Although the inhabitants of El Alto spend the main part of their income on food, they are not able to afford a healthy diet. Most houses in El Alto are supplied with a patio that is big enough for a small greenhouse and a barn for chickens or guinea pigs. This measure allows them to eat healthier, to improve their children’s school performance, to generate an additional income by vending some of the products and, altogether, to stabilise their social situation.
El Alto is a former slum area in Bolivia’s capital city La Paz and is located at an altitude of 4.000 meters. It is not only one of the poorest cities in Latin America, but also one of the fastest growing cities worldwide. From its more than one million inhabitants around half is younger than 19 years old. The main part of the population works in the informal sector and can barely read or write. Only few people achieve an income of more than 200 Dollars monthly. Especially children suffer from this situation and the widespread malnutrition. The local government cannot keep up with the developments and is incapable of dealing with the situation. In order to take care of daily issues in residential areas, local families have organised themselves in almost 600 community organisations. The FOCAPACI project for self-sustaining agriculture focuses on these families and especially on the women.
Main support of the project is Focapaci, a social centre of the Catholic Church for education and training on political participation. The project cooperates with women and mothers on self-sustaining agriculture. By enhancing their knowledge on cultivation and care of crops and livestock, the project seeks to not only supply the families with a healthier diet, but also to granting them access to local markets, to increase their income and to build up sustainable economic structures.
In 2011, the project is presented in several of El Alto’s citizen parliaments and hundreds of women manifest their interest in the project. They organise themselves in producers’ associations of 10 to 15 women. In these groups the women discuss weekly activities and produce bricks for building floors and walls of the greenhouses. Focapaci reimburses half of the costs and constructs the translucent roofs. The women receive training in cultivation of around 20 different types of vegetables and fruits as well as in livestock breeding of chickens and guinea pigs. In this way, they grow lettuce, carrots and cabbage in their greenhouse beds, strawberries along the walls as well as herbs and peppers in old plastic bottles used as pots. The surplus is sold on local markets or delivered to kindergartens. For the women of El Alto this means a huge challenge, as they have to convince people through intensive discussions to pay an increased amount for the healthier products. Additionally, they are not used to orient their production towards a sales market.
Through the cultivation of agricultural products, the families are able to significantly improve their diet. Additionally, around 70 children in the age of 6 to 13 years profit from a daily delivery of fresh fruits and vegetables, which they receive in the nursery. Since the children’s diet is more balanced, pedagogic staff reports improvements in the children’s attention and their overall performance in school. This is probably also due to the fact that the women now work at home and can therefore spend more time with their children. The project also contributed to an increase of family incomes as the women are selling the surplus on local markets. Additionally, the producers’ associations’ self-administration has improved and social recognition of the women increased. Through a reciprocal exchange and regular trainings, the women have learnt additional production methods; e.g. how to cultivate plants by means of drip irrigation in order to economise the scarce resource water.
The project is being continued with the objective to build additional greenhouses at schools. Thereby, it seeks to increase children’s and inhabitants’ conscience of the environment and its protection as well as a healthy diet and to encourage them to cultivate in their backyards. Provided that a sufficient amount of donations from Europe and the U.S. is being received, an additional educational farm for adolescents will be constructed. Moreover, the women from El Alto, together with their community organisations and supported by Focapaci, participate in urban development processes and advocate the formalisation of their fast growing informal settlements. They are increasingly starting to be more independent and autonomous.