Day 35: La presentacion: After the Boom

Day 35: La presentacion: After the Boom

All are invited to my presentation with Catholic University tomorrow, Thursday, August 16 at 10am in La Paz, Bolivia.  I will be presenting the data from the past three years of studies looking at market trends, production yields, costs, net-earnings, and the social-economic standing of quinoa growers from 2015 – 2018; after the quinoa boom where market prices soared and quinoa producers became Bolivia’s new rich, for a day.

Now things have quieted down though quinoa is still a strong economic asset for the country with 32,000 tonnes exported in 2017 valued at $74 million.  Quinoa made it to the “top 10” list of regional economic products for the Department of Oruro too – a place more known for its mineral production than agriculture.

But the study goes beyond the typical economic indicators and asks, “What is the future of the Bolivian woman quinoa producer?”  Here in Bolivia the new development paradigm is “buen vivir” – living well.  The idea is that with sufficient economic opportunity, resources and infrastructure people can live as well, if not better, in the countryside than the cities.  Ideally they would have access to the same quality of education and health services up to the university level, as they enjoy in the cities, with the added benefit of a strong community, cultural traditions and a cleaner environment.  For most, especially the younger generation of quinoa growers, age 18 and under who are now growing up in the cities and visiting the countryside for planting, harvesting and festivals – the countryside is a place of boredom and punishment.  They would rather be home in the city playing video games than exploring the vast, dusty plains of “grandma’s community.”

So the study – rooted in sustainability, looks at the economic, cultural, environmental and social aspects of women’s lived now – after the boom; after Peru has overtaken the world quinoa market and has driven down prices with higher yield production methods and different, faster growing, quinoa varieties; after the global market analysts and data collectors have left Bolivia; after the regional agricultural development programs have ended; after the houses have been rebuilt and closed up.

We examine the future for Bolivia’s quinoa farmers which lies rooted in a just price, 25% higher than today’s market price.  A price that will value the unique properties of the Bolivian Royal Quinoa – which cannot be produced anywhere else in the world.  The large, creamy seed which is packed full of complex proteins, vitamins and minerals, omega3s and others.  The distinct varieties which add amazing texture and deep flavor notes to everyday cooking – and are unknown outside of the rural kitchen.  The deep cultural traditions, legends, hand labor, and love that go into the slow production of the world’s finest quinoa.

The women leaders of the multi-million dollar export cooperatives will be present at this presentation as will women leaders who are working to transform the countryside into one of regional, indigenous, autonomous governance – where the people themselves decide their development, future and traditions.  I hope you can make it to the presentation.  If not, no worries, the data, stories analysis and insights will be published in a series of academic papers over the next year.  A book will be written and there are plans for a movie to be made as well.

This is not the end of the quinoa journey – just the beginning.  Thank you for coming this far with me.  My contact info is:  WhatsApp 1-802-579-3386.  Please keep in touch.


Day 34: What’s next – wrapping it all up – new projects.

Day 34: What’s next – wrapping it all up – new projects.

I’m now in La Paz – at a lovely AirBnB with wifi and river views located just a few blocks from Catholic University.  I am far from the quinoa fields.  La Paz is called NYC in a tea cup in reference to its wide deep valley filled with tall apartment buildings and modern offices – crisscrossed by the ever-moving silent teleferricos – suspended cable cars that take Boliviana across un and down form the vast city to the endless communities extending outwards.

With the 3-year quinoa study ending, the question is what’s next?  I am now faculty at Landmark College, teaching Economics and Entrepreneurship in the Business and Professional Studies Department.  It’s nice to have a long term contract and steady work.  The Landmark students are different from my 5-college whizzes and SIT graduate students who have worked on different parts of the quinoa project from the US – in the form of open ended, applied learning in my marketing and entrepreneurship classes.  My Landmark College students learn differently and are nuerodiverse – they need more structure and support in their classes.  So I need to have carefully developed case studies and predictable, calm environments for them to work in.   What emerged is the Quinoa Real gourmet variety project and a two week study away program to be housed in Salinas.

I spent the last week in Salinas and Oruro, setting up the groundwork for these projects.  The organic, Fair Trade FLO certified cooperative APQUISA will provide US-ready 1-pound packages of cleaned varieties of Toledo Amarillo for “quinoa pilaf” and Panela regular and toasted for the most amazing quinoa soups and stews.  This is the way the Andean women cook – using varieties, not just colors in their cooking.  Both these varieties are white and are traditionally sold mixed together in the common market.  My students will be exploring their individual properties, qualities, differences and introducing them the to US consumer in a project of “direct buy” – bypassing the expensive and cumbersome container-scale supply chain they are now hooked into.  This will be a diversification project to complement the larger sales the farmers currently work with – one aimed at bringing a minimum 800Bs per quintal value to the quinoa and more directly benefitting the producers themselves – creating an undisputed market niche for Bolivia’s Royal Quinoa varieties. I will also have my students working with Caslila – the rare, clear quinoa of the Bolivian mountains.  When cooked this quinoa is gummy and is used in breads, pastries and desserts.  I am thinking King Arthur Flour in Vermont will love it!  Catholic University in Cochabamba will be helping with laboratory analysis of the quinoa varieties so it will really be a shared effort.  There is a national market for quinoa varieties too that I am encouraging producer organizations to take advantage of – from the 4-star restaurants of the large cities to the quickly expanding national network of supermarket – the “Hipermaxi.”  Introducing quinoa varieties will also help to preserve seed diversity explained Catholic University’s Jean Paul, a sociologist studying potato markets.

Besides the market study I am proposing to have the students come to Salinas for an annual study away program about Global Markets.  Here they can learn together about the culture, production and transformation of quinoa – right from the quinoa capital itself!  The group will then split into three smaller teams and spend a few days coming up with innovative ways of working on either the cultural aspects with the 5,000 year old ruins, artifacts and mummies of Aycalla a primitive quinoa town, production points of quinoa growing in the rural community of Otuyo or transformation technologies related to the quinoa machinery in the Salinas town.  These insights will be shared with a larger community audience.  In between there will be opportunities to explore the quinoa kitchens, colonial and geographical history of Salinas with 500 year old Spanish mills, naturally carbonated mineral springs and the Tunupa volcano (dormant).  In between all this, students will have time to stroll quiet town streets, wonder at the vastness of the surreal salt flats, and reflect upon it all under the wide altiplano skies.  Traditional welcoming ceremonies and departure blessings will be shared too.

The quinoa story does not end – it just keeps growing!

On August 16th I will present my quinoa data at Catholic University in la Paz and have guests – women leaders from the quinoa fields – come and present their experiences and answer questions.  I will also have a small quinoa market at the university gates and will be serving quinoa snacks at the presentation.  I hope to have 60 people attend – including students, quinoa workers and the press.

Day 32 – How Fair is Fair Trade?  The rumors, truth and all in between

Day 32 – How Fair is Fair Trade?  The rumors, truth and all in between

Here’s a question that came up my final days in the quinoa fields.  This always happens a great question comes just as I am finishing my work and I don’t really have time to study it.  The two primary Fair Trade USA producers in my study from Sau Sau and Quillacas, lost their contract with their US quinoa buyer Andean Family Famers this year.  According to my calculations they made up about 20% to 30% of the total Fair Trade quinoa sold by this company.  For my research I wanted to know who else was selling to Fair Trade USA so I could have a balanced representation of Fair Trade growers from both programs.

ANAPQUI and CECOAT are two large Fair Trade Europe organizations in my study whose members are in 9 different quinoa communities I have personally visited over the last three years, some more than once.  In addition, I visited 5 non-fair trade communities and plus non- quinoa real producers in the valleys of Anzaldo and the high plains of Poopo.  Having a diverse array of experiences and approaches to learn from creates a more balanced, meaningful study.  So it was important to get more of the Fair Trade US perspective.  After more questioning I was given data by Jacha Inti on the quantity of quinoa they sold at Fair Trade prices in 2017, 30 lottes.  I compared this to the groups they said they were working with.  Each group would have to produce an astronomical amount of quinoa, about 13,000 quintals each in order to meet the full amount of the 2017 Fair Trade orders.  It did not really make sense.

This is when long term development worker, agronomer and quinoa grower Ecebio Calani explained the process to me.  Farmers are in quinoa associations.  When in the association, depending on the type of association they can produce quinoa under strict organic certification and also fair trade ones.  But they also might have other quinoa they grow differently that is not a part of the association – that they have for their own use, their markets, for security, etc.  When an order comes through the association needs to reach out to its members and ask for quinoa to be brought in.  An association may have 100 members and an order for a full tonelada of certified organic quinoa may come in.  that’s 100 bags of quinoa.  A price is given and the member farmers who have the quinoa and want to sell it bring it over for the order.  Sometimes an organization might not have enough farmers responding.  It might be a bad time of the year or the price might be low.  In that case the association needs to look elsewhere for its quinoa – usually in the markets of Challapata.  This is where the contaminated quinoa can come in and even some non- fair trade quinoa too.  The cooperatives take a risk when they buy quinoa from the common market to complete their orders – and that is hoy recently so many certified organic cooperatives have been having their quinoa shipments returned.  They failed the laboratory analysis for pesticide residues., explained Ecebio.

I contacted Jacha Inti and they said they had no Fair Trade quinoa orders for 2018 so far. I thought this was interesting since there is plenty of Fair Trade quinoa on store shelves in the US from customers for purchase quinoa wholesale from Jacha Inti as a US importer, Andean Naturals.  Plus Andean Naturals are the only Fair Trade USA Bolivian quinoa suppliers I know of in the US.

When I asked, how fair trade quinoa can be on sale in t US store shelves without any being purchased in Bolivia, I was told that maybe they had back stock on the product that they were still selling.  Maybe.

It made me wonder though, if a company is buying both Fair Trae and non Fair Trade quinoa and the only difference is the price paid, and they sell both fair trade and non fair trade quinoa products to the public, who’s to verify that the products are not being mixed?  This is a question I began asking Fair Trade leaders here in Bolivia but they had no response for the controls would have to come from Europe or the US they explained.  These questions I will continue to pursue in the US.

Day 30 – The story of the quinoa pyramid scheme

Day 30 – The story of the quinoa pyramid scheme

Enzo, a local tour guide, Salinas quinoa grower and lawyer told me this tale of the quinoa pyramid scheme of 2012-2014 which could explain the hostile, non cooperative response I received to my research in Puqi and shy the books are so off.  They most likely were affected by this.

“It sounds like a TV soap opera – except it’s true,” he said.

The scheme worked like this.  At the height of the quinoa boom people were desperately trying to amass large shipments (lottes) of quinoa which were 100 one-quintal bags of quinoa weighing a total of half a ton for export markets.  The export buyers themselves were prowling the streets of Challapata cash in hand, ready to make a deal.  Lourdes Mamani Cruz, a local Challapata resident, had a better plan.  She traveled straight out to the quinoa communities themselves – sometimes dressed as an agronomist in a heavy pantsuit, other times as a savvy foreigner in a suit with suitcase in hand, or in some instances as a cholita, a local rural woman with a heavy skirt and long braids, or as a city person in jeans and a jacket.  For whatever best fit the situation she would change her presentation.  Using different names and cash in hand she would buy a lotte up front at a 1,200 a Bs per kilo price, often higher than the current prices.  Gladly the farmers gave her their quinoa, taking the $8,500 in cash in exchange.  She promised to return for more.  They were happy to serve her.

Lourdes would return after a month or so and ask for another lotte.  She explained she would pay the farmers once the lotte was brought to her client because that is when she would be paid.  She noted down their sales in a book and all signed and witnessed it.  Excellent!  The farmers were thrilled.  How lucky they were to have such a wonderful buyer!  She came right to them, paid a good price, and had good sales contacts.  Lourdes promised to return soon for more.  In anticipation, some farmers secured loans from local banks with the guarantee of their sales to Lourdes or city homes, others invested in machinery and construction, happy to have access to such a successful future.  Lourdes returned again, again with her book, but no money.  Some farmers got suspicious, some did not want to sell to her without payment, others trusted her and felt she was working hard and with patience all would work out.  Many sold her their quinoa again, on credit.  And then Lourdes was never heard from again.

When the farmers when to find her, see what was going on, and demand payment they learned she was not who they thought she was.  Cell phone numbers were false, names false and even the book was false.  There was no such a person as the one they thought they were working with and no such businesses.  They had been duped, cheated, had, robbed.  It was a total scam!  Dozens and rural quinoa communities and 150 farmers and their families affected.  People defaulted on their loans losing property and goods, the elderly lost their life savings, couples fought, broke up, got divorced.  It destroyed families and communities.

The farmers were furious.  The went to the police, the local authorities.  It was soon learned that this mysterious woman was Lourdes and that she did not work alone. She had two other women, Paricia de Churanga and Elena Torrilo working with her.  In addition there was a man at the head of the pyramid, Lourdes’ initial contact, a businessman from Santa Cruz, the rich tropical city hundreds of miles away, so the story goes, explained Enzo.

It was found the quinoa had been sold to solid Bolivian organizations such as Irupano, Seiti and Jatari.  The bought the quinoa in good faith, not knowing the role they were playing in the scam.  Lourdes, Patricia and Elena immediately disappeared – if they didn’t they would have been killed by the angry farmers.   No one knew where they were, not even family members.  A country-wide alert was put out to find them.  Within two years from 2012 to 2014, they had stolen at least over $150,000 from local quinoa farmers according my very conservative calculations.

Enzo explained how miraculously Lourdes had been found at a police check point a few months later.  The police immediately brought her into custody for her own protection but then soon after she was discharged but in an unknown way.  It was obvious, Enzo explained, that the police had been paid off and that is why she was let go.  The farmers demanded the story get reported to the national press but the local authorities assured them that would cause the women to flee even quicker – they needed to be quiet and careful about finding them.  And then the women were never seen again.   It is rumored that Elena is in Peru Patricia may be somewhere in La Paz and Lourdes could be in Argentina or Chile – she had family in both places.  In addition, explained Enzo, it might have been that at one time Patricia was found in La Paz, but she and Elena had also been cheated by Lourdes and had nothing to show for their work in the scheme.  It had been all Lourdes’ work and she had left with all of the money.

Other rumors say that when money is begotten bad, bad things come of it too.  There are stories of Lourdes’ investment in cars, crashing and her investment of restaurants failing.  But these are rumors and imaginings of what might be happening with Lourdes now no one knows for sure.  Lourdes’ father still lives in Challapata, said Enzo.  There he works as a reclusive tailor, rarely leaving his workshop ashamed to show his face to those in the community.  Lourdes is most likely in Argentina, he thinks -the big con artist of the quinoa fields.  The curious thing, noted Enzo, is that the women were evangelist christens, Pentecostals.  He reflected how that could be and wondered why their faith in God did not prevent them from undertaking such a horrific scam that ruined so many lives.

Enzo did note that some quinoa farmers banded together to hire a private investigator to find out what happened to Lourdes and the money – though no real results have come up.  It was clear the police were accomplices in Lourdes’ escape but to what degree it is not clear.  Farmers want the story to go public – four years later.  But so far it hasn’t and the mystery continues.

Day 29 – Visiting Rodeo – a model town of sustainability and progress?

Day 29 – Visiting Rodeo – a model town of sustainability and progress?

I was supposed to stay with Martha for the night and go to Rodeo the next day.  Martha asked when we would be able to visit the plant and work on the quinoa varieties.  I said I could do it any time, tonight, tomorrow, I had a flexible schedule and was already there.  She said she had no time and it would have to happen later. I explained that there was no “after” – I was scheduled to go to La Paz to analyze my data report results before returning to the US.  That is why the visit had been set up in advance, it was a single opportunity.  I tried to not be annoyed.  I asked her if I should l go to Rodeo that night since several cooperative members lived there, a tiny town 30 minutes away by four wheel drive across some dry and not so dry river beds and sandy roads.  I could get a ride with them.  Martha was not sure.  I asked around 4pm and then at 6pm and again, after the meeting ended at 8.  By then, most cooperative members had left, but the sub alcalde just happened to be passing by.  Martha flagged him down, thanked me for my visit, and Mario took me to his home to sleep since no one else seemed to be around to welcome me to the community.

I had been invited to Rodeo, also by Pedro from FAUTAUPO who was good friends with Milan Cayne, a Rodeo resident highly committed to tourism and development.  Milan helped bring in the water catchment systems for greenhouse production, a sewer system for all homes so they can have proper flush toilet bathrooms, a nursery for rural bushes used to help combat wind erosion of soils, a solar powered communications tower, a new drinking water tank for the community, a comprehensive rotation system for the organic quinoa fields with properly constructed wind and erosion barriers, preserved pastureland for llamas, garbage collection and recycling, a retooling of used plastic water bottles for greenhouse construction (when filled with water) and pathway markers (when planted upside down in the soil and painted), and a village entrance gate and museum.  It was presented to travelers as a “model community.”  I was invited to see it as a model of “bien vivir”.

Though we had been in communication as recently at 4pm that day and several times before then, Milan disappeared upon my arrival in the town – perhaps to the party in a neighboring town.  Mario put me up in his house and I contacted Pedro to let him know all that passed (or not) in Puqi and now Rodeo.  Deeply apologetic he had hoped for different outcomes from the visits.

The sub=alcalde Mario was put in charge.  Somehow he managed to find he village key to the museum and the next day Mario and his wife Frida Huaychi Mamani were tour guides as we quickly enjoyed the view from the outlook, surveyed the different projects, toured the tiny museum of antique handicrafts and tools form peoples’ houses and grandparents’ colelctions representing the history of the village and within 45 minutes, took off down the road to Challapata/Salinas where we would depart.  Me to Salinas and him and his wife to Challapata.

Rodeo houses 60 families of which 33 are present year round.  The rest come in for the quinoa planting and harvest. Many farmers in the town are part of Sindan, a La Paz based Fair Trade quinoa buyer.  Mario recently sold half his 120 qintal quinoa production to SIndan for 440Bs a bag, 22% lower than the current market price in Challapata.  Like most publicly traded markets, timing is everything in the quinoa fields.  With prices still fluctuating, and now slowly climbing, it is always a trick to know when to sell, when to wait, but also when be loyal to the big buyers – the cooperatives that the farmers are members of.  Though the cooperatives often buy below the Challapata market prices because of buying contracts they have already made with foreign buyers, they are buying in large quantities at once.  Mario just made almost $4,000 in a single sale, enough for him and his wife to live on in a simple way, for almost a year.  It’s a trade-off and a gamble to sell a lot for less to one’s cooperative or a little for more in the local market.  Famers do both, balancing their responsibilities and commitments.

Day 28- what happens when it just doesn’t work.  Asemblea de APROQUIRI

Day 28- what happens when it just doesn’t work.  Asemblea de APROQUIRI

Quinoa production, management and sales can be tricky.  Especially in rural communities with hundreds of families being members of a quinoa cooperative with no computer.  I was invited to present my research and continue my studies at the APROQUIRI Assembly, a bi-annual event where all quinoa grower members get together to review their sales, plans and new for the next six months.  I had been invited to Assemblies before and found it to be the perfect atmosphere to conduct my quinoa research.  This consists of a it on US markets created by my US college students studying quinoa markets in the US, plus a short 20 minute survey on well being of quinoa farmers and a 30 minute private discussion amongst the women about what vivir bien meant to them.  All in all, it would involve on hour of time and full cooperation of the quinoa community.

My appointment was set up 2 weeks in advance by Pedro from FAUTAPO with the APQUIRI president Martha Poma.  FAUTAPO had been helping APQUIRI start up a quinoa processing plant to expand the types of products they offered and build more economies.  I was to visit this as a potential part of a project I was forming for my students at Landmark College – focused on the direct sale of seed varieties and processed quinoa.  The day of my visit was fast approaching. I called to confirm and was told the date had changed to Tuesday instead of Monday.  No problems I shuffled thigs around on my scheduled and even found a ride out to Puqi the remote quinoa town where the meeting was being held – an hour away from where I was staying in Salinas, the capital of the quinoa producing lands.

Puqi is located at the edge of Salviaji a small mountain which was once was a high rolling pile of foaming, frothing lava and is now dry and hardened.  The hundreds of holes and mini caves left by the immense frozen froth are dotted with mummies and artifacts from the people who lived in the region thousands of years ago, explained the sub alcalde Mario to me.  The pre-inca people considered these caves to be sacred and special. They are still preserved that way.

Mario explained that Puki had 300 residents but out of that, 50 were permanent citizens, the rest come in from nearby cities and towns to plant quinoa, attend celebrations and meetings.  Puqi is the commercial center of the 15 other small quinoa communities nearby.  It has a regional high school and rural radio station.  Some quinoa fields had already been fertilized and flowed others were waiting – piles of llama and sheep manure heaped onto the fields, along with sacks of dried quinoa chafe from the ANAPQUI processing plant.  The chafe is used to put organic matter and saponins into the soil to help with forming plant nutrients and organic pest control.

I arrived at the meeting at 11am as planned and was heartily greeted by members.  Immediately I was given a space to talk.  There was no projector because the electricity was not working but I was prepared to present without my PowerPoint presentation anyway.  Martha briefly introduced me and I shared my quinoa market data – explaining how quinoa is now being produced in a mature market cycle meaning that these is no a lot of awareness of the product and competition.  The way to compete is by diversifying one’s product offering I explained – offering different quinoa varieties and quality that cannot be found or replicated elsewhere.

“This is how you secure your permanent piece of the market”, I explained, “by offering something that everyone wants, but no one else can make.”

One quinoa farmer was suspicious.“ You want to take our seeds to the US to grow the quinoa there,”  he grumbles.  “Like the people in Colorado did,” referring to an agriculture project started at the University Of Colorado in the 1980s.  I had heard this before.  I carefully explained to him that yes, quinoa is in the US, Canada, France and 75 other countries worldwide.  Countries now have their own varieties and seeds in production.  But none is like the quinoa found in the inter-salar altiplano, not can this inter-salar quinoa be replicated anywhere else because of the soils and conditions. This, I explained is he unique selling point that APROQUIRI can take advantage of.  I looked toward Martha for confirmation.  Usually at this point the organization leader will step forward to emphasize their agreement and trust with me, and clarify any confusion. But Martha was unresponsive.  More questions ensued which I answered, but I sensed that we were losing time and I had other things to present.  I asked Martha if we should move forward but there was no clear response.  I explained I had a survey which would help to capture people’s experiences and make their voices heard outside of the quinoa fields.  I explained he importance of numbers and not just words, and how these surveys are used to count the people and put emphasis on their words.  Martha suggested we hand out the surveys after lunch and do them then.

We broke for lunch but when we returned the meeting turned to accounting, bookkeeping, unpaid loans, faulty receipts, and unbalanced books from 8 years ago.  It was amess.  The community was at odds with each other.  A handful of male farmers dominated almost all conversation.  There had been almost 1.5 million Bs in sales that year or $214,000 total.  But from this there was 400,000Bs taken out for other costs which were not clearly defined, nor had clear receipts. This left 200,000Bs were out of balance on the books and the cooperative members wanted to know why.  The balance sheet was read to members by an ANAPQUI representative – slowly reading from a laptop computer.  No paper copy was provided to anyone.  APROQUI is a cooperative member of ANAPQUI, Bolivia’s largest and longest running quinoa cooperative.

APROQUI members started accusing others and past leaders of faulty bookkeeping and unpaid loans.  It was noted too that several salaried engineers had left their work saying it was too difficult to work with the APROQUI community. The community wanted more clarity on this and wanted hard working engineers who were well trained and knew their work.  Apparently, there had been a problem with the community expectations of the engineers.  The community wanted to choose their own engineers to pay.  ANAPQUI leadership were present and granted this to the APROQUI.  They also reminded APROPQUI that they had brought in a lotte (50 quintales) of red quinoa last year that was rejected because of the presence of pesticides.  Another lotte of red quinoa was requested by ANAPQUI but was never provided.  ANAPQUI reminded the farmers of the importance to work together, trust each other, and think of the markets and quinoa buyers which we do not want to lose.  Two young leaders were chosen to represent the community.

The conversation came back to the bookkeeping.  Finally, the head bookkeeper of APQUISA’s mulit-million dollar cooperative with international sales, Celia Acyne, who I had interviewed previously, was there and we had a good conversation together.  Eventually she led the meeting forward committing the people to moving forward in their current bookkeeping and conducting an audit, which ANAPQUI will help pay half the costs of, on the previous five years of disputes.  It was estimated the cost for a professional audit would be about 50,000Bs. It took two hours to get to this point.  The day was moving on, it was almost 3pm.

Coca was being passed about to keep people alert and alcohol sipped to bless the meeting, calm nerves, and keep things moving forward.  I was hoping to have a moment to continue with my study and start with data collection – especially since this was a region that had not been in my previous studies.  That never happened.  After bookkeeping came representation, votes, other news and concerns, the meeting dragged on, the sun set.  An associate requested that the village fix the electricity so they can complete the meeting.  After a few wire reconfigurations and light bulb changes, a single bulb was light up in the long, adobe and cement meeting hall. The meeting ended at 8pm with the promise of a laptop computer to Martha with a new Orion system of accounting software that training will be provided for.  This would help the group to be more organized in their accounting system and have the books clearly noted and data accessible to all.  Celia warned that going forward ANAPQUI would be more strict with its requirements from member cooperatives and urged the folks of APROQUI to pay more attention to their expenses and reporting.

I thought about my own town and if we ever had an occasion where so many different people, over 108 families from 17 different communities, would work together.  I thought of the local organic milk buying cooperatives. Perhaps they have large meetings like this.  But with technology we would have shared spreadsheets, open accounting information, an agenda already made and a meeting of maybe 2 hours with workshops and activities for the rest of the day.  I realized the difference technology made when working together in large groups and could not imagine how hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales and transactions could be managed with disparate slips of paper a pen and an open ledger that gets filled our differently by each person each time.  ANAPQUI had acknowledge this too, and attributed it to growing pains that they were learning from and are quickly working to be a well connected, professionally driven, organization with the latest technology.

I also reflected on leadership.  The fact that Martha was the President of this large cooperative was a sign of social progress.  She also was not blamed for the organizations’ shortcomings but instead given tools to improve it going forward.  I thought of her passive leadership style and the fact that she lost the opportunity to have her communities counted in the quinoa study and also lost the chance to have her product presented in the US.  I realized there was more to being a leader than just being able to speak in front of people.  Being able to anticipate needs, and situations, plan out events in advance and manage the plan going forward, direct conversations and situations, clarify details, summarize and move on discussions, suggest ideas or end points, and direct content and timing were all important leadership skills.  I will keep these in mind as I teach my own students at Landmark College.

Day 26 – the wisdom of development.

Day 26 – the wisdom of development.

Driving back to Oruro from Curahuara, two hours away, I was able to have an open conversation with Carlos ___ Director of ___.  For 20 years he has been working in development.  He seems one of the biggest challenges being the rural people’s general conservatism and fear of change.  Though he hosted countless workshops teaching genetics and animal husbandry to llama herders, they continue to purchase lesser quality llamas in the markets to sell once they mature after a few years.  The farmers stay the same, repeating traditions they have had for centuries without incorporating new knowledge.  It reminded me of the farmers I had known 15 years ago, when working as a rural journalist.  In some ways this resistant to changes was good, it enabled farmers to avoid misdirected development schemes that ended up being costly in time and money and not working as they were proposed but at the same time they left behind things that could have been helpful.

In the quinoa fields there was a chemical fertilizer project offered by USAID years ago, an INIAF engineer explained to me, it left the soils burnt and unable to sustain life.  The dry, arid climate and low levels of organic matter, turned the fertilizers into poison instead of food.

Some development projects did not end so drastically but did end being different than what they started out to be.  Rural sanitation never fared well when latrines were offered – traditionally people in the altiplano would use the vast open plains as their fresh air bathroom.  The sun quickly drying their feces and the vastness of the area causing no real bacterial illnesses to accumulate.  However foreign development workers saw that as dirty and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars building thousands of latrines across the countryside and teaching people about hygiene.  After a few months of use, explained APQUISA member and former development worker, Ecebio Calani, the latrines were dirty, smelly, filthy places to be.  So the families simply covered up the hole and used the structure as a storage shed.  Much more practical!

Calani explained there was another development project to help the challenge of finding drinking water in the desert by creating rainwater capture systems going from roofs to rain barrels like those used in Bermuda.  This was developed in Rodeo, a small rural town in the department of Oruro.  Because of the sparseness of rain and the prevalence of dust and wind, the water that did trickle down from the dirty roofs was dirty and undrinkable.  So the people of Rodeo instead turned the water capture systems into an irrigation system for greenhouses.  I visited those greenhouses and there were working very well.  Now large covered cement cisterns replace the small rain barrels.

On the theme of development, Carlos lamented on the backwardness of it all.  For example in the large commercial town of Challapata (were much of the inter-salar quinoa is sold – but not grown) people choose to have houses and live there full time – however their livelihood is in the rural countryside.  So they live in Challapata and send their children to school there.  At 8am they leave for their rural community – taking public transportation and walking.  Arriving at their small farms around 10am.  The spend the day doing farm chores, milking and grazing a handful of sheep and cows, tending crops such as potatoes, fava beans, wheat, processing harvested food for long term storage – for example making chuno potatoes, or cleaning quinoa, or irrigating fields with gravity fed water systems.  They return home around 6pm.  Meanwhile, the schoolchildren have been home alone in the town since school let out for lunch, ending around 1pm.  They sit around playing computer games and watching TV, or wandering around town with their friends waiting for their parents to come home.

Carlos’ question is why is it not reversed?  Why don’t the parents use the house in Challapata for selling products in town over the weekend and attending the market and live full time in the farmhouse, taking their children to school in the morning and having them come home to the farm in the afternoon.  That way the children are in the fresh air, learning to farm, helping the family and living a more healthy life.  This, living a dignified life in the country, with full access to all modern amenities such as electricity, transportation, and schools is what Carlos calls, “Vivir Bien.” He gets frustrated when he sees people living this in reverse.

It makes me think of my own rural community of Marlboro and how people choose to live in the mountains and forests often not out of need, but out of pleasure.  Many of us have AirBnB housing where people from the cities come to stay with us for the same reasons – to enjoy some nature and live simple and free in the countryside.  It seems this is part of what Bolivia is striving for in their Bien Vivir program, to get the recent city migrants to move back to the countryside using their city housing on occasions but having their home base being in the rural areas.  With the rural areas equipped with the modern amenities of the cities – good schools, electricity, roads, health care, cell service and wifi.  It does not sound very different from what we ask for in Vermont.  So far, the Vivir Bien program has not been so bold as to offer this “reverse migration” model.  But many of the development workers I talk to express hope that in time, and with better and more stable quinoa prices, people will begin to realize what they have left behind and make that choice to have the healthy country lifestyle once again.  As Ecebio pointed out, “the countryside is dirty, but the cities are contaminated,” – noting the difference in the quality of life in each place – with air and water pollution from unregulated industry and astronomical growth being real threats to the health of city dwellers.

Day 25 – Conversation with quinoa grower Maniella Belez from Ciwalaca and other quinoa farmers.

Day 25 – Conversation with quinoa grower Maniella Belez from Ciwalaca and other quinoa farmers.

Arguing with her husband who was loudly complaining to the Salinas transportation office that he did not have enough passengers, Maniella Belez left the Salinas mini van and sat outside in the warming morning sunshine as her husband tried to round up new passengers from the old city bus terminal.  Maybe they did not want to go all the way to Salinas, but with a 3 hour drive, there were other places he could drop people off at on the way – at least he’ll make some money from their journey.

I left the van to sit beside her.  “Your husband?” I asked shifting my gaze to the driver briskly walking off across the street.

“Yes,” she said wearily. “He tires me out.”

“Hmff,” I agreed in a noncommittal way.  We sat there together in silence.

“What are you doing her?” she asked breaking the silence, shifting her heavy body to get a better look at me.  Dressed in traditional winter clothing for the altiplano countryside she had on thick tights topped with knit leg warmers with a llama design, like those sold in the tourist market.  Her faded full blue skirt came to just below her knees and other layers of white skirts with white embroidered borders could be seen poking out along the edges.  I know one of those underskirts was made of hand woven wool (qaytu) for warmth.  Her ample torso was wrapped in a thick machine woven wool shawl, her fuzzy forest green acrylic cardigan poking at the neck and sleeves.  At her feet was a large bundle wrapped in a colorful Aguayo – a strong thick machine woven fabric used to carry everything from babies to 50 pound gas tanks.  She had hauled that out of the minivan when she angrily left.  I noticed her round, lined face and long, thinning braids.  I figured she must be about 60 years old – old enough to be a grandmother with grandchildren.

I explained I was going to Salinas to finish my 3 years of quinoa research.  She told me she was a quinoa farmer, turning again to look at me, holding my gaze waiting to see what I would say.

“That’s great!” I enthusiastically proclaimed flashing her a big smile.  “Let’s talk about quinoa.” Even though it was just 9 in the morning and there was still ice and frost on the ground, she was ready for a lively morning conversation and so we launched into my incessant questioning and my delight at her answers.  I apologized explaining I was an economist and we were always seeking out data.  She was happy to show and share all she knew.

Like some quinoa growers of the “trecer edad” third age, which means post retirement, she lived in both Oruro and her quinoa community of Ciwalaka.  Her husband a transportation driver, enabled her to easily move back and forth from the city to the quinoa fields and back.  She had six children, three sons and three daughters.  They were all independent and married with careers and families.  She explained two of her sons were professionals in La Paz, she had a daughter in Chile, and another son in Oruro who was a high school teacher.  She told me how the children grew up in the countryside with llamas and quinoa but few come back to the quinoa fields any more, and only the son from Oruro continues to cultivate quinoa.  She grows quinoa though.  She owns two market stalls in Oruro, one she rents out and other is where she sells her own quinoa and other grains and dry goods.  She gets 24Bs a kilo retail for her quinoa putting it at a nice 1,200Bs per quintal price.  This is more than fair, though her sales are small since she is selling retail at a per kilo prince and not in bulk (per quintal – 50 kilos).

Her husband comes over. “We’re going,” he says walking back to the mini van.  I head back to my seat behind the driver and she leaves her “shotgun” seat next to her husband to sit back with me.

“It’s more peaceful here.” she mutters to her husband taking the rest of her things from the front seat.  He mumbles something in return and motions for his new customer, and older gentleman, to join him in the front seat.  A few more passengers amble in and we’re off.

I ask my new companion her name.

“Marcialla Belez,” she responds.  We go on chatting about quinoa inputs, costs, outcomes.  She spends about 3,000Bs per hectacre on llama manure to produce 20 to 35 qunitales of quinoa in a good harvest, and just 10 quintals in a bad one, for example when frost arrives early.

With a current wholesale market value of about 500Bs per quintal – this means Marcialla can gross anywhere from 5,000 to 17,500 Bs per hectare of land.  Other costs to consider are those of plowing the field, pest control, weeding, harvesting and processing.  In addition, there are association fees to be paid too as well as organic certification fees.  In all farmers invest an average of 4,500 to 5,000Bs per hectacre to produce an average of 20 quintales of organic, royal quinoa with an average market value of 10,000Bs and a net earnings of 5,000 per hectcre.  Families on average have 7 hectacres of quinoa in production giving them an average 35,000Bs ($5,000) in potential earnings a year – assuming they sell all of their quinoa at 500Bs a quintal average.  This translates to 2,919 Bs a month or almost $14 a day.  Divide this by four to accommodate the average size of the family and it comes to $3.50 a day.  Definitely above the $2 a day global poverty line which they used to live below before the quinoa boom, but still without significant earnings especially since average household income in Bolivia has now jumped to $47,000!  This leaves very few families relying solely on quinoa for their family earnings.

Some farmers and development workers claim that if the quinoa price rose to 800Bs a quintal and stabilized at that price, it would be incentive enough for more families to return to full time quinoa farming and rural living.  Farmers say that families have learned from their overambitious quinoa farming errors of the past and this time, with the 800Bs stable market price, would more carefully cultivate quinoa using less land but higher quality inputs.  It is imagined they could produce 30 quintals per hectacre and with 10 hectacres in production.  This could result in a 5,500Bs per hectacre cost with a potential 24,000Bs per hectacre in gross earnings and a net 18,500Bs per hectacre.  Times that by 10 hectacres and it’s a total of 185,000Bs net earnings a year or $26,000+ a year.  This is what many call a dignified living.  One which enables farmers to produce high quality products, in balance with the land and live comfortably in their rural environments with the comforts and amenities of the city but the space, fresh air, and ancestral traditions of the countryside.   It makes me wonder what agrarian reform and rural development look like in other countries.

I know in Bolivia, with the quinoa boom, that elevated farmers’ earnings closer to the $47,000 a year average income, if just for a moment, and the country’s aggressive rural development infrastructure improvements in the form of electricity, new roads, schools, athletic fields and hospitals – the result was that more families left the rural areas for the cities which had become more accessible for them…

Marciella interrupted my musings over current prices, potential prices and causes of urbanization to invite me to her quinoa fields.  Her husband, now in lighter spirits, offered to drive her into his village of Irstatas, where Marcialla was planning on staying a week to work on processing chunos from her meager potato harvest.  She will place the potatoes in the sun and let them freeze at night, squeezing the juice out of them the next day with her bare feet – repeating the process for a week, and weather permitting, getting hard, dried potatoes that last for decades retaining their nutritional and culinary value.  Chunos are rehydrated and cooked into a side dish with a bit of salt, cheese, ground peanut sauce or milk, depending on what region of Bolivia you are from.  And they are admired and loved by all!

Day 24 – Reflections on a balanced rural life, Javier Medina

Day 24 – Reflections on a balanced rural life, Javier Medina

The most surprising presentation for me was one made by Javier Medina of the CIQ – the International Center of Quinoa.  He presented a bio-cultural model of vivir bien and gave solid examples of how over the past 7 years, he worked with 27 municipal governments, local non profits and local communities across Bolivia to identify development opportunities.  In this event, he was demonstrating the results that came from llama communities. The program was created from connections made at international climate conferences and sponsored by the Bolivian Ministry of the Natural Environment in cooperation with a Swiss development organization.

Javier, a former mayor of Potosi, assured the people, “Though I am an academic, I was born a llama farmer and will die as one too.” This got a laugh out of the people and helped them to relate to Javier better.  It also helped to remind me that we are all so connected by our history that even though we move away from it, it is always a part of us.

Javier started by showing the universality of communication in symbols, especially the symbol of the square.  The square is a principle part of the cross, the Bolivia flag of the countryside – the Willapa, the structure of cities (square blocks) and even our houses.  Geometrical structures, he explained are a universally understood, it unifies us.

Applying this geographical structure to Vivir Bien results in the following structure:



Boson/ energia



Fermion/ masa





Unidad, unico





Inteligencia spiritual



Madre tierra

Inteligencia ecologica





Cultura/ Software

Inteligencia emocional




Inteligencia racional



This diagram was used in Curahuara and Turco, where I am now and led to the development of the 1st National Congress of Ancestral Knowledge in Camelids as people realized their ancestral ties to llamas, the presence of ancestral ruins, pottery and mummies, and their own wisdom.  Carahuara de Carangas of Oruro is the llama capital of Bolivia, but has not been largely promoted as so.  Carahuara de Carangas is also recognized as an autonomous self-governing state, a new designation allowed under Bolivia’s new constitutional law.  This means that as political parties may change, the governing of this sector is maintained by the people themselves.  The leaders are locally elected without party affiliations.

Other llama communities that participated in development based on this model include Yunchara who rediscovered its history of working with llamas, Villazon who rediscovered the importance of their llama industry, Lipez who is now developing a sophisticated market for the highly valued, rare vicuna fiber – the best in the world, valued at $60 a pound in world markets, and Bolivar who is also valuing again its livestock and handicraft industry including its production of dried llama meats.  The gola of this model is to enable other to self direct their own development and empower them to reach out and help direct others.   Javier explains that it is this natural way of transmitting knowledge and sharing ideas that creates the life cycle – with bio feedback and learning be shared all around in a constant flow of information.

To better understand the model one first needs to understand the outlying structure of plot or story (trama).  Almost as in a game theory model, the four outside themes intersect with the four (internal) aspects of Vivir Bien, which also correspond to the Andean Cross: Consciousness, natural environment, culture and social (political).  As in Andean ways of being, there is a contradiction and complementary element to each part.  In the Andean language there exists a third invisible place between two sides, one that has no word in the English language to describe it.  It is in this invisible place where harmony exists between two differences.  Javier later explained to me that this invisible place is present in indigenous languages around the world and even in ancient Greek writings but got lost over the years in translation as Greek ideas were simplified into the roots of economics today.  He suggested the readings of French economic philosopher Don Dominuqe Temple to further understand this.  These contradictions, explained Javier, exist consciously and unconsciously in each of us. Intuitively I felt I could understand the invisible space between two side as a pause, an open area where both can exist together without conflict as they are.  It felt like a meditation.

The first plot to look at is the one of the interior and the exterior, explained Javier.  The interior is the part of life that takes place inside of us.  It has energy and often is mired with confusion as the energy pushes us forward and we are unsure of paths to take and where to go.  The exterior is a place of expansion however, such as in Einstein’s theory of mass, it is concrete, solid and dispersed in ever changing ways.  It does not expend, but its form changes creating ore of one thing and less of another, etc. but form a single, constant source.  So in between our own driving energy and the everchanging but constant world outside is a place where both exist in contradiction and peace.  Javier suggested the writings of Ken Wilber a US based transpersonal phycologist, to further explore these ideas.

The other plot of One (UN) and Pair (PAR) refer to that of the individual and the community; the single aspect and that of many (diversity); in other terms, pach-a (earth) and ma-ya (biodiversity).  Again between the value of one and the needs of the community exist together with a space in the center for both.  It reminds me of Celia’s comment about quinoa and how it created conflict, an internal fight, where people had to choose between planting more land their children and leaving land open for nature.

Now crossing each plot with the themes in the center brings about a greater understanding of each and where one’s potential lies in balance. Menta is about spiritual intelligence: the shared stories of place, places and items of spiritual significance and ceremony.  Madre tierra (mother earth) is about ecological intelligence – how the environment is cared for, protected, developed – in balanced, sustainable ways. Cultural Intelligence are the learned programs.  It is equated with emotional intelligence and refers to the learned traditions and beliefs that are taught (downloaded).  While the state is the rational intelligence, the hardware.  This is where the national intelligence is stored.  It is what is saleable, what can be produced and includes manual labor.  It is present in municipalities.  As each of these 4 areas are crossed with their corresponding plot, new ways of understanding and connection arise both individually and collectively, internally and externally.

This exercise is what Javier did with the team of elected officials, development organizations and community members in reference to their communities to create what he calls, a “system of living” that transcends the colonial paradigm (of ownership and earnings) and awakens communities.  I look forward to further exploring this more with my own Landmark College community and Windham county towns.

Day 23 – A sustainable development paradigm that works:  Vivir Bien.

Day 23 – A sustainable development paradigm that works:  Vivir Bien.

A father daughter team, Crispin and Selina Quispe shared their experience of living in “vivir bien” the Andean paradigm for sustainable development.  Vivir bien, explained Crispin is living in balance with the animals and nature around them.  It starts with knowing who you are, your history and identity – this knowledge lets you know your role in life he explained.

“We all have a role in our life,” he stated, “we forget this.”

“People talk about Vivir Bien,” further stated Crispin, “but it’s just in adjectives.”  He went on to clarify how Vivir Bien is more than just an abstract term.  It’s a future lived with no hierarchy he explained.  It is a shared life in a community with natural responsibilities which manifest in complimentary and reciprocity – the sharing of resources and returning of favors.  He criticized how people view their domestic animals as more important than other animals, blaming it on ingrained colonial thinking.  He explained that they are creating a hierarchy of one animal being more important than another because of its economic benefits.  For example, people will hunt animals that do not have an economic benefit, such as a fox, in order to preserve those that do, such as a llama.  He stated that these ideas came from the colonial era and are a part of Vivir Bien, the original way of thinking of the ancestors, and that we should forget them.  Some people nodded in agreement while others waiting in silence to see what would come next.  All have been well versed in Vivir Bien which is now in the Bolivian constitution and is being used as a basis for country-wide development decisions though it still exists more in theory than practice.

Selina appeared to be about 24 and shared her experience of growing up in harmony with the natural world in Vivir Bien.  She explained that her family lived near a highway that crossed their rural lands.  Often injured wild animals would come to her when they needed her help and she would tend to them the best she could.  She explained that she would help the fox equally as she would help the llama, though the fox is considered a llama predator and pest.  She explained that when one respects the animals, they will respect you back.  Selina claims that even maintain lions have been present in her llama lands, but they are able to live together without much conflict.   She explained how there are many ways to live and that life has a spiritual village shared with all, not just a cultural one that is created for its members.

“One can live for money in a capitalist environment, or live for the people in a communist environment, with vivir bien, we live for life.” Stated Selina.

She explained how water, not money is the provider of life and that like the vicuna and llama, one needs to learn to live together in harmony.  She explains how the two are both sacred animals, and even though the llama brings money to the herder and the vicuna does not, they are equal in their value in that both have life.

“If you only value money,” explained Selina, “then you lose the value of the life.”

To emphasize this, Selina talked about the “internal fight” that the quinoa is provoking.

“Quinoa is destroying mother earth.” Stated Selina in reference to the quinoa boom of 2015 where thousands of acres of grazing lands were plowed up for quinoa production and financial gain.

The internal fight is the family’s need to. “plant (quinoa) for their children while also leaving (resources) for nature.  It’s a balance.

An audience member asked Celina about her views on climate change.  “Climatic changes, “ she replied,” happen all of the time.  “That’s what climates do, they change.  In our history there have been times of even more changes than now.”  Selina went on to explain, how when living close to the land and in harmony, you also learn how to recognize and work with these changes, whether made by man or nature.  She felt that it is part of being connected to the earth and is the way the ancestors survived and how we too can survive.

I asked her about her views on technology, as we were sharing these ideas via a powerpoint slide of her community, communicating via smart phones and arriving in modern transportation: cars, buses and trucks.  She explained that it was all a balance.  As with the natural world as well.  When we live in balance, she explained, we learn to share but not to distract or take away.  For example, she sees phones as being in balance with the sharing of information and connecting people and ideas, but moving out of balance when this information, or games are used to distract or take people away from their present lives or communities.

The audience showed a lot of support for her ideas.  As Vivir Bien is still more of an aspiration at the moment, it was refreshing for them to hear some more practical ways of how it is understood.  Especially from Celina, a younger member of the community.