Indigenous women living in the Guarayos and Chiquitano Territories of Bolivia grow and
harvest cusi, a fruit that grows on tall palm trees. Some of the women in the territories have
joined together to form women’s cooperatives where they work together to harvest and process
cusi. Forming a cooperative allows for shared benefits while reducing workload on individuals
since multiple people are working towards one goal. The non-timber forest products (NTFP) that
are made from cusi, also known as babassu, include: oil, soap, shampoo, creams and many
others. Harvesting and selling the products that come from cusi is a source of income for the
women and helps empower them socially and economically. Their business also helps to
conserve the forest since harvesting and growing cusi is done without cutting trees down and is
another way to prove “productive use” of land, a requirement to maintain land tenure in Bolivia.
An important part of Guarayos cultural identity, the cusi palm is linked to ancestral practices as
Mrs Arminda Uranungar President of ASORECU mentions, “ The cusi is a raw material that
nature gives us and we do not have to buy it, with the sale of cusi oil our grandmothers have
raised our mothers and they to us, we also want it to continue being a source of income for our
current families” (Martinez).
This project is focused on helping to connect women’s cooperatives in Bolivia to
potential buyers.The goal is to empower indigenous women, provide them with fair market price
for their products and labor, and help mitigate deforestation by supporting them and their
business. I am working with several students from Students for Indigenous Rights and
Environmental Justice (SIREJ) and CIPCA. SIREJ is a student organization formed by
several students that went on a service learning study abroad program in Bolivia in the summer
of 2019. They had visited and worked on projects in the Guarayos and Chiquitano/Monkoxi Territories and had wished to continue working with the indigenous communities remotely. All SIREJ members are volunteers and donate time and resources to complete projects prioritized by indigenous communities. Centro de Investigacion y Promocion del Campesinado (CIPCA) is a non-governmental organization (NGO) that helps the women’s cooperatives with training, selling, and acquiring needed support to operate their business.
This post is derived from the report below. The report was prepared in December of 2019.
If you'd like to read more you can download the report below. The report discusses cusi and the women that make it. It also provides contact info for those wanting to learn more about buying the cusi and copaibo oil.
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Rose Poton (she/her) is a compassionate and creative Conflict and Dispute Resolution professional that enjoys working on issues involving the health and well-being of all people and environments while applying a community-centered and environmental justice lens.