Bolivia: Managing sustainability of new quinoa production systems through farming systems management and market insertion


UNESCO/Pierre A. Pittet
Indegenous woman in the Bolivian Altiplano

The Andean highlands are characterized by high poverty and a fragile ecosystem. Located at above 3,700 m.a.s.l., they are some of the very few areas in the world where agriculture is practiced at such high altitude. However, the highly variable climate and weather frustrates attempts of the rural families to accumulate assets and improve their living conditions. Periodic droughts and flooding as well as the occurrence of severe frost are characteristic of the climate of the highland and high plateau regions of Bolivia. Families who lose the capacity to adjust to climate variability must temporarily migrate to the lowlands or to cities in order to survive. Since migration usually involves young, active people, temporary migration may also undermine the ability of communities to recover after droughts and flooding because of the lack of labour.

UNESCO SUMAMAD project/Jorge Cusicanqui
Quinoa plant

Migration might also undermine the country food security since most staple food is locally produced. Few crops can be cultivated adequately under the harsh local conditions; one of these, Quinoa has been lately enhanced due to its highly nutritional profile both for export due to its high international prices and for national consumption given its high nutritional value. However, the previously traditional production, with slightly sustainable intercropping and livestock production are being highly disturbed by this new trend of exporting quinoa, due to a growing mono-cropping trend. A more intensive production is not well adapted to the environment.

There has been a decline in the number of crops raised by farmers in the region as well as the number of varieties grown within farming communities and the changing towards the consumption of simple foods sacrificing the native crop consumption to put these products in the market. These changes have led to a decline in food security by reducing sources of protein available and increasing losses due to drought, frost, disease and pests.

Project objective

SUMAMAD Project/Jorge Cusicanqui
Workshop in the Bolivian Highlands

The general objective of this project is to support the development of a frame for sustainable farming systems of two selected communities of the arid Central and Southern Altiplano of Bolivia, which have quinoa production as their main crop, through the definition of an efficient water and soil management system, as well as a crop diversity management system, and to support farmers’ initiatives to market quinoa. This will complement previous quinoa water management knowledge obtained in the area as support for farmers.

The project seeks to increase the ability of quinoa producers in the Bolivian Andes to adapt to the changing climatic and economic conditions by supporting new technologies and amendments to their farming systems, especially related to maintain crop diversity and crop rotation. It also aims to strengthen local initiatives using participatory approaches at the farm and community levels to integrate biophysical, social and technical research combined with local knowledge.

Project Implementation strategy

The project is being implemented by the Institute of Agricultural Research and Natural Resources of the Faculty of Agronomy of the Higher University of San Andres (Universidad Mayor de San Andres). As a university institution, the basis for the implementation of the project is the coordination between researchers, undergraduate students and farmers. In this regard, most of the applied research will be implemented through funding for the preparation of undergraduate engineering theses on an honorarium basis. All research students have a research leader who is part of the project team. Finally, all decision for field implementation are discussed and taken jointly with farmers.


UNESCO SUMAMAD project/Jorge Cusicanqui
Bolivian farmers producing quinoa

In year 1 of the project, activities were carried out in two communities, Santiago de Callapa and Patacamaya. In year 2, activities are being carried out in Santiago de Callapa and Choquenaira. These communities are located at an altitude of 3800 meters above sea level record an annual rainfall of 380mm concentrated mostly between December and arch. This influences the farming season which is from October – April.


The project has organized trainings and workshops for farmers in soil and water management, drought management and the use of fertilizer. Farmers’ fields have been installed under deficit irrigation. On adaptation to climate change, the project seeks to link local knowledge to new findings to develop alternatives for climate change adaptation. The project has also undertaken a climatic variability study by analyzing 35 years of recorded data on daily precipitation and temperature from fourteen weather stations in the Bolivian Highlands. Results from this analysis will be published at local level as a product from the project. A socio-economic survey is being carried out to assess livelihoods and also measure the level of vulnerability of households to risks such as climate change.
One of the major achievements of the SUMAMAD -Bolivia project was the successful organization of the First National Congress on Irrigation in July 2010. The congress participants included representatives from the relevant ministries, local government and farmers.

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