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Indigenous Women Taking Active Role in Bolivia’s Agriculture

Project: Women Collaborating Towards Food Justice in Bolivia

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WEA’s 2006 Transformative Advocacy Exchange in Bolivia

In Bolivia, women play a large role in the agriculture sector. They work to harvest crops, raise livestock and provide food for their families. The changing climate has impacts on the livelihoods of these women as unpredictable storms and irregular rainfall affect the productivity of their crops and security of their income and food.

For the last 10 years, Bolivia’s government and local NGOs have been focused on empowering women and creating decision-making space for them when it comes to adapting to these issues. NGOs have financed projects to empower women farmers, creating space for them in political contexts and empowering them to make changes in their communities.

Here is an excerpt from Al Jazeera’s photo story on women farmers in Bolivia. You can view the whole story here.

“Because of deep-rooted gender inequality, women are less informed, less valued by men and excluded from the decision-making process in the community, making them even more vulnerable.”

WEA’s 2006 Transformative Advocacy Exchange in Bolivia

In 2006, WEA partnered with Global Exchange on a Transformative Advocacy Exchange which led a team of women environmental attorneys on a journey through the regions of La Paz and Santa Cruz in Bolivia. Through this project, these advocates worked with indigenous and women-led organizations to encourage sustainable, indigenous-managed land use and agricultural practices, a necessary focus for agricultural communities as they face these irregular rainfall patterns, higher rates of erosion and inconsistent yields.

It is inspiring to continue to see the incredible skill and knowledge Indigenous women hold as they ensure and preserve their communities food security resources!

Women at the Forefront of Climate Change Adaptation

Project: Women Collaborating Towards Food Justice in Bolivia

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 Photo: Alexandre Laprise; Oxfam.org
Photo: Alexandre Laprise; Oxfam.org

The ever-changing weather patterns across the globe, but particularly in Latin America, where alternating periods of droughts and floods have gotten worse, has put particular strain on the indigenous and rural women of the region. Lack of land ownership, access to technical and social services means that those who depend on the land for their sustenance are at an ever-increasing risk. But the women are strong, and are finding innovative ways to keep supporting themselves an their families.

Indigenous women and rural women play a very important role in addressing climate change, specifically in efforts to ensure food security in their households and their countries, as well in climate change adaptation efforts.

Behind Bolivia’s Ambitious Agriculture Goals

Project: Women Collaborating Towards Food Justice in Bolivia

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Since Evo Morales – the first Indigenous president to rule a majority Indigenous country – took office in 2006, there have been major changes to the government operation of Bolivia, including an overhaul of the constitution in 2009. However, his efforts to help Indigenous and impoverished communities by increasing access to food and land for more citizens have lost him the support of many, due to his promotion of large-scale agriculture corporations.

A recent agricultural summit brought together representatives of all corners of the agriculture process: growers, producers and funders – those who stand by traditional ways and those who favor continued use of genetically-modified argriculture (more commonly known as GMOs). Together, these constituents engaged in heated debates about land occupation, use and GMOs.

This was in the run up to a government and agricultural producers’ re-launch of the agricultural sector for the state of Santa Cruz (which is geographically the largest state, and the one most affected by deforestation). However, interestingly enough, environmental NGOs and those Indigenous groups who, because of their opposition to Morales’ policies, have lost favor with him were absent from the summit.

Bolivian women farm the land wearing the traditional dress of indigenous and peasant people of the highlands. Photo: Elias Quispe under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
Bolivian women farm the land wearing the traditional dress of indigenous and peasant people of the highlands. Photo: Elias Quispe under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Morales’s mixed environmental record is also reflected in the actions of Bolivia’s indigenous people. They are often painted as stewards of the Earth, having fought alongside environmental activists to protect rainforests, halt construction of mega-dams, and enshrine strict legal protections for the environment. However, at the agricultural summit small-scale indigenous farmers often joined large landholders — who still comprise by far the largest threat to Bolivia’s forest — in arguing for looser environmental regulations.

“[Some] sectors of small producers… want an expedited expansion of the agricultural frontier, they want to change the Forest Law… They [even] want genetically modified seeds,” said Gonzalo Colque, the director of The Land Foundation, a Bolivian NGO dedicated to supporting small producers.

It’s important to notice who received an invitation from the Morales government to attend the agricultural summit – or any important national conversation – and who did not get a place at the table, since attendees’ views largely shape the outcome of the discussions.

A report by the Land Foundation argues that small-farmers and indigenous people were not adequately represented at the conference. “In the planning stage of the agricultural summit, the indigenous and peasant sector was absent,” it said. Ultimately, peasant and indigenous groups were allowed to send 25 representatives; medium-producers sent another 25; and agro-industrial groups sent 50.

At the heart of this debate is deforestation and the severe impact it has on all living species in the forests and rivers in Bolivia. Currently at risk are endangered species like the giant otter (Pteronura brasiliensis), spectacled bear (remarctos ornatus) and jaguar (panthera onca), and delicate ecosystems such as the Chiquitano Dry Forests, and the Gran Chaco, each home to hundreds of plant, insect and bird species.

You can read the full article on this debate and its impacts over at Mongabay.