Challenges of working with vulnerable rural communities

Some of the Children of Pimpollo keen to show me their new school building. The Government of Bolivia provides all rural communities with a primary school and a teacher, no matter how remote they are. Click to see a clip of me introducing the project to the community

We have been working with the Pimpollo community for just over a year. It has been a real challenge for us, as well as for them. The community is formed of a group of ca 25 families  settled in the Amazon for less than two years and from three different parts of the Bolivian Andes. Life is very difficult for these communities. For a start they do not know each other very well and yet will depend on each other for their survival. This creates a number of tensions and in the last year of contact with Pimpollo we have seen an almost complete change in family composition with only three of the original families remaining. Secondly, Pimpollo is located over a 100 km, on dirt-track, from the nearest town, the last 30 km or so of which is semi-passable during the wet season. This makes access to medical care, schooling and security intermittent at best, especially considering that there is no phone coverage and all communication occurs through VHF radio. Thirdly, they are very poor and farming some of the World’s poorest soils. Having recently come from the relatively fertile Andes, this poses real challenges. It also makes it much harder for us to maintain contact.

In answer to question from community members, Roman Velarde from Herencia explains some of the detail of the agroforest plot layout

The result has been that the seedlings we sowed in 2013 remained unplanted and abandoned. Obviously not what we were hoping and largely the result of circumstances outside of both of our control: a breakdown in relations between several of the families in the community, the serious illness of our main counterpart within the community and subsequent confusion about how the seedlings could help improve their farming. Over the past six months we had been trying to re-establish contact with the community so as to decide how best to proceed. On our arrival in December we were a little nervous about how we would be received but after a couple of hours of discussions and presentations we were able to identify that they were still interested in working with us and that they understood the role of this agroforest system with respect to soil fertility and weed-contro. They were also willing to nominate a new focal point for communication, Facundo Guttierez. We suggested that it would be best for them to discuss the project and its implications amongst themselves for the next few weeks and that in January we would return at which time they could confirm their interest. We are not sure what will happen but are very keen to work with the new wave of immigrants to the Amazon whose impact on the region could be profound.

My diagram to try and explain some of the basics of Amazonian soil in relation to slash-and-burn agriculture: blue represents nutrients, yellow soil and crops




2 thoughts on “Challenges of working with vulnerable rural communities”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s