A letter from… Bolivia
I travel to the Amazon every six weeks, from the city of La Paz where I live, and it is always an adventure. For seven months of the year the roads are impassable and I travel by river in canoes accompanied by jumping pink river dolphins or in a four-seater plane that flies low over the tree tops. It’s certainly an interesting way to commute to work. When people think of Bolivia, the image that often comes to mind is of snowcapped mountains and llamas – but in fact, three-quarters of the country is covered in sweltering tropical forests and it is one of the 10 most biodiverse countries on the planet. The future of the Amazon, the world’s back garden, is intrinsically linked to the future of our planet and it is urgent that we confront the threats not only to nature but also to the hundreds of small indigenous communities who inhabit the forests and until recent years have lived in sustainable harmony with nature.
These are the people I work with. Through a local organisation called CIPCA, which is a partner for this year’s Christian Aid Week, we help local communities to process and sell the wild Amazonian cocoa that grows deep in the forests. This enables them to generate income from the forest without having chop down and sell the timber for cash or migrate to work on nearby exploitative plantations.
This year we finished construction of a factory in the town of San Ignacio de Moxos. Local youth are being trained up to operate the machinery and acquire business skills in order to understand and engage with the markets where we have identified a demand for this unique forest chocolate.
It’s a big challenge, but an exciting one. In partnership with Christian Aid and CIPCA, the communities have moved on from the hand-to-mouth existence which made them vulnerable to outside threats. They are now empowered through organised grassroots associations that represent their own political and economic interests and are earning income for nearly 1,800 families in a way that respects their way of life and their environment.
Christian Aid strives for a world where people can live in dignity and to their full potential. It’s a privilege to help link up communities in the Amazon with people in the UK and be part of a global movement for change.
One perk of the job is the pure chocolate paste I get to sample, now being produced by the new factory but no job is perfect – you should see the number of mosquito bites I have to contend with!
Emma Donlan is originally from Manchester, but has lived in Bolivia for 14 years with her Bolivian husband and two young children. She is the country manager for Christian Aid there.
This article was published in the June 2013 edition of Reform.