By giving farmers the means to improve their own crops, through subsidized technology, Bolivia has found a practical solution to combat rural poverty and improve food security among the country’s most vulnerable population.
Better Technologies for Poor Farmers in Bolivia
Despite the obstacles, Carlos Pacheco did not hesitate when he first heard about a government fair where he could buy subsidized technologies to boost and diversify his farm production. Pacheco, a potato and bean farmer in the department of Potosí, decided right then that he would make the grueling eight-hour walk to the fair through the Bolivian highlands in freezing temperatures in order to buy a greenhouse.
“When I heard about the fair…I thought, with these types of technologies, I can get out of poverty,” said Pacheco, 37. He plans to use the greenhouse to grow fruits and vegetables that otherwise would not survive the harsh weather conditions of the Andean plateau.
Pacheco is one of nearly 14,000 small farmers who have acquired everything from greenhouses to irrigation systems, metal plows, small silos, power feed milling equipment, and other types of technologies through Bolivia’s Creation of Rural Agricultural Food Initiatives (CRIAR) Project. Backed by the IDB, the project supports Bolivia’s strategy to boost the productivity of small farmers to combat rural poverty.
Project empowers subsistance
farmers to choose the
best suited to their needs.
There are more than 600,000 such farmers in Bolivia, and nearly half of them face food insecurity. Most have no access to modern technologies adapted to the difficult geography of Bolivia’s highlands and valleys, according to Nemesia Achacollo, Bolivia’s Minister of Rural Development and Lands.
Many use outdated methods that are a major cause of soil degradation—an estimated 40,000 hectares of land in farming areas becomes unproductive each year because of infertile soil.
Under CRIAR, the government is providing eligible subsistence farmers in 43 municipalities in five departments with vouchers worth up to $900 to help pay for the technologies. The farmers are also receiving technical assistance under the project so they can learn how to use and maintain the equipment they are buying. Twenty-two private companies are providing some 180 different technological packages, which are sold through government-organized fairs such as the one Pacheco attended in the town of Colquechaca. Eligible beneficiaries have to pay for about 10 percent of the cost of the technology—no small investment for them, as it represents on average 30 percent of their annual income.
CRIAR draws on important lessons from similar projects that provide direct support to farmers in the region. The project focuses on the most vulnerable farmers, and eligibility is not based on crops, all are eligible explains Cristian Rivero, the project’s national coordinator. However, to receive the subsidy, participants must own farms no bigger than 35 hectares and be on a roster of eligible producers prepared by local communities that, together with local authorities, exercise oversight to ensure transparency.
The project’s simple execution mechanism—the fairs—allows eligible farmers to complete the paperwork necessary to receive the government voucher, decide which technology is best suited to their needs, make the purchase, and receive technical assistance all in a single day. Companies are expected to deliver the technology within 45 days, though it has taken longer than that for some types of equipment and in some locations. In some cases, the participants can pick up what they have purchased at the fair itself.
“The good thing was that they did not tell you that you have to buy this or that,” said Jaime Rivera, a farmer in the town of Zudañez who bought a solar-powered irrigation system through the project in 2012. “To the contrary, they let you choose freely according to what you need.”
According to government data, wheat farmers who purchased irrigation systems through the project are using water more efficiently, which has enabled them to double their planted area and boost yields by 16 percent per hectare. In the case of potatoes, farmers using metal plows purchased through the project have increased their planted area by 50 percent and boosted yields by a third compared with farmers using wooden plows. Powered corn shellers have enabled farmers to shell one metric ton of corn in a single day instead of five days, leaving them with extra time to work on other crops.
Implementation of the project’s second component, which began in 2013, will help small farmers organize into cooperatives and develop and finance business plans to enable the cooperatives to process and market crops.
By giving farmers the means to improve their own crops, Bolivia has found a practical solution to combat rural poverty and improve food security among the country’s most vulnerable population.