Northern Potosí is one of the poorest parts of Bolivia, which is one of the least-developed countries in South America. The highland climate and terrain are harsh. Communities are geographically, socially, and economically isolated and without government support. Subsistence agriculture is the major source of livelihood, but food security is threatened by soil management practices that have become unsustainable.
The increased use of legume crops offers a set of potential benefits to the impoverished farmers of Northern Potosí. The benefits include improved agricultural productivity and sustainability, better income and livelihoods, and improved nutrition. Legumes contribute to soil fertility through biological nitrogen fixation and erosion prevention, which are the two most important locally feasible strategies for improving soil fertility. In association with cereal and forage grasses, legumes can provide both these benefits in the form of green manure/cover crops, live barriers, managed fallows using forages, and greater use of grain legumes in the crop rotation. Furthermore, legume forages can improve animal productivity, and legume grains commonly contain high quality fat and protein for improving human nutrition and health.
The total project area will include 45 communities with more than 5,175 inhabitants, covering three elevation zones. The project seeks to address three interrelated challenges: high levels of extreme poverty, food insecurity, and malnutrition; declining soil fertility and agricultural productivity; and lack of institutional mechanisms which link local farmers with appropriate technical and other support to address these needs.
The project team includes a diverse group of organizations with a complementary range of expertise and skills in science and practice of sustainable agricultural development. The proposed activities include a good blend of research and development. The project will benefit from other activities in the World Neighbors program, including those addressing health issues. Strategies will be identified that, when added to increased crop yields, allow families to achieve food security through improved utilization of legumes in household diets. Studies show that agricultural projects had better food security impacts when they invested in human capital through nutrition education in addition to raising crop yields.
The project will empower farmers as researchers by training members of the communities as farmer trainers ("promotores") and members of women's groups ("clubes de madre"). World Neighbors has a great deal of experience with this approach, which they have used successfully in their agriculture and health work in the region.
The project will strengthen institutional networks of farmers, local organizations, and research entities. The aim is to produce a sustainable team that will continue to respond to evolving local needs in agricultural production and food security after the project timeframe.