Bolivian farmers beat the river


Bolivian farmers plant saplings with tools provided through an FAO forestry project.
Bolivia/19361/R. Jones

By early February, it had been raining for weeks in the village of Huatina in the department of Potosí, Bolivia. The River Miculpaya had grown to match its common name: El Río Grande. The 50 families of Huatina, which sits on the bank of the river, watched anxiously as the water got closer and closer.

Sixteen families were especially attentive. For five years they have participated in an FAO agroforestry project aimed at using the rich riverbank soil to grow fruit trees and vegetables.

In the mountainous department of Potosí, less than 3 percent of the land is usable for agriculture. But by building a stone barrier to keep the river in its bed, the small community was able to make use of the rich soil adjacent. The barrier, hand built with tonnes of stone held together by wire, is 4 metres high, 3 metres thick and more than 300 metres long.

Where small plots of land on the hillsides normally yield only one crop a year, the families harvest twice a year at the fertile riverbank, and with less labour. Seeing the results from Huatina, many other villages in the area also started to plant near the river.

But this year Bolivia is having unusually heavy rains, which have destroyed a large part of the country's harvest. Today, the area surrounding the River Miculpaya is a sad sight. Floodwaters have swallowed up many hectares of good fertile soil. The food that was almost ready to be harvested is now buried.

Not in Huatina, however. There the stone barrier and the efforts of the families in buttressing the structure against the rising river prevented the water from entering the fields.

"When the people from FAO five years ago suggested to us to build the barrier, we were a little skeptical," says Victoriano Samudio, the leader of the 16 families, "but they saved our land." He adds, "We have to make the barrier stronger. If we hadn't been there supporting the structure, the water would have come in. It was a matter of centimetres."

26 February 2001


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