I think back now about how I first thought about taking a shortcut in the writing Trojan Horse Aid. My full workload as the Executive Director of USC Canada inspired thoughts that I might get away with simply updating my 350-page dissertation.
Of interest to the eclectic mix of academics who read it then an economist, three anthropologists, and one ecologist was its framing of the Jalq’a story within the context of their resilience and complexity thinking, ignored then and arguably still undervalued today.
In updating their story, I hope to inspire sober second thought about what, in my mind, are contradictory and self-serving development assistance trends today…6
I went to Northern Potosi, for example, with two sets of lenses, those of a doctoral student in anthropology and those of a seasoned development worker. Each of these professionals has been known to look at each other with disdain.
While Westerners like me struggle with dual, indeed duelling identities, Bolivia’s Indigenous peoples have long embraced them. Their rituals and traditions, in the past and today, are steeped in the idea of opposing forces and juxtaposition.. And with shifting contexts and demands can come shifting identities and responses. There is little that is certain in a life that depends intimately on nature’s collaboration.
Chapter 1 – Introduction: Packets of Paradox
Diversity Hot Spot
My research among the Indigenous Jalq’a farmers in Ravelo and the non-governmental organizations at work within their communities suggested that there was yet another deeply ironic contributor to the marginalization and impoverishment of the municipality’s Indigenous farmers. The humanitarian development assistance delivered through non-governmental organizations (ngos) had been quietly but steadily eroding the inherent strengths of these Indigenous papero communities.
In sum, the development assistance paid insufficient attention to centuries-old resilience strategies that had enabled Indigenous people to survive in places where the natural world usually has the upper hand. Particularly problematic was the outsiders’ failure to appreciate the conservation of biodiversity and the plant genetic resources at the core of such strategic thinking.
Less understood and discussed in both academic and development circles is the issue of how a development organization?s approach to knowledge, imposed within well-intentioned training activities, might itself have an impact on the social change process.
Chapter 3 – Embedded and Invented
Jalq’a husbands were proud of their wives’ ability to weave beauty from the matted wool of local sheep. They openly valued other skills as well, such as their spouses? expertise in animal husbandry. And while virilocal marriage places a young wife at the mercy of her spouse’s family and friends in her new hamlet, I did not pick up on any sense of unhappiness about the move to the in-laws. Nor was there a strict gender-role stereo-typing, which is often found among the more affluent mestizo residents in Sucre. Farming, for example, was a joint, family activity…
Women’s role in sowing the seed reflected, as suggested, an honouring of women’s fertility and their capacity to nurture. The men, however, expressed mixed feelings about this power to create, as suggested in the following legend about the origins of the potato…
Chapter 4 – Deep Connections
Spiritual and Practical
The stitching of the modern onto traditional ways or vice versa, although neither straightforward nor free of tension, should not, as noted in my comments about Jalq’a youth, be interpreted automatically as a sign of unwelcome acculturation…
Longstanding traditions, rituals, and belief systems are not easily abandoned; to the contrary they can offer a sense of continuity and comfort, especially if the push into another system is forceful…
Chapter 5 – Bouncing Back
An especially useful idea employed to assess the resilience in natural systems is that of a critical threshold. When resilience is strong, disturbances may modify but not fundamentally change the system’s core structure and strength. When resilience is weak, a disturbance can overtake a critical threshold, contributing to what ecologists have termed a ‘flip’, the shift to a state that is less desirable and sometimes irreversible.19
As with all concepts that come into vogue within the field of international development assistance, there are now critics of resilience, largely related to when it is used as a mechanistic instrument for social change…
A resilience approach to soil erosion would look first at what already exists or had existed, not the least of which could be long-standing local practices to enhance the soil that for one reason or another had been abandoned… Even in the direst of circumstances, there is resilience to be found, since the act of survival is itself an example of core strength…24
Chapter 6 – Ecological Complementarity
The best example of the continued application of the ayllu socio-political and economic system within my research communities was the ongoing practice of ecological complementarity…
Last, but in no way least, ecological complementarity has a very profound spiritual and intuitive dimension. Among Chimpa Rodeo and Moj’n residents there was a consistently strong consideration of the broader cosmos evident in their land-use and production practices…
Chapter 7 – An interconnected Web
Indigenous Ways to Know and Learn
Indigenous people view reality as eternal, but in a continuous state of transformation. It is consistent with the scientific view that all matter can be seen as energy, shaping itself into particular patterns.
Indigenous approaches to science seem to be less on the characteristics of things than on the relationships between them…
Yet, as I have discovered time and again throughout my career and more particularly through more intensive research in Chimpa Rodeo and Moj’n, these instrumental frameworks and packaged strategies such as the ‘green revolution’ approach to crop production to be discussed next are deeply embedded in development assistance programming, repeatedly passed down to ‘beneficiaries’ as effective recipes for change.
Chap 8 – Breaking the Balance
To survive on the hillsides and valleys of parched highlands, however, these introduced (potato) varieties needed a chemical fix – vigorous doses of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Farmers were told that the funds earned thanks to higher yields would be enough to pay back the loans needed for their chemical cocktails. They were not advised about the leaching that happens to soils when doused with synthetic fertilizers or that their tubers would need a costly chemical bath to survive from year to year.
Nor were they told that the high water content of the less mealy, more uniform potatoes decreased their nutritional value or that they would take extra time and fuel to cook. Diversity, they knew from their grandparents and parents, had, on its own, been a critical strategy to deal with the extreme mountain weather events. How would these new tubers perform when the weather turned mean? For the first couple of years, the introduced cousins outperformed the local tubers. Potato monoculture, featuring two, then three types, took hold, especially on farms closest to transportation routes.
Most families, preferring the flavour and density of their native potatoes, held on to at least a handful of their favourite traditional varieties. The Jalq’a families of Chimpa Rodeo and Moj’n were no exception. A few, inspired by their parents? proud husbandry of ancestral varieties, also committed to the conservation of far more… Still, farmers were planting more and more of their fields with the introduced tubers, abandoning or neglecting a significant percentage of the varieties that their lands and hands once nurtured.
Chapter 9 – Farmer Proletariat
Tired Soil and Tired Seed
For subsistence and semi-subsistence farm families, ‘tired’, ‘sick’, or ‘burnt’ soils can indeed sound the death knell to their livelihoods. Tierras virginas, virgin fields that have never been chemically treated are the ideal… although… they have abandoned a considerable amount within just two generations.
This abandonment was a response to the push all around them to grow the introduced varieties. But the decline in native varieties also reflected deteriorated genetic stock and the fact that a lot of the Indigenous varieties no longer grew well on blanched, overused, and heavily treated soils…
The farmers I engaged with also lamented the loss of knowledge about alternatives to chemical treatments for disease control. They had witnessed their grandparents using alternative pest-control strategies, such as companion cropping, as well as lengthier fallow periods…
Chapter 10 – Hungry in Body and Spirit
The (FHI-Family Health International) field staff I encountered expressed a strong desire to strengthen the independence of these producers? groups, turning them into associations… But the strategy expressed was rather nebulous and, in light of what appeared to me to be an exceedingly paternalistic approach agency-wide, would have required a considerable shift in approach.
People who were already masters of reciprocal working arrangements and descendants of the Indigenous designers of ayllu governance and ecological complementarity were offered this advice: ‘Why Organize? Often working with other people can make our lives easier and more productive. For example, if you have to carry a big, heavy box alone, it is very difficult, but if you have a helper it is easier. You only have to carry half the weight. Working together can make your life in your fields easier and can help to make life in our community easier. If we work together we can help to achieve more in our community.’15
Of all the passages I gathered during my research for this book, this one topped my list of the most patronizing. Not only did its authors seem oblivious to the collaboration inherent in ayllu governance, they also appear to have confused weak reading skills with stupidity.
Chapter 11 – “Dipstick” Development
Out of the Darkness
In my Bolivia-based research in 2000, literacy was frequently touted as the foundation of the learning process.19 Such views appear to have persisted. A 2008 report about Bolivia’s national campaign to eradicate illiteracy – spearheaded and claimed a success by the country’s president, Evo Morales, exemplified such thinking.
Heribert Hinzen of the Institute for International Cooperation of the German Adult Education Association, lashed out at this unquestioning complacency about the benefits of literacy programming: ‘Do we, as adult and literacy educators, involved in planning, coordination and research, take a critical look at our work or do we prefer repeating old slogans and reinforcing myths and wishful thinking?’23 Hinzen went on to suggest that to see literacy as a prerequisite and panacea for all related problems is a dangerous misunderstanding…”
Chapter 13 – The Monocropping of People, Plants and Knowledge
Baptism by Fire
In practice, all three agencies (IPTK, UNICEF, Evangelical) were applying a stagnant interpretation of cultural revitalization in their field programs, focusing more on its etic -surface – rather than its emic – inherent – characteristics. They were caught in the ethnocentric mindset characteristic of the broader development community. They consequently paid insufficient attention to the deeply rooted skills and knowledge systems of the people they were hoping to assist.
Rather than build onto the systems already present, like ecological complementarity, they began with the assumption that something was missing and proceeded to try to fill that ‘void’ with knowledge that they sincerely considered to be the best available. Despite very different ideological perspectives, all three ngos also had the effect of drawing the Jalq’a communities they supported into market economies that worked against both the community justice ethic within ecological complementarity and its diversity conservation dimension. Together with the monocropping of potato plants, there appears to have been a ‘monocropping’ of their Indigenous beneficiaries and the knowledge they possessed. The biodiversity maintained in these communities was in spite of outsider intervention, not because of it.
Resistance and resilience in the face of powerful pressures to abandon diversity and flip into a new, ‘modern’ identity are important themes in this book. When I left the Chayanta’s Jalq’a amautas – teachers – to return to Canada, these proud descendants of the Inca Nation had not succumbed to the ‘development game’ cited in the chapter’s opening paragraph.
The story of the people of this region was not a straightforward retelling of colonial domination and subjugation. Like many of their neighbours in Northern Potosi, the Jalq’a were stubbornly holding onto traditional ecological knowledge systems, their continued, albeit modified, application of ecological complementarity serving as an excellent example. Their refusal to abandon this system suggests a keen awareness of its importance to the survival both of their ecological systems and their socio-cultural identity…
Mistakes that weakened local control over the future were made and regretted by many. Time and again I heard farmers express regret with their decision to buy into a commercial agricultural system that not only failed to reap the anticipated benefits but also robbed their children of the native potato legacy their grandparents had left them…
Epilogoue – Paradox, Resistance and Resilience
I cannot help but feel, however, that for all the flaws and contradictions, the strengthened and valued identity that this new (Bolivian) administration has offered the majority of its rural and Indigenous citizens is a fundamental transformation. I read recently about how a nation must be symbolized before it can be loved, imagined before it can be conceived.14
Years of oppression breed self-doubt, a reluctance even to consider new possibility. How often have I heard capable Indigenous farmers, particularly women farmers, say ‘no sabe mucho’ (I don’t know much), implying that they aren’t very smart. However difficult the craft and art of governing will prove for the leaders within Bolivia’s Indigenous majority, they have created an ideal – a plurinational country and constitution – that offers long overdue possibility of a more inclusive and just future. There is clear vision to hold on to and there is no turning back…