Growing a sustainable source of water in the Andes

November 25, 2019

The family’s small, rugged plot of land and sole source of income, perched 2,500 metres above sea level, was missing something crucial: water.

Life in Moscari, Bolivia was difficult for Teodora Arancibia Apaza, her husband and five small children. The family’s small, rugged plot of land and sole source of income, perched 2,500 metres above sea level, was missing something crucial: water.

“Our community is very remote and road access is poor,” explains Teodora. “Support from the municipality is very little. There’s no support from other institutions.”

Despite the lack of services, Teodora grew staple crops like corn, potatoes and beans. But during the dry season when rains would stop for months, production halted. That meant no surplus crops to sell. Affording basic necessities became a struggle.

That changed ten years ago.

Teodora Arancibia and the technical advisor, Federico Montaño, from PRODII. Lack of water to grow crops pushed most of the area’s 35 farming families to leave, until only four families remained. With PRODII’s support, Teodora’s family remained.

With SeedChange support, our partner organization in Bolivia, PRODII, came to Moscari with an offer of help to tackle the family’s main challenges: food insecurity, lack of income, and the crushing lack of water that made growing food impossible for long periods of the year.

Thanks to funds from caring SeedChange donors, Teodora and her husband learned how to build and maintain an irrigation system that uses water captured from rain and mountain runoff. The water changed everything and Teodora was able to dive into more training.

“They gave us seed, technical assistance in irrigation and the production of organic fertilizers,” recounts Teodora of her early days working with PRODII. She learned how to conserve soil – an essential skill when farming the side of a mountain – by planting hardy grasses that grow well in cool temperatures and provide fodder for animals. Every new technique was sustainable, organic and fully within the family’s reach.

Today, Teodora’s family produces a bounty of new vegetables: tomatoes, garlic, chard, beets, carrots, spinach, beans and onions – just to name a few.

“The food we produce is healthy because we use fertilizers from our animals and we do not use chemicals,” says Teodora with pride. Plus, she adds, they’re even producing seeds from most of the crops they grow.

In addition to many new vegetables, Teodora grows strawberries, peaches, lemons and figs, a number of Bolivian favourites like tuna (prickly pear fruit), pacay and tumbo.

Best of all, food now grows year round on the family plot thanks to the irrigation system.

“We improved our production, and what is left over, we started to take to San Pedro de Buena Vista to sell.” As a result, she and her husband now earn enough money to buy necessities for their children.

“I am happy because we can feed ourselves in a healthy way. We no longer suffer from [the lack of] food because we have enough to eat all year round,” she says.

Now, Teodora wants to diversify her production even more. She hopes to help other families see the progress she has made on her plot, so that they can improve their harvests, too. The first step for them will be to access training in irrigation, as she did, thanks to SeedChange’s supporters.

“We are proud of what we produce and what we have, and to show what we produce and how we innovated.”