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BOLIVIA: Businesses Take On the Green Challenge

Bernarda Claure* - Tierramérica

LA PAZ, Aug 20 2008 (IPS) - What do Bolivia’s largest textile mill, an organic cacao cooperative and an indigenous-run tourist hostel in the Amazon have in common? The answer lies in the path, shaky but inspiring, that they are all taking towards sustainable production.

Worker and textile machine at an Ametex factory.  Credit: Bernarda Claure

Worker and textile machine at an Ametex factory. Credit: Bernarda Claure

In the factories of the Bolivian corporation América Textil S.A. (Ametex), even the light switches invite you to “Save Energy”.

The company says it is committed to optimising its production processes, reducing pollutants, saving resources and recycling inputs and materials.

Based in La Paz, Ametex is Bolivia’s largest textile factory. More than 3,000 workers produce 150 to 190 tons of textiles per month – 85 percent of it for the U.S. market.

All of its factories are oriented towards sustainable production, in compliance with the Environment Act.

But in addition, Ametex has its own regulatory framework, the Manual on the Environment, with compliance supervised by its department for the environment, industrial safety and occupational health.

The corporation is involved in the entire chain of production, save the cultivation of the raw material, cotton.

Hilasa, a factory that processes the cotton to produce thread, has a recycling system that makes use of even the shortest fibres, Marcelo Gorriti, chief of the environmental department, told Tierramérica.

At Universaltex, dedicated to knits and finishing of cotton fabrics, an automatic machine for chemicals and dyes was installed that saves on inputs. “We work with 100 percent organic dyes,” said Gorriti.

Other factories run by the corporation, involved in garment confection and exports, are Matex and Mex, which have experimented with reutilising water in their air-conditioning systems.

Scraps of fabric from cutting and confection are also re-used. They go to the Seltex factory, which uses them as raw material for the approximately 80,000 bedspreads it produces monthly.

These processes are the result of an investment that the corporation does not discuss, but which is evident in the machinery. There is the Goler system, which optimises water usage, fuel and chemicals, and reduces the volume of polluting emissions. And there is the application of EP3 technologies (Environmental Pollution Prevention Project), to curb energy consumption.

EP3 is a technology transfer programme of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), initially implemented in Bolivia by the National Chamber of Industries.


The organic cacao cooperative El Ceibo offers a variety of products made from this ancestral product of the Americas, cultivated with no more intervention than the human hand, water and soil.

El Ceibo created the Agro-ecology and Forestry Implementation Programme (PIAF) in order to take care of the environment, the president of the company’s administrative council, Mario Choque, told Tierramérica.

PIAF aims to avoid soil degradation and ensure the high biological quality of the raw material. It also promotes values such as respect for life, equality, solidarity and colleague support as fundamental for developing the potential of the producers.

El Ceibo began operations in 1977 with 12 small-farming families. Now it has some 800 families in the Alto Beni and Yungas regions in the western province of La Paz.

The cooperative takes pride in exporting 500 tons of organic cacao and products like chocolate-covered sweets and energy bars to Germany, New Zealand, Switzerland and Japan.

El Ceibo drove the creation of the National Committee of Cacao Producers, with members from several of the country’s provinces. Together they hope to inculcate the values of sustainable production.

“In the 1960s and 1970s, cacao production associations were subject to exploitation by chocolate trade intermediaries. The producers depended on them, on whatever price they wanted to pay, whatever treatment they wanted to give,” says Choque.

Today, the families involved in El Ceibo are in charge of sustainable production, starting with planting, and on through the harvest, fermentation, drying and delivery to the cooperative, and including pruning and pest control.


In San José de Uchupiamonas, in the Bolivian Amazon, ecotourism has an indigenous face. The Josesanos, of the Quechua-Tacana people, have found an economic vein that is richer than petroleum. They have built the Chalalán Ecological Hostel on the shores of the lagoon of the same name.

Each year, more than 1,000 tourists visit this “island” in the middle of a sea of vegetation in Madidi National Park, which is home to 1,000 species of birds, 6,000 types of plants, 300 kinds of mammals and at least 200 species of amphibians.

The visitors are attracted by the adventure of a five-hour boat trip on the Beni and Tuichi rivers that brings them to the hostel, where they stay in bamboo and palm cabins.

The company, which is incorporated, was promoted in the 1990s as an alternative source of income for 100 local families that were otherwise dedicated to hunting and logging. At the time, most young people thought only of moving to the city.

Taking the name from the Chalalán lagoon, the founders invested all of their savings and effort in the project, with the aim of equitably distributing the shares among local families and institutions.

The ecotourism package includes lodging, with a capacity of 24 beds, in the middle of the Madidi (Bolivia’s most biodiverse protected area), bilingual guides, transportation, and meals made from food produced by the local community.

The initiative improved the incomes of the families involved, as well as their access to education and to official documentation of their landownership, Guido Mamani, one of the founders, told Tierramérica.

Other benefits were the installation of water, sanitation and telephone systems in each household; solar panels and computers for the school; expansion of formal secondary-level education; and the outfitting of a health centre.

(*Originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network. Tierramérica is a specialised news service produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Environment Programme and the World Bank.)

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