Rural producers in Bolivia are becoming increasingly marginalised from the national society and economy. These producers are in great need of information, knowledge and skills to improve their decision-making, increase productivity, and survive in the new market conditions. Organisations such ACLO (Fundación Acción Cultural Loyola) and the International Institute for Communication and Development (IICD) are helping to bridge this information gap by effectively harnessing the benefits of information and communication technologies (ICTs). Information about agricultural markets is disseminated through community radio and information centres in Bolivia, which are able to reach those most in need of agricultural knowledge.
The Knowledge Gap
Rural poverty is increasingly marginalising small subsistence farmers, women and rural youth in Bolivia. Knowledge extension systems are either very weak or non-existent. The technologies and information exist in the region, but they are not accessible to small and subsistence farmers for lack of appropriate delivery systems and training methodologies. Communication technology and delivery systems have helped to overcome many constraints – such as illiteracy, large distances, poorly trained extension workers, lack of transportation, the existence of many local languages, and the need for standardised scientific and technical information. In approaching these barriers, the Bolivia country programme for ICT development and information dissemination has played an important role.
Agriculture and ICTs
The Bolivia country programme, known as TicBolivia, is the first programme in Latin America initiated by the International Institute for Communication Development (IICD). It uses ICTs to support the development work of NGOs and grassroots organisations in the target sectors of education, the environment, governance and livelihood opportunities in agriculture. The projects are operating at both national and rural-community levels, covering most parts of Bolivia. The focus in the agricultural sector is on finding ways to provide relevant marketing and government information to small farmers and indigenous groups.
The Bolivia Country Programme, referred to locally as TiCBolivia, is a prominent ICT programme in Bolivia. It incorporates a high number of locally owned projects in all IICD’s target sectors. Today, IICD works closely with twenty local partners to realise TiCBolivia’s goals. These partners include non-governmental organisations (NGOs), grassroots organisations, and government bodies such as the Ministry of Agriculture. IICD and its local partners are extending the development impact of TiCBolivia to end-users, particularly the rural poor. The focus has been on developing the technical and institutional capacity of local partner organisations.
The decision to undertake TiCBolivia was made in November 2000, when IICD and Hivos (an NGO working for economic and cultural development in Latin America) co-organised an ICT Sector Round-table (that is, no participant has precedence) workshop for Hivos’ network of NGOs. Sixteen local partner organisations attended. In July 2002, a second Round-table was organised by the now established TiCBolivia network. A total of 18 organisations, including the most important stakeholders in the agricultural sectors, were represented in the workshop, including grassroots organisation, NGOs, government and private organisations. The consensus at the Round-table was that one of the major problems facing Bolivia’s agricultural sector is the lack of co-ordination of information that is provided for, and passed on to, small farmers. Workshop discussions at the Round-table revealed that while many local organisations do in fact provide and collect agricultural information using various communication channels, these initiatives often operate in isolation.
The International Institute for Communication and Development (IICD) assists developing countries to realise locally owned sustainable development by harnessing the potential of ICTs. IICD works with its partner organisations in selected countries, helping local stakeholders to assess the potential uses of ICTs in development. IICD also strengthens the capacities of local partners to formulate, implement and manage development policies and projects that make use of ICTs.
In response to this problem, the workshop participants agreed to develop an ‘Information and Communications Technology Strategy for the Agriculture Sector’. The Ministry of Agriculture in Bolivia was considered the most appropriate co-ordinator of the strategy. Ronald Nieme, Vice-Minister of Agriculture, stated:
“It is a necessity to include ICT as an instrument to realise the national plan. At this moment, only a small group of innovators among the producers make use of these technologies; a much bigger group of producers therefore need to gain access. This will allow us to collect producers’ demands more effectively and will also help to guide government activities in this sector. ICT will allow producers to enhance their capacity to negotiate, thereby making them more competitive. For this reason, my Ministry is committed to implementing this strategy.”
The strategy assists in the coordination of and collaboration between ICT initiatives by the government, NGOs, private sector and grassroots organisations. It also voices the clear ICT priorities that are identified by small producers.
Within the ICT strategy for the agriculture sector is the establishment of information centres for agro-ecological producers in Bolivia. The Association of Organisations of Agro-Ecological Producers in Bolivia (AOPEB) runs an information network for the country’s ecologically minded producers. The network consists of six information centres: Caranavi, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz, Riberalta, Sucre and La Paz. The centres provide a range of information concerning crops, production methods, product diversification and marketing. The managers of the information centres have received extensive training, and now exchange information about their field activities. Through the use of ICTs, organic producers have fluent communication with the central office in La Paz, as well as being connected amongst themselves. The two-way communication allows producers to obtain the necessary information to further develop their activities.
The Association of Organisations of Ecological Producers in Bolivia was set up in 1991 for the purpose of improving self-sufficiency on the basis of ecologically sustainable agriculture. AOPEB is a member of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) and coordinates the Latin American IFOAM initiative, and the definition of ‘ecological’ agriculture on the association’s website echoes guidelines to organic production given by IFOAM. AOPEB forms part of the Pesticides Action Network (Red de Acción de Plaguicidas, RAPAL-BOL) and has developed and published the Basic Standards for the Production and Processing of Ecological Products in Bolivia.
Today, AOPEB comprises 46 organisations, representing 25,000 organic producers and producers in transition. AOPEB participates in the development of a Bolivian framework to regulate environmentally friendly production in the country. The association’s vision is to develop a movement which influences and participates in decision-making processes in state and civil society spheres. Its institutional goal is the production, transformation, commercialisation and mass consumption of Bolivian prime quality organic products, with the objective of improving the standard of living of producers. In order to achieve this, the association implements strategies focusing on institutional strengthening, standards and certification, marketing, social communication and networking. This is achieved through advisory assistance, training, studies and campaigns, representation, and lobbying.
Knowledge in the Airwaves
Supplementing the information centres, the local Bolivian organisation ACLO (Fundación Acción Cultural Loyola) has established a project that seeks to enhance market access for small-scale farmers in the region of Chuquisaca, a poor dry area in the highlands of Bolivia. As well as producing staple foods such as corn, the farmers are seeking new markets for dried and packaged products. To achieve this, access to information regarding inputs, production processes and prices is vital. Thus, the project seeks to enhance market access by means of linking the local producers’ association to market information, using a combination of the Internet and rural radio programmes.
ACLO “empowers local indigenous communities to participate in building a sustainable, just and equitable society”.
Jesuits created the organisation in 1966, which works with farming communities in its three regional centres of Chuquisaca, Tarija and Potosí. Originally, ACLO promoted local knowledge and social structures through educational initiatives on the radio and in the bilingual (Spanish and Quechua) newspaper ‘En Marcha’. In the 1980s, ACLO’s main emphasis turned to the support of agricultural production and irrigation projects. In 2003, the organisation began a project to assist farmers in the commercialisation of their produce, and found ICTs to be a useful tool to assist in this aim.
ACLO reached more than half a million Quechua-speaking (a Bolivian local dialect) indigenous people in rural and isolated communities through its radio programmes, monthly newspaper and training workshops. ACLO’s programmes have enabled rural farmers (campesinos) in Bolivia to increase their knowledge of their rights as well as the economic, political and social circumstances in their communities and around the world.
Radio ACLO contributes to an informed population, providing marginalised people with the tools to achieve their own sustainable development. Audience research results have placed Radio ACLO as the first choice in rural areas, and second choice in urban communities. Radio ACLO produces 22 programmes, broadcasting 16 hours a day, which cover the following issues: agrarian assistance; current news; literacy programmes; cultural revivalism; public service announcements; local market price information; social conflicts at the local, regional and national levels; and entertainment programmes for the whole family. At the beginning of 2004, ACLO launched a new radio station in Potosí, adding to those already existing in Chuquisaca and Tarija to consolidate regional coverage in the southern regions of Bolivia.
ACLO project objectives
The organisation sets out to achieve an improvement in the conditions of producers in planning and market entry, using information on production processes and marketing provided through appropriate ICTs. More efficient and competitive production by rural families is to be achieved through:
- Interactive capacity development of the participating producer organisations and their families.
- Market information services developed by ACLO, the producers and local municipal authorities.
- Productive information services developed by the producers in alliance with the municipal authorities.
A critical role in disseminating information is played by local volunteers, known as ‘popular reporters’, as they interview and gather news from isolated communities. Popular reporters answer the demands of the local campesinos about the main events that affect their lives and communities.
María Rita Salvatierra, of the Centro de Promoción Agropecuaria Campesina (CEPAC), describes the impact that rural radio programmes can have for local agricultural producers:
“Every day we prepare the radio programme ‘Let’s go to the market’. We broadcast it twice, at 7am and at 7pm. This programme provides information concerning the prices in the markets. It also offers information and counsel to the producers concerning crops and the different seasons of the year and other pieces of news like the weather forecast, the exchange rate of the American dollar, and information provided by the team of agricultural technicians. We have carried out workshops to teach our people to:
- Interpret the prices, according to the schedule in ‘My daily register’;
- Select the information concerning the products according to the season;
- Develop and interpret the cost of agricultural output according to the traditional products of the area.
“The information concerning agricultural products in the market is very valuable for the producers. They can use it to negotiate their goods at a better price or to sell them to the agricultural brokers that go to the farms to buy the products right there where they are produced.”
Information and knowledge are essential for improving the productivity of small farmers in Latin American countries such as Bolivia. Knowledge is an inexpensive input for rural development; it requires only a policy decision, some equipment and trained rural communicators to share knowledge and skills to increase participation and promote sustainable development. In this case, the work of IICD and ACLO is providing the impetus for local people and community-based organisations to share the knowledge that can lead to a more productive livelihood. The successful use of ICTs ensures that a broad audience has access to this vital information.
Salvatierra, M. R. (2003). Sowing the Seed. IICD ICT Stories, available from: www.iicd.org/stories/articles.
Swaminathan, M. S. (2000). Community-led Approaches to Ending Food Insecurity and Poverty. Rome: UNESCO.
Donor and Supporting Organisations
Department for International Development (DFID) www.dfid.gov.uk
Vodafone Group Foundation www.vodafonefoundation.org
FAO WAICENT Portal www.fao.org/waicent
ITDG Technical Briefs answers.practicalaction.org
Relevant Hands On case studies
The Hills are Alive with Radio Impacto – Peru