In 1998, Ayllus Originarios de Quila Quila (Quila Quila) applied to the IAF for funding to build lodgings, a restaurant and a thermal bath area catering to tourists visiting the world’s largest concentration of dinosaur tracks, located in the outskirts of Sucre, Bolivia. An ayllu is a traditional indigenous Andean community with its own administrative council. Quila Quila planned to train residents of its member ayllus as tour guides and specialized laborers who would work on archeological sites or on salt flats, extracting and processing gypsum and salt to sell in Sucre and to Fábrica Nacional de Cemento S.A. (FANCESA), the local cement plant owned by the municipality of Sucre, St. Xavier University and a Bolivian politician. These community enterprises were expected to benefit more than 1,600 families in the indigenous territories managed by Quila Quila.
In 1999, the IAF awarded Quila Quila $160,090 to be disbursed over three years, which was later increased to total $244,515 disbursed over six years. Quila Quila’s counterpart commitment of $52,418 grew to $73,374 by the end of the project and it also mobilized $126,546 from other sources.
At the time of the award, the IAF’s program in Bolivia was focused on indigenous communities, especially those with traditional authority structures or with strong indigenous leadership involved in activities. Quila Quila’s proposal was interesting because the project was to be managed by and for the residents of the ayllus. Members were trying to restore traditional ways of administering indigenous territories and needed to be able to interact with external parties, such as FANCESA, which wanted to promote tourism and extract natural resources. The IAF anticipated that its support would give Quila Quila a role in the development of a lucrative tourist attraction and management of resources.
In 2011, almost six years after the IAF funding ceased, an evaluator visited the former grantee to assess the impact of IAF-funded activities on the ayllus, the residents and other Bolivians in the area. Among the noteworthy findings are the following:
- Tourism has not been exploited by Quila Quila members as a source of income. Quila Quila never approached tour operators about including local attractions and facilities as part of any circuit and did not promote its facilities or services.
- The rehabilitation and expansion of the thermal bath infrastructure did not take place because the soil was left unstable as a result of a landslide. Quila Quila feared any work to improve the site could have resulted in further damage and possible loss of the area’s hot spring.
- The grantee had planned 10 lodges along the tourist route and built 12, but none ever accommodated tourists. Some lodges have been abandoned; others have been used for storage or to house students from a local school.
- A restaurant was built in the community of Niñu Mayu but was later abandoned.
- Of the 44 individuals trained to work as guides, security guards, and in paleontology, only one has ever been employed in any of these fields. He occasionally works as a guide.
- No community enterprises were formed to extract, process or sell gypsum and salt. The machinery bought for those activities is rapidly deteriorating from lack of use.
- The grantee completed six studies of the geological and archeological characteristics of the territory but never developed a plan to manage and protect the historical sites.
Another component of the project called for developing terraces and irrigation to improve agricultural production. The grantee terraced 19 of the 20 hectares originally projected and installed eight micro-irrigation systems. The evaluation confirmed that farmers had increased the productivity of fields planted with corn, potatoes and wheat. Quila Quila also created two nurseries that produced 35,000 seedlings. The nurseries are no longer operational, but the seedlings planted almost 10 years ago to reforest more than 25 hectares have grown into trees that benefit the communities.
Rather than exploit tourism or minerals, Quila Quila instead focused on developing its member communities as ayllus, creating new ayllus and organizing these units into a Qhara Qhara Suyu, or Indigenous Nation, the authority over the cultural and natural resources of the territory.
When Quila Quila asked the municipal government, a co-owner of FANCESA, to repair a road that led to the salt flats and assist with cleaning the thermal bath, the authorities turned down the requests. The rejection motivated Quila Quila to organize other indigenous groups, whose ancestral territories were also rich in natural resources. Members of the ayllus considered themselves better off as a result of IAF-funded activities, citing as a major accomplishment the reconstitution of six ayllus who are advocating for complete control over their ancestral territories. They are proud of their role in organizing other markas, or townships, and the Qhara Qhara Suyu, which sent representatives to the assembly that drafted the provisions on indigenous rights and territorial control in the new Bolivian Constitution.
In addition to working to secure territorial autonomy, Quila Quila also wanted to assure these rights for generations to come through education. Quila Quila provided stipends for students to pursue their studies in secondary school and university in Sucre. As many of the students did not return to the ayllus after graduation, Quila Quila converted one of the new tourist lodges into a secondary school in the community of Punkurani. During the last year of Quila Quila’s IAF funding, the school began using a curriculum that included both an Andean focus and traditional Western subjects. Quila Quila’s openness to working with other organizations resulted in an agreement with a local university to accept graduates from its secondary school although their education differs from the official Bolivian model. In 2010, the government certified the school’s intercultural, multilingual model; the first in the country.
Quila Quila and the residents of the ayllus consider the IAF-funded project highly successful. Collective efforts to preserve indigenous culture, rights and resources attracted many to its cause, including entire markas, which has led to greater bargaining power with municipal authorities.
The enterprises envisioned were supposed to create new sources of income. As they never materialized, Quila Quila depends on external donors, such as the Fund for the Development of Indigenous Peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean (the Indigenous Fund), to sustain its work toward the reconstitution of ayllus.
Of all the economic activities planned, only the terracing and the micro-irrigation systems lands were successful. Working together was the norm for these farmers. They were receptive to techniques to increase production for all.
Residents hailed the reconstitution of the six ayllus, the organization of the markas and the creation of their Qhara Qhara Suyu as evidence of the success of this project.
What did not work?
Only the two above-referenced economic activities got off the ground. Otherwise ayllu authorities redirected emphasized the reconstitution of their traditional governing system.
The proposal that Quila Quila submitted to the IAF included the ayllus’ interest in indigenous rights and access to ancestral lands. The agreement between the IAF and Quila Quila describes the project as mainly economic, with community enterprises as its centerpiece, although it notes Quila Quila’s other interest, which ultimately became the priority. The economic component collapsed and with it, the most likely source of future sustainability.
It is difficult after all these years to determine whether Quila Quila members simply lost interest in the economic component or whether it was only included in the proposal to please the potential donors. The IAF routinely allows grantees to adapt their objectives to changing conditions in their communities but missed that opportunity in this case. From their perspective, residents of the ayllus seem very pleased with their accomplishments and continue to forge ahead.