This grain could free Bolivia from Butch Cassidy

Share
Related Topics
What did I know about Bolivia before I went this week? What Hollywood told me: that it took the entire Bolivian army to hunt down Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Actually it was just a handful of soldiers who finished off the American outlaws. Gordon and I are in Bolivia at the invitation of the Bolivian ambassador to the UK, who wants us to see if there are any small-scale economic initiatives we can come up with as an alternative to the coca-growing that is consuming Latin America's agriculture. Our visit coincides with a general election. A successful rural revolt in the 1950s meant Bolivia has had a better stab at democracy than many of its neighbours. There are elections every five years. The front-runner for president this time appears to be an ex-dictator, a strangely popular choice, but the consensus is that he will be a necessary balance to some of the country's over-zealous reformers.

And if he doesn't work out? Bolivia has a fiercely pragmatic attitude to its leaders. The presidency once changed hands seven times in one year. While our friend was taking us round the Presidential Suite, he indicated the spots where presidents past had met their makers, including one who was defenestrated. Straight out the window.

The capital, La Paz, teems. It reminds me of Kathmandu. Everyone is trading on the street. The city is a good base for trips to Lake Titicaca, an enormous expanse of glassy blue water whose utter stillness and suggestion of untold depths do a lot to explain its mythic status. The Bolivians say they've got the Titi. The Caca is on the Peruvian side - where the pollution is.

Here the Jesuit-led church is activist. It defends the poor and speaks out for social justice. And the people it speaks out for most are rural workers, the people who may very well be growing the food of the future. It's called quinua, a cous-cous-like grain which has been eaten locally for 5,000 years. Packed with amino acids and vitamins, it has attracted the attention of big American companies. I have a feeling quinua is about to become fashionable in the West, which would give Bolivia a chance to backseat Butch and the Kid in the global consciousness.

IN MY teens and early twenties, I never thought twice about hitchhiking anywhere. Youth is fearless. I thumbed round the Middle East, trusting to a pepper-pot to protect me if rides turned over-zealous. For years I wouldn't hesitate to pick up hitchers. But the other day I drove past two, which made me brood on how, with time, I've learned to be afraid. I feel shamed by that fear, and sad for the world that feeds it. The Wodaabe in Africa measure themselves by how they greet strangers. Arabs, and Muslims in general, believe that offering hospitality to strangers is the supreme act of love and courage. Now I come across an exhortation in YES!, my favourite new American magazine, to "Put up a stranger". It's third on a list of 37 ways the magazine recommends to become part of "the co-operative gift economy", which is all about doing favours for friends, neighbours, colleagues and, yes, even strangers. Suggestions range from buying food or supplies in bulk and sharing with friends to starting a community currency or skills exchange in your neighbourhood.

YES! calls itself "a journal of positive futures". Chairman of its board of directors is David Korten, who has nailed global corporations as "the most powerful instrument for concentrating power and wealth ever devised". They are one reason why the magazine's editor, Sarah van Gelder, makes a distinction between optimism and hope. While she sees few grounds for the former in global problems such as poverty, over-population and corporate greed, she feels there is plenty of room for the latter in imaginative individual responses which are "creating the DNA for a new civilisation". It's the perfect antidote to fear, because we're talking about evolution - or, at the very least, making the world a better place for hitchhikers.

A FEW years ago, The Body Shop fought and won a High Court case to protect its reputation against the allegations of a television programme, so I know exactly how Philip Barker is feeling now. He ran Christian Aid in Paddington for years. Yet he somehow ended up painted by a BBC documentary as an unscrupulous "Mayfair businessman" making money off the misery of Aids patients. In 1989, Barker was brought in by the directors of a pathology company that was promoting an Aids therapy called adoptive immunotherapy. The therapy's originator, a consultant haematologist named Dr James Sharp, was claiming great results, and Barker still believes he was sincere. But Sharp was charging large amounts of money, which led to questions from other doctors and journalists. Barker recommended Sharp's dismissal and put a stop to the treatment. (Sharp was later struck off the Medical Register.) Barker made fundamental changes to the company's modus operandi, but by then a "scoop" was brewing. The NHS was under threat of privatisation at the time. The story played like a cautionary tale of the private sector's lack of morals, where health care, even in life-and-death cases, could surrender to the profit principle.

Unfortunately, Philip Barker bore the brunt of the television "expose", even though he had cleaned house at the company. He sued the BBC and the New Statesman, where the story appeared in print, for malicious falsehood. The BBC succeeded in having the case dismissed on the grounds that malice wasn't proved. The Court of Appeal, however, has allowed him another hearing, which is scheduled for October. He remains confident, despite the horrendous physical and financial toll of the past few years, that he will be vindicated. Vindication in such cases rarely receives as much publicity as the initial vilification, but I doubt Philip Barker will be losing sleep over that.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: Hang on – that’s not how it’s supposed to be written

Guy Keleny
Rafael Nadal is down and out, beaten by Dustin Brown at Wimbledon – but an era is not thereby ended  

Sad as it is, Rafael Nadal's decline does not mark the end of tennis's golden era

Tom Peck
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test