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Gretchen Hernandez and Indigenous Entrepreneurship

When Gretchen Hernandez, a PhD Candidate in Geography, began searching for case studies of social economy in indigenous communities, she found two very interesting examples in rural Bolivia. Churicana and Tomina are two Quechua communities located in central Bolivia. Members of both communities have successfully established co-operatives that allow them to maintain many of their traditional ways of life while strengthening their economic development.

In Churicana, 20 families have organised themselves into an Artisan Co-operative that produces and sells beautiful crafts made from hand-woven cloth with traditional designs. Products such as wall hangings, clothing, and earrings are sold once a week in the nearby town of Tarabuco, with profits going directly to the individual artisans. The income generated is not as high as cooperative members would like, but they are pleased that the initiative has allowed 20 young people to stay in the community instead of migrating in search of work, and are excited about beginning to sell in an art gallery built by the municipal government.

Similarly, 1000 families in Tomina are now part of an oregano co-operative that was started up with support from a Quebec NGO and with funding from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). Scientific research conducted by the NGO has created a very high quality oregano plant and appropriate technology for the region. Cooperative members only need to allocate 10% of their land to growing oregano, leaving space for food production. The oregano is considered the highest quality produced in South America, and the food company Knorr, based in Brazil, buys all the oregano the families can produce. Participating farmers are extremely happy with this crop, as it provides them with a cash income to send their children to school, and makes staying in rural areas viable.

These are two examples of how indigenous entrepreneurship often uses a collective approach to business, to create both social and economic benefits. For more information on Gretchen and her research on indigenous economies, please click here.

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