Bolivia: How a market trader has become a precious ally to the World Food Programme

When drought hit Oruro department, WFP called market traders to the rescue

Lucy Vallejos Miranda has a deep look in her eyes and a warm, welcoming disposition. Born in Oruro, Bolivia, she has been in trade since she can remember; her mother was a market trader as well. Her experience taught her that working on a market does not just mean selling, it also means making your customers feel at home. Although it blends in with the others in one of the biggest markets of Oruro, hers is a fruit stall with a difference: Lucy is not just a greengrocer, but also an important ally of the World Food Programme (WFP).

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Lucy in her fruit stall (Photo: WFP/Katherine Coronado)

WFP enlisted Lucy’s help during an emergency intervention in Oruro in the second half of 2016. At the time, her native department was going through a critical situation of food insecurity, and everyone was urgently called in to help. The department had been hit by one of the heaviest droughts ever and, as a consequence, water sources had dried out. Nearly 22,000 livestock died and farmers could only harvest 30% of their crops. So, one could wonder: what part did Lucy play in responding to the emergency?

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Beneficiaries approaching Lucy’s fruit stall to exchange vouchers for fresh food (Photo: WFP/Mónica Viaña)

As the drought forced many families to resort to survival strategies which affected their intake of food and the quality of their nutrition, WFP stepped in with more than US$ one million to improve the food security situation of 8,000 families (about 40,000 people) through a vouchers-for-assets intervention.

Each family had to work to restore their water sources (shallow and deep wells, reservoirs and canals) and would receive in return nine vouchers (for an approximate value of US$ 130 dollars) that they could exchange for food.

For the families to use these vouchers, WFP needed allies. And this is where Lucy came in, making her stall available for the thousands of families that would need to exchange their vouchers.

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A vigiña (traditional water lake) restored during the intervention in Oruro (Photo: WFP/Edgar Garcia)

It was through Erika, a friend of hers and the owner of a small shop on a nearby street, that Lucy heard that WFP was selecting stores in Oruro to support the drought-stricken families.

Lucy likes a challenge and the innovative approach of the project appealed to her. “If you come to me with a challenge, I will accept it, even if I don’t know what it is about,” she says with a smile. “I enjoyed it and, on top of that, I got to learn many other things.”

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Edgar Garcia and Marcos Viscarra from the WFP office visit Lucy during a vouchers exchange day (Photo: WFP/Katherine Coronado)

After a while, Lucy managed to broaden the offer on her small fruit and vegetables stall, so that her customers could exchange their vouchers for a wider and more nutritious choice of foods.

Lucy had a different experience of the drought. Not only did she help affected families to have access to fresh fruit and vegetables, but she also benefited from the initiative herself.

Having 8,000 families as customers was not the only surprise in store for Lucy: on one of the voucher exchange days, she could recognize some familiar faces. Her father’s village, Koani, was included in the project, and the villagers, friends of her family, went to her stall to exchange their vouchers. “Some of the people I have served are very humble and this has been a blessing for them.”

“I’m very thankful because most of the municipalities around here are very poor and because thanks to WFP I’ve grown a lot as well. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to step forward and help so many people in need.”

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Mónica Viaña and Edgar García share moments with Lucy during vouchers exchange day (Photo: WFP/Katherine Coronado)

Learn more about WFP’s work in Bolivia

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Victor Hugo Vasquez, Departmental Governor of Oruro, and Elisabeth Faure, representative of WFP in Bolivia during the acknowledgement (Photo: WFP/Morelia Eróstegui)

On 15th August 2017, WFP representative in Bolivia Elisabeth Faure received from the Departmental Governor of Oruro, Víctor Hugo Vásquez, the “Sebastián Pagador” honour of merit award in acknowledgement of WFP’s support in the drought emergency.

Story by: WFP/Morelia Eróstegui
Interview: WFP/Katherine Coronado
Editing and support: WFP/Mónica Viaña, WFP/Patricia Durán, WFP/José Carlos Velasco

World Food Programme Insight

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