Local Food in Bolivia

Going back to your roots: that’s the first basic step in creating a sustainable local food system. Agricultural production in Bolivia is diverse because of the numerous micro-climates in the country: from the lowlands and rain forests to the dry plateaus and mountains that tip the scales at over 6500 meters. The indigenous people of Bolivia have historically planted in all of these places, and because the country is so mountainous, they made good use of terraces. They also planted in raised beds, growing a great variety of grains, legumes, roots, fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Today, though, Bolivia is South America’s poorest country, and its people have been suffering from hunger. But last year the Bolivian government took steps to ensure that its people could be more food secure: they incorporate the concept of food sovereignty into their constitution. The government pledged to prioritize sustainable local food production.

Where did they go astray to begin with? Like many historical tipping points, it happened with the arrival of (no surprise here) the Spanish conquistadors. Native crops were replaced with plantations of wheat and barley at first, but then later sugar, corn and soybeans destined for the export market. These plantations expanded into the rain forests, and native people were pushed off of their lands and forced to work either on these plantations or in the mines. This clearly reduced the variety of foods being produced, as many indigenous people left the land and moved into cities. As the urban population grew and poverty and hunger grew with it, food aid began to pour into the country from the U.S. This food aid was primarily in the form of wheat, which undercut the local wheat price, further deteriorating the local food markets for not just wheat farmers, but potato and corn farmers too. (People preferred the cheapest starch.)

Despite these hindrances, local foods have hung on: llama meat is making a comeback, and quinoa is becoming well-known around the world (a delicious grain). The farmers in Bolivia are growing dozens of varieties of peppers, squash, corn, beans, hot peppers, and potatoes. Then there are the less-known crops: oca, maca, tarwi, kaniwa, and 40 varieties of arracacha. This demonstrates the resilience of farmers, though they have been dwindling in numbers, there is now a bright future. The knowledge of ancient farming methods specific to certain locales around the world is invaluable in revitalizing food production locally.

(Sorry…I did not actually go to Bolivia, so I have none of my own photos to share!)

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