From La Paz to Turco: Going back to the roots to start a new life

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From La Paz to Turco: Going back to the roots to start a new life

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

© IFAD Bolivia/Juan Manuel Rada

Guadalupe Moller lives in Turco, a small community in rural western Bolivia, near the Chilean border. She’d spent most of her life in La Paz, Bolivia’s capital, but four years ago she moved back to Turco, where her family’s roots are. Now, at 61 years old – and thanks to Pro-Camélidos, an IFAD-supported project implemented by the Ministry of Rural Development and Lands – she’s begun a whole new life in the land of her ancestors.

Guadalupe and her parents migrated to La Paz when she was young. She grew up there, eventually meeting her husband just before starting university. When her kids started arriving, she ended her studies and devoted herself to raising them while her husband finished his law degree.

The family’s plans paid off. “Thanks to our effort we were able to provide education for our sons, who are now professionals,” she declares proudly.

But four years ago, with their sons beginning careers of their own, the family reached a crossroads. Guadalupe’s husband and his family, also from Turco, still had some land and llama herds there. But because land rights in rural Bolivia are communal and based on usage, staying in faraway La Paz meant risking the loss of their family’s grazing rights. They didn’t want to lose something that his family had worked so hard to build up and maintain. So, Guadalupe decided to return to Turco and take charge.

Meanwhile, her husband and sons were still working in La Paz. “It was for me to go back to Turco on my own to take care of things here,” she says. “After so many years my parents had left the community to give their family a better life, I came back to do the same for mine: recuperate my family’s historical grazing rights and to contribute to my family from here.”

Guadalupe pauses for a photo while pounding charque. (IFAD Bolivia/ Juan Manuel Rada)

Once in Turco, Guadalupe made friends with some women who introduced her to producing charque – crushed and salt-dried llama meat, a staple in rural Andean communities. That’s how Guadalupe Moller became a member of the all-female Agroindustrial Producers Association Suma Kullakas Turco (ADEPASUT), devoted to llama meat products.

Guadalupe started with 120 llamas and alpacas – not a small amount – and was making charque by hand at first. But success didn’t come easily. “I would sell it here and there, but the money wasn’t really good,” she explains.

She and her colleagues were looking for a way to achieve higher prices – and they thought that, if she and her fellow ADEPASUT members worked together, success would soon come to all of them. But they needed a method that would accommodate the group members with young children, who often couldn’t get away from home regularly. So, instead of investing in a centralized processing plant, they decided to install charque-processing equipment in their homes.

The project Empoderar-Deti, a Ministry of Rural Development and Lands’ programme, provided the infrastructure they needed to get started. But there were further challenges to overcome: the equipment provided was very basic, and they still needed help with making their production more efficient, improving their product packaging, and marketing themselves. It was then that Pro-Camélidos came to the rescue. Thanks to its support, ADEPASUT was able to buy additional processing equipment.

A member of ADEPASUT uses the new processing machine to produce charque. (© IFAD Bolivia/ Juan Manuel Rada)

“The support of Pro-Camélidos was crucial for us. Before, we suffered when crushing the meat with hammers and stones. Our shoulders were bruised and we couldn't process a lot of meat because our arms would get too tired. With great effort, we would process 14 kilos of charque per day, and we would end up exhausted. With the new equipment, we work faster and we can mill and pack up to 35 kilos in a day - and much faster,” explains Guadalupe.

Pro-Camélidos also gave them training and advice on how to improve their packaging, create a brand and obtain a sanitary register. “We gained a lot of momentum thanks to Pro-Camélidos,” says Guadalupe, beaming with satisfaction.

Nowadays, ADEPASUT is a tight-knit group of 11 women of all different ages (the youngest is 29 and the oldest, Guadalupe, is 61). All of them are mothers, and many of them are single mothers. Although they have to work and raise their children at the same time, they have achieved their dream of making the production and sale of charque their main economic activity – and a profitable one at that. Most of their product is sold in the surrounding Oruro region, but they also take advantage of their family networks to “export” to La Paz and some other major Bolivian cities.

ADEPASUT members present their product’s new branding and packaging. (© IFAD Bolivia/ Juan Manuel Rada)

Guadalupe feels now empowered – and not just in economic terms. “Pro-Camélidos helped me to be more active. It gave me more strength to work and support myself financially. This business is mine; it’s no longer my husband's but my own. Now I know I won’t have to ask my children for help when I get older and I think I can even help them if they need it,” she says with great pride.

“It’s nice being here in Turco,” she continues. “Life in the city is very hard. We merchants have little profit margin and the work is very demanding. Here we have quality life. And, although I miss my children, I keep myself busy. Even my high blood pressure and diabetes got better because of the fresh air and the healthier food.”

For Guadalupe, going back to her roots has opened up more possibilities than she could have imagined.

Learn more about IFAD's work in Bolivia.