fend for itself in the fields.  Though in the fall it was harvested, cleaned and stored in an orderly way.

Anzlado Farmers usually work their crops on a four-year rotation, starting first with wheat, then planting potato (with quinoa) the next year, corn (with quinoa) the year following that, and finally beans the fourth year.  The land is then given a one year rest before the cycle starts again.  Natural and chemical fertilizers in the form of urea are applied to the soils in preparation for each growing cycle.

There is an abundance of animals in the region and farms are much smaller than the immense tracks farmed in the Altiplano.  Here people tend to a few acres of production and also have home gardens where onions, carrots, lettuce, squash, broccoli are grown for personal use.  Some have greenhouse tomatoes they tend to and others have fruit trees such as pears and peaches.  In addition, there is an abundance of animals: rabbits, chickens, hens, sheep, donkeys (for transportation) and bulls.  There are few cows raised in Anzlado because of the scarce pasture.  The grass is not abundant enough to support good milk production so instead the people mostly raise beef– managing small herds of 3 to 5 bulls (steers?) per family.

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Anzaldo farmer with her crops.

The Anzaldo region is quite dry and was declared an emergency disaster area from September to December 2016 due to the extreme drought.  In some communities water tanks were installed in villages and water trucked in so residents would have enough to drink.  Today there is rain though the crops have bene planted late and all at once.  This has been stressful for farmers, who are more used to taking their time with their planting cycles – and not having all crops go in at the same time together.  Most of the farming is still done manually and migration is just a big here as it is in the altiplano.  Communities have lost an average of 70% of their residents to city migration.  Families return for festivals, but there is not much labor to be fund in the communities between festival times, when planting and farm work need to be done.