Pubdate: Wed, 20 Dec 2006
Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Page: A6
Copyright: 2006 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Author: Michael Casey
Bookmark: (Cocaine)


Friction Between Morales and Washington Threatens Program That Aids Farmers

TOMOYO, Bolivia -- When Jacinto Garnica talks about farm management, 
Spanish creeps into his native Quechua language. The Bolivian Indian 
is dealing with new concepts for which his ancient Inca vocabulary 
has no words: "credit," "financing," "marketing."

He and his neighbors don't just talk the talk. Their community has 
embraced an innovative U.S.-backed aid program that tutors the 
farmers in free-market capitalism -- and is greatly improving their 
living standards. But politics could keep the experiment from 
spreading to other desperately poor regions of Bolivia: Socialist 
President Evo Morales is determined to centralize control of the 
country's economic activity, making Washington reluctant to keep 
sending aid to a nation that is embracing policies at odds with U.S. policy.

For centuries, subsistence farming was the norm in this rubble-strewn 
valley in southern Bolivia, where a mineral-rich geology has produced 
a spectacular, multicolored landscape but poor soil. Now, after four 
years of aid by Food for the Hungry International, a Christian 
development group whose funding comes mostly from the U.S. 
government, the farmers have been transformed into budding 
entrepreneurs. The result: The average income for Tomoyo's 2,000 
inhabitants has leapt to $1,069 a year from $287 in 2002.

Despite the gains, the future is in doubt for the Tomoyo project and 
800 others in Bolivia that depend on U.S. Agency for International 
Development backing, because of deteriorating relations between La 
Paz and Washington. Mr. Morales opposes U.S.-backed policies of 
market liberalization, and his moves toward central planning may 
leave little room for local market-driven projects such as Tomoyo's.

Bush administration officials and lawmakers in Washington, meanwhile, 
are also dismayed that Mr. Morales -- a former coca-grower activist 
- -- is championing "traditional" coca consumption. Coca cultivation in 
Bolivia has grown to more than double the 29,640 acres the government 
reserves for nonnarcotic uses, said U.S. officials, who worry that 
much of that production will be siphoned off to make cocaine. 
Although USAID is championing "alternative development" projects, in 
which farmers grow bananas instead of coca, for example, U.S. 
officials say such efforts are often hindered by Bolivian 
coca-growing syndicates that put pressure on communities not to participate.

The Tomoyo farmers' most important asset is an irrigation canal 
completed in 2002 after FHI spent $1.2 million, mostly in USAID 
money, to blast away 10 miles of iron-rich rock. Continued funding is 
needed, however, to pay for FHI advice to villages in how to use the 
canal wisely for commercial ventures.

With irrigation, farmers have been able to produce two harvests, 
instead of one, and can sometimes manage three plantings a year. To 
exploit this productivity gain, the farmers had to master Capitalism 
101. The farmers had to "learn to produce what they sell, not sell 
what they produce," said Roberto Loayza Mayan, the regional head of 
commercialization program at FHI, which is based in Geneva.

For the past four years, FHI economists, engineers and agronomists 
have operated out of a small settlement called Sirojchi -- "altitude 
sickness" in Quechua -- where they teach agricultural techniques, 
provide small loans and introduce local farmers to distant buyers. 
Each year, the team escorts a few farmers to an agricultural expo in 
Santa Cruz, a modern city with amenities such as telephones and 
plumbing that most of the farmers had never seen. Few of the city 
dwellers had ever met indigenous Bolivians from such remote 
communities either. Nevertheless, they struck deals.

During the most recent Santa Cruz expo, in September, FHI organized 
radio and television appearances for two of the Tomoyo farmers, and 
even staged a photo op with two "Magnificas," Bolivia's version of 
Victoria's Secret models. The picture of the dark, leathery skinned 
Indians in traditional garb alongside two leggy blondes in pink 
feathers and miniskirts offered a compelling image of Bolivia's deep 
ethnic and wealth divisions; it also introduced the farmers to 
U.S.-style publicity. [Combo]

Before the irrigation project, Tomoyo farmers grew little more than 
potatoes for their own consumption and sold the excess to outsiders. 
Now, their fields are filled with 26 vegetable varieties, all 
targeted at outside markets where they fetch much higher prices than 
potatoes do. One farmer runs a forestry nursery; others grow 
amaranth, oregano and fava beans.

With the added revenue, farmers can afford to feed their families a 
healthier diet. Infant malnutrition rates have dropped to 42% from 
59% in 2002. Mr. Garnica said his children are no longer falling 
asleep at school.

FHI and other agencies are eager to replicate the Tomoyo model 
elsewhere in the country. But Bolivian government support for their 
plans has been lukewarm at best, even though Vice President Alvaro 
Garcia Linera has come out in favor of continuing to accept U.S. aid.

U.S. support is questionable, too, given Bolivia's leftward tilt, and 
its alliance with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Cuban leader 
Fidel Castro. Mr. Morales is helping "move the entire continent down 
there to the left," said Republican Rep. Dan Burton of Indiana, a 
senior member of the House International Relations Committee. "A lot 
of Congress will not be inclined to vote for further aid for Bolivia." 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake