Top photo: Gabriel Acarapi Chuca, far left in red shirt, describes how integrated watershed management systems work as he and others from MCC partner PRODII (Programa de Desarollo Integral Interdisciplinario; Comprehensive Interdisciplinary Development Program) meet with MCC staff. MCC photo/Annalee Giesbrecht
I grew up in a community where my grandfather was a farmer and, like most of us here, we belong to an Indigenous community. We’ve been brought up knowing that we need to wake up early and help on the farm and land to support the family.
Ancestral knowledge was very present in my family and community. For example, let’s say there are two mountains over there. My grandfather raised sheep and he would say, “This year, don’t take the sheep to these mountains to graze.”
We would ask him why, and he said, “Because we need to give space for the grass to grow and to reproduce.” And that allowed the grass to rest, and it stopped soil erosion. This was also true for other values, like mutual support and taking care of the environment.
Because of all the technologies that have arrived, that important ancestral knowledge has been lost.
What PRODII (MCC partner Programa de Desarollo Integral Interdisciplinario; or Comprehensive Interdisciplinary Development Program)is doing is not bringing new knowledge to people. That knowledge was already there. But it got lost at some point, and we’re trying to recover it.
I know that the weather used to be better, it used to be good. Rains used to be spread out during the season, maybe from September to January. But now, rains that should be spread across a longer period of time come all at once and damage the crops.
The weather is more extreme. It’s warmer than it used to be, and communities can grow more diverse crops. But they are also experiencing more frequent problems, like hail that can come and destroy crops in an instant.
A nearby community has a lot of hail every year and it’s very bad for our people. Eventually we’ll have some measures to address this problem. Sometimes I think we could have a net on top of the crops to catch the hail and turn it into water. But our communities don’t have the economic resources to do that.
We are trying to adapt. With MCC, we are addressing issues of agrobiodiversity and how to face climate change.
It’s important to adapt with ancestral knowledge but also by using new technologies that are coming up. I think that’s the only way that we will be able to learn to live with climate change.
My main concern is water and how to take care of it.
We can’t do anything without water.
People need to keep enough water for hygiene, for cooking, for irrigation. I’ve heard it said that in 50 years people won’t work for money but for water. Communities that have access to water will survive, but cities and places that don’t have a good water supply will perish.
It’s important to keep working on how to maintain our water sources. That’s a big part of what we do.
Right now, we’re promoting the use of integrated watershed management systems. These systems soak up water from rainfall, from the roots of plants and even from dew.
Sometimes I describe it to people like this: Say we have a towel on our table and we pour water onto it, that’s the system. If we pour the water straight onto the table, that water falls right off. The integrated watershed management system is developed to be like a towel, to soak up water.
The idea is to maintain the amount of water in the streams so that it doesn’t go down over time, and that can improve the amount of water that people can have. We’re working hard on that in the different communities.
We want these watershed management systems to be examples, demonstrations for other communities.
We have an emphasis on approaches that are sustainable in the long run. Many institutions have come and have brought chemicals for people to use, but that’s not sustainable because it damages the soil. And then when institutions leave, people can’t continue doing that. We’re promoting the use of locally available materials, like compost made out of manure and biodegradable materials.
That’s basically what we do, and we do it as a team. Our work is comprehensive. It crosses through other areas like health and education.
Our dream is that we can work with the communities so that when our projects are finished and we leave, people are still using the approaches that they learned from PRODII.
Our goal is to keep growing. We’re sure that there will be more challenges in the future, but we’re hoping that with the foundations we are setting, we’ll find more ways to grow sustainably.
I think of one woman who’s been with PRODII since the beginning.
She’s applied every single thing that she has learned from us. In her land she has some terraces where she’s producing a wide variety of crops.
She’s an entrepreneur and leader in her community. I always feel very proud when I go to visit her because she’s really an example of everything that we have done.
Gabriel Acarapi Chuca is a technician with MCC partner PRODII, working in remote Bolivian communities. Rachel Watson of Kitchener, Ontario, is an MCC communications and program support worker in Bolivia.