“When my grandfather was a child he did not go hungry. There were fish in the river and honey and fruits in the forest all year round. The land was for everyone. It pains me today to see our children go hungry, to see a river with so few fish, the forest without fruit,” says Nestor Nacub, a Weenhayek indigenous leader in the Chaco region of Bolivia.
Two months ago, Nestor and his family took matters into their own hands and moved to a piece of vacant land 30 miles from urban indigenous settlement Caipirendita. “The town has become overcrowded. People are becoming dependant on outside help and every day we are losing more and more of our ancestral knowledge. Instead of cultivating the land, people buy food. When they have no money, they go hungry,” he says. “Meanwhile cattle ranchers and oil and gas companies cut down the forest and mining companies pollute the river.”
For Nestor and his family, this year’s World Food Day Theme: “Family Farming – Feeding the world, caring for the earth” could not have come at a better time. According to FAO the theme was chosen to: “focus world attention on the significant role of family farming in eradicating hunger and poverty, providing food security and nutrition, improving livelihoods, managing natural resources, protecting the environment and achieving sustainable development, in particular in rural areas.”
Traditionally semi-nomadic hunter gatherers and fishermen, the Weenhayek indigenous people have lost much of their ancestral territory to cattle ranchers. Serious sedimentation and contamination problems on the river have significantly affected the fishing potential of the Pilcomayo River. Many Weenhayek communities have been forced to migrate to urban areas where their access to dignified paid work is severely limited, and when no work is available, families go hungry.
CWS Chaco Program member CERDET is supporting the Weenhayek people recover parts of their ancestral territory and is also helping them effectively occupy and manage it in a sustainable way. Organic kitchen gardens provide new and nutritious fruits and vegetables and small livestock and poultry provide essential dairy and protein. The ancestral knowledge of the Weenhayek and their special relationship with the land contributes to the preservation of the Chaco forest – in direct contrast to the cattle ranching industry which has contributed to mass deforestation and environmental degradation.
“We know we will never recover all of our land but here on this small plot we will live better than we do in the town,” says Nestor, who admits the move has also been challenging. The piece of land he and his family have occupied is part of the 481,855 acres claimed by the Weenhayek and recognized by the Bolivian Government. However, official legal title to this plot has not yet been received and a cattle rancher has begun to also place claim s on it. Until this legal dispute is resolved, Nestor and his family are at risk of eviction.
“We have suffered a lot. We came here with nothing and are living in makeshift houses – when it rains we get wet. But we remain firm in our conviction that our life will be better here, cultivating the land and not being dependant on anyone. Soon we will have corn, watermelon and squash.”
As World Food Day 2014 approaches, let’s hope more and more families like Nestors are recognized and celebrated for their courage, conviction and contribution to sustainable food security. CWS is proud to work with them.
Fionuala Cregan is the CWS Program Officer for the South American Chaco.