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Working with farmers on the Altiplano


In Bolivia, poverty is much more prevalent in rural areas, and especially on the Altiplano, an inhospitable plain bordering Peru. Faced with a harsh climate and poor soil quality, farmers struggle to make their livelihood. An initiative led by Secours Catholique and financed by AFD gives small producers the means to recover their food security.


The Bolivian Altiplano is, along with the Tibetan plateau, the highest inhabited region in the world. It is an extreme environment. The small community of Calamarca (“stone village”) lives at about 50 km from the city of La Paz and at an altitude of 4,000 meters. The population has always lived off its land, land which faces a harsh and cold climate, with variable weather conditions and where water is a scarce resource.

But these already difficult conditions are exacerbated by climate change, which is clearly visible there. Instability has grown and disrupted rainfall patterns, bringing long periods of drought. The result? The sustainability of traditional agricultural practices and, therefore, the food security of residents are under threat. Faced with growing poverty, many flee the Altiplano to seek better opportunities elsewhere.

Disseminating sustainable agricultural practices

Secours Catholique is taking action to address the situation by leading a program to support small producers in Calamarca and a neighboring community, Colquencha. It is receiving financial support from AFD and the French Facility for Global Environment (FFEM) . In the field, these communities are being supported by CIPCA (Centro de investigación y promoción del campesinado).

The program targets sustainable natural resources management and agricultural practices. This sustainable management fully integrates the new climate situation… Promoting these initiatives will have an impact on the development of the farming and indigenous economy and also stem the rural exodus.

The support from CIPCA has been a decisive factor: the technical assistance and provision of equipment have already benefited 150 families. The NGO’s action has developed livestock farming for milk production, organic vegetable production in greenhouses, and installed an irrigation system which is more resistant to the impacts of climate change. A solar water pump has also been installed.

“Thanks to the greenhouses, we have been able to diversify our production by growing plants which cannot grow in the open on the Altiplano, such as tomatoes, lettuces or cucumbers”, explains Severo Mamani, a producer and leader of the Caluyo community in Calamarca, “And it ends up on our plates: we have introduced new foods into our diet!”

Challenge of marketing

Farmers have also been able to structure themselves thanks to this support: “We have set up the Agricultural Producers Association of Calamarca, to be stronger on the local market together and better protect our interests”, continues Severo.

Colquencha is located further away, 20 minutes by car: hopes there are based on a dairy project, which is also supported by CIPCA. As in Calamarca, the program has tangible results: more independence and resilience in terms of the changes.

“We now produce milk derivatives like fresh cheese and yoghurts”, explains Justina Mamani, a member of the AIMPROLEM association of women producers of dairy products, “This allows us producers to cope better with developments on the milk market and sell our products locally!”


More responsibility for women

Integrating women and young people into the local farming economy is one of the other challenges to be met. CIPCA has made training women “leaders” a long-term priority. “We must not simply content ourselves with having an impact on the productive sector”, explains Gustavo Clavijo Leaño, Director of CIPCA Altiplano, “We want to take action on socio-political issues. For example, women play a crucial role in the rural economy. They are set to become agents of the change in agriculture and nutrition.”

Face up to. Adapt. Then take up the challenge… Step by step, CIPCA is planting some seeds of hope and change on the highlands. 

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