Protecting Mother Earth in Bolivia

New generation PROMARENA development project looks to environmental stewardship as a mechanism for poverty reduction and peace

In Bolivia’s high valleys and Chaco region – a remote corner of the world where reverence and respect for Pachamama (Mother Earth) is an integral part of everyday life – climate change and land degradation are making family farming a very risky business.

In order to help poor farmers adapt to these changing conditions (and show their respect to Pachamama as they have done for centuries) the Natural Resource Management Project of the Chaco and High Valleys (better known by its Spanish acronym PROMARENA) is looking toward age-old practices of terrace farming and good old-fashioned competition as a mechanism for eco-friendly development and sustainable poverty reduction.

The eight-year US$ 15 million PROMARENA Project closed late last year after improving the lives and livelihoods of nearly 20,000 poor rural families.

“The environmental achievements of the project are quite impressive. Through the competitive resource allocation model, where project participants compete for project funding in public contests, the PROMARENA project helped to plant over 8 million trees and  construct 803,012 ha of new terraces that reduce erosion and contribute to minimize the effects of desertification,” says Francisco Pichón, Bolivia Country Programme Manager for the International Fund for Agricultural Organization (IFAD). IFAD contributed US$12 million to the PROMARENA project.  

How does the contest model work?
The contest model is being used across Latin America to ensure sustainability and build community-based, demand-driven support for rural poverty projects.

“The public contests (concursos) work by identifying a problem within a family. The family identifies a problem. They tell us that they want to improve their house, the ceiling is about to fall down, there aren’t enough rooms, they need a bathroom. The project looks at these needs through the contests and transfers the money to the families,” says the National Coordinator of the PROMARENA Program, Omar Tejerina. “Motivated by the economic resources, the families begin to work with local resources and with everybody in the family.”

Efraín Condori Quispe is a peach farmer that benefited from PROMARENA’s public contests. With a group of other farmers he competed for a grant to build a small dam and irrigation canals for his orchards. Quispe and crew won first prize with their three-dimensional “Talking Map” that mapped out how the community managed their natural resources in the past and how they planned to improve their management in the future. With technical assistance from PROMARENA, Quispe also added terraces to his farm to reduce erosion and improved the quality of his production by using organic fertilizer.

“Everything we had laid out with our talking map we’ve accomplished. We drew with our hands the past, present and future, and we’ve achieved these goals,” Quispe says.

During the project’s cycle, nearly 2.5 million ha of land were converted to organic, family-based vegetable gardens, new rainwater tanks (with the capacity to store over 1,150,000 m3 of water) were constructed, and around 1 million llamas and alpacas benefitted from better zoologically-based sanitary measures and care.

One of the most notable push-on effects from PROMARENA’s environmental work has been the raise in land prices across the region and improved earnings for area farmers. Land prices for project participants have increased ten-fold over the past eight years. “They started with nothing,” says Tejerina. “At the beginning of the project, a family with one hectare of peaches made US$100 to US$150 a year, now these families are making US$15,000 per year per hectare.”

With his improved income and asset base – at the beginning of the project Quispe’s land was valued at around US$200, now it’s worth around US$11,000 – Quispe is hoping to create a micro-business with his children that are currently attending university to become agricultural and industrial engineers. 

“I won’t sell our land. It’s ours, and it’s not something that’s for sale because each day we learn more about how to management it, how to conserve,” says Quispe.

Addressing food security
Throughout the region the changing climate patterns, desertification and divers environmental risks are putting productivity levels at risk and affecting food security. In order to address this challenge, the project worked with various other international and national programmes to improve food security and increase productive yields in a sustainable manner.

“PROMARENA helped renovate over 4000 kitchens in the project area, improving substantially the living and working conditions of women, youth and children. And through the concurso (public competition) methodology, the project carried out 4800 concursos with almost 40,000 participants, transferring over US$4.5 million to project participants,” says IFAD’s Pichón. “The project also financed around 950 livestock, agriculture, handicraft and rural services business proposals with around US$2.4 million in investments, which generated around US$10 million in income for small producers.”

But the job is far from done. There are still high levels of food insecurity and malnutrition across the region and the natural ecosystems remain at risk. With this in mind, the Bolivian government recently signed a new loan agreement with IFAD for the US$15.2 million Plan Vida-Peep Pilot Project to Strengthen the Capacity of Communities and Families Living in Extreme Poverty, a three-year program that will be implemented by the same agency behind PROMARENA.

More than 53 per cent of project funding will work to improve natural resource management and production systems, 16 per cent will go to community initiatives and 11 per cent is dedicated for strengthening productive infrastructure.

PROMARENA’s Tejerina sees these types of environmentally oriented rural development projects as a mechanism for peace.

“I understand that many of our problems come principally from lack of basic necessities and the lack of food. With this in mind, as a project, I believe that we contribute to peace,” says Tejerina. “And the best way to contribute to peace is to make sure that everybody has the opportunity to have enough to eat and to have access to citizens’ rights.”

Originally published in The New Agriculturalist

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Ing. Omar Gustavo Gustavo Tejerina es el Coordinador Nacional del Proyecto de Manejo de Recursos Naturales en el Chaco y Valles Altos de Bolivia (PROMARENA). En esta entrevista Tejerina destaca las lecciones aprendidas del proyecto. PROMARENA cerró este año después de contribuir a mejorar la calidad de vida de 19,985 familias pobres rurales. Los resultados del PROMARENA superaron las metas esperadas. El número de familias beneficiarias del proyecto fue superado por más de 130 por ciento, llegándose a trabajar directamente con 1269 comunidades rurales en 53 municipalidades en los departamentos de Chuquisaca, Cochabamba, La Paz, Santa Cruz y Tarija. Con la intervención del proyecto, el valor de las tierras de los campesinos participantes se incrementó gracias a las mejoras aportadas por ellos mismos y, por medio del mejoramiento de las técnicas agroecológicas, los ingresos para muchos usuarios del proyecto se elevaron del 40 a 60 por ciento.

En este testimonio Efraín Condori Quispe explica como su familia han beneficiado de los concursos del Proyecto de Manejo de Recursos Naturales en el Chaco y Valles Altos de Bolivia (PROMARENA). A través de concursos públicos, el PROMARENA transfirió 7.2 millones de dólares estadounidenses a los participantes del programa. Durante la ejecución del proyecto, se llevaron a cabo unos 4800 concursos, y el proyecto co-financió 951 propuestas de negocios por un monto de 2.1 millones de dólares. Esta metodología fue implementada para asegurar la participación en el proyecto, y para lograr transformar a los campesinos en los protagonistas principales de su propio desarrollo.

En su testimonio director Franklin Contrera Quispe explica como el apoyo del Fondo Internacional de Desarrollo Agricola (FIDA) y el Proyecto de Manejo de Recursos Naturales en el Chaco y Valles Altos de Bolivia (PROMARENA) le apoyó en proteger el medio ambiente y mejorar sus cultivos.
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