La Paz, Bolivia, was the very first place I visited in Latin America before I fell in love with that part of the world. And now, after seven years, I was so lucky to return to La Paz for an Akvo FLOW training workshop with ICCO Sur and some of their partners. ICCO is already using Akvo FLOW in other projects around the world.

I arrived with my colleague Iñigo on Monday 16th June. The city of La Paz is breathtaking. Literally. Altitudes in the city vary from 3100 to 4100 meters above sea level, which means oxygen levels are reduced.

Angel Ramos from ICCO Bolivia interviewing an amaranth farmer in the municipal of Mojocoya, Bolivia
Above: Angel Ramos from ICCO (middle) interviews an amaranth farmer from Municipio de Mojocoya. Photo credit: Laura Roverts.

The ICCO office is located “only” 3320 meters above sea level which, in comparison to the Akvo office in Amsterdam (2 meters below sea level), is unfamiliar territory. The day after we arrived, Iñigo and I slowly walked uphill from our hotel to the ICCO office for the first day of training. ICCO Bolivia has a very nice office and the people were very friendly and interested in what Akvo does. I immediately felt at home. That day, we demonstrated the Akvo FLOW dashboard for Jorge, Angel, Samuel, José Luis and Kuki. They were all very eager to learn and had good ideas of how they could use Akvo FLOW for data collection. 

Wednesday morning we started with an open demo about Akvo. Besides ICCO employees, there were also participants from NGOs that work with ICCO, like Christian Aid, and four representatives from Autoridad Plurinacional de la Madre Tierra, the national government of Bolivia. We explained what we do at Akvo and, more important, why. After some demonstrations on the use of Akvo RSR and Akvo FLOW, we worked with the participants to create a short questionnaire around the theme of deforestation to get a better understanding of how FLOW could be used as a data collection and monitoring tool in Bolivia. In the afternoon and on Friday we continued practicing data collection via the mobile FLOW app and we finalised the baseline questionnaire that was going to be used in Sucre. After teaching our ICCO colleagues some final tips and tricks, like uploading data to the dashboard without an internet connection, we trusted that they were ready to go into the field.

Iñigo went back to England over the weekend, but I stayed to fly to Sucre, along with Jorge, Angel and José Luis. The first project for which ICCO Sur is going to use Akvo FLOW for baseline research involves famers who produce amaranth, a grain like quinoa. Amaranth is the only gluten-free grain that contains vitamin C and growing it helps combat child malnutrition and improve food security. The project, supported by ICCO, aims to improve the profitability of 1,100 farmers in eight rural municipals where about two-thirds of the population lives in poverty. Micro and small enterprises maintain business contracts with local and international companies, as well as provide training and technical assistance and research to improve the quality of the seeds and a stronger performance. The project aims to increase the incomes of the amaranth farmers and focuses on inclusion, gender and sustainable development.

Above: Amaranth plants along the route to Municipio de Mojocoya. Photo credit: Laura Roverts.
After a short flight to Sucre, we (ICCO’s Pablo, José Luis, Jorge, Angel and I) drove two hours on a paved road and another hour on an unpaved road through the mountains to the community of Mojocoya where we met various amaranth producers we could interview. In Bolivia, amaranth is grown in the valleys, but the community is still located at an altitude of approximately 2500 meters. After interviewing a few amaranth farmers, we realised that the questionnaire still had some minor errors. Therefore, I believe it is good to practice your questionnaire a few times before you really start data collection. At the moment, ICCO is finalising the questionnaire, and then they will be ready to start their first baseline survey in Bolivia.

Feel free to check out some of my additional pictures of my visit to Bolivia. 

Laura Roverts is a project manager for Akvo, based in Amsterdam.