“Indigenous to indigenous exchange is very important – it provides a space for reflection amongst brother and sisters who share a common history. I feel inspired by what I have learnt today from my Bolivian friends – they have only a small amount of land but have managed to do many things,” says Omar, leader of the community of Nepoxen.
For two days representatives of 10 communities from Bolivian and Paraguay met in a church hall in the community of Santa Fe - El Estirbo. Some travelled for two days to arrive – bringing with them seeds, crop samples and handicrafts to share with their
colleagues. For many it was their first time meeting indigenous communities from another country.
The exchange event was part of a Food Security Strengthening project in Indigenous Communities in the Paraguayan and Bolivian Chaco funded by Food Resource Bank and implemented by Church World Service’s local partners – CERDET in Bolivia and Mingara and CIPAE in Paraguay. The project is focusing on building capacity to sustain simple but effective farming techniques to bring desperately needed food and nutritional security to these communities. A recent Food and Nutritional Survey carried out by the project has revealed that in some communities chronic malnutrition in children under 5 years old is as high as 95 per cent.
From Paraguay representatives from the communities of Nepoxen, Kenaten, Saria, Santa Fe – El Estribo and San Lazaro participated representing Enxet Sur, Sanapaná and Guarani a Ñandeva peoples, and from Bolivia the communities of Salado Grande, Chimeo, Ñaguanurenda, Tenta
piau and Choroquepiau representing Guaraní. The objective of the exchange was to share information on progress and different ways of working.
Community representatives from Bolivia told how they have had to change many aspects of their way of life. While once they lived from the Pilocomayo river – increased and uncontrolled pollution and sedimentation has made the river almost unusable.
“Up until recently in one night we could catch 80 or more fish. Now there are almost no fish at all – if we are lucky we catch 4 or 5 in one night,” explained Veronica Arteaga from Tentapiau, “Now we have to learn how to produce and consume new kinds of foods.”
Given that Chaco is a semi-arid region and in the past 10 years in particular, prone to long periods of drought and increasing temperatures, livestock is the preferred option for most communities who have begun to farm goats
and sheep. A new breed introduced in Bolivia includes Haired Sheep (without a fleece) which according to the project technicians are extremely adaptable to different environments and also reproduce quickly.
Representatives from communities in Paraguay also told stories of their changed livelihood.
“We used to have the forest and all its fruit. We were able to hunt. In the past few years the forest has been disappearing and we have lost our land. There are no animals for us to hunt. While many indigenous communities have managed to win back their land – the best most fertile land is still in the hands of foreigners. We do the best we can with the land we have. But the foreigners are destroying what they have – cutting down the forest and drying up the land, reducing the capacity of the soil to produce,” said Cesar from the community of Nepoxen.
Nenito – leader of the Community of Santa Fe which hosted the event – explained how after a long battle in 1985 they were finally granted legal title to the land they are living on today but how they were then abandoned. “We received no resources, no technical accompaniment, no services. We have lots of ideas in our community and lots of experience – most of us have worked on large estates and know about livestock rearing and agriculture, but we need the tools and resources to get started. Nobody would listen to us. Many people tricked us, made false promises. With the help of this project we have begun to improve our infrastructure and really begin to develop our community.”
Much of the project activities in San Fe are being carried out by the women’s group. One of its members Patricia explained that the good thing about the project is the way in which it provides space for the community to develop the way it wants to based on the knowledge and experience of the different families. “it supports initiatives which come directly from within the community,” she said.
Some participants however complained that the project was moving too slow “There are lots of ideas in my community and people are eager to really get started and begin to produce. But so far we have just 20 sheep - how will this provide food to a community of over 50 families?”, asked one of the participants.
During the two days, participants visited the livestock and poultry projects in Santa Fe community as well as the training centre in the nearby city of Filadelfia to learn about a new irrigation system for kitchen gardens using hand made clay pots. Here participants learned about a water saving technology using clay pots as slow-release water irrigation sources. The projects agronomist Rosa Galloso illustrated how the pots are filled with water, buried in the ground, and vegetables and fruit trees planted around them explaining how water is slowly released through the porous clay pots’ walls as perspiration and then absorbed by the roots of the surrounding plants. While traditional farming methods require 50 gallons of water to produce a harvest, using clay pots four-and-a-half to five gallons are needed.
Clay water filters are also produced in the centre and women form the community of San Lazaro are working to develop their own community group to produce there filters and provide much needed safe drinking water to their community. Bolivian participants were able to bring back some of the material needed to produce the clay pots and hoped to build a similar system in their communities.
“These kinds of meetings help us discover ourselves and the kinds of things we can do in our community. I am going home from this meeting with lots of new ideas and enthusiasm” said Omar, “It is through dialogues like this we can learn to improve our situation –we develop new ideas, learn about new tools and become stronger as a community."