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Innovating with tradition


03 / 1993

At the conference "Living with the Earth" organised by the Intercultural Institute of Montreal, Canada, in May 1992, David Tuschneider, working for the Bolivian NGO Hisbol, witnessed of the following experience. "There is an experience in 80 communities in a province close to Lake Titicaca. These 80 communities got together about 10 years ago and said, let’s create a technical school for young people and let’s train them in modern agricultural methods. And then let’s get them moving in our communities to teach us how to carry out these modern agricultural methods. Real grassroots development. They brought in a Swiss and an Italian agronomist and they graduated 30 technicians and 200 promotors. Then these went out into the communities, living between 12,000 and 14,000 feet above sea level. These agricultural technicians started to try to grow lettuce and vegetables of all kinds. They tried to introduce Dutch potatoes in a place where potatoes had been domesticated 6,000 years ago and where people were managing 130 varieties of potatoes per plot. Then they figured there were problems with sheep and cows, because they weren’t feeding right and therefore they said the pastures are wrong. And they tried to improve the pastures, rather than saying, "Well, sheep and cows don’t belong to this ecosystem." Three years later, everything had failed. This community said "This doesn’t work, so what are we going to do ?" They started to review their options and they realized that they had this immense wealth that had been left by their ancestors. This consisted of an astounding system of terraces which covers thousands of hectares, and which had been abandoned as a consequence of the Conquest, and all these processes that antedate development by 200 years. And now they are engaged in reconstructing that system, and putting the traditional system back into production - in other words, innovating with tradition."

Palabras claves

desarrollo sostenible, medio ambiente

, Bolivia


This example shows that people take into account the long historical view and they start by looking inwards. They don’t define themselves as alternatives to a force that comes from abroad. Instead they say, "We need to start with our own dignity and look at our own options, and what is available to us at a local level." That of course has consequences, due to the fact that they are taking control over the territory of the resources. They are finally creating a political base that is independent, that doesn’t depend on a project or on the state. This does create an alternative on a wider and more abstract level. It allows these regions to constructively disengage from the world system at the local level. And if any alternative development can occur, it is at that level.


colloque "Living with the Earth", May 1992


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