From 1994 to 2007, Strategies for International Development (SID) was a key implementer of Bolivia's decentralization and citizen participation program. In 1996 we began helping poor farmers reclaim eroded farmland and increase productivity and income, and this became the principal focus of our work in Bolivia from 2000 onward.


In April 1994, the Bolivia government divided the country into 211 counties and began giving them 20% of national tax revenue on a per capita basis. The government also required that citizens select and supervise the public works and services provided by their local governments. Democratic development became a new sector of development after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and it lacked the strategies, methods, and materials of more established sectors. SID helped build democracy at the local level by developing the methods and materials that Bolivian citizens used to select and supervise the public works provided by their local government.

The Cities of La Paz and El Alto: 1994 to 1996

From 1994 to 1996, we implemented Bolivia's Popular Participation Reform and Law in the cities of El Alto and La Paz. In El Alto we worked with the Federation of Neighborhoods and the municipal government to divide the city into 13 districts. We then helped citizens in each of the 13 districts select the public works and services that were most needed in each district. The City of La Paz divided the city into 26 districts. Our work in La Paz therefore was simply helping the citizens of each district to select the public works and services most needed in their district in a series of community meetings. However, in La Paz we tried a different approach and divided the participation in these meetings into four groups - young people, men, women, and senior citizens - and had each group select the public works and services that were of their greatest need and interest. The results for each of these groups were significantly different.

Rural Municipalities throughout the Country: 1995 to 2000

From 1995 to 2000, SID implemented the popular participation reform in 20 rural municipalities which served as laboratories for developing the methods and materials to implement the reform in rural municipalities throughout the country. We developed a three-step process by which citizens in a rural municipality of 50 to 70 rural communities worked together to select projects that only benefited 20 or 30 communities in a given year. Representatives from all communities met in a summit meeting (reunion cumbre) to review needs and set criteria for projects. Citizens in each community then met to assess their own needs and select a project for their community. Representatives from all communities then met in a second summit meeting to review the criteria and select the projects for the upcoming fiscal year. We also helped municipal officials produce the public works, establish good accounting practices, and distribute financial reports to their citizens.

Helping Citizens Select Economic Projects: 2001 to 2007

By 2001, Bolivia's rural residents had satisfied most of their needs for social infrastructure - classrooms, health posts, community centers, plazas, and sports fields - and they began requesting economic projects. However, what farmers need most is technical assistance in adopting business and better farming practices, and municipal governments could not fund projects that hired staff because of the potential for corruption and cronyism. Most rural municipalities established Local Economic Development Units to help citizens design and select economic projects.

SID worked with staff of these units to help farmers identify the farming practices they needed to adopt in order to increase productivity, product quality, processing, and income, and then define how the municipality could help them adopt these practices with infrastructure and other inputs. For example, in dairy areas, by providing the municipal tractor for digging farm ponds, or giving farmers wood and tin roofing for constructing cowsheds, and alfalfa seeds for sowing a better fodder crop. We also developed a model for combining democratic and economic development within the same project.

How NGOs Can Help Build Democracy at the Local Level: 2006 to 2007

In 2006 and 2007, we carried out a study of how Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) can help build democratic practice and culture when they carry out their education, health, agricultural, and environmental projects with local governments. The study was based on partnerships between NGOs and local governments -- three in Bolivia, three in Perú, and one in Guatemala -- and it illustrated how NGOs could still build democratic practice in municipalities with little money to allocate for projects.



Central Altiplano Dairy Farmers: 1996 to 2001

In 1996, SID began helping 1,630 dairy families in 50 communities in the Municipalities of Patacamaya and Umala in the Central Altiplano to reclaim land and increase their income. We used competitions among communities to mobilize the farmers to adopt the practices that reclaimed their pastures and increased productivity of their dairy cows. At the start of each dry and rainy season, the farmers selected the practices they would adopt during the season. SID then provided technical assistance in these practices throughout the season. At the end of season, the farmers evaluated their results.

In three and a half years, farmers reclaimed 1,593 hectares of land by digging water retention ditches, damming gullies, and re-seeding pastures, and another 70 hectares by constructing terraces. They also reclaimed 14,307 hectares by creating reserves in which the land was not grazed for four to five years. They put 27,341 hectares of pastures under strict rotation. They also immunized their cattle, dug 727 farm ponds, constructed 202 cowsheds, and sowed 1,553 hectares of alfalfa. They increased their productivity from 5.3 to 10.7 liters of milk per cow per day and their income by 64%.

Environment and Agriculture in the Same Project: 2000 to 2004

From 2000 to 2004, SID helped 35 Bolivian Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) achieve environmental and agricultural goals in the same project. Farmers were not participating in environmental projects because they did not address the central problem of the farmers, increasing income. Conversely, gains from solely agricultural projects were not sustainable because they did not include soil and pasture reclamation and the Altiplano is a highly eroded semi-arid plain. Poverty and soil erosion were inextricably connected, each was the principle cause of the other, and both problems needed to be addressed in the same project.

SID helped NGOs re-design projects to address both environmental and agricultural goals, use more effective strategies to help farmers achieve these goals, and evaluate their results. By 2004, SID had assisted 35 NGOs, working in 1,184 communities with 30,246 farm families. These farm families increased their income by an average of 23.3% and reclaimed an average of 0.93 hectares per family during the period of technical assistance. (Loyd Brown, 2004)

Northern and Central Altiplano Dairy Farmers: 2002 to 2006

From 2003 to 2006, SID helped 800 dairy families in 25 communities in the Municipality of Pucarani and 650 families in 30 communities in the Municipality of Sica Sica to reclaim eroded pastures and increase their income from fresh milk. The farmers reclaimed pastures by digging water infiltration ditches in compacted soils, damming gullies, collecting grass seeds and re-seeding pastures, and putting severely eroded pastures into reserves where they were allowed to re-flower and reclaim themselves naturally. They increased the productivity of their cows by improving animal selection and male/female ratios, dosing their cows against parasites, cutting and storing fodder for better year round feeding, and digging farm ponds for better year round watering.

We also helped the farmers make business plans in order to make better decisions on how to invest their land and labor. They saw the relationship between the better pastures, feeding and watering, productivity, and income. They made plans to increase productivity and income based on the farming practices they would adopt in order to reclaim pastures and improve the feeding, watering, and health of their cows. Their baseline productivity was 4 to 6 liters of mild per cow per day, most farmers planned to double their productivity and income, and two-thirds of the farmers achieved their goals.

Central Altiplano Alpaca and Llama-Wool Producers: 2007 to 2009

From 2007 to 2009, SID helped alpaca and llama-wool producers make better business decisions, reclaim eroded pastures and marshes (bofedales), increase the productivity of their animals, and increase the percentage of white-wooled animals. We worked with 900 alpaca and llama families in the Municipality of Curahuara de Carangas in the heart of Bolivia's principal alpaca and llama area in the Central Altiplano. The farmers grazed their alpaca and llama in pastures and marshes watered by streams flowing from the snow-capped mountains on the Chilean border. However, the pastures were eroding, the marshes were drying out, and the market for wool had changed dramatically. The price for white wool was twice the price for brown, beige, or black, because it could be dyed to any color that was in fashion, yet only 26% of the farmers' animals were white.

We helped the farmers reclaim pastures and marshes by digging channels from streams to pastures and marshes, harvesting grass seed and re-seeding pastures, putting eroded pastures into reserves, and establishing stricter delineation of pastures and rotation of grazing. We helping them increase productivity by improving animal selection and male-female ratios, dosing them for internal parasites, treating them for scabies, and sheltering them in rustic corrals during the freezing Altiplano nights. They also began breeding more white-wooled areas and shearing a higher percentage of their animals. In two years, they increased their income from wool from an average of $282 to $393, or 39%, a year from wool.

Producers’ Associations, All Crops and Products: 2007 to 2012

Since 2000, Altiplano farmers that produced a common product had been forming associations to help each other solve common problems and sell their product together. In 2007, we began a 5-year program with 81 of these associations in 12 municipalities in the Northern and Central Altiplano. The members of the associations earned their income from a variety of products such as fresh milk, cheese, yogurt, quinoa, potatoes, seed potatoes, alpaca and llama wool, and llama jerky. The associations represented nearly all the comparative advantages of the Altiplano, and they were an excellent demonstration of the variety of ways in which Altiplano farmers could earn a good living from their farming.

We helped members of each association to meet and negotiate with buyers, make business plans, and increase their productivity, product quality and processing in response to the opportunities of their markets. We also helped them draft bylaws and job descriptions to organize their work, use written agreements and basic accounting for all transactions, obtain legal status, and achieve at least 80% of the objectives of their business plans. Finally, we helped them participate in the annual planning and budgeting of their municipality and present credit applications to micro-finance institutions.

The baseline income of the 4,313 members of the 81 producers' associations was $5.4 million. Their planned increases in income, taken directly from their business plans, were $10.6 million. Their actual increases were $9.0 million.

Quinoa Producers’ Associations: 2012 to the Present

In 2012, we began focusing exclusively on helping quinoa farmers in the Northern Altiplano to increase their productivity, product quality, and income. Altiplano farmers have produced quinoa for home consumption for centuries, but in 1980's and 90's, farmers in the Southern Altiplano began producing it for the international market.  In 2010, farmers in the Northern Altiplano have also begun producing it for the international market because of the increased international demand, and quinoa represented the best opportunity for increasing poor-farmer income.

In May 2012, we began helping 307 members of 10 quinoa-producing associations to adopt basic business practices, increase their productivity, and improve the quality of their quinoa. In May 2013, we began helping a second group of 16 quinoa associations with 320 members to do the same. In April 2015, the first group of 10 associations graduated from the program, and in May 2015, we added a third group of 10 associations with 281 members to the program.