Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Jack Goodman, a volunteer from the Princeton Novogratz Bridge Year Program. We are happy to be back to working with volunteers like Jack in Bolivia!

Providing a Week-Long Agriculture Seminar in Cochabamba

For Ely, an agriculture student from the small town of Vinto, the study of farm management is about so much more than proper pigpen fumigation or seed germination techniques; instead, it’s an important means of discovering innovation and achieving economic self-sustainability. Indeed, in a country where—according to most recent World Bank estimates—over 30 percent of men and women are employed in agriculture, the value of such an education in transforming lives for the better cannot be overstated. For Fidel, it’s a means of learning to work the land more efficiently and to improve his quality of life; for Ubedia, it’s an opportunity to escape the doldrums of office work; and for Juan, whose family operates a small farm and lecheria, it’s a chance to enhance the livelihoods of those he cares about most.

Some of the livestock at Mano a Mano’s CEA.

Pictures From the Seminar

Our Program

These students, and 23 more like them seeking técnico degrees in agriculture (26 students and 3 teachers in total), recently participated in a week-long seminar at Mano a Mano’s Center for Ecological Agriculture (CEA) in El Abra, Sacaba, Cochabamba. There, in a blend of theoretical workshops led by successful professionals in the world of agriculture and hands-on practice at Mano a Mano’s organic teaching farm, the students developed their pre-existing knowledge on the essentials of soil management, livestock upkeep, crop cultivation, sustainable construction, and more. They were also exposed to practical techniques at the cutting edge of Bolivian food production, ranging from hydroponic (soil-free) lettuce growth to gas biogeneration powered by animal waste. The students were engrossed with the biogenerator in particular, a large black tarp containing easily-obtainable microbes that naturally break down waste products into methane gas and the potent fertilizer biol. This straightforward biogeneration technology is emblematic of CEA’s commitment to bringing implementable, creative, and exciting solutions to common agricultural problems—like waste disposal—faced throughout Bolivia. Additionally, students were shown firsthand the power of a farm management system in which resources are innovatively used and re-used to integrate disparate aspects of production, conserve energy, and increase efficiency: excess or unusable seeds intended for human consumption become feed for animals, whose aforementioned waste fertilizes fields and powers stoves.

Students taking a tour of the CEA to learn about the different tools and techniques used to improve food security and nutrition for rural Bolivian farmers.

All told, students were challenged to build upon the body of knowledge they brought from previous educational experiences and their own traditional farming practices.

A Global Perspective

Importantly, the agricultural education provided by Mano a Mano does not stop at the level of individual farm management but considers the ramifications of food production on the wider world. In a series of workshops on climate change, water scarcity, and greenhouse gas emissions, students were introduced to the pressing environmental challenges faced by Bolivia specifically and the world at large. In addition, they were invited to consider the simple ways in which their farming practices can be more environmentally conscious. Reusing plastic bottles to contain evaporation and conserve water while irrigating, fertilizing plants with organic material instead of chemical products, and sowing a diversity of crops to combat erosion were just some of the pragmatic methods of fighting climate change to which students were exposed. In a concluding workshop on healthy eating, students also thought critically about their own food habits and the relationship between agriculture and personal health.

Hydroponic gardens at the Mano a Mano CEA.

Looking Forward

In just one week of intensive instruction, Mano a Mano’s Center for Ecological Agriculture helped 26 students on their journey to economic self-determination through food production, all while affirming the importance of environmental conscientiousness and resource conservation. By continuing to offer our expertise to the next generation of Bolivian agriculture workers, we know we can make the future of farming in our country more sustainable, intelligent, and economically viable for millions of students just like Ely.

Jack Goodman Bio

Jack Goodman is a volunteer from Chicago, Illinois. A participant in the Novogratz Bridge Year Program, Jack is interested in rural development, cultural exploration, and sustainable growth. Jack will remain in Bolivia through May before returning to the United States, where he is a student at Princeton University in New Jersey.

From the Princeton website:

“The Novogratz Bridge Year is a nine-month, tuition-free program that allows newly admitted undergraduates to begin their Princeton experience with a year of community-engaged learning at one of five international locations. Bridge Year participants study the local language, live with carefully selected homestay families, and take part in a variety of cultural enrichment activities, while learning with and from community partners through their community engagement.


Application to the Novogratz Bridge Year Program is open to all incoming first-year Princeton undergraduate students.”

Learn More About Mano a Mano’s Center for Ecological Agriculture