Mano a Mano Intern Samantha Carter recently returned from a two-week trip to Bolivia (you can read about her trip here). Below is an update on our demonstration and training center written by Samantha, who spent a lot of time on her trip working there.
In 2012, Mano a Mano began construction on its demonstration and training center in El Abra. The project will teach subsistence farmers best practices for water project maintenance and productive use of water. Farmers will be able to visit the center for two-day workshops to learn about the various stations that have been constructed at the CEA Center for Ecological Agriculture), and will then be able to bring their knowledge back to their communities for implementation. The overall goals of the trainings are as follows:
- Teach farmers best maintenance practices for their ponds and cisterns
- Teach farmers best agricultural practices for selecting, planning, and rotating crops in their communities’ specific weather and soil conditions
- Improve the diets of rural community members by encouraging planting and consumption of a variety of nutritious foods
- Teach farmers how to construct and maintain facilities for living, personal hygiene, and livestock
The CEA is on the same lot that will also contain the new offices for some of Mano a Mano International’s counterpart organizations: Internacional, Nuevo Mundo, and Bolivia. The entire property is fenced off; some of the walls are even made of old shipping containers that were sent full of medical supplies from Minnesota!
All of the construction done at the CEA is meant to apply to the conditions faced by families in rural communities; thus, it can all be completed using mostly materials that can be found locally by the farmers who will be using these processes. The amount of material that must be purchased elsewhere is minimal. Everything is meant to serve one family, and is thus able to be maintained by one family.
Farmers will see a plot of about 70 fruit trees; these include apples, peaches, and grapes. The trees are lined up in rows and are close together, providing easy and convenient access to each plant for farmers.
One of the projects completed by the Oxford students and three American volunteers (August 7, 2013) was to create individual irrigation systems for each tree using old water and soda bottles. Once it had been rinsed out, a small hole was poked into the bottom of a two-liter bottle (using a thin nail). The bottle was then filled with water and the top was screwed tightly on. The bottle was placed in a small hole near the base of the plant, with the hole allowing water to drip as close to the roots of the plant as possible. The bottle was left, with water dripping out one drop at a time. Over the next week, volunteers would check on each bottle to ensure water was still flowing; if not, they would loosen the top a bit. This allows air to flow into the bottle and push more water out. The bottles are meant to last about one week each.
The process took a bit of perfecting; volunteers also tried a method which involved poking two small holes in the bottom of the bottle and one in the top. The bottle was then placed upside-down in the earth and was meant to last 1-2 weeks without needing to be checked by the farmers. However, it didn’t seem to be working very well, so the other method became the primary way to irrigate the plants.
The CEA has two sample water-retaining ponds, similar to those that have been constructed in the Omereque region. The ponds are each lined with a water-retaining membrane to allow most efficient retention of rainwater throughout the year.
Dormitory/kitchen and shop building
Because the CEA will be a place for farmers to receive weekend-long training sessions, a building has been constructed to house them. The building contains two large rooms which will serve as living spaces, a small kitchen where meals are cooked using a solar oven, and a large open room where metalwork and other projects requiring machinery are completed.
When the volunteers from Oxford arrived in Bolivia, the building seemed to be nowhere near completion. The roof had not been finished, there were no doors, and none of the windows had been installed. When they moved into the CEA five days later, though, it was completely ready for habitation. The staff at the CEA had worked long into the nights and on weekends to ensure that the students would be as comfortable there as possible. Visitors to the center now have doors, windows, a roof, beds, a dining table, a fridge, a pantry area, and a working kitchen.
Inside the shop room, the Oxford volunteers have been constructing water cisterns, which they will bring to and install in Pasorapa, a community about three hours away from Cochabamba. They have been measuring, bending, and soldering sheets of metal together and cutting them into circles; the goal is to have all the materials ready to construct 25 water-retaining cisterns in Pasorapa by the time they leave at the end of August. They will then spend two weeks installing the cisterns in the community.
Alfalfa plants for livestock
At the CEA, farmers will learn how to plant and harvest the proper amount of alfalfa to feed their livestock. The alfalfa is irrigated using the well constructed by some young volunteers who worked at the CEA in April 2013.
The pump took enormous amounts of effort and hours; it was drilled by hand by the young volunteers! In the first day alone, the group was able to reach 9 meters underground. Now, the well works flawlessly.
The CEA provides training for farmers on how to care for and best use livestock. There are pens for guinea pigs and chickens, stables for sheep and pigs, and stables for cows. All of the stables are constructed out of local materials: bricks made of mud and straw. Closest to the house (see below) is the building to house chickens and guinea pigs. Since it is constructed from mud and straw, it is very well insulated from the outside weather conditions; it remains cool during the even the peak hours of sunlight during the day, and warm enough in the middle of the night.
Next to that building is the pen for sheep, which is connected to the pen for pigs. This is the only component of livestock housing that requires the purchase of materials not found locally. Pigs are known to dig at the mud bricks, so a thin coating of cement must be installed on their pens. The sheep and pig pens allow both animals to spend part of their time in the shade and part of their time in the sun, which is crucial to the animals’ health and development.
Finally, the stable for the cows is the farthest from the house. There is space for three cows, which provide meat and milk. All of the animals’ meat (and milk, in the case of the cows) contributes to the improved nutrition and diet for farmers.
Each stable has been constructed so that it is a bit elevated from its surroundings, which allows for construction of a channel to remove animal waste from the area and bring it to the biodigestor (see below).
Close to the livestock and vegetable gardens (see below), the farmer will be able to construct a house for himself and his family. The house is strategically located to be closest to the components which require the most day-to-day care. Like the stables, it is constructed out of mud and straw bricks using local materials, with the additional benefit of being essentially climate-controlled inside. The house was mid-construction (basically a pile of bricks and an excavated foundation) when the American volunteers visited in the beginning of August.
To deal with the animal waste produced by the livestock, the CEA includes a biodigestor to manage and treat this waste to allow its integration into the system. A biodigestor is a system that decomposes organic material using an anaerobic process. It is a simple hermetic reactor, where organic material is introduced in a determined dilution of water. Through anaerobic fermentation, the material reaches a controlled and isolated composition that generates fertilizer and biogas. The first reactions are currently underway. The biogas will be used to power lights, and the fertilizer will contribute to the health of the soil and the growth of the crops throughout the system.
Also located near the house is the dry bathroom, which allows sanitary and efficient management of human waste. The bathroom contains a toilet which separates liquid and solid waste, sending the solid waste to compost in chambers beneath the bathroom and the liquid waste to be purified in the biological pool (see below). There is also a shower attached to one side of the building, complete with a door and a water tank. The Oxford volunteers have so far reported only good things about the bathroom.
The solid organic waste from the family farm (spoiled vegetables, food waste, etc.) is put into piles to compost so that it can be used for fertilizer. This fertilizer encourages the growth of the crops and the health of the soil.
Liquid organic waste from the dry bathroom is funneled through a biological pool: a constructed body of water in which clarifying and purifying of water is achieved through natural filters. The pool contains three levels of rock, each of varying size, which filter out contaminants from the liquid waste. There are also aquatic plants in the pool, whose roots filter out smaller contaminants and microorganisms from the liquid waste. When the liquid reaches the far end of the pool, it is clean and able to be used to irrigate the crops throughout the farm.
There are plots where many varieties of vegetables have been planted to encourage nutrition for the farmers and the health of the soil. Farmers are trained in crop rotation practices to get the most use out of their land, including courses on different families of plants and which plants grow above or below the ground.
Those vegetables (including lettuce, fennel, carrots, and radishes) which require partial shade and more protection from insects and birds are placed in semi-shaded structures which provide this needed protection.
For the plants (including tomatoes) which require the most protection from the sun and other elements, a small greenhouse has been constructed near the house. The greenhouse remains very humid and warm, and the plants are growing very well.