Issue - April 2007

April 2007

Dear readers, in March we broaden our horizons, searching for centers in Bolivia that have a commitment to the community. This edition, read about the Fundación Simón I: Patiño and the Hacienda Pairumani who demonstrate an unfailing commitment throughout the years, not only to Cochabamba, but Bolivia in more...

April 2007

Hacienda Pairumani

by Tania Delamotte

Pairumani Phytoecogenetic Center and
Seed Center have found an original
and useful way to help the Bolivian and
especially the rural communities

As the saying goes, "Cochabambinos don't eat to live, they live to eat!" Therefore, what is better than an institution helping the community to have more food, with higher nutritional qualities, at less cost, and produced in safer conditions?

Well, have you ever heard of the Phytoecogenetic Research Center and the Seed Center of Pairumani? They belong to the famous Simon I. Patiño foundation. The Pairumani hacienda is a lovely place, located to the north-west of Cochabamba. Its aim is to help the community through the improvement of local agriculture.

Indeed, despite all the nice fruits and vegetables you have probably eaten here, the agriculture in the west part of the country is far from being perfect… It is made up of lots of small parcels, and is not really mechanized. Also the farmers use pesticides, but they do not always use the right ones, which is not only expensive and unhealthy, but also actually quite useless. Thus, the farms suffer from lots of diseases and insects, sometimes destroying a whole parcel. Quite a big problem if you think that this is subsistence agriculture…

In the scientific center with a really complicated name, a group of scientists is working every day from 7am to 3pm to improve ecologically the production of the local farmers. They work on maize, broad beans, haricot beans, and peas. They do what they call “mejoramiento genetico” (genetic improvement). But wait! Producing transgenic products? Is that what they call ecology? I asked myself. Actually I was far from reality… Transgenic manipulation (sometimes known as genetic modification) is an artificial process to extract the genes of one species (it could be a fish!) to put it into the genetic code of another species (it could be a plant!).

Here with the natural process of genetic improvement, they are observing the genes of different varieties of one species, and crossing them in order to get a new variety with better qualities. They do these crossings until they get a satisfying variety for the farmer. And this takes more than ten years! The wind crosses varieties anyway, so in the end this is a way of accelerating and controlling a very slow natural process. They have fields dedicated to these researches and each line of the field corresponds to a different crossing. Can you imagine that there are more than 200 lines of maize!

Moreover, the results are real. For example in the maize area, the production of the farmers has increased from 1500kg/ha before the genetic improvement, to about 4500kg/ha after the improvement.

And maize is one of the most important components of the area. It is consumed at every level (city as well as country, fresh as well conserved, etc.). Also, it is a huge source of energy for the population and last but not least, it is the main ingredient of chicha (an alcoholic beverage consumed by more than 90% of the rural population, that you should definitely try if you aren't already addicted!).

After the work of the engineers, the improved seeds are commercialized by the Seed Center. The high quality of the seeds is certified by the Oficina Regional de Semillas. Moreover, not only the quality is better, but also as the foundation has a social objective, it sells the seeds at below their real cost.

As a clue, the cost of the Pairumani maize seeds varies between 4 and 4.5 bolivianos for one kilo, whereas on the informal market the price of the lower quality seeds varies from 5 to 7 bolivianos! Thus, the Pairumani Phytoecogenetic Center and the Seed Center have found an original and useful way to help the Bolivian and especially the rural community. The problem is that, even though the sales of the center have increased by about 35% between 1990 and 2006, the center remains unknown by many farmers. Therefore, the center has built up a diffusion program with scientists visiting farmers each weekend in order to give them the opportunity to discover this incredible work.

So next time, when you fill up your stomach like a real Cochabambino, think of all the work lying behind your nice and healthy vegetables!

Emilio Martinez
Emilio Martinez (Uruguay), writer and journalist, winner of the "Premio Municipal de Literatura de Montevideo" and "Premio National de Literatura Santa Cruz de la Sierra", author of Imigraciones de Arkham and various articles for Bolivian and Uruguayan newspapers such as La Union, El Deber and La Razón, in his short thesis...
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