Chorequepaio is Blooming

Fionuala Cregan | June 1, 2013

Produce for Choroquepiao Photo: Fionuala Cregan/CWS

Produce for Choroquepiao Photo: Fionuala Cregan/CWS

In the indigenous Guaraní language in Bolivia, chorequepaio means new flower.  It is also the name that ten families gave their community when they moved here seven years ago.  Most had worked as labourers on large private estates – long hours under difficult conditions for wages well below the minimum.  With support from CWS Chaco Program partner CERDET, they received legal title to some 13,000 acres of land and re-located to begin to build a new life.

CWS visited Chorequepaio in 2008 to find men, women and children living in precarious tents with little access to water or enough tools or seeds to begin to cultivate the land.  They were suffering serious threats – including a number at gun point – from non-indigenous neighbours hoping to usurp their land. Capitan Grande  (community leader)  Eyber Barrientos, thought many times of giving up, of abandoning their dream. “We had nothing, “ he says. “I felt that we had failed.”

But hope and persistence prevailed.   When we returned to visit earlier this month along with colleagues from Foods Resource Bank the change was astounding.

Chorequepaio is quite literally blooming.

Papaya and citrus fruit trees envelop vegetable gardens crammed full with lettuce, swiss chard, spring onions, tomatoes, squash and cassava root. What started as small kitchen gardens have expanded into extensive vegetable patches with row upon row of different crops.

Ana Antezuma in her vegetable garden. Photo: Fionuala Cregan/CWS

Ana Antezuma in her vegetable garden. Photo: Fionuala Cregan/CWS

Ana Antezuma shows us around – telling us about the different crops she has grown and how the vegetable garden has become the central focus of her day.

“You have to look after the plants,” she tells us, “I water them twice a day early in the morning and in the evening and make sure that the pest control systems are working ok.   My husband also helps out. We now have vegetables to eat and are also able to go to a local market to sell some of what we produce.”

Close to each of the vegetable gardens are spacious cement built houses and each has a sink outside with water that is piped from a source some 15km away.  There is also a football pitch and a match is in progress as we eat dinner on long wooden tables outside.

Barrientos tells us that it has been a struggle to get housing and water. “We have to visit the municipal authorities and request support for basic facilities many times; we have to keep up the pressure, otherwise we will be completely ignored and forgotten,” he says. “We have water but it is not enough – it is really only for basic household use – but we have no other option but to also use it for the vegetable gardens.  We are worried that one day the service will be cut or severely reduced.”

Despite these fears, the biggest change in Chorequepiao is in the people themselves.  From hopelessness and despair five years ago, what we see today is a people empowered, full of hope and dreams.

Antezuma tells us how for the first time last year they participated in an agricultural fair in Entre Rios.  Traditionally a space for non-indigenous farmers , Choroequepiao´s participation broke the racists stereotype that Guarani people are lazy and do not know how to produce quality products.

“We sold everything we brought – even the seeds” says Antezuma, her eyes shining with pride. “We want to return next year and bring even more products”

Similarly Eyber says “Our next plan is to expand and begin to work with livestock – we have the land and many of us have experience of working with cows from our days on the estate. I think we will do very well. We also want to ensure that all the young people have the opportunity to go to secondary school and have access to the education that most of us did not have. One youth has already received a scholarship to study at college.”

Shortly after the visit I came across some words by Noam Chomsky in his book Whose World Order and thought of Choroequepaio.

He says: “There are no magic answers, no miraculous methods to overcome the problems we face, just the familiar ones: search for understanding, education, organization, action … and the kind of commitment that will persist despite the temptations of disillusionment… inspired by the hope of a brighter future.”

Fionuala Cregan, CWS Program Officer for the South American Chaco

Along with four other Guarani indigenous communities in Bolivia , Chorequepaio is part of a Bi-National Food Security and Nutrition Program jointly supported by CWS and FRB.  The focus on generating new knowledge and appropriate low-cost technology for agriculture and livestock production. Read more about the program here.