An underground movement putting food on the table

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Date: 06 January, 2006

Alejandro’s family have built an adobe greenhouse where they can grow vegetables and keep worms. The worms turn animal droppings into fertile compost which is used to improve the family’s crop yield.”
photo: Christian Aid / Andy Taylor



High up in the Bolivian Andes, an underground movement is quietly at work improving the lives of communities; providing food for the table and helping children study. This isn’t the success of a new left wing revolutionary group though, this is the power of the humble earth worm!

Alejandro’s Callo’s parents used to struggle to grow enough food to feed him and his six brothers and sisters. The resulting lack of nutrition was making it hard for him to concentrate in school.

In the community of Chillcapalca, most families live off the potatoes and barley they grow and the small numbers of cows, llamas or pigs that they keep. However, the poor quality of the soil means that most families struggle to produce enough food to feed themselves all year round.

It’s harder still to find the money to buy basic essentials like oil, rice and sugar, to buy medicines or even to visit the doctor. Many people resort to costly chemical fertilizers while others migrate for weeks at a time to the cities in search of work just to have enough to survive.

Christian Aid’s partner the Centre for Educational Advance and Research (CIPE) stepped in and helped Alejandro’s parents build a greenhouse. CIPE provided the family with vegetable seeds and 50kg of worms.

The results have been dramatic. 'We make enough to eat and to sell, but only now that we have the compost from the worms. Before we only had enough for ourselves' says Alejandro.

Using manure from the animals, the worms produce a rich compost which Alejandro’s family can use to fertilise their potato crop.

'I don’t much like touching the worms, but I do like them because they make our harvests bigger.'

It is not just money from Christian Aid that is helping to change things for Alejandro, it’s campaigning too.

Thanks to Christian Aid supporters and many others around the world campaigning for debt relief, CIPE can build 30% more greenhouses.

With money from debt forgiveness, the Bolivian government has released funds to local authorities. In all three areas that they work, the local authorities have chosen to support the work of CIPE. This is money that Bolivia would have spent on servicing external debts if it was not for the Jubilee 2000 debt campaign.

For families like Alejandro’s the difference the worms can make is huge. It’s not just the potato crop that benefits from the compost: improved soil means more food for the animals too, and good compost means healthy vegetables in the greenhouse. Alejandro is now eating vegetables he only used to learn about in school.

'Before, we would get tired at school. We learned how to eat all of these things but never did. Now we’re more alert and awake, because we have the food and the nutrition we need.'