Bolivia: The Recovered Land

Photo: ©2012 Berenice Mollo/World Vision

Photo: ©2012 Berenice Mollo/World Vision

In Bolivia, World Vision’s Strong Women, Strong World initiative is providing financial training, services and savings groups for entrepreneurs. Loans are offered to disadvantaged Bolivians, allowing them to generate income through agriculture, raising livestock, neighborhood services, and local trade. The following story was contributed by Berenice Mollo, World Vision Bolivia.

Juan Zunagua and his partners feel proud to remember all they went through 18 years ago when their Bolivian peasant farming community, Sarcobamba, was destined to disappear. The land of 70 families was at the risk of being swept away by the river Arque. “We used to live [close to] the river, others up in the hill, it was difficult [for us] to plant there and we didn’t have land where we could grow,” recalls 38-year-old Juan.

Juan and his wife used to earn US$50 a month and they could barely buy food. Juan was motivated to recover his land by thinking of his family and wanting to give them a different future.

In 1994 Juan and 69 partners founded the Agricultural Producers Association of Sarcobamba, an organization that helped them to search for support from organizations like World Vision. “They trained us in community leadership, community participation and different technologies in order to recover our land,” says Juan. After years of work, this group of peasant farmers managed to built retaining walls. In 2000 they finally recovered 60 hectares of land, which were divided among the members of the association.

Juan Zunagua and his wife in front of their sweet potato crop. Photo: ©2012 Berenice Mollo/World Vision

Juan Zunagua and his wife in front of their sweet potato crop.
Photo: ©2012 Berenice Mollo/World Vision

Planting vegetables and sell them at the Cochabamba market was the dream of this small group of farmers. However, they lacked the money to work the land or to buy seeds and tools. Through World Vision, they learned about the Vision Fund’s microfinance institution FUBODE who supported them with their first small loan: US$71 for each partner.

“We all felt happy when they said they were going to support me and my partners, that’s why we consider FUBODE as part of us, we consider them our friends, since that time we all have relied on FUBODE to get credits,” adds Juan.

As President of the Association, Juan helped families to get seeds. Now, they plant potatoes, beets, carrots, garlic, onion, sweet potato, pumpkin, lettuce, peppers and radishes, and they also commercialize the products in Cochabamba.

The income and the quality of life of families in Sarcobamba has dramatically improved since 1994. They have specialized in growing sweet potato, potato, garlic and beets. All the families have been able to send their children to school and even to the University of Oruro and Cochabamba.

Juan’s children now aged 17, 14, 6 and 3 are outstanding students and eat healthy food. “I know that my mother and my father work a lot for me; that’s why I want to finish my studies so I will be able to work and help my parents and my brothers,” says Juan’s older daughter, Karina, who studies Veterinary Medicine at a university.

Juan adds: “FUBODE has supported me a lot. Through World Vision I had the opportunity to study accounting, they have helped the neediest by sponsoring the children of [my] partners. Thanks to them children have studied and moved forward. Now we all have our houses and we are improving our businesses.”

At present families expect to improve their production with the construction of a vegetable washer, ensuring healthy and nutritious vegetables.

“Since the community of Sarcobamba recovered the land, around 50 percent of the partners remain as FUBODE clients, they improved their family incomes and their current credits are up to US$3000, which have enabled them to diversify their production, improve their lives [and] contribute to the development of the municipality,” says Adolfo Pantoja, Manager of the FUBODE Capinota Agency.

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