Gonzalo Osio Ressini
This profile was prepared when Gonzalo Osio Ressini was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1998.
The New Idea
A farmer himself, Gonzalo Osio has recognized the difficulties faced by small producers throughout Bolivia in trying to earn a living beyond mere subsistence. He first saw an opportunity in his community to gather farmers together to discuss alternative forms of production and specialization in specific new crops. Gonzalo has spent the better part of his life working on the same land as his fellow farmers, and now uses his experience and knowledge of their circumstances to organize the farmers to create community-specific solutions. Unlike other agriculture projects and institutions that conduct their work in isolation, Gonzalo's idea integrates the areas of credit, technical assistance, training, and marketing under one umbrella organization, in small localities throughout the country. With the groups that he has established, he also concentrates on the long term, as opposed to frequently promoted short-term solutions. While there have been many technical assistance programs geared towards working with farmers, the "experts" typically come from outside the country and try to impose fixed solutions, without considering the cultural and socio-economic factors affecting Bolivian agricultural workers. Previous small, non-integrated projects have failed and wasted resources, leaving farmers frustrated and hopeless. Many rural organizations have been created to deal with issues of health and education, and are usually born of some emergency or short-term issue. When it comes to issues of productivity, however, the farmers tend to be very individualistic, and hesitate to work collectively to solve the challenges of improved productivity and joint marketing. Gonzalo's understanding of the individualist nature of the small farmer affords him credibility as he convinces farmers of the importance of working cooperatively on certain tasks to increase the value of their products and negotiate for their development interests. He is acutely aware of the need to factor in marketing trends to ensure that a demand exists for the products they can harvest, given the characteristics of their land. Though he works with small communities, his plan holds potential for broader reach. On the one hand, he is creating a replicable model to bring farmers to work together and analyze their collective situation. On the other, the solutions that these organizations create to deal with their community-specific issues will be unique in each region.