At the end of our first week in Bolivia, we found ourselves walking along outskirts of Sucre along paved double-lanedstreets with very little traffic, surrounded by walled houses from the very simple, to the much larger and fancier, to a combination of both still under construction. We turned into an unassuming little gate into a lovely, well maintained, internal garden, including a homemade greenhouse within. Thus began our opportunity to experience first-hand the “Urban Garden Project” in a littoral neighborhood in Sucre, wherein the DIY and reuse everything nature of Bolivia is evident throughout.
This project reflects a successful effort between the government, FAO, and local communities and enterprises. The project was the brainchild of Yuske, a Japanese man married to a Bolivian and living in Sucre who was working for FAO (United Nations). As a combined result of his efforts in cooperation with the local community the project evolved from the initial households.
Local women signed up for the project and started with approximately 70 households growing organic vegetables in small gardens. When they initially signed up for the project they received support from the government (plastic for the greenhouses and runoff water plastic containers) and training in small scale agricultural techniques. The greenhouses they built allowed them to grow crops which required a more humid environment than exists in the altiplano and the storage containers increased their water supply sufficiency.
Currently the production of the green houses allows the women involved in the project, to grow most of the vegetables to feed their families, allowing them to get a better level of nutrition and better health overall. Some families have also been able to sell their excess vegetables to a local vegetarian restaurant, Café Condor in Sucre providing an additional source of income for these women without having to work outside the home. It is hoped that as the gardens become more productive and more people become involved more families can become involved with this. Some families have also partnered with Condor Trekkers, which is a nonprofit organization working to break the cycle of poverty in Bolivia. The families provide experiential workshops on local organic techniques including composting, planting, organic pest control (with tabacco and soap), and harvesting crops. Fees from the workshop provide another source of supplemental income for the women.
The importance of this type of small scale project on a global scale is its potential for contribution to the UN’s food security goal to meet the basic needs of all people on the planet. Bolivia has experienced a significant migration from rural to urban areas. In today’s Bolivia, 70% of the population is concentrated in urban areas, a reversal of the situation 50 years ago. This shift has many important economic policy and planning implications including water availability and the reduction in land available for agriculture. The rooftop runoff capture systems increase local water availability while the construction of urban gardens and greenhouse reintroduces agricultural productivity to urban area. The urban garden project also recaptures the values of self-organization, capacity for learning and adaptation, and resilience so important to Bolivians.