La Paz is the administrative capital of Bolivia and is the most populated urban area with the neighboring city of El Alto. In a country where 70% of the population is concentrated in 3 cities: La Paz, Santa Cruz and Cochabamba, the food system need to be optimized and planned to avoid crisis. In the Bolivian culture, family farming was well rooted and people were used to cultivate their own food. With the urban exodus, the lack of space in cities lead to the reduction of the small non professional farmers and to the decrease of local food production. Thus, the food chain is concentrating and intensifying around cities, that creates a green production belt : La Paz is producing only 30% of its food demand.
One of the main characteristic of La Paz, concerning food production, is its localization at 3600m above the sea level and its embedding in mountains. Therefore, green spaces are rare in the urban area and the implementation of urban agriculture is very difficult. In addition, the urban area constituted by La Paz and El Alto, is not governed by the same municipalities and they develop rarely common projects. This non-coordination of governance and the geographic situation are brakes to the implementation of security food policies. Nevertheless, these challenges are tackled by the foundation Alternativas. We met the Alternativas team in their office in La Paz.
Alternativas, created in 2013, promotes sustainable alternatives to ensure food security of Bolivian cities. The team, of 10 employees and volunteers, works on three portfolios :
Concerning the public policies, the foundation works on the implementation of dialogue spaces between municipalities to coordinate common projects on the territory. Alternativas has also a role of a legislative influencer to present legislations proposals related to food security. Recently, the government adopted a legislation, promoted by Alternativas, related to the food security in La Paz.
Alternativas empowers also citizens to be active in real urban agriculture projects. The association play a crucial role to make cities greener by valorizing unused spaces, like abandoned public gardens, and guarantees the urban citizen rights to have access to local and healthy food.
The third pillar of the foundation activities is the education. Alternativas offers school programs with educational material on healthy food, food security, extensive agriculture… Education is a key to change habits and raise awareness on ecological issues.
One of the emblematic projects of Alternativas is the urban agriculture’s initiative : the organic garden LAK’A AU. It is the first urban garden in La Paz and it is located in an old abandoned public space. The project lead to the transformation of a alcohol and drugs consumption place, into a green and food productive gardens. It became a place of social interaction where the spirit of community is reinforced.
Today, 40 families cultivate species adapted to the high altitude of La Paz, the project known a keen interest by the inhabitants, coming from all the city. Indeed, people are motivated to go back to the meaning of growing their own food, there is a waiting list !
The garden is also a place to share knowledge, to learn about healthy food and agriculture, to do physical exercise and to be aware of the importance of fresh and nutritious food. Families are becoming active agents to change habits and to promote sustainable alternatives, healthy diet and the introduction of nature in their city. There is also educational parcels to raise awareness to the importance of growing organic food for the health and the planet.
The urban garden has already demonstrated its efficiency, illustrated by the families enthusiasm, the desire to create other spaces like this one in La Paz and the positive impacts on user’s behavior.
WHAT NOW ?
Alternativas is clearly preoccupied by the potential economic crisis in 2020, which could affect the food security of Bolivian cities. The key lever could be the coordination of all municipalities to implement an safe and optimized food system. For that, the government has an active role to take to establish legislative requirements. Nevertheless, the collective power of citizens can press for improving life conditions in urban areas. For instance, the success of urban gardens shows the inhabitants desire to have more green spaces, as a positive vector for community life. Alternativas exists to translate these demands to the government and tries to implement adapted, right and sustainable legislations. It is an essential mission in order to empower the Bolivian transition and answer to 21st century challenges.