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FEATURE STORYApril 19, 2023

Sustainable agriculture: a tool for accessing new markets and improving the lives of Bolivian producers

"I feel more competitive; I offer my product, they see that it is good quality, and I can compete," says Rosemary Pinto, a Bolivian farmer who dreams of becoming the largest producer of hydroponic lettuce in Cochabamba (Bolivia). Rosemary comes from a long line of farmers, but unlike her predecessors, she has had access to training and comprehensive assistance that have enabled her to improve production.

In Bolivia, much of the population lives in rural areas where poverty and inequality rates remain high, but where there is also enormous potential for food production.

The agricultural sector employs 1 in 3 Bolivian workers and contributes four times more than the hydrocarbon sector and twice as much as the mining industry to the country's economy. Nevertheless, small-scale producers face many challenges, including a lack of access to financing, technology, and training, as well as natural disasters, which have become increasingly frequent.

The Rural Alliances Project

Like Rosemary, over 107,000 Bolivian producers have participated in the Rural Alliances Project (PAR) since it was launched in 2006 with World Bank funding. Through alliances among producer organizations with food markets, cooperatives, companies and local governments, the PAR seeks to improve the lives of producers in rural areas, increasing the quality and quantity of their production and, consequently, their competitiveness and income. To date, the PAR (phases I and II) has made 2,601 alliances possible and has supported producers participating in these alliances throughout Bolivia with investment capital and technical assistance.

Technical assistance focusses on the design of business and marketing plans, adoption of sustainable and efficient crop management practices, increase of efficiency in irrigated water usage, enhanced management of agricultural inputs, procurement processes, finances and consolidate production costs, among others.

“A lot has changed: I used to work outside in the rain, in the sun. Hydroponics is important because it is a new form of agriculture for me. With this process I can produce year-round,” Rosemary says.

The PAR also seeks to improve rural infrastructure. For example, local roads, bridges and automated irrigation systems are being built to improve agricultural productivity and market accessibility.

All these advances have laid the groundwork for the new phase of the PAR program. In 2022, the World Bank approved a US$300 million loan to launch PAR III, which is expected to have a significant additional impact on nearly 130,000 rural producer communities, continuing to improve the country's rural economy. This third phase of the program will focus on food security, adoption of innovative practices for sustainable, resilient agriculture, and the increased, more effective participation of women producers.

A lot has changed: I used to work outside in the rain, in the sun. Hydroponics is important because it is a new form of agriculture for me. With this process I can produce year-round.
Rosemary Pinto
Bolivian lettuce farmer

Food security and climate smart agriculture 

Improving the quantity and quality of agricultural produce not only entails enhancing the income and competitiveness of rural producers, but also ensuring that Bolivia has enough food to meet its nutrition and social development targets, a key challenge in the country. To this end, PAR III will implement small-scale investments in infrastructure and services for better nutrition and vulnerability reduction actions, including technical assistance, technology, and the necessary management capacity-building.

To improve market access and ensure that more and better goods arrive "from field to table", PAR III will promote automated irrigation, the use of humidity sensors, and drones to obtain food production data in real time, among other increasingly sustainable and environmentally friendly practices.

Finally, PAR III will seek to ensure that more indigenous women can participate effectively and thus contribute to closing gender gaps in employment, education, and property, promoting the empowerment of women producers. In the agricultural sector, the female labor force has a lower participation than that of men (37 percent versus 44 percent), which has a direct impact on income generation by gender.

In summary, the World Bank is supporting the PAR project series in Bolivia to improve the lives of small-scale producers and to strengthen the rural economy. By building alliances among key stakeholders, addressing different climate challenges, and promoting inclusion and more sustainable and responsible practices, Rosemary Pinto and thousands of other rural producers will be closer to fulfilling their dreams.


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