Editors Note: This article was written by Morgan Harden, a recent graduate of Kenyon College. She has degrees in Spanish Literature and English, with a creative writing emphasis, which she uses to write, translate, and share stories. Drawn to its story and collaborative model, she began volunteering remotely for Mano a Mano after her graduation. This work eventually led her all the way to the organization’s epicenter in Cochabamba. After her time volunteering in Bolivia, Morgan will be headed to Argentina to begin her Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Fellowship.
Morgan’s other blogposts:
- “This is Everything:” Medical Donations on November 17th
- Where it Starts: Mano a Mano Workshop #1 at the CEA
- Food for Thought: Mano a Mano Workshop #5 in Japo, Bolivia
Step by Step: Mano a Mano Workshop #3 in Chapare
“Now, which of your classmates are most plague-like?” Camila, Mano a Mano agronomist, asked, during a demonstration of plague and disease in Bolivia’s Chapare region. The students called out names and jostled each other playfully towards the circle’s center. The professors didn’t miss a beat, as they named the four most “plague-like” of their thirty students. Those chosen few stepped bashfully into the middle, surrounded by their classmates.
Next, Camila called over the students’ heads, asking for the most wholesome students. Again, at the professors’ suggestion, Camila nudged two or three more students into the circle. Personally, I was experiencing childhood flashbacks (duck-duck-goose games gone wrong), so I held myself at a safe distance, along with the professors. As it turned out, none of us were safe.
Stepping behind us, Camila drove all of us into the circle’s perimeter. “We’re all an ecosystem,” she announced, tapping students to deem them plague, bacteria, insect, etc. Camila began to explain the interrelated nature of all ecosystems: nothing is independent; everything affects everything else. “So, what happens when an ecosystem is out of balance?”
She started removing various people from the circle, pulling others in, until the “plague-like” students had nearly doubled. Then, Camila tapped the professor next to me and asked her to step into the middle of the circle. “What is your teacher?” Camila asked, turning to the students.
Students called out various responses: “an animal?” offered one. “The sun?” asked another. “A pesticide!” a third cried out. The goose? I thought, still caught somewhere in childhood.
“She’s the plant, and she can’t move like the rest of you. When things are out of balance, she’s the one who suffers. The plants suffer, and so do we.”
Ecological Management of Plagues and Diseases
This demonstration was just a small interlude in the third workshop Mano a Mano International offers, “Ecological Management of Plagues and Diseases.” The workshop teaches its participants about natural threats to crop production and the dangers of using conventional pesticides. Those pesticides, while effective in stifling infestations, also pose a great risk to farmers, their families, and consumers. The effects of the use of pesticides materialize in countless ways, everything ranging from birth defects to death. As Victor, another of Mano a Mano’s agronomists, noted, “just because we can’t see the effects of these pesticides immediately doesn’t mean they’re not there.” That’s how the morning began, with a group discussion and a game of plague-plague-plant. However, the workshop didn’t stop there.
The second part of the afternoon found the students divided into groups, making their own eco-friendly, natural solutions for common plagues and diseases. The theory of the morning was put immediately into practice. Camila and Victor circulated through the groups, with pointers and suggestions. By the end of the hour, students presented their projects to one another, explaining how they were made and for what purpose they were intended. Even when the projects were done and the students sat down, the discussions continued. There was still a lot of work to do.
All of the projects the students completed were based on models, developed and tested at Mano a Mano’s Center of Ecological Agriculture (CEA) in Cochabamba.
However, the workshop was a long way from Cochabamba, at the Center for Technical Development Eterazama in the Chapare region of Bolivia. To say Cochabamba and Chapare are different would be a colossal understatement. Driving through Chapare, there is a hardly a break in the lush, green landscape, a blessing brought by continuous rain. Meanwhile, Cochabamba and its surrounding areas are suffering from a drought of historic proportions. Clearly, Cochabamba and Chapare have very different ecosystems. Accordingly, what works to treat plague and disease among crops in Cochabamba may not be as effective in Chapare.
While the workshop and projects certainly gave the students new tools and perspectives, the work does not end there. These ecological practices ask each student to take the information and activities from Mano a Mano’s workshop and carry them forward. The projects are starting points, not magic potions. They must be changed and adapted to fit each individual situation. Simply stated, there isn’t a perfect solution. There may never be, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look for the best one. As Camila put it, “Try it, think about it, then try something different. It happens step by step. Nothing begins with success.”