Our Oikocredit study group heads north-west from Santa Cruz de la Sierra, following the road towards our rural destination, Yapacani.
The 2hr+ journey gives me time to absorb something of Bolivia; the landscape changing from attractive urban outskirts through dry river beds, and finally to our lush, tropical lowlands with pre-Andes vistas. The climate is difficult, shifting between heavy rains (just ending) and long dry periods.
Oikocredit’s hosts and partners, FONDECO, are leaders in rural production finance, much of which is based small agricultural holdings producing organic soya, rice, beans, dairy, citrus fruits, and honey.
Such is FONDECO’s track record in reaching these “financially excluded” and remote people, that many of FONDECO’s financial, social and capacity-building methodologies have been adopted by the government.
Farmer Don Felix, a jovial man, has travelled some way to meet us at FONDECO’s office and tell us his story. It began in 1998 when he and his wife leased just 7 hectares of land for rice, all of which was cropped by hand with a machete. He applied for, and was granted, a loan of $200 based on his credit checks and collateral.
Since that time he has never defaulted on a loan so that today, using further investments and capacity training from FONDECO, he leases 120 hectares with resources now including labourers and machinery
Above all, he has provided for his family and the education of his seven children. He jokes that perhaps here he did too good a job, since one of his sons (also with the help of the Oikocredit-FONDECO partnership) now exceeds him in productivity and likes to tease him about this.
So when we ask him what his biggest challenges have been thus far, he laughs. “Besides my son: the weather and the damage caused by floods and droughts”. And when we ask what the best moment has been, he responds: “when I no longer had to do everything by hand and could put down my machete for the last time…”
Keep following my seven-day trip, here on our blog, or on Twitter at www.twitter.com/OikocreditUK where you’ll catch a glimpse of some of Bolivia’s exotic offerings such as this crazy albino kitten who joined our group discussions…
Reading about the extremes of weather in Bolivia described in your Blog makes me wonder if these conditions are normal or whether the farmers have noticed a change over time. In other words, are they seeing the effects of climate change or has the Bolivian weather always been like it is now?
Helen, a very good question to which the answer is "yes". In fact we have witnessed the effects of climate change first hand during this trip, where the rainy season was continuing well into May.
So much so, that the only way we were able to navigate the impassable tracks to reach the crops of one of ASOPROP's agricultural clients was by tractor! A few years ago a state of national emergency was declared in Bolivia when extreme flooding in the north-east Amazon region wiped out herds of cattle.
These extremes of weather play havoc with crops and livestock as mentioned by Don Felix, a client of Oikocredit's partner FONDECO. And we have seen this elsewhere in South America with the issue of rust on coffee plants and our efforts to invest in new rust-resistant species for farmers.