Successful Completion Of The First Altiplano Chuño Project
Chuño, potatoes that are naturally freeze dried in the open air, during the day by the sun and at night by the frost.
The Bolivian Aymara have farmed on the Altiplano for more than 2,000 years. The people of the Altiplano maintain a centuries old social structure which includes unconditional co-operation to survive in a harsh climate at an elevation of 3,700 to 4,600 m. Their way of life without clean water, electricity, gas, sewer or knowledge of hygienic practices and plowing with oxen and a wooden stick appears to us as a primitive agricultural society. Well before the Inca domination their ancestors discovered the potato and cultivated more than 160 varieties. The Spanish conquistadors brought the potato to Europe. We can be very grateful to the Aymara for their important gift to our diet.
During Christmas 2000 the writer stayed four weeks as volunteer at Hospital Cuschieri in a poor suburb of Cochabamba. The hospital was founded by our late Chaplain Rev. Cuschieri. Cochabamba, elevation 2,400 m, is located at the foot of the Altiplano.
Bishop Gelmi of the Archdiocese of Cochabamba and a director of Hospital Cuschieri, invited me on some excursions into remote areas of the Altiplano region. There I saw the abject poverty and hunger of the local Aymara population. The campesino families suffer from severe poverty, malnutrition, declining food supply, little agricultural variety and lack of means for economic activity. The dominant staple is potatoes and some quinua or cañahua as little else will grow sufficiently well at this altitude and in this climate.
My confrontation with the reality of life on the Altiplano led to a desire to alleviate hunger and poverty of the indigenous Aymara people. One remedy was to increase the yield and quality of the potato crop. The best chance to succeed with an agricultural project is by developing a locally sustainable solution through a dialogue with the beneficiaries.
We were most fortunate that the Dean of the Facultad de Agronomía introduced us to AGRUCO, a center of excellence for agricultural research and development at the university in Cochabamba. AGRUCO specializes in improving indigenous agriculture which is sustainable with local practices, materials and customs. We met with AGRUCO and decided to take on the project together.
The project attracted 360 participating Aymara farming families in 16 communities of the ayllu Majasaya Mujlli representing 2,100 women,men, children and elderly. The excellent work of AGRUCO improved the Aymara’s quality of life. AGRUCO suplied better seed potatoes with more bio-diversity, improved seed selection methods, and ecological pest reduction increased the yield of the potato crop by 17%! With material
Please remember the Canadian Association of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta in your wills.assistance from the project, beneficiary families constructed 147 pirhuas, small adobe storage sheds for their chuño. With material assistance from the project, beneficiaries constructed 16 adobe community silos for storing and distributing seed potatoes. All 16 communities received 5 training courses about soil conservation and new cultivation methods.
We observed increased pride and vigour of the participating families. All beneficiaries are very grateful to Canada for the assistance that they received through this Canadian project. We hope that the improved quality of life may also reduce a socially de-stabilizing migration to the city. Non-participating families may be positively affected through project examples and knowledge transfer by word of mouth. The project may positively impact the total population of 3,600 people.
The project received 66% of its funding from the Government of Canada through CIDA. The remainder was raised through the generosity of many foundations, corporations and private donations. In October 2008 CIDA reviewed the project in the field, gave it a glowing review and encouraged the Canadian Association - Order of Malta to submit a funding request for the next project!
In 2008 the project was extended with a 3 year education program for 24 young women, age
18-24, from the Chuño project communities. Knowledge is power. By giving an opportunity for education to young women, the knowledge base of the community will be more robust. The young women room and board at the Instituto de Educación Rural in Quillacollo, near Cochabamba. The school is owned by the Archdiocese of Cochabamba and managed by the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception in Laval, Québec. The school’s program includes: reading + writing, Spanish, hygiene, first aid, basic medical care, assisting with child birth, animal care, administration, embroidery, mathematics.
In December 2008 we met in Cochabamba with AGRUCO to develop the specifications for the next Chuño project. We also visited the new communities. The people heard about the first Chuño project and are eager to begin tomorrow! We hope to start the Chuño 2 project with financial participation from CIDA in March 2009.
Please consider a donation to the Chuño 2 project.
The Chuño projects are administrated by our Order of Malta. The projects are co- chaired by Richard T. Brown P.Eng and ir. Willem Langelaan. The projects have zero overhead. We pay for our own semi-annual site visits. Every penny that is donated goes to the project.