Editor’s Note: The post below was written by Sam Klein, a volunteer from the US that will be working with Mano a Mano Internacional in Bolivia for the next few months. This is Sam’s third post (CLICK HERE to read the first one about their first few weeks with Oxford students at the CEA, and CLICK HERE to read the second one about building greenhouses in Tapacari). We will be posting more from Sam over the next few months about activities at Mano a Mano.
Sam is an 18-year-old volunteer from Boston, Massachusetts on his breach year from high school, with plans to pursue a degree in journalism. Sam arrived in Bolivia on July 26, 2016 to volunteer with Mano a Mano in the Center for Ecological Agriculture (CEA).
Farmers Visiting Mano a Mano’s Center for Ecological Agriculture for Eco-Education
Center for Ecological Agriculture (CEA), Cochabamba, Bolivia
A greenhouse and some seeds are not the only two ingredients needed to change a rural Bolivian farmer’s way of life. A third element is just as crucial.
Without any sort of education or understanding of how to use the greenhouse, it would go to waste, as would the farmer’s chance of a better life for them and their children.
For that reason, 42 farmers – Mano a Mano recently constructed 42 greenhouses in Tapacari Municipality – gathered in Mano a Mano’s Center for Ecological Agriculture, or CEA, on Saturday, Sept. 17 to learn about how to maximize use of their new greenhouses.
The situation resembled a classroom for part of the day, with Mano a Mano agronomist Camila Yavira standing up front, explaining in Quechua how to rotate crops properly in the greenhouse, as the farmers sat in chairs and looked on as students.
Beyond sitting and listening to Yavira, however, the farmers also practiced planting seeds in one of the CEA’s greenhouses. For some, for the first time, they put lettuce seeds in the irrigated channels, a practice that they will be repeating in the future.
Furthermore, to practice organizing their greenhouses, the farmers laid out blueprints on large pieces of paper, and then explained their logic to the group. The other farmers met these explanations with feedback and ideas of their own.
The farmers in many ways were students. Most had never seen, or in some cases, heard of vegetables like Cauliflower (Coliflor) and Swiss Chard (Acelga). Beyond a standard crop rotation of potatoes, lima beans, and corn, indigenous subsistence farmers are not exposed to vegetables. The greenhouses change all that, but the farmers still need to learn about the vegetables that they will be growing.
For instance, Mano a Mano instructed the farmers about rotating crops inside the greenhouses. Because the warm space is a great place for weeds and pests, rotation needs to happen more frequently than the farmers are used to. Should a pest attack a farmer’s crops, a harvest is ruined and the greenhouse wasted.
These vegetables, which require a consistently warm environment that only the greenhouses can provide in high-altitude, rural areas of Bolivia, mean a greater variety of crops for the farmers. This will make children grow taller and stronger because of the improved nutrition.
The day of instruction and practice is crucial to enable the farmers to use the greenhouses properly. Many projects, including ones sponsored and supported by much larger organizations, skip this step. Like all of Mano a Mano’s work, education for the farmers costs money, but unlike a project such as building a greenhouse, the output from that money can be harder to quantify.
Yet without education and practice, the money for the greenhouses would be for nothing. And with no former exposure to growing vegetables in a closed environment, the farmers need the chance to learn how it works.
At the end of the day, Mano a Mano gave out a tangible benefit of the day – eight packets of seeds to each farmer, each packet containing a different vegetable. Equipped with seeds, and, equally importantly, the knowledge of how to use them, the farmers were prepared to go make the most of their newly constructed greenhouses.
It was clear that, as the farmers eagerly received their seeds, they believed they were ready to go home and start planting. With all that the farmers learned that day, Mano a Mano knew as well that they were sufficiently prepared to cultivate their own vegetables.