Latin America / Caribbean

“With support from CWS we are developing these kitchen gardens which provide a small but important alternative to families.”

Photo: Nancy Vásquez

A Garden for Every Family

May is traditionally fishing season for the Weenhayek indigenous people in the Bolivian Chaco. But this year, adapting to new times, Emeterio Torres and his family found themselves amongst bright green lettuces, spring onions, swiss chard, carrots, zucchini and radishes in their first ever kitchen garden.

“I had no idea how to prepare the soil and seedbeds or develop organic pesticide,” says Torres, “I am very proud of what we have achieved here.”

One of the most marginalized and food insecure people in the South American Chaco, the Weenhayek faced a major crisis when the Pilcomayo River, on which they depend for their livelihood, suffered a serious sedimentation problem and the subsequent depletion of the fish population. Fishing for commercial and family consumption on the banks of the river is central to the livelihoods and survival of Weenhayek families. There were almost no fish to be caught in the river and a majority of community members were going at least once a week without eating, as well as reducing food rations and frequency of meals for adults and children.

Weenhayek communities are trying to adapt to the crisis and change impacting their way of life, including through the development of experimental kitchen gardens to produce nutritious vegetables.
“We have suffered a major change in our livelihoods,” says Emeterio, “The fish in the river used to give us life. When we fished, we could send our children to school, we had enough to eat. All that has changed now. We were completely lost but this project has helped us find a new path. With support from CWS we are developing these kitchen gardens which provide a small but important alternative to families.”

Gonzalo Rios, an agronomist with CWS partner CERDET, explained how working with La Resistencia involved starting from scratch. “Emeterio had never lifted a spade in his life; we had to start with the very basics. I am very happy with the work we are doing here – the people really want to work and learn new skills.”

“This has been an important experience for us. When we have our kitchen garden we will be able to use it as ‘propaganda’ in the mayor´s office,” says Emeterio. “The mayor has said that Weenhayek people do not know how to work the land and so has never given us any support. Now with our kitchen garden we will be able to change this attitude and ask him for support so we can expand this work. We want to ensure that every Weenhayek family has its own garden.”