Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Visit to Torotoro

This month Ed had the opportunity to go and visit Torotoro in the northern most province of the department of Potosí, an area that he had not been to before. He went there with 3 other colleagues from the La Paz office for two reasons, firstly to do a supervision of an Economic Development project that FH is doing there with funding from USDA and also to talk with the team working there and the local government authorities to gather ideas for a proposal for further work in this area.

Wednesday night Ed took the overnight bus with Mauricio from La Paz to Cochabamba (7 hours). They arrived in Cochabamba at 05:30 on Thursday and then were collected by an FH vehicle for a further 3 hour drive to their first site visit. At this first site, Sucusuma, they looked at an irrigation canal that FH had been repairing for the community as well as some of the large water storage tanks (50,000 litre) that FH had helped to build, filled with water diverted from the river. From there they went to visit a couple of families who were using the irrigation system for their Maize crops.

The families demonstrated their sprinkler systems whilst the team enjoyed a cooling off in the water and tried out some of the locally produced lemons straight off the tree from the families orchard (I never knew that lemons trees had spines on them!).

Another of the families the team visited had successfully established their own vegetable garden which they had done off of their own backs. This was a very positive sign of progress as it is normally very unusual for Bolivians to grow vegetables, particularly when the focus is for personal family consumption.

From there the team visited another storage tank. Tradition has it that when you first visit Torotoro you have jump into one of these storage tanks. Ed and Mauricio (also on his first trip to Torotoro) were not too convinced by the idea, so their “loving” colleagues took hold of them and drenched them with water instead, which was actually quite nice as it was a very hot day.

After lunch the team went to see some of the silos (storage houses) this project has also helped to create. Ed was really struck by the changes seen in Jose one of the participants of the project. Jose has been in the project for 2 years, over which time the technicians have taught him how to improve his farming methods and how to select the best plants to choose for seeds for the following year. Part of this includes his mother walking among the maize tying ribbon around the plants that have 2 or 3 cobs on them so that at harvest time these cobs can be separated for the use of seeds in the following year. Another part of this project has been to help Jose to improve the storage of his maize before he sells it. He used to just store it in the loft of his house were rats and insects would eat and defecate on it, as well as other maize being degraded through disease. This meant that when the time came to sell it, both the quantity and quality of the maize was severely reduced.

As a way in which to encourage Jose to take pride in his work and to take care of his new facilities, FH did not just give Jose a new storage house and metal silos for his maize, he had to make personal sacrifices to help him understand the value of these things and to ensure that he was willing to look after them in the future. It has been seen in so many occasions where things have just been given to a person at no personal cost to themselves, that there is no value in the object and as a result the things are not looked after or maintained. It also does not help people to understand that they themselves can bring about a positive change in their own lives (this is a concept that is particularly counter-cultural to people here in Bolivia who strongly believe in fate and that they are not able to change anything).

Therefore, Jose had to complete 4 pre-requisites before FH began to work with him on his storage house; 1. He had to put in 1,200 Bolivianos (£106.90) as his match funding to pay for the storage house, which in total costs 28,000 Bolivianos (£2494.47); 2. He had to be willing to collect local materials of sand, rock, straw and wood for the construction; 3. He had to be growing maize and 4; He had to be part of the association that buys maize from farmers to transform it into other products.

When he has agreed to these things and had given FH his match funding the FH technicians worked alongside Jose to help him build his storage house. It took them a month to do and was a lot of hard work as he lives in an isolated area and had to carry all the sand and rocks up from the river below his house. As a result of working with Jose in this way he has been able to increase the value of his maize from 20 – 60 Bolivianos (£1.78 - £5.34) per aroba (11.5Kg) so about a 200% increase. He is proud of what he has done and his mind has been opened up to other possibilities, that he can continue to increase his maize production and that he can also improve his home as well.

This story is a testimony to the FH technicians that have been with working with Jose and 15 other families in Torotoro. The Technicians work away from their families for about 10 days at a time to help these families in these difficult rural areas of Bolivia to begin to break out of poverty.

In the evening the team met with the entire FH Torotoro team to begin to gather ideas from them about what themes could be put into the proposal we had come to work on. They proposed some good ideas. The next day the team met with the local mayor and his officials to find out what they saw as the needs within the municipality of Tortoro.

After lunch they began the journey homeward, with a 4 hour drive back to Cochabamba and then the 7 hour bus ride back to La Paz, finally arriving home at 05:00am to sleep a little before celebrating Sarah’s birthday with friends the next day.

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