Last day in Bolivia

After exactly one month in Bolivia, I too am now leaving the country. It has really been a wonderful experience and I believe that Siembra Organica made incredible strides in making our venture become a reality. My last two days here were very interesting, in very different ways…Wednesday was literally spent on a bus all day trying to get around the still-present miners blockade on the highway from Oruro to La Paz. It was frustrating, time consuming but after  9 hours on the bus (on a trip that should take 4 hours), we arrived safe and sound in La Paz on Wednesday night.

Trying to make up for lost time, I was a busy bee yesterday meeting with core partners PCI and Andean Naturals again and also with a few new contacts that proved to be very useful. The new contacts were:

  • Ximena Jáuregui Paz from USAID’s Bolivia Productivity and Competitiveness Project talked to me about her experience working on a project with campesinos near lake Titicaca who are making vermicompost out of cow manure. In particular, she explained the logical and technical components involved in the project’s next step, with is building a processing center for the community members  to clean, sort, package and label their product.
  • A representative SAFI UNION, an investment fund in Bolivia, spoke with me about the fund’s latest product called AGROQUINUA,  financing for organic quinoa producers who work in conjunction with exporting companies. The product will not be on the market for another few months but will certainly be a valuable component for the entire organic quinoa industry.

Today I’m off to visit Lake Titicaca and then to Peru for the next month, but Siembra Organica will continue to post photos, videos and reflections about our project!

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More news from Oruro

While I had plans to travel back to La Paz today, I ended up staying another night in Oruro because I was put in contact with another valuable person with whom I as able to meet this afternoon. I met with Roberto Carlos Quispe from the organization, Fundación Agricola Andes, a German NGO working to implement ecologically sound quinoa production practices. He did not present entirely new information; he reinforced the importance of planned growth of quinoa production and holistic solutions to the problems caused by quinoa cultivation. However, one thing that was of particular interest is that he is managing 14 projects in northern Oruro in which communities are manufacturing their own liquid organic fertilizers out of cow manure, alfalfa, molasses and other local ingredients. They have even started bottling the products and putting their own brand labels! These operations are very small and limited to a community scale, but are a great example of how others have also recognized the demand for organic inputs and developed a market-based solution.

I then spent some time visiting with Yeris Peric, Andean Naturals agronomist to share what Siembra Organica has learned in the past few weeks. He was very enthusiastic about our progress and excited to see our final business plan. One of the most important takeaways from the meeting was that Peric feels it is important to keep in mind the need for solid fertilizers in the traditional quinoa regions. He says that there are plenty of organic liquid fertilizers on the market, but the very fragile soil of the Altiplano is best served when a solid input is included as part of a complete farm management solution.

On the political front, it seems like the highway is all clear and we should have no problems traveling back to La Paz tomorrow. Interestingly, the main plaza of La Paz was filled with miners today holding banners and creating awareness for their cause. It seemed peaceful to me, but of course, I also kept a safe distance!

Miners in the center of Oruro

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Some cautionary advice from the field

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Yesterday, I, Lindsay returned to the city of Oruro to follow-up with some of our key partners to share with them our findings over the past three weeks and solidify partnerships for future collaboration. While my meetings were rich in … Continue reading

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22nd Annual Estes Park Wool Market Event

Christie and a llama from Wyoming

Well, back in Colorado yesterday, a travel jet lagged Christie and her wonderful mom, Faith, headed down to catch the last of the Estes Park Wool Market. The weekend long festival is in its 22nd year and draws over 10,000 people in attendance. The event features demonstrations, contests, exhibits and sales of animal fibers with an amazing array of products made from wool. People from across the country annually travel to Estes Park to attend and show off their beautiful animals and products made from their natural fibers. Booths are set up with miles of yarn for sale, demonstrations on weaving and shearing techniques, sales of leather shoes, jackets, gorgeous sweaters, hats, scarves and basically anything else one could think of to make from wool. Click here to watch a short clip from the event!

Market booths set up selling every wool related product imaginable

The quality of the hand crafted items and the excitement of designers, venders and producers to explain their processes and craftsmanship demonstrated their passion for their products and their passion for small business. It was entrepreneurship at its finest! The only thing missing from this event was a booth from Noya Fibers explaining how the traceability and herding techniques of goats can greatly improve the quality of cashmere. Next year! Please check out our fellow Colorado State University MBA GSSE classmates as they are currently in Mongolia researching how to help restore natural grasslands and create traceability in the supply chain of cashmere products from Mongolia all the way to your local Patagonia retailer. We now return to our scheduled programing…

Awww… Llamas kissing

The Estes Park Wool Market also had numerous circus size tents set up and barns housing all the various animals, most of which fall in the biological family of Camelids or Camelidae. Camelids are “large animals with slender necks and long legs, and are strictly herbivorous.” My mom and I made our way from tent to tent to see the sheep, goats, llamas (!), alpacas and vicuñas up close and personal. Of these animals those that are considered camelids are llamas, alpacas, vicuñas, camels and guanacos (the latter two were not present at the EP Wool Market). Vicuñas are prevalent in Bolivia and are extremely valued because their fiber is incredibly soft and some of the most expensive in the world because the animals can only be shorn every 3 years. Vicuñas were once declared an endangered species with numbers down to 6,000 in 1974 but with the help of conservation programs the population has been brought up to 350,000.

Two year old vicuña – smaller than alpacas or llamas

Guanacos are similarly interesting as they are one of the biggest mammal species in South America, their fiber is highly valued (second only to vicuñas), they have only one natural predator (the mountain lion) and like llamas and alpacas will spit when they feel threatened. Alpacas are similar to llamas but are smaller, are primarily used for their fiber, and are not bred to be “beasts of burden” like llamas. The four animals that are inhabitants of South America are llamas, alpacas, guanacos and vicuñas. So what makes llamas different than these other animals? Llamas have long “banana” shaped ears, long fiber that is soft, no dorsal hump, and can come in various colors (spotted like a cow, polka dotted like cheetahs or mono-colored in shades of white, brown, black or grey). Additionally, llamas are bigger than the other three South American camelids, they have larger brains, longer curved ears and are extremely social herd animals. So now with that small zoological lesson out of the way, let’s get back to the EP Wool Market!

Llamas freshly sheared

I spoke with one woman from Wyoming who with her husband have raised llamas for many years after their daughters started raising them through 4-H. Karen told me that when their daughters started 4-H it was important that she and her husband like the animals as well since they knew they would be caring for them after their daughters were grown. Which is why they chose llamas because they are good natured, easily domesticated, well trained and nice animals to have around. When asked about the care of their llamas and use of the llama manure she explained that they do use some of it for fertilizer. She also said they only shear their llamas once a year so the fiber is long enough to have a substantial amount. Another woman who raises llamas in Loveland, CO said she and her husband use their llama manure as “date money.” They do not have enough crops to use all their manure so they occasionally sell it. She explained they do not advertise commercially but either through word of mouth or the sporadic Craig’s List ad will sell excess manure. They do not process it or compost the manure but simply load it into the back of a pickup truck and drive it to the buyer’s property. The sales differ from person to person and how far the distance is between the transport but they will charge $1.00 per mile at the very least and will sometimes sell it for an additional minimal bulk price. She didn’t have a dollar figure for that as she said it varies on the amount of manure and distance being traveled. However, she said it gives her and her husband date money or a fun night out if they have to drive their truck to Boulder anyways. It was interesting that whoever I spoke with about their llamas lit up at the chance to explain how they cared for, raised and used their llamas. It was clear they were passionate about the uniqueness of the creatures and that they were not just barn yard animals. Everyone had named their llamas, and could tell me about their individual personalities, traits and why they got into the business of llama raising.

Christie and two Wyoming llamas

It was a fascinating afternoon and the Estes Park Wool Market is an event worth attending if you live anywhere near the Front Range in Colorado. It is a distinctive event and can provide a window in to the U.S. market for llamas, alpacas and other animals used for their wool. I took lots of pictures so if you want to see some adorable animals please click through the album!

Llamas, llamas everywhere!

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3 weeks down!

Siembra Organica is starting to wind down its work in La Paz, Ana and Christie left on Friday and I, Lindsay, will be working here for a little less than a week more. Overall, we feel that we have accomplished a lot and are positive about the ability to see an organic fertilizer solution based on llama manure come to reality in the Altiplano of Bolivia.

Today I just wanted to share a few different interesting pictures that haven´t been in the blog so far!

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PROINPA and a quick 7 hour trip to Cochabamba

Fundacion Proinpa office in Cochabamba

Tuesday morning we awoke bright and early to catch a 4 hour bus ride from Oruro to Cochabamba to meet with Fundacion Proinpa. The ride took us from the arid Altiplano to another set of mountains that are green with trees and surround the very colorful city of Cochabamba. We’ve heard about Proinpa since arriving in Bolivia and were elated when they invited us to their facility. Upon arriving in the city we were met by our PCI Bolivia partner, Javier Delgado who is the National Coordinator for the MIS Llamas project. After lunch with Javier we drove through the city and passed numerous motorcades and official vehicles all over the city as Cochabamba is hosting the summit of the Organization of American States (OAS). That however is a topic for another day.

Quinoa plants in the lobby of Proinpa

Proinpa is a local Bolivian organization that focuses on the conservation of natural resources, food security and competitiveness of the agricultural sector with an emphasis on reducing poverty in rural and urban areas. They do biological research on various plant sciences, technology, and organic fertilizers and have laboratories that test new techniques and inputs that can be used by farmers to improve land, yields and environmental impact. They are incredibly inventive and the research they do all over Bolivia is funded by their new technologies and products such as organic fertilizers. Their technology promotes agricultural innovation and allows producers to meet market demands with limited resources. This point is where our interest in meeting with them came in.

Liquid organic fertilizers: Biograd and Vigortop

We met with Edson Gandarillas, Technology Manager and Noel Ortuño, Coordinator of Integrated Management of Agriculture who explained more in depth all the research and development Proinpa is doing. They were really interested in our business plan and especially interested in making a connection with PCI Bolivia and the llamas project. Proinpa even offered for Javier to send them some llama manure samples for testing its components as an organic fertilizer base. This connection is of course the exact link in the chain that we are looking to bring together for this venture’s success.

Noel showing Christie some fertilizers in a lab at Proinpa

Additionally, Proinpa took us on a full tour of their labs, facilities, greenhouses and buildings to see all that they are doing. The research they conduct with agricultural scientists and experts is astounding and Noel (a microbiologist) showed us micro-organisms they are working with and sub strains of crops they are trying to improve with various kinds of organic fertilizers (powders, small pellets, liquids). It was incredibly informative and their commitment to finding affordable solutions to help farmers lacking inputs in really encouraging. Their business model of financing their continued research through their already successful technologies is one that is in line with the type of organization we would like to work with.

Noel Ortuno showing Ana vials in one of the lab

Touring Proinpa’s facilities

Our Siembra Organica team has become really informed about these agricultural topics but we are excited for the connection with Proinpa as they have the scientific and agricultural background specific to Bolivian organic farming that will be important for moving this venture forward. It was a fantastic meeting and after we finished touring the facility we went to the airport and hopped a 30 minute flight back to La Paz. Those in-country flights can really save the day! It was a crazy day of travel to 3 cities, meetings and learning but served as an important day for our team.

Sticker on a machine at Proinpa (“Hecho en Bolivia” means “Made in Bolivia”)

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Learning about Wormcomposting at the Landfill

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Alberto Mati, explaining the objectives of the Mallasa Landfill Botanical Garden Project

During the afternoon we visited the Mallasa landfill in La Paz, we were invited here by Alberto Pati and Mario Gallardo. The landfill used to be a “dump” until 1994- the city of La Paz dumped 3,000,000 tons of garbage here in the span of 13 years. Now, a company called Tersa, with collaboration of the city of La Paz is piloting this project to serve as an example for waste management in all departments in Bolivia.

The project consists of organic waste management through:

–          Waste water management

–          Biofilters

–          Wormcomposting of organic matter

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Wormcompost

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The Siembra Organica team taking notes at the Greenhouse

The objective of this project is to completely sanitize this area creating a Botanical Garden for people to visit. They are creating “good” organic matter and building a national park in what used to be the landfill, and a huge contamination area of the city of La Paz. They gather the organic matter from restaurants, stables, pig and dairy farms.  They feed this organic matter to the worms. The worms are a hybrid of California worms and local worms, adapated to Bolivia and able to resist the harsh temperatures of the Altiplano.

They also have a greenhouse on site where they have been nursing plants to include in the park.

The park will be ready in 4 years and the goal is to demonstrate how to create good by not contaminating the environment and employing good waste management practices. Another objective of this project is to serve as a model for rural communities and other cities in Bolivia so that they will adopt these waste management practices. By separating waste, composting organic matter, and smartly using waste you can create more wealth in your soil.

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Magnificent Views of what will be the Botanical National Park in 4 years

Now, in Bolivia a kilo of wormcompost is $1.50 USD- and it costs $0.20 USD to produce. Imagine if these techniques of composting and waste management were common knowledge and adopted by many rural communities in the harsh areas we visited last week. It could make a world of a difference in their soils!

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Mario, Lindsay, Ana, Christie & Alberto after a very informative afternoon at the Landfill

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