"That's the part of the education plan that
really interests me," Rooney said. "Taking the
resources people already have and saying,
'How can we get the most out of those?'"
Each weekday afternoon after finishing classes at the high school down the street, Yesenia and her classmates walk toward the cluster of small buildings that is CEAA: a brick, one-room schoolhouse with a small computer room off to the side; a white building the size of a two-car garage where the teachers live; an unfinished greenhouse the size of the free-throw lane on a basketball court; a grass lot surrounded by citrus trees that serves as a makeshift soccer field; and an empty field waiting to be worked.
Here, Rooney and others teach students to use different planting methods, to diversify their farms by raising bees, chickens or other animals and crops, and to find multiple uses for products — like turning tomatoes into ketchup.
Rooney said they also teach students about organic farming, but the technique is more about economics than the environmental implications of using chemicals.
"Pesticides and nonorganic fertilizers are expensive and compost is free," she said. "You make it from the rubbage that comes from your kitchen and the things that are lying around in your garden."
Rooney said the overall goal is to help the students learn how to make money on their families' lands.
"There's not much opportunity for young people in this area to continue in higher education," she said. "It's too expensive for most of their families, basically, and so they need to have other options, which will allow them to do more than be day laborers on other people's farms."
A big perspective
Not everyone agrees with CEAA and the government's approach to agriculture.
Mariano Aguilera Terraddelles is among those who disagree. Aguilera is a farmer, a cattle rancher and one of the largest landowners in Bolivia. Much of his land is in the Santa Cruz region. He makes a point of visiting each of his properties every day if he can. It's a gesture Aguilera's driver says his workers appreciate. However, Aguilera must fly between his properties in a private plane to visit them all.
Aguilera rose from humble beginnings to life as a prosperous landowner through hard work. He said he started working when he was 7 years old; by 13, he was taking care of his family. Today, he still lives and works with his seven siblings.
"My dad died when I was 10 years old. My mother worked in the countryside, and when I was 13 years old, my brother and I took charge of all the work," Aguilera said in Spanish.
As one of Bolivia's largest landowners, Aguilera isn't a fan of the agriculture ministry or its new minister.
"[The ministry] is people that do not have any capacity or skill, no professional training, even less authority and decision power," he said. "You can talk with them and you will get no answer. And they do not do anything if they do not ask [President] Evo [Morales] or [Vice President] Álvaro [Marcelo García] Linera first. I am not sure who is in charge."
Aguilera also disagrees with the government's push to return to traditional farming methods. He said it does not make sense to have farmers return to a method where it takes more workers and more time, when a machine could do the job quickly.
Refocused on small farmers
For more than 40 years, CIPCA has worked to achieve local power for Indigenous farmers.
"It is not only the production that matters," Cartagena said. "It is the empowerment of the farmers. There is a lot left to do so it is effective and we can have an equalitarian Bolivia, more democratic, just and multicultural."
Rodríguez said the government is aware of its responsibility to all cultures.
"Because this government is the first [plurinational] government, we want to help the small farmers first," she said. "It is like helping the little children. We want to take care of them."
Rodríguez said after helping the small farmers, the government would shift its focus to the medium-sized farmers and then large. She said large landowners would not be forgotten.
The government also must face the challenge of Bolivia's diverse geography. Bolivia encompasses parts of the Andes Mountain Range, high plains, tropics near the Amazon and lowland plains. What's suitable for farming in one region isn't necessarily suitable in another.
Rodríguez said the government discusses options with residents of each region. The government sends representatives to speak with town councils and people in the area or invites organizations and people from the communities to the ministry. Rodríguez said the purpose is to discuss political, social and economic production.
Aguilera, however, said he's never heard of such talks.
"I have never been to one, never been invited," he said.
While disagreements continue between the powerful and the political, students are in another world. Classes are over for the day. Yesenia and seven other students walk down a dirt path away from CEAA. They're not discussing farming, the conflict between large farmers and the government or environmental issues. They're kicking stones and teasing each other. For the few minutes between leaving school and starting on the dirt road toward home, Yesenia is just a teenager having fun with her friends, able to ignore the conflicts of her chosen profession.