Amazonian Cocoa - How Chocolate Is Improving the Lives of Bolivia's Indigenous Communities

17/10/2013 16:38 BST | Updated 23/01/2014 23:58 GMT

This week is Chocolate Week (14th-20th October), when people across the UK celebrate everything to do with the sugary indulgence.

Chocolate remains a household favourite in the UK today, with the average Brit eating approximately 8kg per year, and only five per cent of the population admitting to not enjoying the sweet treat within the past six months.

And it's not just in the UK where chocolate is loved. It is thanks to the global popularity of the confectionary that farmers here in Bolivia are benefitting from producing their own chocolate from the indigenous rainforest cocoa trees that have grown beside their homes for generations.

The forests of Bolivia are the richest areas in terms of natural resources and biodiversity, yet also one of the most unequal in terms of the rights and freedoms of excluded groups, such as indigenous, women and rural farming communities. These communities are not only having to adapt their way of life to cope with increased flooding and dry periods alike, they're also fighting to protect their land and homes from ever-present loggers and cattle ranchers that want to clear the forests for grazing land.

Christian Aid partner CIPCA works with Moxeño and Trinitario indigenous communities here, deep in the Amazonian rainforest, to support them to make the most of the native cocoa trees that grow around them. One woman I've got to know very well through their work is Orlanda Chimo, who lives in her small grass-roofed house in the beautiful, small forest community of Santa Rosa and gathers forest plants, fruits and nuts to feed her family and earn a small income. In the past, Orlanda used to collect the wild cocoa, selling it to middle-men sent out into the communities by factories, who used to cheat the indigenous producers, offering little money for their produce and making huge profit back at the factory.

But, thanks to the support of CIPCA, Orlanda - along with her fellow local cocoa producers - has formed a cooperative and in April they installed their own chocolate factory where machines turn their cocoa pods into bars of cooking chocolate, with or without sugar, for which they're paid a fair price. Hundreds of bars are now being sold in nearby cities and this indigenous-owned enterprise offers an opportunity for these historically exploited communities to thrive, moving away from living hand to mouth. In the past these small communities were seen simply as hunter - gatherers with little interaction with local markets, but now they are recognised as being key players in the economic development of their Amazonian region, producing in a sustainable and ecological way.

Orlanda's community is surrounded by a winding river and is very vulnerable to flooding, which is exacerbated by increasingly erratic weather patterns. However, they've learned that cocoa's particularly resistant to flooding, as it grows high up in the trees, out of reach from the rising waters than can wipe out other traditional crops. Families have also been supported to set up nurseries to grow their own saplings and taught how to grow and maintain the young trees - such a simple idea, but one that will change their lives so much.

This cocoa that grows wildly among the forest trees has a very unique aroma and taste that is in high demand from chocolate connoisseurs, and this means that the forests where wild cocoa can be found are consequently now more valued and less vulnerable to deforestation.

And as a result of the chocolate sales, family income has increased by nearly 20 per cent over recent years, and Orlanda can use her earnings to buy things the forest can't provide, such as school books for her five children.

I was there to witness the first tasting of the processed chocolate when the factory was opened. It was wonderful to see the indigenous producers and their families enjoy chocolate fountains, cakes and biscuits coated with their own chocolate.

Now, the producers in Mojos have joined forces with other communities from across southern Bolivia, forming a regional association called ABP Cacao (la Associación Beniana de Productores de Cacao del Beni), that has succeeded in lobbying for a law to protect forests where wild chocolate can be found.

The indigenous people of Bolivia have enjoyed the rich and soothing flavour of cocoa for generations, and now they are able to share this with chocolate lovers beyond the forests. For these consumers of Amazonico Chocolate, as their new brand is called, they can be assured that what they are consuming not only tastes delicious, but it's helping to protect the Amazonian forest and giving over 300 families the chance to feed, educate and support their families. Soon, they hope to sell their chocolate across Latin America, maybe even further in the future, such as the UK!

To find out more about Christian Aid's work in Bolivia visit