On the second day of our week learning about the work of Mano a Mano we drove in our trusty bus just to the outskirts to Cochabamba to the Center for Ecological Agriculture (CEA). My green suitcase, holding the grinder, also made the trip. But it had collected all the seeds that everyone had brought along as well a six oil filters for airplanes, also brought along in suitcases by trip colleagues.
(I did find two notes from TSA that someone had inspected my suitcase with the grinder. That surely didn't surprise me! And in Santa Cruz, the suitcase inspectors became alarmed about the oil filters. When assured that the filters were new and didn't contain any petroleum products, everything was fine.)
This is the newest effort of Mano a Mano. If I had to sum up the work of CEA in a few words I would say it's about saving every drop of water and every bit of nutrients that the soil has for reuse.
I was truly amazed at what has been accomplished in just one year, particularly when you realize it started with this:
And as a reminder about how dry this area is, here's what I found growing along the fence.
Now one year later the CEA has a large building, used for classes and other activities.
Corn (maize) is an important product for food in Bolivia so of course it is part of the demonstration crops.
The trees are only one year old, so quite small yet. Interspersed with the rows of trees are rows of legume plants. These grab nitrogen out of air and bring nutrients into the soil. Secondly, the roots of these plants help to aerate the soil and make it retain water better.
In the photo above we are learning about placing compost around each tree to conserve soil moisture -- yes, perhaps not a new idea where some of the blog readers live, but a practice not found in Bolivia. Soda bottles have some holes punched in them to provide drip irrigation. And a wisp of sheep wool is placed around the tree stem to prevent ants from crawling up the tree trunk and eating all the tree leaves.
Two interesting features at CEA about reuse are the compost toilet and the biodigester.
The liquid human waste flows into a system that also includes the gray water from dish washing and laundry. It moves through a sedimentation tank where fats for example from food waste and soaps rise to the top. The cleaner liquid then flows into another tank where it additionally cleaned.
The biodigester is for animal waste. The CEA has chickens, guinea pigs -- not as pets, remember this is a food source in South America, sheep, and cow. I feel like I forgetting something, but the point again is not raising animals, but rather having just enough for demonstration.
And perhaps here is perhaps a good place to mention a mission of Mano a Mano -- developing the capacity of Bolivians to help Bolivians. The agronomists who work at CEA are Bolivian, not Americans telling Bolivians what to do.
Now back to biodigester:
In the CEA building there were three busy with the process of making peanut butter.
During the lunch time some of us were privileged to meet these workers. It turns out they are food science students from San Simon University. One of them is doing her thesis on peanut butter, so being involved in this initial production of peanut butter was heaven made for her. She explained that people in different countries have different tastes in peanut butter. She reasoned that people in Bolivia like sweet things -- a surprise to me since over the whole week I never had anything that was really sweet-- and so she formulated a peanut butter that contains just a bit of honey. Indeed it is very good!
This discussion led we Americans to talking about taking peanut butter sandwiches in our lunch bags to school. Another of the students said, "That sounds gross. This is lunch."
During the afternoon we walked next door to Nuevo Mundo (New World).Nuevo Mundo is the Mano a Mano organization that constructs roads and reservoirs. Presently a building is being constructed for the repair and maintenance of the heavy equipment associated with this work.
We returned to our hotel for short rest and then went for a visit to the Democracy Center located in Cochabamba. Getting taxis during rush hour was indeed a cultural experience!
We finished the day by walking about 10 minutes to restaurant called Tuesdays. I had a barbequed chicken sandwich, which seemed as improbable as the night I had a pulled pork sandwich in Pecs, Hungary! But both were good!
Now I have written two posts about the work of Mano a Mano. This organization is totally supported by donations and other fundraising efforts. If you find yourself willing to donate, please click here. Even what one would spend weekly on coffee breaks can be used for very good purposes.Such donations would be tax deductible for U.S. residents.
And I do put my volunteer hours and money where "my mouth" is too.