Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in South America where hunger and food security are ongoing challenges. Recurring floods and droughts caused by climate change make the country even more vulnerable to food insecurity. In 2020, the global health crisis has exposed the fragility of food supply chains, particularly of small-scale systems. Measures to contain the spread of Covid-19 restricted farmers’ mobility and their product distribution as smallholders do not have formal logistics in place to collect and transport their products. On the one hand, family farming provides around 48% of food products to main urban areas, so any restriction to the distribution of food directly threatens food supply. On the other hand, rural areas experienced a shortage of processed products. Therefore, to balance out the food needs in line with the health requirements, a system was needed that showed reliable details on food supply in a timely manner.
Prior to the pandemic, the Ministry of Rural Development and Lands had - through its Agro-Environmental and Productive Observatory (OAP) - a system containing data on agricultural supply but the information now needed to be broken down into a municipal level and updated more frequently. Added to this was the requirement that the information had to be available immediately, so that any response actions were timely. To provide reliable information on the supply and demand of agricultural products on a weekly basis, the Ministry of Rural Development and Lands developed an automated digital system that took advantage of the increasingly accessible internet and mobile web applications.
The municipalities were able to register their supply and demand of prioritised agricultural products on the Food Supply Monitoring System (Sistema de Monitoreo al Abastecimiento Alimentario, SISMA). The digital platform recorded periodic supply reports and consolidated information on the supply and demand of the registered products. It also included interactive maps, statistical data in the form of dashboards showing supply and demand and logistical information such as contact information related to the supply system in Bolivia. This allowed the Ministry to plan response actions in municipalities that reported shortages. Initially, the Ministry managed the platform with support from the Inclusive Markets project team. This included registering and completing reports of the Municipal Risk Management Units. Users can generate reports by product and region showing the available fresh and dry foods in their municipalities.
Already during the first few months, the platform saw a big reaction from officials: technicians from 201 of the 339 municipalities (59%) and from all over the country registered on the system. As the initial shock of the health emergency subsided and the pandemic continues, the platform will be moved from a temporary set-up to be permanently integrated into an official structure of the Ministry so that potential food shortages can be managed in the future. It has been agreed that the Agro-Environmental and Productive Observatory (OAP) take over the platform management. Marin Ruiz, Agricultural Engineer and Director of the Agricultural Health and Food Safety Unit of the Ministry, said that it is imperative to ensure that the different municipalities provide updated information on supply and demand, so that the platform can be updated in "real-time". In his opinion, the tool is a basis on which a system needs to be built to move forward from a temporary solution. The challenge is for all actors in the food systems to continuously update their data on production volume and cycles as well as crop area so that mathematical models can be applied to better forecast and manage bottlenecks in the food supply, among others.
This example shows that developing virtual systems as a response to food security issues is crucial and viable. As more and more people have access to digital devices and the system is kept updated, it will be possible to respond in innovative ways to new problems and increasingly uncertain conditions.
This initiative was supported by the Inclusive Markets project which Swisscontact implements in Bolivia and which is financed by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA).