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People & Planet: From The Rock Face In Bolivia.

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For Focus 94 Sian Cowman described a trip to Bolivia aimed at gaining a picture of community resilience to climate change.

You need a jeep and fair bit of patience for being bumped around to get to Lanqaya, a small community at around 4,000 meters above sea level in Norte Potosí, in the Bolivian Andes. I spent a week in this community whose adobe homesteads blend into the surrounding hillsides, on a research trip with the social justice organisation The Democracy Center.

The purpose of the trip was to ‘gain a picture of community resilience to climate change in Bolivia’. We saw resilience as the ability of the community to deal with changes in their environment and circumstances and still retain their customs, identity and structure. And we knew that Norte Potosí, with its high altitude, and people’s dependence on rain-fed agriculture to survive, is one of the world’s hotspots of climate vulnerability. What can Lanqaya teach those communities in the North whose resilience, if any, is only due to affluence?

On our first day, our hostess Doña Pascuala was off to make ‘chuño’ – the dehydrated potato that is the staple of this region. It is made by laying small potatoes out to freeze overnight as pictured, compressing the water out with your feet, and then drying them in the sun. They look like small dark wrinkly pebbles.

Chuño features in many of the meals, and is a key piece in the jigsaw of resilience, as a form of insurance – a staple that can be stored for long periods is important. Chuño is a source of food, or currency, when times are hard. Its production is being increasingly affected by warming temperatures.

People told us their experiences of changes in the local weather. The elders had the longest visions: “When I was young, it rained in its time, it froze in its time; now it rains or freezes anytime, it’s all completely changing.” And it also affects the chuño, so crucial in this community: “It used to take only a few nights to freeze enough to make good chuño, and now it can take a few weeks.”

We found out that the entire community of Lanqaya has migrated in stages from lower altitude valleys to the higher slopes where they are now based. The move was to access new pastures and lower night temperatures for making chuño – the warmer winters meant these valleys lacked the frost needed for successful chuño production.

I was struck by the casualness which with the migration of the entire community was mentioned. Imagine the dozens if not hundreds of decisions, big and small, that must be made in order to allow such a move of over a hundred people to a new location. The people of Lanqaya were able to decide on these choices together, using their ancient system of community democracy, and stay together despite the uprooting. The community was forced to change in order to stay the same.

While communities in the North tend to have more financial and physical resources than Lanqaya for creating solutions to climate change, they can easily run into difficulties when it comes to working together, due to a loss of the culture of collective decision-making. Lanqaya’s level of communication and democracy – alongside a deep knowledge of the land which is passed between generations – is needed to respond to climate impacts collectively, and seems frighteningly rare around the world. Here, it’s as much a part of the culture as the chuño.

Find out more over at www.democracyctr.org

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