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 was written in early/mid August 2016 about the first week of work at the Center for Ecological Agriculture for Sam and volunteers from Oxford Development Abroad. We are planning on posting more from Sam over the next few months about activities at Mano a Mano.

Update By Mano a Mano Volunteer Sam From Our Center for Ecological Agriculture – August 2016

Five pieces of wood nailed together can turn a farmer’s life around in the community of Jaracullpa, Bolivia.

Making an adobe brick at the CEA.

Making an adobe brick at the CEA. Photo Credit: Sam Klein

These pieces of wood, when arranged to mold adobe bricks, help farmers build greenhouses that enormously expand the options of crops that they can grow.

Mano a Mano engineers and volunteers collaborated to construct one such greenhouse this week at their Center for Ecological Agriculture, or CEA. (Click here to see examples of the 100+ greenhouses Mano a Mano has built in Bolivian communities.)

The greenhouse will be a model for the ones in the Andes mountains. Starting on Friday, Aug. 19, Mano a Mano will spend 18 of the following 20 days in the Tapacarí region of Bolivia, northwest of Cochabamba, to aid farmers in rural communities there with greenhouse construction. In addition to Jarocullpa, the organization will be visiting the communities of Chojllara, Ñuñumayani, Rodeo, and Wajrawayuni.

The group will primarily be roofing the greenhouses in the communities, while the farmers are expected to have already constructed the walls with adobe bricks on their own (as part of Mano a Mano’s partnership model). The roofs are made of a hard yellow plastic that maximizes heat absorption.

These subsistence farmers grow very few crops, primarily relying on staples like onion, corn, and potato. That sort of limited variety can be dangerous, because if a disease or pest affects even a single crop a whole year’s harvest is lost. Furthermore, the crops that Andean farmers can grow provide little nutritional value beyond carbohydrates.

Greenhouses offer a way to extend the crop variety of these farmers. The main reason for the limited selection is the extreme temperatures that farmers face at altitudes upward of 3,800 meters (12,467 feet). Freezing temperatures at night prohibit growing many vegetables. The greenhouses, however, contain heat inside and little is lost to the outside.

Once equipped with a greenhouse, farmers can grow vegetables such as cabbage or tomato, thereby improving their nutrition and expanding their crop variety.

The volunteers currently working on the greenhouses are from Oxford Development Abroad, a non-profit in its fifth year of collaboration with Mano a Mano. The volunteers from Oxford said that the project helps them gain a better appreciation for their own lives, not just allow them to help in rural Bolivia.

“Where I live, you have internet access, you have hot water, you have plenty of food, everything is really accessible, and here they just have absolutely nothing,” volunteer Leah Williams said. “It just gives you an insight of a different way of living and makes you more appreciative of the things you have at home.”

ODA volunteers, hard at work at the CEA.

ODA volunteers, hard at work at the CEA. Photo Credit: Sam Klein

At the CEA, Mano a Mano engineers and ODA volunteers worked on building a greenhouse of their own. Forming bricks, by placing the mud and straw mixture in a wooden mold, was one of the final steps in the construction process.

Greenhouse construction at the CEA began by marking off a rectangular area of ground and digging a channel about half a meter deep and about quarter a meter across. This channel was filled with a mixture of stones and mud to hold the stones together; this formed the greenhouse’s foundation.

Foundation of the greenhouse at the CEA

Foundation of the greenhouse at the CEA. Photo Credit: Sam Klein

Nearby the foundation, volunteers dug a pit in the ground and shoveled the earth into a large pile. As the days progressed, Mano a Mano added water to a hollowed out area in the pile to form mud. At first, this mud provided part of the foundation. Later, as the quantity of mud increased, it became drier and provided mud for the adobe bricks.

Williams said that using adobe bricks is something that she’s unused to.

“At home, if for example you wanted to build something you would launch a website and order a bunch of cement in or something,” Williams said. “That would be the end of it and you’d have your cement. But here, you’ve really got to go out and get all the ingredients yourself.”

While some worked outside on the foundation and bricks, others from the group remained inside occupied with soldering.

Soldering at the CEA

Soldering at the CEA. Photo Credit: Sam Klein

Part of roofing greenhouses in the countryside entails putting gutters on the roofs. The brief rainy season means that during much of the year, such as the winter going on now, little water is available. By putting gutters on the greenhouses, farmers can conserve water when it is available.

Mano a Mano's agronomist Camila with an ODA volunteer working on a greenhouse at the CEA.

Mano a Mano’s agronomist Camila with an ODA volunteer working on a greenhouse at the CEA. Photo Credit: Sam Klein

Engineers and volunteers worked on these metal gutters throughout the week, soldering ends on them to ensure that no water will be able to slip through cracks. This is intended to minimize water waste in the Andean communities that Mano a Mano works with.

Other tasks for volunteers included transporting rocks for the foundation, as well as other more general upkeep jobs for the CEA including watering plants and distributing fertilizer.

Volunteers pile rocks into wheelbarrows for the greenhouse's foundation.

Volunteers pile rocks into wheelbarrows for the greenhouse’s foundation. Photo Credit: Sam Klein

Once the greenhouse construction is complete – the goal is 42 new greenhouses in total – Mano a Mano hopes to ensure a long-lasting impact on the communities where they are implemented. For example,  before Mano a Mano offers to help build a greenhouse, each community has to sign off that they will use the greenhouse for its intended purpose.

“One of the things I’ve noticed since being here, is that the thing that they do best is they actually help make sustainable projects,” Williams said. “Even once they’ve left and their influence is gone, the locals can sustain it so it helps them for generations and generations. And I think that’s really good. Helping people help themselves is the best way.

Working at the CEA

Working at the CEA. Photo Credit: Sam Klein

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Center for Ecological Agriculture (CEA)

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