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 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?