Bolivia: restoring nature in the highlands

Friday, March 05, 2010

Canadian Lutheran World Relief’s work in Bolivia includes Potosi Department, located in mountainous southwestern Bolivia, about 400 km from the capital La Paz. Like most of Bolivia, indigenous people are the majority.

The community of Jaylluhua is typical of several small villages in Potosi where CLWR is working with its partner, Instituto Politécnico Tomas Katari (IPTK), to improve life for indigenous people. One particularly innovative project involves potato production. Over the years, many native varieties of potatoes had gradually disappeared from the region to the detriment of local farmers. To renew biodiversity, IPTK has worked with farmers to reintroduce 23 native varieties that have proven more amenable to local climate and soils. According to one community member, Elfonsio Paco, “Native potatoes are more useful for almost everything. These potatoes are floury and cook rapidly. You do not need a lot of firewood or much time to cook. That helps us.”

Some of the varieties have intriguing names and histories. The mula ratina variety was given its name because the yield obtained was usually enough to purchase a mule. It was also a dependable choice.  Output was good regardless of whether the growing season was wet or dry, and the variety was seldom affected by disease.

Beside potato production, IPTK works with farmers in Jaylluhua and other communities to promote the construction of terraces and furrows to conserve soil and water. Tree planting also helps further these goals. In 2008-09, almost 6500 trees were planted, most of which were native species.

Bolivia is a landlocked country sharing a border with five other South American countries. Its terrain is varied.  Low-lying eastern regions form part of the Amazon basin, while the Andean cordillera cuts across the western part of the country.