Some cautionary advice from the field

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.

View of Oruro

While my meetings were rich in information and promising partnerships, the day was also full of in advice regarding the largest obstacles we are likely to face as we proceed and how to possibly avoid them:

  1. The first obstacle was quite literal and presented itself before even stepping foot in a meeting yesterday: protests that blockaded the highway. Bolivia has a long history of activism in the form of marches, strikes and sit-ins. In many cases, large movements have completely halted government policy or foreign companies from operating. (For more examples you can read about the Cochabamba Water Wars or the Tipnis march that is still going on today). Yesterday, our bus from La Paz to Oruro was stopped on the main highway by a group of miners from the National Federation of miners’ cooperatives, protesting the government’s recent announcement to nationalize Coloquiri, a zinc and tin mining company. (See article). Our bus decided to “off-road it” and go around the blockade, but many trucks, cars and buses spent hours sitting on the highway yesterday and last night. While protests certainly show that democracy is alive and well in Bolivia, frequent strikes and road blockages can also make conducting business very difficult. Any transportation schedule Siembra Orgánica creates will have to take into account the ever-present possibility of such political actions.
  2. The next set of challenges were presented by Johny Rojas of VALE (Vicuñas, Alpacas, Llamas and Ecotourism), the state’s rural development program that works with camelid producers. Rojas is and continues to be very supportive of our project as VALE currently manages almost 20,000 llamas also in corals or stables and is working hard to develop all value chains (leather, meat, fibers and manure) of their llamas. However, Rojas is cautious about the development of any single value chain in isolation. In his experience, most of the problems associated with camelid management come from the failure to take into account two important things: Ethology  (the behavior of the animals) and the animal producer customs. Ethology is key in the example of tyring to change llama behavior to use corals. PCI’s corals only have enough space for about 50 animals and are meant for babies and mothers. However, llamas do not naturally divide themselves by gender and are much harder to change their habits than other livestock. For example, if you take a llama miles from its home, it will find its way back, where as a cow will happily stay there. Llama’s owners customs come into play here too, because it then requires more work and a wildly different practices to purposefully divide male and females llamas. This is only an example of how ethology and human customs might affect our work. The the moral of the story is, if we are going to be working with partners include manure management into their practices, we must remember that livestock management is holistic and requires a range of knowledge and expertise to be done well.

    VALE staff working the llama fair a few weeks ago.

  3. Finally, I visited with Willy Choque, agronomist with the Technical University of Oruro and long time advisor to Andean Naturals/Jacha Inti. Choque is also very excited about our plan, but sees the biggest flaw in the plan to move llama manure from one region of the country to another. We have been confident in this aspect recognizing that the traditional quinoa zone is farther south than the traditional llama production zone. Choque however, believes inevitably (perhaps within 5 years) quinoa production will eventually reach all traditional llama zones. He believes the solution needs to be planned growth in which all quinoa farmers properly manage smaller plots of land and continue to raise llamas for their communities fertilizer needs. If we take llama manure from one area of the country, we could face the exact same shortage of organic inputs years from now.

About Siembra Orgánica

This is a blog about the venture launch of an organic fertilizer business to help organic quinoa farmers in Bolivia created by three Colorado State University MBA Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise students. We will post updates on our travels and research in Bolivia this summer and our adventures in bringing this idea into reality. We are passionate about helping rural Bolivian organic farmers and believe that helping provide essential agricultural inputs will change their lives for the better.
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