By Ximena Loza
LA PAZ – In a neat case of a poor community managing to fight hunger by itself, an association of farmers in the Tupiza province of Bolivia has started supplying the nutritious food given to children as part of local school meals programmes.
In the first semester of 2009, the Sumaj Sara association – composed of four women and three men -- sold 134,000 rations of a maize-drink (horchata) to the local government for its school meals campaign.
This example of ‘home-grown’ school meals is one of the early successes of WFP’s sustainable school feeding project in Bolivia, which is financed by the European Union partly though its Food Facility initiative. The project’s goal is to encourage local food production and at the same time ensure local governments remain the main providers of school meals.
Sustainable school meals
In the city of Tupiza farmers traditionally produce maize for household consumption and for the national market. Now, thanks to financial and technical support from the sustainable school feeding project, a maize processing plant has been set up and Sumaj Sara members (see photo on left) have been trained to play a full role in the production, processing and marketing of maize-based products.
“Ever since I was a child, I was aware of the hard work in the countryside, where big enterprises would buy maize cheaply and then produce other products,” says Sumaj Sara association president, Policarpio Surco. “We only earned enough to survive.”
“I dreamt of owning an enterprise to transform raw materials into fine products. Now, I can’t believe my eyes when I see my partners work in the processing plant. I can almost say mission accomplished”.
Women lead initiatives
Similar experiments are taking place elsewhere in Bolivia, changing the way small producer associations relate to local authorities, which are now seen as a prime market and the driving force for local production chains.
Women participate in most of these associations and even lead some of them, having handled the transformation into entrepreneurs very well. Their income has notably increased and so has their status within their own families and communities.
Presenta Maygua, one of the four female partners in the Sumaj Sara association, is proud of her share in the business and keen to forge ahead. “We need to find more markets to increase the sales. I want to prove that women can lead a business and do it well, " she says.