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Chocolate makes life sweeter for the women of Tucupi

Tucupi is about an hour out of Palos Blancos in Alto Beni, La Paz, Bolivia. Among its habitants are a group of women who have not stopped fighting for their dream of developing an association of women producers for their area. 

The Association of Women Entrepreneurs of Tucupí (AMET) was founded by 24 women who were keen to find ways to generate more income for their families. Carmen Apo, 37, President of this association contacted Practical Action to ask for help.

"At the first meeting with Practical Action's project manager, the ideas of this institution interested us, I called an association meeting and we said: Yes!"

Six years later, some members have left, but 15 of them have strengthened their resolve. They work hard to increase their income and also to lighten the load that the care of their “chacos” or productive plots represents, in addition to all the day to day tasks women have to do.

This work with AMET forms part of the 'Women and Forests' project implemented by Practical Action,in partnership with Christian Aid. Its aim is to create a model for the management of the production, harvesting, processing and sale of agroforestry crops such as cocoa and bananas, led by women. 

Turning dreams into reality

The association have a dryer using hybrid technology (solar and grid electricity) to dry the cacao. This improves its quality so that it fetches a higher price. The association uses quality standards set by the El Ceibo cooperative and the dryer helps to reach that standard.  As a result of this dehydration process they are able to increase the sale price of their cocoa and reduce their product losses, making a margin of profit to cover the cost of electricity.

This technological innovation makes the drying process faster and more uniform. The temperature can be kept constant to dehydrate the cocoa more quickly so that it does not lose its organoleptic quality and maintains food safety. This dryer halves the time it takes to dry the cacao, eliminating the risk of contamination by insects or small animals, as well as losses from defective drying and mould.

AMET are planning to offer this type of drying as a service to cocoa producers in their community and others nearby.  This income will pay their electricity bills and generate savings for the association.

Tucupí is a tropical zone with abundant fruit such as banana, pineapple and citrus, so AMET are also planning new products. 

"We have fruit that spoils because we can‘t sell it all, and we also want to take advantage of the dryer in that way. We want to diversify our post-harvest production and will start to test this, and we are considering producing a specific product line of dehydrated fruit with the brand AMET." said association member Rosalba Vargas during a national work shop organized by UN Women, on women, entrepreneurship and sustainable energy.

One challenge AMET has had with this project has been to encourage its members to be leaders and to express their opinions and ideas without shame or fear. 

"I want the women to be leaders, to be trained in leadership, that's why we have organized," admits Carmen and she is sure that women are gradually achieving this goal. This is the first legally recognised association of women that exists in their community. 

In Tucupí other women's associations are beginning to follow the example of AMET as a result of the image that this Association projects in the community and the incentive in which it has become for other ladies. They have demonstrated that effort, teamwork, and the support of their families brings great rewards.

Technical information

This dryer is composed of extractors for the humid air, through a process of dehumidification by contact with the thermo-ventilators. The air is fed back through a system that condenses the remaining moisture, optimising the use of energy.

Inside are two large metal tables on which the cacao is dried, and a panel that controls the operation of the dryer, to use electricity or sunlight and which is easily operated by members of the group.

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