Story and photos by Carolee Riley,
Internal Communications Manager and Bolivia Study Tour Participant
“Everyone needs a plan,” said Savelio Lopez, a Heifer International project beneficiary who lives with his wife and young daughter in Potreros, a remote and isolated village located three hours from Tarija, Bolivia. “Every producer should have a plan. It is a good guide. But you need a community plan too. You must have both to be successful.”
Savelio Lopez does, and is.
Trained as a leader in sustainable agricultural production, Savelio attends sustainable agricultural trainings provided by a rotating fund from Heifer International and teaches these skills to others in his community. The funding from Heifer supports the “Improving Production, Processing and Marketing of Small Farmers’ Agroecological Products in the Department of Tarija” project, enabling Savelio and others in his community to attend trainings and purchase tools and materials for agricultural activities such as irrigation systems, vermiculture bins for composting and sheet metal for animal pens.
As a participant in Heifer International’s first study tour to Bolivia this past November, I learned that none of the land in this area is individually owned; it is owned by the community. Savelio and his family live on ¾ hectare of land that they requested and received from the community. They pay a monthly fee for access to drinking water, which gives them the right to 7,000 liters of water a month. They use 4,000 liters a month for themselves and the remaining water is used on their crops—peach trees, cabbage, squash, native potatoes, onions, oregano, chamomile, beans, kale and several varieties of flowers—and for their animals—pigs and hens. But it is not enough. At the time of our visit, the community was suffering from a drought. Every farmer we met in this area expressed a drastic need for rain. Crops that should have been over our heads and bright green in color were only a few feet high and were beginning to turn yellow around the edges. Despite these harsh conditions, Savelio’s spirit remains positive.
He and his family are able to eat the majority of the food they grow and sell the remaining fruits and vegetables at the market. Savelio’s family produces organic fruits and vegetables. He fertilizes his crops with pig urine along with a mixture of lime and sulfur. While he could raise the price of his organic produce at the market, he chooses not to do so. “If I raise the price of my organic vegetables, only those people with lots of money could afford them. Those poor families like mine could not afford to buy them. We’re not in this to make money,” said Savelio, “we’re in this to share with our community.”
Producing native seeds is a common practice here and crucial for the survival of the community, as this prevents community members from depending on external seed providers. For this reason, the community holds a seed fair on a regular basis for exchanging native seeds with other community members and for recovering native seeds that have been lost. Some of the native seeds include corn, peas and several varieties of beans and squash. It is a well-respected rule that native seeds shared at the seed fair must stay within the community. Savelio has grown potato plants from native potato seeds and is now able to produce his own native potato seeds.
There are four main pillars of sustainable production that Savelio says every community must have to be successful:
1) Production – Growing what people need to eat
2) Social aspect – Teaching what one knows to others in the community
3) Cultural aspect – Conserving natural seeds and food culture
4) Financial aspect – Earning money for family necessities such as clothing, and for Savelio, a backpack for his daughter to carry when she attends school.
Toward the end of our visit on his farm, Savelio asked, “Would you like to see my five-year plan?” Seeing our eyebrows raise and heads nod, he quickly retrieved it from inside his house. When he returned, he unrolled the bright yellow paper and proudly showed us a detailed drawing of the five-year plan he created for his farm, which identifies where his farm is now and where he hopes it will be in 2015.
Some of his five-year goals include having more peach trees, expanding his green houses, building fencing for cattle, building a storage room, obtaining beehives for honey production, planting additional flowers and citrus trees (orange and lemon), planting live fencing to avoid soil erosion and planting trees that produce large leaves that he can use for ground cover to prevent frost damage in the winter months.
Savelio Lopez exceeded my expectations that day. There is no doubt in my mind that if I were to return to this wonderful place five years from now, Savelio Lopez will have exceeded his own expectations, as well as those of his community members.