Friday, July 26, 2013

Greenhouses in El Alto

Food in the UK has become increasingly commoditized.  With 90% of the UK's food being bought from supermarkets, and residents consuming over half of Europe’s ready meals, it increasingly feels like people have lost touch with food.  As someone who considered a staple school meal to consist of jumping over the school wall to get chicken and chips, I include myself in this bracket. 

 In Bolivia it is easy to see the same trends starting to appear, with chains such as ‘Pollolandia’ [Chickenland] being a staple feature of most plazas across La Paz.  However in neighbouring El Alto, this is not yet the case. Over the last fifty years hundreds of thousands of people have migrated from rural communities in Bolivia to the city of El Alto.  Despite the move, the vast majority of the population maintain a commitment to their agriculture roots. A charity which is trying to harness this agricultural heritage is Focopasi, who support local communities to build urban greenhouses in fringe communities. Focopasi provides communities with half the money they need to start out, the technical expertise to build, and regular classes on the maintenance of the greenhouses once constructed.
Working with Focopasi has proved a refreshing experience, and has shown me that a simple concept can often provide the best way to tackle a wide range of diverse problems, on both a local and international level.  The greenhouses provide a stable, reliable and significant source of income for local families. Every Thursday, the produce is collected and sold at market, and the profits are then distributed amongst the community.  A large percentage of the greenhouses are owned and run by single mothers, who often have other commitments which prevent them from working.  Running the greenhouse is also less time consuming than alternative forms of employment, often meaning they have more time available to spend with their children, and don't have the additional expense of childcare. 
The greenhouses have also provided the families with a successful form of micro-finance, all in tune with their agricultural upbringing.  Childhood malnutrition has proved a large problem within Bolivia, with 28% of the children suffering from malnutrition and a further 33% of children suffering from obesity.  Nutritionists working within El Alto believe that this will contribute towards an array of health problems in later life. The greenhouses allow a regular supply of vegetables, providing the entire family with a more nutritious and varied diet.

 In the US food market, it takes ten calories of oil to produce just one calorie of food consumed.  In the future it seems clear that this oil dependent cycle of food transportation will not be sustainable, and locally sourced food will not only be desirable but also an inevitable requirement. Urban gardening successfully caters to these requirements and as we must move away from an oil reliant society the project will only grow in relevance.

Written by Sam Viney
Edited by Sarah Cassidy


  1. Great blog post; really interesting to see the way in which the communities in El Alto are holding onto their agricultural roots. It makes you think about how we approach food production and consumption in the UK and the lessons we can gain from our colleagues at Focopasi

    We will look forward to the next post,

    Best wishes,

    York Team

  2. Why can't i find any information about Focopasi online?
    Has it ceased to exists?

  3. Great post, and great website. Thanks for the information! indoor greenhouse