Thursday, March 19, 2015

Urban Agriculture for Better Nutrition

Written by Ewa Wojtaczka

I spent a good half of my journey to the office this morning listening to the conversation of two Bolivian women who were exchanging experiences about their children’s eating habits. My level of entertainment was rather average until my heart stopped when I overheard the following dialogue:

-“Well, he still doesn’t like his vegetables but he loves salchipapa.”

-“Oh that’s good, and chicken - does he eat chicken?”

-“Yes, I give him plenty of chicken, that’s fine”.

But is it fine, though? For those who do not know, salchipapa is a popular Bolivian fast food consisting of chips and fried ham, usually served with an abundant portion of mayonnaise and ketchup. Most people I know would unanimously agree that it does not sound like a nutritious meal for anyone, and especially not for a little child. Unfortunately, chicken served with white rice is not a much better option.

An advertising hoarding for a Bolivian poultry company featuring a Choleta in El Alto. It reads, 'We are like this. We eat like this. 100% real. 100% ours'.

However this conversation can serve as a good indicator of a wider nutritional trend in the Bolivian society. The biggest sin of the local traditional diet is putting too many carbohydrates on the plate, not eating enough fresh produce, as well as preparing meals with too much oil. In fact, it is not uncommon to find potatoes, rice, beans and hard-boiled eggs on one plate and the last time I ate tacos in a restaurant - they were deep-fried, to my great surprise.

In addition to those problems, Bolivia is going through a nutritional transition, due mostly to globalization. It is most visible among younger generations of Bolivians living in cities that often chose to consume high-density meals served by a local fast food chain Pollo Copacabana or processed food products which become more and more available on the market.

Even the consumption of staple foods has been changing recently. Bolivia’s farmers have hit the headlines a few years ago when the price of quinoa – a grain traditionally grown in the Andes – has massively increased on the global market because of the growing demand for it in developed countries. Although quinoa exportation has become a good source of income for its producers and keep benefitting the local economy, this shift has also left a mark on the country’s food security. The Bolivian government artificially sets a higher price for quinoa on the local market to encourage its exports abroad which means that this traditional staple food has become inaccessible for a large percentage of the Bolivian population. Instead, less nutritious alternatives are consumed such as wheat and rice (predominantly white varieties) which prolongs the problem of malnutrition and diabetes that Bolivia struggles with.

All the aforementioned nutritional problems lie at the heart of my Urban Agriculture project here in La Paz and El Alto. Together with our partner organization FOCAPACI we are trying to educate local people about nutrition and to change some of the existing eating habits. It is an especially daunting task in communities of very low income like those in El Alto where levels of education are generally lower than in La Paz. However, the idea of building greenhouses to enable local women to grow their own ecological vegetables and fruit seems to work well in the long run. Some of our producers have been so successful that they now sell the surplus of their produce to restaurants and cafes in the city.

As our stay here slowly comes to an end, it is clear that we have devoted most of our time on nutritional education. We managed to help with the construction and maintenance of the greenhouses a few times, but I was mostly involved in creating an agricultural calendar, to facilitate planning the agricultural activities for our producers, and the design of a family-friendly nutritional manual with a lot of practical information and healthy recipes. As we all agreed on the importance of educating children about good nutrition from an early age, we also managed to plan and carry out a few workshops with children, while other members of our project team spent a lot of time on organising gender equality and conflict resolution workshops with the women with whom we work.

Building paper llamas during the conflict resolution workshop.

We are currently involved in making our way to the media to raise awareness about our project and we are hoping to get in touch with the local press and television this and the following week (we already had some success in it!). Finally, this Saturday we are organising a big event with our producers and their children to facilitate interaction between the members of our partner association. It definitely feels like we spent our time in Bolivia productively and we strongly hope our efforts will make at least a little difference in the long battle for better nutrition and food security here.

No comments:

Post a Comment