Growing a successful business in Bolivia: Indigenous women entrepreneurs turning plants into profits


Three women smiling

For generations, Felicidad’s ancestors have used local wild plants to nourish and heal. Now, these ancient ways are ushering in a new future for her and other Indigenous women in Bolivia.

With the support of Cuso International volunteers, Felicidad is turning her botanical production into a profitable business by learning how to market and sell everything from medicinal tinctures to shampoos.  

Felicidad is a member of APAMA (Asociación de Pequeñas Productoras Agropecuarias y Artesanales del Municipio de Alcalá), an Indigenous women’s co-operative focused on the production of traditional medicine.

Located in the rural village of Alcalá, the association has been a source of skill development and leadership training for women in the rural area since its formation more than 15 years ago.

Through the co-op, the women learn from one another and provide support to each other to expand their sales, maximize plant production and improve their overall business skills.  

“The association is important to all the women for different reasons but the main reason, even more so than any economic benefits, is the social aspect,” says Cuso International volunteer Chelsey Berendse, a Canadian clinical herbalist. “The women look forward to meeting once a month where they laugh, chat and harvest the plants together.”

Chelsey, a Winnipeg native, was joined by Christina Tellez, of Halifax. As Cuso volunteers, Chelsey worked as a medicinal plant extraction advisor, while Christina filled the role of entrepreneurship advisor.

I’ve seen first-hand how, with just a little bit of help, these women are flourishing,” says Christina. “They are determined to create better lives for themselves and their families. They get up before the sun to start cooking and cleaning. They are responsible for childcare, gardening and tending the livestock. Yet they still walk hours to get to the co-op. 

The women make tinctures with chamomile and propolis. They make ointments for joint pain and congested lungs, medicinal mouthwash and sprays. They count a pharmaceutical company among their clients. And they involve their daughters in the entire process, ensuring the younger generation will have incomes and independence. 

They persist in the advancement of their association and take pride in what they are able to accomplish together, says Christina. “The women of APAMA are giving it their all.” 

Cuso International has been sending volunteers to Bolivia since 1965 and has matched more than 500 volunteers with local partner organizations across the country. You can help us continue to ensure more women like Felicidad and organizations like APAMA have access to the skills they need to grow and thriveFind out how here.