The 120 families that make up Callamarca mostly farm, cultivating potatoes, beans and grains. For over a decade, community members also have been selling milk to a state company in order to make a living.
But that changed when the company was bought by a Peruvian division of Nestle. Nestle will no longer buy their milk unless community members increase the quantity of production, and follow new quality regulations. The community also has to get some expensive new equipment – a milking station and cooling tank.
The people of Callamarca are now forced to come to terms with the demands of a profit-intensive and competitive market.
To help with the transition, 30 families turned to a Bolivian non-governmental organization (NGO) financed by Oxfam-Quebec.
The NGO offers educational workshops to improve milk production and reinforce women’s participation. The NGO assists the community in fulfilling the requirements imposed by Nestle in a way that “respects and strengthens” their cultural autonomy.
But there are still problems. Community leader Sallu Juan Quichora said lots of people are getting turned down when they for loans.
“Most people didn’t enter the credit program because they don’t have the documents required; a lot of people are rejected. People loose confidence (in the program) and we don’t get financial help,” he said.
“The milk producers are discouraged – the cost is too much. Maybe we won’t succeed in milk production.”
And those who do succeed in getting loans are worried about getting caught in an endless cycle of debt.
Secundino Mamani is a 17 year-old whose family owns four cows. He gets up at 4:30 a.m. every morning to milk the cows, which produce 10 litres a day. His mother used to produce two litres of milk a day.
It means more money for Secundino’s family, but they are still hating a hard time financing the new milking station. “This year we failed. We might have to sell our cows,” he said.
As one Oxfam worker said, “If one wants to play the game of capitalism you have to play it right.”
Some indigenous leaders warn that self-government will be jeopardized if traditional communal economic bonds are replaced by market capitalism.
“The excesses of modem and developed society are leading us toward the total destruction of our planet. The market dictates our lives,” said Felipe Quispe, a well-known leader of the Aymara indigenous people.
“Other people continue to decide the destiny of the First Peoples – like those who tell us to get development credits in order to buy technology and commercialize for international markets. And because the technical and administrative assistance is done by professionals who identify and sympathize with our cause, many are influenced in believing it is the only way we can progress.”