Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Bolivia Diaries: Day 9, Part 1 - A "Model" Dairy in Cochabamba

This diary is part of a series describing my trip to Bolivia to study food sovereignty, agroecology, and climate change. On our ninth day, we woke up in Cochabamba. We spent our morning at Pairumani, a "model" dairy that strives to be sustainable.

Before we get to the Pairumani farm, I should mention a little about dairy and Cochabamba. Cochabamba is known as the breadbasket of Bolivia, and it has been since the time of the Inca and likely even before. Cochabamba is one of Bolivia's valley regions, with a climate that reminded me of Southern California in many ways except for one: Cochabamba gets enough rain.

Dairy is not at all native to Bolivia, and non-European peoples are often lactose intolerant as adults. (In fact, lactose intolerance is the norm, and those of us who tolerate milk beyond childhood are the exception.) Additionally, dairy production in the tropics is difficult. I've heard many times that the most productive dairy breeds do not tolerate the heat very well, and the breeds that are well adapted to the tropics do not produce very much milk. But Cochabamba's pleasant climate is just fine for the highest producing dairy breeds, and we saw Holstein cows almost everywhere we went around the area when we were outside of the city center.

The Pairumani farm has about 500 hectares and belongs to the Simon I. Patiño Foundation. It has a pediatric medicine center, a research center that works on non-GMO legumes and cereals, a seed center, and the model farm, which we visited.

Simon I. Patiño, whose land this is, was one of the ten richest men in the world in the 20s and 30s. I believe he discovered the tin that started the tin boom in Bolivia. He was poor prior to that, and was not part of the Bolivian elite. Once he made his money, he left for Europe. He bought this land in 1920. Patiño died in 1947.

Patiño owned about 5000 hectares in the Cochabamba area. He wanted to make this a recognized agricultural area. He introduced new varieties of plants and paid for students to study agronomy abroad in order to develop Bolivia's human resources in agriculture. In the 1952, the 5000 hectares were redistributed. But 500 hectares remained as property of the foundation.

The Seed Center

Before the presentation, I poked around a bit:

A bull - this guy was all alone and bellowing non-stop. It sounded like he was screaming.

Close-up. Here, they don't remove the cows' horns.

Sheep. I asked what they were for and I was told they were here to have blood taken from them for use in one of the labs.


Pigs were here. I asked where the pigs are now and they told me they ate them.

This was one of the first dairy production projects in Bolivia. In 1935, 400 head of Holstein cattle were brought from the best dairy farms in the U.S. and Canada. Until the mid to late 1980s, they were intensively producing dairy. In 1999, they began converting to a "agrobiological" model thanks to an agricultural study that was done, realizing that the soils were being degraded, and a lot of the cattle were sick too.

I was feeling very critical of the fact that the cows are not on pasture (which would not be possible based on the number of cows they have compared to the amount of pasture they have). But when we asked questions, we found that this dairy was already "radical" in Bolivia. The conversion they did from the former, industrial model to this model brought them a lot of criticism and ridicule from the agricultural establishment.

They grow 230 hectares of forage, cereals, and vegetables, using composting and crop rotation. For the animals, they use no hormones and they use homeopathic medicine on the 240 cows they have today. In 2009, they established a department of "research and distribution" in which they bring in students to do their dissertations by studying the farm. They also train their staff in their techniques and do education to the public. (When we asked about their land, they said they also have 130 hectares forested, mostly in Eucalyptus.)

Here, they use no GMOs, but they don't take a political position for or against GMOs. They think that more research is needed before making that call. They are part of a movement of organic products (Association of Organizations of Ecological Producers of Bolivia, AOPEB) and AOPEB has been vocal against GMOs.

They told us they are involved with the Asociacion de Criadores de Ganado Holstein Bolivia ACRHOBOL, which is a Bolivian conventional dairy organization (Association of Holstein Breeders of Bolivia). This gives the farm credibility among the wider agricultural community. They told us that their farm is seen as a somewhat antagonistic force, and at first when they converted, they were told that this model was bringing Bolivia back fifty years.

But now they've been able to earn the community's respect, and other producers are interested in their production methods. They are in fourth place for dairy production in Bolivia according to their statistics. (The others ahead of them are conventional producers.)

They told us that they had always had Holsteins, and it was really difficult in the first place to change their model so radically, and changing the breed of cows would have been even more complex. Holsteins are almost always the industrial cow breed of choice, although you do see them frequently enough on sustainable farms.

They no longer remove the cows' horns, and when they made that change, it caused a bit of a scandal at the local level. They said the first three years of their change were full of lots of debates and discussions at the local level. Within ACRHOBOL, they had debates over whether the Holstein is a living being with animal instincts, or just a milk producing machine. When they made the change, they began talking about the animals as living beings, and not just genetic material. (They mentioned that there was a study recently that showed there were more allergens present in milk from cows who had their horns removed than cows who retained their horns.)

When they made the change, they began focusing on the quality of the milk. Since then, the big dairy company in Bolivia, Pil, has implemented quality standards, and they have rejected many producers' milk. (Pil has a monopoly and monopsony of milk in Bolivia. They buy 150,000 liters (39,625.8 gallons) of milk from 4000 producers per day in Cochabamba.) This farm produces 2,000 liters (528.3 gallons) of milk per day.

One of the health indicators they use here is the level of mastitis. Some intensive systems have up to 25% mastitis, and here they have less than 2%. In ACRHOBOL, some farms have up to 14% miscarriages. In 1998, before the conversion to this model, they had up to 20% miscarriages. They now have 2% miscarriages.

One of the buildings that houses the cows. They told us they are historic buildings that they have restored.

They noted that the ideal would be allowing all of the cows out to pasture, but they do not have the pasture needed to do that. Some of the young animals are allowed out to pasture, but mostly the animals are confined. They only have 30 hectares of pasture.

When they talk about producing a high quality product, they mean three things: healthy soils, healthy plants and forage with no chemicals, and healthy animals. Without very much marketing, their milk is in the highest demand. It's used locally by hospitals and many pediatricians in the area recommend their milk specifically. They are also involved in the maternal subsidies, a program similar to WIC in the U.S.

They noted the irony, that when they started, people thought there was no way they could succeed, but now they cannot produce enough to meet demand. The milk is only available within Cochabamba department, and it can be purchased through the maternal subsidy program or at supermarkets. It's sold as "Pairumani Agrobiological Milk." They told us they are considering helping other producers convert to their model and then purchasing that milk to sell under their brand, but they are proceeding with caution.

There are 58 workers here and many live here on the farm. The farm pays for all of the healthcare of the workers. We passed some of the worker housing on our tour. While we didn't see the indoors, the outside looked very nice.

The heifers - from 6 to 24 months of age - are kept in one area. Then they have a maternal area somewhere else. The cows in production are kept in groups of low, middle, and high production. In the middle, they keep the baby calves, from zero to four months.

Baby calf.

The area the houses the calves.

The milking parlor.

They go to a waiting area before they are milked so they can relax. This is to allow a natural hormone - oxytocin - to be released so the cow can produce milk. Also, adrenaline prevents the milk from descending. They don't allow any yelling or hitting the cows by the workers. In the past, the workers sometimes mistreated the animals. But with the change in management, they told the workers that the animals have feelings, that they suffer and get sick, and must be treated well.

They said that here, the infrastructure is adapted to the animal and not the other way around. They said for feeding, they try to reproduce how animals eat out in the pasture. They are careful to protect the animals from hitting their horns when they are trying to eat. They are raising bulls because they are important to the system. They transmit pheromones, and they are used in reproduction.

This farm milks the cows twice a day using machines. (Industrial farms in the U.S. milk their cows three times a day, which allows them to get more milk from the cows.) In the old industrial system, the cows were only kept for three lactations, but they keep the cows for six or seven lactations. (In the U.S, a cow might be kept just for one or two lactations on an industrial farm, but I've been to small, organic farms that keep cows for 10-11 lactations or more.)

The back end of the cows

The front end of the cows

I took photos of what the cows were being fed:


Something from Santa Cruz, probably soy.

Definitely soy. From HiPro Feeds?

Yum - that looks like good cow food.

The cows think so too.

As an intensive system, they produced 450,000 liters of milk per year here. Now, they produce 750,000 liters per year. And that increase happened with the change in systems and without an increase in the size of the farm. They went from 1,500 tons of alfalfa with chemicals to 3000 tons without chemicals. In the old system, 60 cows in production produced 21-22 liters per day. Now they have 100 cows in production.

They also showed us their homeopathic and herbal medicine lab. They said that the proper management of the farm should solve 95% of the cows' problems - but the medicine is here for the other 5%. The herbal medicines include juices, infusions, vapors, and tinctures. For example, they use a tincture of garlic and onion inside the udder for mastitis. They use calendula oil for inflammation. They also put flower buds from ceibo in the animals' food to promote fertility. They said any kind of flower would work for this.

More than 46% of their milk is sold as yogurt, which has a high added value compared to fluid milk. With yogurt, they double or triple the economic value of the milk. Consumers prefer yogurt here in Bolivia, often because they do not have refrigerators and they can keep yogurt at room temperature.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Bolivia Diaries: Day 7 - Santiago de Okola, an Indigenous Village

This diary is part of a series describing my trip to Bolivia to study food sovereignty, agroecology, and climate change. We spent our seventh day in an indigenous village (Santiago de Okola) on the north shore of Lake Titicaca. During the day, we ate indigenous, Andean foods, tried our hand at traditional textiles, and met a cute baby donkey named Sam.

Sam, a three month old donkey.

This was my second trip to Santiago de Okola, so I will try not to repeat information from what I posted last year. This time, we had a bit of a shorter trip, but it was a good trip for me since I got to stay with a fantastic host, find out how climate change had impacted the village over the last year, and I didn't get a sunburn this time.

Beautiful Santiago de Okola on Lake Titicaca

This year, I stayed with a man named Don Juan Cayo and his very sweet wife whose name I didn't learn. I relied on my roommate Christina for translation a lot of the time, and she spent more time chatting with our hosts and learning about their family than I did. Don Juan has five children, all grown and gone. They live as close as La Paz and as far away as Brazil, and they work in professional careers, not farming. This seems to be a major problem here, as young people leave the villages and the culture is lost as a result. Fortunately, there are a few young people who are still around in Santiago de Okola and they will carry on the traditions for the next generation.

The family we stayed with: Don Juan Cayo, his wife (whose name I didn't learn), and his dog Beethoven posing with Christina and me, with their home in the background.

We began our morning there with a textiles workshop, mostly a repeat for me but with a new component - learning how to spin yarn from wool. I half paid attention and half looked around at animals and crops nearby. As you can see below, a little bunny appeared near us and while it was not in a cage of any sort, it was a breed that is raised for meat, so it definitely belongs to somebody who wants to eat it.

A California rabbit, a meat breed.

This region of Bolivia raises a lot of sheep. In Santiago de Okola, they sheer their sheep the Monday before Ash Wednesday each year.

My roommate, Christina, began by learning to spin yarn. She encouraged me to give it a try and I did - with terrible results. It turns out that everything was set up for right-handed people only. I could do everything with my left hand but that only unspun the yarn. Whoops. I gave up since it seemed pretty futile once I realized that.

Peggy with balls of yarn spun here from wool produced here


My roommate Christina learns to spin yarn from wool.


Christina's figured it out. Can I? (Yes, I look ridiculous in these clothes - but I didn't get a sunburn this year! I brought pants I could've worn but they would have fallen on the floor of the bathroom every time I used the squat toilet so I went for these silly looking shorts.)

We're not set up for left handed people here. All I can do with my left hand is UN-spin the yarn.

Everyone also tried their hands at weaving. I didn't bother this year - I tried last year and it's hard! The women here can weave one of these beautiful cloths in just seven to ten days!

Paul tries weaving (It's harder than it looks!)

Tanya gets a weaving lesson.

She's pretty good at it!

Ooh pretty!

The highlight of the morning for me was a burrito. By which I mean, a baby donkey (burro in Spanish). His name is Sam and he's just three months old. He wears a traditional little amulet around his neck to protect him from feeling afraid when he wanders far from home. The amulet is a bag around his neck contains garlic and salt, among other things. Baby donkeys wear these in Bolivia. Donkeys here are used as pack animals (they can carry more than a llama), although donkeys milk is sometimes used medicinally.

Don Tomas with Sam the Donkey

After the textiles workshop, we finished by dressing up some members of our group as the traditional Aymara community leaders. The man is called a jilakata and the woman is a mamat'halla

Tour guides Gabriel and Tanya dressed up as traditional Aymara town leaders.

All around the town, we could see the remains of last year's harvest.

This little stone enclosure is "baaa"-ing... turns out it contains a mama ewe and a few lambs.

We also saw people winnowing the harvest (i.e. separating the chaff from the grains) and making chuño, a form of freeze-dried potatoes. Chuño can keep for up to five years. Because of climate change, the people here are having a hard time making chuño because they don't get enough freezing nights during the right time of year - although they ARE getting some unseasonable freezes at the WRONG time of year that occasionally kills their crops.

Winnowing the harvest

Making chuño

Don Tomas, one of the leaders of the community, took us on a quick community tour to the beach. The rainy season should be starting soon although with climate change it now starts a few months late. People are still beginning to prepare for planting, hoping the rains will come on time.

Algae on Lake Titicaca used for fertilizer

The beach, prepared for planting of potatoes and favas.

Our group on the beach.

A woman walks home with gathered sticks.

While we walked, Don Tomas told us legends about a sacred beach. People can visit there, but if they stay the night, the duende (an evil dwarf) will come and get them. Don Tomas told us several stories of people who experienced this.

Someone in our group asked him to tell us about the legend of the anchancho. The anchancho is like the devil. He takes people away and when they wake up, they are hugging a stone or a bush and they are bleeding from the mouth. Perhaps I can find more information on the duende and the anchancho to share by updating this past in the near future. I'm not finding anything online that especially resembles the beliefs in Santiago de Okola.

As we did the year before, we saw an interesting plant on the beach. It was easy to recognize as a nightshade. The local name for it is tacachilla. (Possibly Solanum nitidum?) In the past, the red fruits were used to make dyes. Humans do not eat this plant.

Tacachilla, a nightshade fruit used as a dye in the past.

Flowers of the same plant.

Back at the home of Don Tomas, we had a traditional Aymara potluck meal, called an aptapi. During the meal, I tried to get pictures of the chickens, because I find it interesting to look at what breeds of animals people keep, whether they use specific breeds, or "criollo" (creole) breeds that have evolved here. The criollo chickens are very unique looking. They've got a tiny bit of a crest, and some have feathery feet. They have four toes, not five. I would imagine that their big fat size and all of their fluff would help them stay warm on cold nights here. Plus, they have enough meat on them to make them a good meat breed. They are kept for both meat and eggs.

The unique looking criollo breed of chicken

A close-up

This one looks like a Buff Orpington