In times of COVID-19, Bolivian urban farmers rethink their ways of working

Home deliveries help provide fresh food to cities during the pandemic

Simón Laura and his daughter take care of their family garden on the outskirts of El Alto de La Paz, helping to ensure a supply of fresh produce for nearby cities. ©FAO


Simón Laura, a farmer on the outskirts of El Alto, has been producing vegetables for 10 years with the support of his wife and daughter. Every week, he and his family used to take their fresh produce to different markets in the city, selling it to the many shoppers who came for their supply of fruits and vegetables.

Now, these are different times. People must remain at home as part of the safety measures responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In Bolivia’s high-density cities like Santa Cruz, Oruro, La Paz, Sucre and Potosí, these measures are of utmost importance to stall if not stop the spread of the virus. At the same time, the restrictions are pushing food producers to find new ways of working so that they can maintain their livelihoods and provide food to nearby cities.

Because most of El Alto’s population works in small businesses or are self-employed, it is one city which has immediately felt the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic.

Left/Top: Simón Laura grows varieties of lettuce, tomato and other vegetables, with technical support from FAO. ©FAO ; Right/Bottom: The entire Laura family participates in the production and marketing of vegetables, allowing them to generate income. ©FAO

On 22 March, the Bolivian Government implemented a quarantine on the whole of the country’s population in response to COVID-19. One allowance, however, is that food producers can continue to work until noon to safeguard the food supply.

Simon Laura is one who is committed to keep farming to ensure that people have access to the food they need.

"Before, we used to spend four hours in the greenhouse; now we only spend one hour to comply with the quarantine."

Simon and his family grow green and red chard, lettuce, yellow cherry tomatoes and other vegetables in his greenhouse, but he needed a new way of getting food to his costumers. So he turned to making home deliveries. 

“With my wife and daughter, we coordinate taking care of the greenhouse and making deliveries, and we are very careful with our products. People can be sure that our vegetables are healthy and safe."

With the local government and the support of FAO, Simon and more than 250 other family farmers on the perimeter of Bolivia’s major cities are now making home deliveries to supply urban families with fresh food produced in orchards and greenhouses.

Paola Laura shows part of her zucchini harvest. She and her father, Simón Laura, so enjoy food production that they decided to study agronomy at the Public University of La Paz. ©FAO

FAO’s programmes in Bolivia have historically provided farming families with technical assistance, training to improve production through good agricultural practices and proper handling and manufacturing methods. The Organization also helps farmers manage their production costs, giving advice on adequate price setting, negotiation techniques and the development of new markets.

During this time of COVID-19, FAO is also training food producers to take security measures and working to facilitate their movement, coordinating with the Ministry of Productive Development and Plural Economy. 

"Our routine has changed due to COVID-19," says Simón. “When we leave the house, we take all the necessary precautions. We put on gloves, a facemask and when we return, we even take off our shoes,” says Simón.

In this crisis, families working in urban and peri-urban agriculture are fundamental to continuing the flow of food into Bolivia’s populous areas. With the backing of the government and FAO’s increased support to this sector, peri-urban farmers are shortening food value chains so that people can have access to fresh, nutritious and diverse food during the quarantine. This work is important to ensure continued food security and keep livelihoods afloat, now during this crisis period and beyond.

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2. Zero hunger, 8. Decent work and economic growth, 15. Life on land