Every year on April 22 we celebrate Earth Day in support of environmental protection. Millions of people will gather in various events all over the world to advocate for protecting our world’s natural resources.
One way in which we at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) help champion this global effort is by ensuring that our projects meet our environmental and social safeguards. Our safeguards help increase project sustainability while reducing negative impacts to people and the natural resources they depend on. Such is the case with the Misicuni Dam in Bolivia, where we worked with communities to improve their livelihoods while minimizing negative impacts.
Up on the Bolivia mountains at 13,000 feet above sea level, the air is thin, water can be scarce, and the nights are well below freezing, but the sun’s rays are intense. People must be strong to live in these conditions, particularly when the nearest grocery store is a few hours’ drive. So, when the IDB’s Misicuni project in Bolivia required the resettlement of the local community upslope to make way for the soon to be created reservoir, a livelihood restoration plan was required to ensure economic losses would be compensated. In addition, the plan would allow resettled individuals to have an opportunity to re-establish their livelihoods without suffering economic losses.
In Bolivia, the Misicuni River rises to an elevation of nearly 13,000 feet above sea level. Nearly 50 kilometers long, it is part of the Amazon Valley river system. The IDB’s Misicuni Renewable Energy Hydroelectric Project is leveraging this valuable resource and increasing the supply of water for domestic use and irrigation to the Cochabamba Valley while generating electricity for Bolivia’s National Interconnected System.
The local communities had farmed the area that is now part of the reservoir, so the IDB worked with local residents to create a community engagement program that helped identify and implement livelihood restoration initiatives and provide long-term economic opportunities.
Two residents decided to shift their economic activity from traditional potato farming to flower cultivation. Capacity building workshops and trainings ensured they had the knowledge to successfully and sustainably plant, care for, harvest and sell the flowers. This included training on how to select appropriate flower varieties, fertilizers, pesticides, and develop a composting program to more efficiently use the operation’s green wastes. The IDB helped design a marketing strategy for their flower business, including a brand label and identifying/entering local and international markets to sell their flowers at competitive prices.
Many community members chose to maintain their traditional crops of potato. Other community members realized that fresh vegetables were not readily available in the area; lack of vegetables in their diet had contributed to malnutrition in children. So, the community members requested greenhouses (carpas solares) to cultivate vegetables of their own. Over 100 carpas solares were constructed for the communities. Numerous workshops were provided to teach locals how to cultivate in the greenhouses. Lessons included:
What crops to plant and natural fertilizers to use;
Pest control options;
When to harvest and replant;
How to propagate seeds; and
How to improve plant fertilization to maximize crop yields.
The results were phenomenal. At altitudes of over 4,000 meters (13,200 feet), residents are now cultivating numerous crops including: tomatoes, lettuce, spinach, chard, peppers, cabbage, cucumbers, potato, beets, garlic, onions, beans, strawberries, and several types of herbs. The relatively controlled climate of the greenhouses allows for year-round harvest, providing fresh vegetables for the owners even during harsh winter climates. Results have been so positive that other nearby communities have also built their own greenhouses, while others are asking for assistance to build them. Future activities include using these greenhouses as demonstration projects to help outside communities see the benefits of gardening inside greenhouses, a concept which is still foreign in most parts of rural Bolivia.