Bolivia: Small farmers work to leave a legacy
A few years ago, Juan had no land to farm, but now he works on 7 acres with others involved in Oxfam's partner, the Agroforestry Farmers' Association of the Amazon Region of Bolivia. Now the community wants to diversify and improve their production.
Juan Carlos Fernández Ardaya lives in Guayaramerín, a town at the Brazilian border in the northern Amazon region of Bolivia. It is half Brazilian, half Bolivian, as is almost everything in the vicinity: the trade, the food, and the families.
A few years ago he had no land to farm, but thanks to pressure from indigenous and peasant groups to get access to land, he now has 7 acres in the community Dos de Octubre. He works the land with his wife Iris and with other neighboring families involved in the Agroforestry Farmers' Association of the Amazon Region of Bolivia (APARAB).
It is an association because it connects people "with shared needs and in search for solutions." And it is an "Agroforestry" association because it encourages a mode of production inspired by forest life – mixing plants, restoring native species and diversifying both seeds and harvests.
Seven years after it was founded with support from Oxfam, APARAB brings together 300 families and manages a plant for cocoa processing and one for drying fruit. But that is not enough. "Now we need to improve the production process, the quality of our products, and particularly knowledge of the market because Brazil, the giant, is just next door." Is that an advantage or disadvantage? "Both," says Juan.
Battling the Brazilian giant
The neighboring country provides both basic goods and customers to the market of Guayaramerín. Every day thousands of Brazilians cross the river that separates the two nations in search for low prices.
But also coming from Brazil is fresh food, which competes with the small Bolivian production. As supply increases, prices plummet and producers such as Juan Carlos fail to sell their harvest of cassava, corn, and fruits such as acai and copoazú.
"The association is important: it helps us face these obstacles and produce more and better," explains Juan. "Having land was only the first step, now our vision is to develop and have quality of life." That's not an easy task. Seven years after its foundation, APARAB members face not only local challenges, such as improving the quality of their products, but global ones such as climate change and deforestation in the Amazon region - for them their home, for the planet a coveted air and fresh water reserve.
Leaving a legacy
That's why Oxfam and its allies in Bolivia focus on communities such as Dos de Octubre. What are the main objectives? Access to land, diversifying agricultural production, increasing revenue, improving the marketing of products, the recovery of the forest and above all, rediscovering other ways of seeing and living the world.
The most important thing, says Juan, is to change the mindset. "If our parents and grandparents had thought of tomorrow, of producing and improving the quality of life, my life and the life of other people would be different. So in my community we want to teach our children something different, and leave them a patch of forest and food. Our change ensures their future."
Oxfam has been working in Bolivia since 1988, to help develop a more diverse, productive and fair national economy, a more inclusive democracy, and an intercultural society. We work with and through local partners including civil society organizations, NGOs, networks and different levels of the Bolivian government.