Our first trip to Bolivia was in Dec 2008. I went with my wife and son to visit our daughter who was helping at the school. There were many things happening all at once and it was interesting for me to take it all in. Having been a farmer all my life drew me to the agriculture side of things. As we spent three weeks there on this first trip it gave me some time to observe how things were done in Bolivia.
Starting a new mission brings opportunities and challenges along the way. One of the problems we discussed was the need for families to make a living at the mission. As the families have more and more contact with the mission they end up being put into the ban. On a temporal side this means they can no longer buy or sell in the colony. Family and friends will break off contact and they are left to fend on there own. For the very poor it usually means not being able to provide for there families. For this reason the mission has built homes and tried to provide employment for them.
In the colonies most of the farmers milk cows and sell milk and cheese. They also raise the feed for the animals and run some equipment to till the fields. Since the farmers have this dairy knowledge it was decided that a dairy should be set up.
The dairies are set up as individual units. Each farmer has there own livestock and yard. Some of the farmers come with a small number of cows. Most do not have enough cows to make it viable so the mission helps with a few more so the family can sustain itself. The cows are loaned to the farmers under the condition that they are well looked after. The milk from all the farms is weighed and then sold as a pooled amount. The mission receives the money from the sales and keeps back enough to pay for the feed and a percentage goes to pay off the cows. The percentage varies according to what the farmer and the mission feels is a sustainable payment. The rest the families use for living. Once the cows are paid for in full the farmer gets full ownership of the cows.
Small portable mini barns were built to keep the cows out of the rain during milking. They are open on three sides to allow the breeze through, in there warm summer time. They have long overhangs on the eaves to shed the heavy rains and keep the water from running back into the barn. They were built portable so they could easily be moved to a farmer who wants to start in the program. If the farmer chooses to discontinue with the dairy it can be moved to the next yard.
Our second trip to the country was in March 2009. We spent five weeks on this trip. We traveled around touring dairies and attending a farm show to learn what was being done in this country. We also felt it was important to contact some milk markets and develop a marketing plan. The milk is now being sold to a cheese plant. On weekends or holidays the plant doesn’t take the milk so cheese is made at the mission by one of the farmers. The cheese is sold in town to some of the many small shops who keep it on there shelves to be sold with there other products to consumers. After this initial work was done the first two dairies were started.
Our third trip was in Jan 2010. This was a three week trip and the goal was to access how things were going and to see if changes were needed. Things had progressed well to this point and it was very encouraging to see the progress. By this time there were four dairies in operation. A number of young animals were purchased as well so there will be more cows available in the coming year. If new families wanted to start milking or existing ones need a few more animals the possibilities exist. At this point things are going quite well with the dairies. Markets for the milk and cheese needed some attention but the Lord helped us to deal with these issues.
We were very blessed to be involved in this project and thank the Lord for all his goodness. He blessed us with the health and strength in this time. Often we called out for wisdom to do his work and he answered our prayers and reminded us of this verse:
If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.
I would like to thank all who are praying for the mission. We serve a powerful God and he can give victory over the spiritual darkness in Bolivia.
Lorne Semler, Barrhead, Alberta, Canada