204 Greenhouses Built in Rural Bolivia

Over the past few years, Mano a Mano has partnered with rural Bolivian farmers to construct 204 greenhouses. Each is projected to last for 20 years with minimal maintenance.

Mano a Mano greenhouses (yellow-topped buildings) now dot the landscape.

Mano a Mano greenhouses (yellow-topped buildings) now dot the landscape in communities like Jironkota.

Center for Ecological Agriculture (CEA)

To help farmers increase crop production over the long-term, Mano a Mano constructed an agricultural training center. Through this Center for Ecological Agriculture (CEA), subsistence farmers learn to apply ecologically sound farming practices that will lead to sustainable food security throughout the region. The CEA includes a 2.5 acre crop demonstration garden with greenhouses, pens and alfalfa pasture for small animals, prototype farm ponds and cisterns, a bio-digester, mulching, composting areas, and overnight stay rooms with ecological sanitation facilities. The CEA trains high Andes subsistence farmers to manage their soil and water resources and to apply agricultural practices that will increase sustainable food production.

Demonstrating Low-Tech Tools to Increase Food Production

In addition to teaching sound practices, CEA staff demonstrates the use of low-tech interventions or tools that can significantly increase food production, including two types of greenhouses that protect sprouting plants from the harsh high-altitude climate. After attending their second workshop, trainees are placed on the list of those who have been trained and are prepared to participate, with coaching from the agronomist, in building the greenhouse that is appropriate for their location.

Greenhouses are a High Priority for Farmers

The most frequently chosen greenhouse is an adobe (mud brick) structure whose walls are built on a foundation of rock mixed with mud. The walls and roof cover tilled soil. The average size is 13’ wide x 15’ long by 7’ high. An opaque corrugated firm plastic roofing material (cover) is nailed down onto wooden beams that support the roof. For additional security, the beams themselves are tied down and secured to the adobe wall so the high Andean winds will not blow away the roof structure. The greenhouse makes it possible for farmers to raise vegetables and fruits that simply could not be grown in this climatic terrain without the protection and warmth which the provided by this structure. Each greenhouse is located near a home and in some cases serves more than one family.

Initially, farmers receive seeds and are taught to plant them in rows on the tilled floor of the greenhouse.  Once farmers saw how quickly their crops grew, they began to think creatively of how to make the better use of this inside space. Several made clay pots to hang on the wall and planted seeds in them.  Others used yarn spun from their sheep’s wool to create trellises on which vine plants could twine and climb the walls.

Greenhouse in Jironkota with many vegetables growing.

Greenhouse in Jironkota with many vegetables growing.

Mano a Mano’s Partnership Model

As with all Mano a Mano projects, we apply our partnership method to CEA projects. Community members, their municipal officials, and Mano a Mano become partners in contributing resources to the project. Residents of these communities take responsibility for making adobe bricks for their greenhouses and for constructing the greenhouse under the agronomist’s direction. They also contribute a small portion of the cost of materials. Municipal officials strongly support these types of projects and devote considerable time to traveling to communities to encourage application of practices taught at the CEA. Mano a Mano currently has over 200 unfunded greenhouse requests.