Before this farmer harvests food, she must harvest water

November 25, 2019

“Nothing would be possible on this land without the water.”

Sebastiana Montan barely looks down as she takes the dirt path from the farmhouse to her field below at a gallop. Her sandaled feet avoid stones and ruts with practised ease along the steep decline, but she pulls up short when she reaches a field of leafy crops. She begins choosing her steps with care.

Two years ago, there were no crops there. And just as often as not, her husband would not be there either.

Her small family farm hugs the Andean mountainside in Panacachi at 3,800 metres above sea level. Today, it’s full of maize, flowering fava, alfalfa, cabbage, lettuce, carrots and onions, as well as one hulking, black prize-winning bull.

In two years, Doña Sebastiana, her husband and her son have turned this patch of rock-riddled slope into a terraced, densely packed farm, growing vegetables they could previously only get at the market in Llallagua, a city 52 kilometres away.

But before the family was able to harvest any of this, they had to harvest water first.

“Nothing would be possible on this land without the water.”

Sebastiana Montan

Water harvesting in Bolivia

With the help of Programa de Desarrollo Integral Interdisciplinario (PRODII), our partner in Bolivia, Sebastiana harvests all the water the new crops need. PRODII supplied the material and technical support to build a water harvesting system and holding tank. The system is not rain dependent: it collects mountain runoff through strategically placed piping. The water comes from springs to give the family farm a dependable source of water – even during the dry months.

“Nothing would be possible on this land without the water,” says Sebastiana.

And it’s not just water she now has all year long, but her husband by her side. The steady water source – coupled with terracing, crop rotation and compost to keep the soil healthy – ramped up the farm’s productivity, and the family now sells vegetables to a local school. This new source of income lets Sebastiana’s husband stay in Panacachi with his family when he used to need to migrate for work whenever money became thin.

Today, her husband only leaves the farm for a few weeks each year when he works the quinoa harvests at big, altiplano farms – something Sebastiana looks forward to ending one day. But for the time being, they still need the money.

For now, Sebastiana surveys her crops, standing next to a cabbage that’s bigger than her granddaughter. She says she can’t pick one new crop she is most pleased to be growing.

“They are all exciting,” she says.

But, she adds with a smile, the alfalfa is great for her bull.