Adventures in Bolivia – Closing Remarks

Bolivia Goodbye
We said good bye to Bolivia and Cesar, our Institute of International Education guide, really early in the morning – about 1 a.m.

January 11, brought us back to States. We’re meeting in Washington, D.C., with the two other groups to share our learning from each of our trips.

While everyone was thankful to back on U.S. soil, we were even more excited to meet up with the other AFA Global Fellows!

Hearing more about the experiences in the Netherlands and Thailand enlightened each of us about how diverse global agriculture truly is. Culture, government and financial stability all play an important role in each county’s successes and obstacles. The diversity among us and the generosity each country showed us has truly opened our eyes over the past two weeks.

We were all exposed to different continents and climates, but everyone’s experiences were certainly enriched. While each of our journeys are coming to an end, our life learning isn’t through.

Thanks to the past four years of AFA programming and the awesome opportunity to travel abroad, we have all changed of our perspectives and increased our exposure to international agriculture. We are eternally grateful. The future is unknown as we look at the next 40 years, or 40 chances we each have to make a difference in the lives of others, but the impact, I’m sure, will be beyond compare.

Morgan Beach
University of Missouri

Bolivia Day 13 – The Natural Beauty of Bolivia

‘Rise and shine and give God the glory, glory – rise and shine!’ A tune that I always remember being sung to me as a child. This morning each of us have really been reminded how blessed and lucky we are to be American citizens. Currently in La Paz, there is an ongoing public transportation strike – primarily bus drivers. Due to this, many of the roads are unavailable and we were forced to take a few alternative routes to Lake Titicaca today. We even ventured through some very rough and/or closed roads and some locals were throwing rocks at vehicles! Never fear Mom and Dad, our staff, tour guides and drivers have done a fabulous job ensuring our safety!

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After quite the trip, we arrived at the harbor and boarded the ‘San Francisco’ – a catamaran – and prepared to set sail! We all settled in, and then ventured up to the upper deck to take in the view. After a quick 45 minute trip spent learning about the lake, its ecosystems and the islands, thanks to our wonderful guide named Grace, we had to transfer to a much smaller boat in order to dock at the islands.

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On the first island, we learned about the reed grass that natives originally used to make boats; but now its primary purpose is for fire, fuel and animal diets. There we were also able to visit a museum that had many clay artifacts. The adventure continued to a second island where, after a steep climb, we were able to take in the breathtaking view and learn about the existing rock funeral temples that had previously contained mummies!


Next, we made our way back to the San Fransisco, where we were served lunch and sailed back to the harbor. All the while we were snapping pictures of the mountains in the distance and the remarkably clear water.


It was a treacherous and long journey back into the city, but there was much less traffic in the afternoon and this time we knew what we were up against! Grace and our drivers dropped us off in a part of the city with many handcraft stores – so we said our goodbyes and shopped ’til we dropped! Then it was taxis back to our hotel to work on our presentations and find some dinner. Tonight is our last full night of sleep in Bolivia; and before long we will be able to rise and shine in the good old U.S. of A!

See you all soon!

Emma Christensen

South Dakota State University

Adventures in Bolivia – Day 12 – Andean Valley Corporation and Mico-Financing

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Today was another busy day for the Bolivia Global Fellows! We started the day at the Andean Valley Company headquarters in El Alto, near La Paz. We first interacted with this comany back in Uyuni when we visited some of their producers’ fields.

imageDuring our visit to their headquarters, we were able to learn more about the company’s values, mission and goals, as well as, the programs they are using to support their producers. After their presentations, we had a tour of the processing facilities and were able to compare this facility to the one we had seen earlier in the week. We also learned about the quinoa value-added products they produce. We were fortunate enough to taste samples of pancakes, brownies, pizza crust, flan, pudding, quinoa burgers and quinoa with rice. We enjoyed quinoa infused flavors in our favorite dishes.

After our visit with the Andean Valley Company, we headed back to the hotel where we met with Sembrar Sartawi and the Sembrar Foundation. Sembrar Sartawi is an organization that provides micro-financing to farmers with 0-20 hectares of land. Together with the Sembrar Foundation, the organization operates using a triangle model that includes financing, market access and technical education. Sembrar Sartawi financing is often the only option for many of their clients. It provides realatively easy and quick access to needed funds, however we were shocked to find out that loans from Sembrar Sartawi have a 22% interest rate.  The representatives explained the importance of the financing to farmers and the costs of providing these loans.

imageThe Sembrar Foundation works under Sembrar Sartawi and works to complete their triangle model, providing market access and technical education to farmers. We were happy to learn education was a main goal of this non-profit organization and that they were working with the farmers we have seen struggling in the field. The foundation is currently helping 450 farmers and hopes to continue to grow.

After our meetings, we set out to explore Sopoccachi, the neighborhood where our hotel is in La Paz. Alvero, our translator who is from La Paz, gave us a guided tour and showed us some of the landmarks within the city. With all the walking we did, we all surpassed our 10,000 steps for the day. After returning to the hotel, we split on our own and continued to explore the city for the best places for dinner.

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As the trip wraps up, we are all excited to return to the USA. The many experiences we have had and people we have met make each of us value what we have at home even more. Bolivia has shown each of us different methods of agriculture and helped us realize how advanced technology in agriculture is in the United States. We have all been working on our quinoa projects and look forward to presenting our ideas to each other on Sunday and in D.C. on Tuesday.

Kate Griswold
University of Wisconsin

Adventures in Bolivia – Day 11 – La Paz Education and Ancient Ruins

Today was our first entire day in La Paz! After flying into the city two previous times, it was nice to finally learn more about and explore one of the largest cities in Bolivia. The day started off with a short bus tour of La Paz and El Alto. El Alto is a city connected to La Paz. As we learned from Grace, our wonderful tour guide, El Alto and La Paz hold the world record for the highest elevated airport, ski lift, soccer field and golf course at approximately 13,500 feet above sea level. El Alto is also home to the largest flea market in South America which can be as large as 700 blocks.After the bus ride through the two cities and out into the country, we arrived at the main location for the day, the Universidad Catolica Boliviana. This private rural university is home to approximately 140 students with two different degree options, agricultural engineering and zoo-technical engineering. Being agricultural students ourselves, it was great hearing the focus the university placed on hands-on experience through research and their own production agriculture.

 img_0045The university currently works with 10 separate modules, or areas of research. We were able to learn more in depth about 5 of their modules – crop rotation, compost and manure handling, greenhouse tomatoes, Guinea pig production, and earthworm research. Even though the university was on break, there were a few students who explained their research projects to us. It was amazing seeing the passion the students and professors displayed while showing their research off to us. They may not have the technology or funding that our universities in the United States are able to use, but they are working very hard to produce results that can be shared with farmers in Bolivia to improve farming in the country.

img_0044The next stop for today was the Tiwanaku ancient ruins and artifacts. The Tiwanaku were a group of indigenous people that lived from approximately 1200 BC to 1170 AD in western Bolivia. They were famous for their extensive stone pyramid structures and monolitos. A monolito is a human-like statue carved into a single large stone. The distinctive features of a monolito include large face features, both hands holding items on its chest, and a belt, all with intricate designs and hieroglyphics. It was very interesting learning about the history of Bolivia and how it still plays into the culture today.

We were able to end the day by enjoying traditional Bolivian cuisine, or as many of us called our entrees, “real food.” Everybody was full from our delicious beef steaks, pork chops and mixed vegetables. It was even to our surprise to hear American music as we walked into the restaurant. However, the food was not the best part of the night. To travel from our hotel to the restaurant, we used a new cable train system in La Paz. Made to provide an easier commute for workers, riding in these cable cars gave us some breathtaking views of the city. We were able to take pictures of La Paz both in the daylight before sunset and at night with the entire city lit up. Those views are something none of us will every forget.


Tomorrow we look forward to reconnecting with the Andean Valley Company and learning even more about the city of La Paz.


Stay tuned as we finish out our AFA Global Fellows Experience in Bolivia!

Tate Klocke
Iowa State University

Adventures in Bolivia – Day 10 – Finding Focus through Friendship

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The foundation of a friendship can spark from a multitude of things. This morning the fellows in Bolivia found friendship in the community of Samiri, located near Toledo. Here we were fortunate to meet and learn from the Wilfredo Canaviri Saca family, who produces Canahua, a ‘sister crop’ to quinoa, and sheep.

It didn’t take long for us to find common ground. Wilfredo’s family’s goal is to produce the healthiest food possible for people that live in the cities near by. Our friendship was struck on the concept that producing food and feeding people has no boundaries – not race, religion, location or methods.

We were excited to find that they too have developed different innovative techniques to better their farm. Wilfredo’s parents gave him the opportunity to study at a University, and he has worked hard to provide that for his children, too. His oldest son and daughter are currently studying anthropology and graphic design, respectively. A wise mentor once said, “If you are uncertain of your purpose, follow your passion – it will lead you there.” The daughter is utilizing her skills to promote and brand their products. She had created banners, logos and helped increase the demand for both Canahua and their sheep through marketing. Thus far we have seen little communication between Bolivian farmers and their consumers, so their marketing serves as a great advantage.

img_0036Wilfredo’s wife plays a crucial role on the farm – she was a natural educator – first informing us about their practices raising sheep. We were happy to hear that they have imported other breeds – Suffolks, Hampshires and Corriedales – to implement a cross-breeding program with the native breeds in order to improve meat quality, and better their herd. The first cross offspring have one of two fates. The top 2-3% of bucks are kept and bred to native ewes, and the rest of the males are marketed live or as a carcass product. All female cross offspring are sold to prevent inbreeding. While their management program is simple, they are keeping track of genetic lines and utilizing identification practices in the herd – something that seems to be quite rare in this country.

The compliment to their sheep production is that of Canahua – “the grain that makes your life longer.” The sheep eat the Canahua stubble and their manure fertilizes the soil. Canahua is unique in the fact that it can be produced in drier air and colder and higher altitude climates than even quinoa. In addition, it actually has an even higher percent of protein, as well as being a good source of calcium, phosphorus, fiber and potassium, and can treat ailments including altitude sickness, typhoid fever and indigestion while serving as an energy source. We were all able to taste canahua flour. The best comparison can be made with a protein powder – it even had a slight chocolate taste! Although they have never completely lost a crop, they do suffer from many of the same plagues that quinoa producers experience.

img_0035-1We were able to spend quite a bit of time with this family, and our friendships grew. They were able to show us some sheep, their machinery, and water reservoirs. In return, we told them about were we come from and what agriculture looks like in our respective states as well as answering questions and sharing pictures! Lunch was served – homegrown lamb, and other items made with quinoa and Canahua. Their generosity continued as we received parting gifts: small clay momentos with wool and Canahua seed as well as a small bag of the Canahua flour. It was a very special moment for both parties, and as contact information was exchanged, we sincerely hope these friendships will continue.

After a very busy morning, we made our way back to Oruro. We all experienced Bolivian public transportation for the first time as our drivers from the past few days dropped us at the bus stop so we could make the journey to La Paz. For many of us, this was quite the experience – awestruck, fearful and enthralling could describe it all! But alas, we all made to La Paz in one piece. The city is bustling, built on the mountain, and jam packed with shops, people, and traffic. We’re looking forward to the rest of our adventure here!

Happy Trails!

Emma Christensen
South Dakota State University

Adventures in Bolivia – Day 9 – Quinoa Processing

After breakfast from our hotel in Salinas de Garci Mendoza, we began our journey to the Association of Quinoa Producers. Along the way, we decided to do a little sightseeing and visit the crater created by a meteorite just outside the city. It’s so exciting to see not only the people and their culture, but also the beauty surrounding them!
imageAfter more driving and perhaps a few siestas, we finally arrived to the village where the Association of Quinoa Producers were located. Just as the rest of the villages we have visited, we were welcomed with open arms and full hearts. They took the time to explain to us the significance of all that they do, including production practices they cherish and the articles of clothing they wear. They even included us in their meeting ritual where they pay tribute to Mother Earth.

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We then joined them for several presentations that demonstrated how they produce quinoa and articles of clothing they sell. The quinoa production presentation included the processes they go through along with challenges they face. Like other villages we visited, they farm quinoa organically and sustainably, and face similar “plagues.” With this knowledge, their hope is that we can partner with our universities to combat these challenges to provide more profitable crops.

The village takes great pride in their women who create beautiful articles of clothing. These women use the wool from their llamas to spin their own thread, wrap into a spool, and weave into sweaters, scarves, gloves, blankets, and any custom work that is asked of them. We were fortunate enough to not only see a presentation of their work, but also witness each step in person… and try on a few pieces ourselves.

We were then served lunch that was similar to yesterday: quinoa vegetable soup with llama meat, potatoes, quinoa, and other vegetables. We have found that, just like in the U.S., each village puts a special spin on dishes they make. It was mouy bueno!

imageThe final part of our visit was their new quinoa production facility. The building and machinery goes through every step of the process from dropping off and cleaning the quinoa to separating colors and bagging. Although not all of the machinery is in working order yet, it should be operational within a month. This 4 million Boliviano facility (approximately $600,00 USD), financed through the EU, will prepare quinoa from several hundred families to be exported to Germany, France and Spain. The Association of Quinoa Producers’ ultimate hope is to gain more customers, such as the U.S., and be able to operate 365 days per year.

The remainder of our day was driving (on paved roads!) to Ururo. We watched the landscape change from desert to mountainous and green. We even saw rain!

Although most of our day was spent absorbing Bolivian culture from a Toyota Land Runner, we enjoyed our time with one another and with the Association of Quinoa Producers.
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More to come tomorrow from the administrative capital city of La Paz.

Haley Thompson
University of Missouri

Adventures in Bolivia – Day 8 – Rewarding Rodeo

The community of Rodeo greeted us wit open arms.
The community of Rodeo greeted us wit open arms.

After a brief internet hiatis, the Bolivia Global Fellos Group is back online!

This morning we rose with the birds to leave our hotel in Uyuni and start the journey towards Rodeo. Much to some of our dismay, Rodeo is a community specializing in growing in quinoa and not an actual rodeo like we have in the United States. After a long and rough four hour trip, we made it and were welcomed with open arms! Thirty-four families live in Rodeo. The community is working towards developing agri-tourism, promoting organic quinoa.

The ‘president’ of the community greeted us, along with many other community members and their children. All were dressed in traditional Bolivian clothing they save for special occasions. It was easy to see they were thrilled to have us as their guests.

One of my favorite sayings is, “The eyes are useless when the mind blind.” This is a saying that suits many situations, but I think has really applied to the last few days of our trip as we have all tried to wrap our minds around quinoa production in Bolivia.

img_0040-1Today, however, we were instantaneously able to observe that this community was more advanced and forward thinking than most of the others we have visited. They diversify their financial risks with multiple enterprises – raising llamas as well as quinoa. They have about 100 llamas that graze on fields that are currently ‘resting’ from quinoa production to increase the soil fertility thanks to the manure.

The community previously had participated in a contest and created a museum to showcase the history of quinoa in their area as well as other pieces of the community’s past. They were able to show and tell us about many historical tools used to work ground, plant and harvest the crop. In addition, there were products made from llama wool, out of circulation Bolivianos (Bolivian currency), many different colored stalks of quinoa, clay pots used to carry water, and even mining tools and an old sewing machine!

Afterward we were able to climb to a hill that serves at the high point in town and from there we were able to view all the fields. We discussed their production practices and exchanged many questions. They were eager to learn from us and what we thought as well.

Llama vegetable soup is a staple here in Bolivia.
Llama vegetable soup is a staple here in Bolivia.

The community’s hospitality continued into lunch. We were served a two course meal with llama and vegetable soup as the first course and quinoa with vegetables as the second. It was muy bueno!

img_0037-1After lunch we took a closer look at the llamas in the pasture and headed out to the quinoa fields. It was refreshing for all of us to see that their fields were flourishing and they were excited and proud of their work. While production of quinoa in Bolivia is not fully mechanized, the community is certainly innovating. They even offered visitors to come back and observe an entire growing season as well as requested implementing quinoa studies at our respective universities. After many photo ops with the locals and high-fiving with the children, we had to part ways and make the trip to Salinas de Garci Mendoza.

Rodeo offered each of us a different reward – not only did our eyes see amazing sights through today’s journey but I really think the spark and spirit of hope for these people was relit in all of our minds today. Looking forward to what the rest of our trip holds.

See you all soon!

Emma Christensen
South Dakota State University