Day 7 is in the books! We began the day learning about organic quinoa production from a husband and wife who are quinoa farmers and their contact with the Andean Valley Corporation. The Andean Valley Corporation is like a combination of the Extension service and a Co-Op in the United States. The Corporation provides ideas and research that farmers can use to increase/remain productive with their land and yields. After hearing the couple speak, there are some serious problems quinoa producers are facing today that they’ve not faced in decades. Being as we have been tasked with developing a presentation of recommendations for the quinoa production in Bolivia, gathering this information from producers themselves gives us a great start on ideas for our field project.
The growers of Quinoa here in Uyuni currently are experiencing new problems that they traditionally haven’t had to deal with ever before. Wind erosion, rats, insect pests, birds and vicuña (an endangered animal – just google it!) have all been destroying the crops that once thrived in their fields. Today we saw plants 4 inches tall that should have been 3 feet tall by now. One field in particular was on its second planting as the first had been destroyed by the wind. They are currently employing new strategies to hopefully grow a more successful crop. They have built make shift fences to keep wild vicuña out, set insect traps to reduce population and are planting cover crops to increase soil fertility and reduce wind erosion.
We then visited a plant nursery that is funded by the Andean Valley Corporation. The nursery is small and was constructed using wooden support posts in the middle and walls surrounding all four sides. It was covered by black shade cloth to prevent the tiny plants from drying out in the baking sun and blowing wind. There was even a mister system set up to help keep the plants cool. Fortunately for them, it began to rain while we were there (which significantly sped up the rest of the presentation). The representative that leads the project said that they are growing many of the plants to the age of approximately one year before they will be transplanted outside. Many of the plants will be used as a wind break or to hold the sandy soil in place. The plant that he showed us was about a year old and barely over a foot tall. He said that it would take about 15 years to reach its fully mature height of 6 feet. We think that there may be a place to introduce some other species from across the globe to combat the blowing soil issue a little more quickly.
After our tours involving quinoa production, we had lunch in a building made of salt blocks in Colchani. We were served steak, corn on the cob, quinoa and cooked vegetables. Although the food was not the quality we are accustomed to, we were happy to be in the presence of some of the most hospitable people we’ve met.
The rest of the day was spent back in the town of Uyuni. We spent some time relaxing, playing cards and a few people explored the open-air market while others continued to search for the ever-disappearing WIFI signal… Of course, the loss of power at 5:30 PM was hardly noticeable in the beginning as it was still light outside. It wasn’t until we waited for our dinner in the presence of candlelight that we realized how lacking in infrastructure Uyuni really is. We began to discuss the hodge-podge electrical wiring system that we had seen along the sides of the streets. Regardless of the situation, we enjoyed our pizza by candlelight and it was so, so romantic.
Nolan Sampson & Jared Baird