Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to visit a number of Practical Action’s projects across Latin America. Not only was I overwhelmed by the colours, culture and pure grit of people living in some really challenging environments, but by the generosity and open friendship they showed when welcoming us into their homes.
At an altitude of almost 4000m, high in the mountains of western Bolivia is the Jesús de Machaca municipality. With a population of roughly 400 people, a tough four hour car ride from any major town along rough dirt roads, this is a remote and arguably hostile landscape to live in. There are few ways to make a living up here, and apart from growing limited crops such as quinoa, the environment means agriculture is largely restricted to farming camelids.
Llamas and alpacas are hardy animals, which when cared for properly; provide a vital income for farmers. However; challenges of weather, uncontrolled breeding, inadequate knowledge of rearing livestock, along with often unfair access to markets means that farmers in the upland areas of Peru and Bolivia are struggling to earn a living to support their families.
But, with the help of our kind supporters, Practical Action is changing this. Below you can read about five simple, sustainable solutions that are helping to transform the livelihoods of camelid farmers in Latin America.
1. Covered shelters:
The relentless push of climate change is causing the weather to be unpredictable in high altitude areas, and farmers in Bolivia are often caught out by sudden bites of frost, or prolonged rainfall. Martin Queso and his family showed us the open fronted shelter that Practical Action have helped him to build, he told us:
“Before, my animals would just range freely. When the weather suddenly changed, with cold winds, ice or rain, they would get sick, often they would die, and I would have no way of making any income. I couldn’t afford to replace a lost llama, and my flock got smaller and smaller.”
With the shelter, now the family can easily bring the herd inside for protection from the elements when needed.
2. Rainwater storage, irrigation and water pumps and troughs:
With erratic and unreliable rainfall, mountainous areas in Peru and Bolivia often go for periods of time where water is scarce. With the implementation of rainwater harvesting systems like this one is Nunõa, Peru, water can be collected and stored. Irrigation pipes are connected to the reservoirs, ensuring the surrounding ground remains green for grazing. In Jesús de Machaca, the installation of photovoltaic water pumps and troughs means that livestock have access to fresh water all year round.
“We didn’t believe it would work at first” Dalia Condori, a member of the local council told us, “but now it has brought water and a better life for so many”
3. Breeding pens:
We’ve seen them patch-worked into the countryside of the United Kingdom for centuries:
Dry-stone wall enclosures that hem-in herds, divide open grassland and mark boundary lines; but this simple method of livestock separation has only been introduced fairly recently to communities in the Nunõa district, near Sicuani in southern Peru. Enabling farmers to isolate certain alpacas from the rest of the herd allows for selective and planned breeding of the healthiest animals, in turn producing the highest quality wool fleece, returning a better price at market. It also means that young alpacas can be nurtured and protected for longer periods of time before being released to roam freely with the herd, thus boosting their fitness and increasing their chances of survival.
4. Market access and product diversification:
In the remote villages of upland Bolivia, getting a fair price for llama wool is tough – individual farmers can only sell for whatever the going price in the local area is, even though this may be much lower than what the fleece is actually worth. Practical Action is working with farming communities to create co-operative groups that can work together to access bigger markets for their products, and demand a higher, fairer price. Llama farmers like Andrés are also encouraged to diversify their products in order to make a better income. Andrés, who has won multiple awards for his spinning and wool-product work, also makes and paints traditional Bolivian clay figures to sell at the tourist markets.
5. Training and knowledge:
Practical Action helps to provide training on basic animal husbandry and wellbeing. Farmers in Jesús de Machaca learn about the right type and quantities of nutritious food, how to administer medication for their llamas when they are sick, and how to maintain the grazing pasture land. The knowledge is then shared between farming communities by Practical Action ‘Promotors’ who help to teach others how to breed and care for their livestock effectively.
It is vitally important to the families in these areas that the great work that Practical Action is able to do continues. Llamas and alpacas are strong and intelligent and are crucial for the farming communities in Latin America. Access to the tools and knowledge for breeding and looking after their animals provide families with a secure source of income. With just £47 you can help to support a llama farmer in Bolivia by buying a ‘llama lifeline’ Practical Present today.1 Comment » | Add your comment
I had the good fortune to study ancient history – a subject that fascinates me. However, my studies only covered classical civilisations so my knowledge of the Incas is minimal. So when I was in Peru in December and visited some Inca sites, I was enthralled and keen to learn more. I’m delighted that the BBC has just begun a new series ‘Masters of the Clouds’ which will enable me to do this and especially to consider how technologies of the past can help to deal with modern problems such as climate change and disaster resilience.
From the first episode it became clear that the Incas knew a thing or two about climate smart agriculture. They developed complex water harvesting and terracing systems which enabled them to produce enough food to store surpluses in their vast granaries against hard times. As a result of having a secure food supply the population increased and the Inca empire was able to expand to cover nearly 690,000 square miles – from modern Colombia to Chile. Practical Action is using similar techniques in the high Andes to support farmers who face low rainfall today as a result of climate change.
Earthquakes are a regular hazard in this region is earthquakes and the Incas developed building techniques to minimise the effects. Leaning their walls slighting inward, excellent masonry skills and rounded corners have ensured that Macchu Picchu’s stone walls still stand despite 500 years of shaking.
Once again Practical Action looked to the past when helping with the reconstruction efforts after major earthquake, using traditional quincha techniques for greater stability.
Technology also proved to be their downfall. Inca soldiers armed with spears and bow and arrows were up against the Spanish forces equipped with horses, cannon and firearms. Smallpox and measles also brought by the invaders devastated the population and the Inca Empire folded. I’m looking forward to finding out more this week.
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This morning I arrived in La Paz, Bolivia after a 30 hour journey from the UK. For the next four weeks I will be blogging from Latin America as I meet up with journalists, film crews, vicuñas, alpacas and the hurly-burly of the COP 20 talks in Lima at the start of next month. The trip is by far the longest I have done since starting work at Practical Action, and, for me, it will present me with some major challenges.
1) Altitude – At the moment, my main concern is not getting, or at least coping with, altitude sickness in La Paz – the highest capital city in the world at 3,500 metres above sea level. I’ve felt light headed and breathless throughout the day here, but tomorrow I go up a further 1,500 metres to Apolobamba to see Vicuña farmers herding and shearing their animals against a stunning backdrop. Either that, or I turn green, vomit and spend a humiliating two days next to an oxygen tank.
2) Language – I aware of how annoying us Brits can be with our refusal to learn other languages using the age old tactic of bellowing loudly until we make ourselves understood, so I have been diligently trying to brush up on my Spanish in the weeks leading up to this trip so that I can interview the people we work with and interact with my colleagues properly. Trouble is, when confronted by some machine-gun fast Español, any confidence rapidly drains and the blank look on my face gives the game away…
3) Getting heard at the COP talks – I´ve managed to get entry into the COP20 talks later this month, so that I can help our policy team get their messages across to the politicians who hold the purse strings and the power. This represents a fantastic opportunity for me to do all those things I´ve been asking my colleagues to do all this time. On the other hand, it is also a huge intimidating event, the likes of which I´ve never experienced before. Achieving what we want will undoubtedly be a challenge.
4) Speaking at the University in Bolivia – in a moment of unparalleled weakness I agreed to speak to up to 200 Bolivian students about my work & the British media in a sort of a Q&A session, alongside Guardian journalist Sam Jones. The scale of the task, not to mention the weakness of my Spanish, is now dawning on me. I am truly terrified.
5) Filming in Peru – BBC World are putting together a new series of their Horizons programme in 2015, which looks at the use of technology to overcome problems we face in the world today. Naturally, Practical Action´s work is a great fit for them, so they approached us to see if we had any ideas. Recklessly, I told them I would be in Peru looking at how we use mobile phone technology to help predict landslides and guard against them in future. The result? This section of the programme will now consist of a fly-on-the-wall style documentary looking at my visit and interviews with the people involved in the project. Cue more terror.
So that´s that…keep up to date with whether they come to pass here!4 Comments » | Add your comment
I’ve just sent the final report to the innocent foundation on Practical Action’s cloud forest project, ‘New Life to the Forests, New Life for the Amazonian People in Peru and Bolivia’. Really hope they like the report, but more importantly I’m sure they will be as proud as we are of the incredible impact that the partnership between Practical Action and the innocent foundation, together with fellow funders of the project, the Waterloo Foundation and Z Zurich Foundation, has achieved over the last three years for communities living the tropical forests of the Amazon.
If you watched, ‘I bought a rainforest’ on the UK’s BBC tv over the last three weeks, by the film director, Gavin Searle, which follows the journey of Charlie Hamilton James when he bought 100 acres of Peruvian rainforest, you will have seen the kind of challenges he experienced if he was to preserve his purchase from being felled. By living and working with the local people he begins to realise that the way to help protect the forest is not just to buy it, but to engage with the people living in it, and to work with them rather than against them. Just the way that Practical Action has been working with the indigenous Awajun and settler families in Bolivia and Peru – working with them to better manage the cloud forests sustainably so that they, and generations to come, can make a living without removing majestic trees such as the mahogany, without growing crops and then leaving the land degraded and without having to resort to livelihoods such as illegal logging and mining, which destroy not preserve one of the riches ecosystems in the world, home to amazing flora and fauna and to more than 3.5million native and migrant people.
We set out to work directly with almost 1,500 people living and working in the forest, and to indirectly help a further 20,000 people, through sharing lessons and good practice. At the end of the three years, we have improved the livelihoods and lives of not only the families we worked directly with, but have improved the quality of life for at least a further 63,000 men, women and children. Equally importantly, the communities, with the Foundations’ and Practical Action’s support, have begun to rebuild the forest, and to build a better future for their children, by planting over 105,000 indigenous trees, trees that will bring shade to their crops and will capture over 630,000mt of CO2 . With skills and knowledge now in place, with the Government supporting the work being carried out, this not the end of the project, but the beginning of a new life for the forests, a new life for the Amazonian people in Peru and Bolivia.
Practical Action is keen to talk to Trusts and Foundations who would like to support our work in energy, access to markets, disaster risk reduction and urban water and sanitation. Visit our dedicated Trusts and Foundations site for more information: http://practicalaction.org/trusts-and-foundations1 Comment » | Add your comment
Continuing my journey from Bolivia, we arrived back in Cusco, Peru – A city that appears to be a back packer’s paradise.
I have been fortunate to see another number of projects across a very broad spectrum, but one that will stay with me for the rest of my life featured multiple technologies that are benefitting families living in small communities in the high Andes. At first sight, I didn’t feel terribly comfortable with the sight that presented before me and worried I might get emotional. As a first timer to projects and project sites, no amount of imagination could have prepared me for the reality of the absolute lack of access to basic services that these communities are enduring. These people have very little, but they do have each other and an understanding of the difficulties their families, friends and neighbours face. They are working together to make life better for themselves and Practical Action is working with them to help them achieve a better standard of living.
Practical Action has provided a number of basic services including toilets, cook stoves, sand bar water filter systems, water harvesting systems, and solar powered energy. These services are transforming the lives for these communities and they couldn’t be more thrilled.
An interesting innovation is the provision of a solar powered spinning machine, which reduces the time taken in spinning Alpaca wool. One machine per community has been installed. The ladies can earn ten times more income through using the machine as opposed to wool spun from the traditional spinning method. The machine also has the ability to spin two ply as well as single ply, allowing for more choice in their sales. Rivelina, the lady in the photograph is tasked with training the ladies of the community how to use the machine.
The Communities are really appreciative of the support they receive from Practical Action and now have hope for the future. I have seen for myself how charitable donations from generous like-minded people really can make a difference to communities. Thank you to everyone who has supported this life changing work.
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The long and winding road to Apurimac
“There’s a line in a famous song, ‘The long and winding road…leads me to your door. ‘ On Tuesday, we travelled down to Apurimac to meet a community that don’t actually have a door – because they don’t have a permanent home. Their homes consist of shelters made from plastic bags.
The community of Bachaura live high up in the Peruvian Andean Mountains and unfortunately, they are the victims of a landslide that took place in 2011. What remains of their ‘old’ houses beggars belief, huge cracks if they are lucky, half or all the house missing if not.
This is a community living quite literally on the edge, not only in terms of desperate need but also thousands of metres above sea level. They are at the mercy of the elements and experiencing extreme temperatures. In the heat of the day, the plastic houses are roasting them alive and in the extreme cold, they have no way of heating their homes, or keeping warm. Problems with mining on the other side of the mountain, is only exacerbating the situation; they are desperate and live in fear for their lives and that of their children.
Deisi, one of the ladies who seemed keen to speak up told us that they are increasingly afraid of more landslides and explained that they had tried to re-route the water coming down from the mountain away from their community and makeshift homes. The heat is more intense than ever before and the water levels are rising, increasing the risk of more landslides. The river running through the mountains divides the communities but Deisi is afraid for everyone.
If a landslide wasn’t enough, a drought in 2011, inevitably led to food shortages. The communities improvised by making soups with the leaves from the trees, collecting and cooking algae from the river, eating the fruit of the cactus plants and bugs from the bamboo – using the resources they had available to them. They also set up an exchange scheme with other communities across the river. However, this in itself has highlighted problems as the Elder of the community was keen to tell us.
“Diseases are staring here, worms and ants that are eating our crops”. He went on to say that in previous days, good practices were passed down from generation to generation. His father and forefathers used to read the sun and the stars, as well as the weather to know if it was going to be a fruitful year. “This is all gone now; this knowledge has been forgotten by the new generation”.
There is a huge amount of work to do with this community and Practical Action is involved in the first phase of a project – that of collating the old knowledge and cataloguing it for generations to come. Looking at seed recovery and seed knowledge, so that for generations to come they can adapt to the changing climate and not go short of food.
Deisi is part of that younger generation, who at the age of 25 has three children depending on her. What she wants most of all is support to rebuild their homes away from danger, so that she can live without fear. I sincerely hope that one day, she will get that wish and that the long and winding road will indeed lead to her door.
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“Are we nearly there yet?” is a thought that has cropped up in my mind on a couple of occasions these last few days as we journey around Bolivia and up into the Andes, to see some of the great work Practical Action is doing for the communities living there. I could never have imagined the enormity of the landscape and the time it takes to get anywhere, either through distance, traffic or altitude.
The majestic mountains and the never ending plateaus, interspersed with the odd farm, perhaps a couple of houses, or small village is a sight to behold. Women in traditional Bolivian dress, shepherding their sheep, llamas or cows, could be straight out of a story book. But life for these communities is far from easy. I have been fortunate to see for myself four very different projects that are making a difference to these communities.
A Centre of Technology and Innovation is underway in the Jesús de Machaca Municipality, for the rearing and breeding of Alpacas for meat, leather, wool and textiles. The project will benefit 163 families and make a significant difference to both their wellbeing and incomes. The Centre will sustain and promote rural activities of the Kamayocs through information materials and communications. On our visit, the ground had been ring fenced with a solar powered electric fence. Corrals’ had been dug with the appropriate drainage and water systems were in the process of being installed. Some 140 animals were already in residence, jumping about in the Andean sunshine. The communities of the municipality could not be happier with the work in progress and gave us the warmest welcome imaginable, which included a presentation from the Mayor of the Municipality.
Quinoa processing is a project that has reached completion of its first stage – a short project of a mere 9 months that has turned around the processing of Quinoa and other grains. The communities are now able to produce popcorn, bars and cookies from the Quinoa and are selling them at local Fayres around the municipality. Berta, one of the ladies involved in the goods production, told us what a difference the project and the opportunity has made to her life, she is now able to contribute to the family income – something she is immensely proud of. The second stage of this valuable work will look at securing contracts with schools to supply Quinoa bars for healthy breakfasts.
A Milk Transformation Centre has literally transformed the lives of a women’s cooperative in Colquencha Municipality. Following support from Practical Action, partner Sowawi and the help of the Municipality of Colquencha, they decided they could do more than just receive milk, and are now successfully producing cheese and yoghurt, building up a profitable dairy business. Sebberine, the lady who over sees the production of the dairy products told me she is happier now as she has an income, she is able to go to La Paz and can afford a little extra for her family. However, the wonderful news Sebberine shared with our party was that she, along with her ladies, known as the Sartawi Sayari Foundation had that week, been certified, meaning they have the passport to be able to sell their products legally.
Elena is a lady who is happier than ever as her family participated in a project that has transformed her life and that of her family. She told me how her neighbours were jealous of her now! Elena and her family, and other families have benefitted from wells, drinking fountains and shelters. Elena has also benefited from water harvesting irrigation system, allowing her to grow vegetables to support her family and to sell on. Practical Action, worked with the families and the Municipality.
So, “Are we nearly there yet? For Elena, Sebberine and Berta, yes we are, but for the rest of the Andean communities and those living in poverty elsewhere in the world, no, we still have a way to go.No Comments » | Add your comment
The first meal of the day is reckoned to be the most important, especially for children, but I heard from locals in the remote, rural district of Aroma, Bolivia, that school kids are turning up for class empty and hungry. This happens because they are too poor to afford breakfast, and it makes it impossible for them to concentrate on lessons, and their grades are suffering as a result.
However, two of Practical Action’s projects have come up with an innovative, and sustainable, solution.
One is a women’s collective which turns milk into yoghurt and cheese, to sell within the community. Practical Action trained them in dairy work, and more importantly, provided irrigation technology so their cows are well-nourished enough to produce milk.
The other is a social enterprise a few miles away, which makes cereal bars from quinua, a South American grain, mixed with natural ingredients like honey and raisins. Practical Action helped them establish the business, and supplied the necessary machinery.
Together, the groups approached Aroma’s mayor, and now they have government funding to provide yoghurt and quinua bars to 2,600 school children. They are excited not only by the commercial opportunity, but also by the fact that local kids will now eat a healthy and nutritious breakfast, and their school results will improve. I was excited to know that those breakfasts would be locally produced, and would support two great community enterprises, making them more sustainable.
And I must admit, having sampled both the yoghurt and the cereal bars, I wish my breakfast was as tasty!1 Comment » | Add your comment
If you were hoping for an environmental twist on ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, I would move on now. But if you’re interested in how communities living in the cloud forests of Peru and Bolivia are beginning to experience the fifty shades of green forest that their ancestors once enjoyed, then read on.
For many years, settlers have lived in areas of the forests also inhabited by the Awajun, the indigenous communities. Renting land from the Awajun, the settlers’ preferred method of farming was to clear away the forest and plant seasonal crops to feed their families until the quality of the soil was so depleted that it was no longer productive. The families then had to move on. This was clearly not sustainable and led to conflict with the Awajun, whose land no longer had any value.
Working with the Awajun and settlers, Practical Action researched how the forests used to look, using local knowledge to identify the diversity of plants and trees (hence the fifty shades of green) that once grew naturally in the area. Using this knowledge, we worked with the communities to find ways of recreating the cloud forests while still providing them with a realistic living. An agro-forestry system was devised, which ensures that areas of indigenous forest are conserved for future generations, while at the same time communities are able diversify their crops, for eating and selling. I love the diagram below, illustrating simply how by working together, the Awajun and the settlers really can bring ‘fifty shades of green’ back into their lives now, and for future generations. It’s also a partnership beyond the cloud forest communities – we have been able to achieve this because of the partnership with three great Foundations: Innocent foundation, Waterloo Foundation and Z Zurich Foundation.
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After a night in Coroico we awake to find the whole area enveloped in fog and rain. After a quick breakfast we head back again on the three-hour drive over the pass into La Paz.
In the afternoon we meet with the staff in the Practical Action office. We have a growing staff – around 15 now and assembled this afternoon together in one room for the first time (many are posted to projects, but there are 6 or 7 full time in the office in La Paz). We get a briefing on the programme – we have 6 active projects at the moment in the country and a wide range of proposals across all 3 aims in various stages of development.
There seems to be a good exchange between Bolivia and Peru, not just of staff but also others engaged in projects with 2 exchange visits between the Chinchipe agro forestry project in Peru and the new project in Bolivia in recent weeks. The staff are generally young, enthusiastic and skilled and I have the impression of a very friendly but also dynamic programme, which I am sure is going to develop rapidly.
After another night in La Paz, Alfonso and I return by plane to Lima, accompanied by Mario, the office manager, for 3 days of co-ordination and planning meetings with the rest of the Latin America Senior Management Team.No Comments » | Add your comment