The Chalalán Effect and Community-based SEM, Bolivia
Chalalán Ecolodge is a community business offering a wide array of programs and activities for enjoyment and in-depth learning about the rainforest, under the guidance of local indigenous people. The Chalalán Company comprises 74 families, 42 the direct beneficiaries of the company’s earnings. Located inside the Madidi National Park and having a 28-bed capacity, the lodge represents a new community business model that, since inception, has integrated environmental issues into design and operation. Adopting the indigenous building style with use of locally available materials, the hostel has a sewage management system that uses natural processes; also, a large portion of electricity used is generated by solar panels, minimizing the use of fossil fuels. Trails and supporting facilities have been carefully designed, based on studies of the biota in the area; trips are conducted in groups of up to six people, with guides monitoring the status of biodiversity in the area.
The company makes transfers to the community amounting to an annual average of $20,000, about 55% of its operational expenses. Apart from direct transfers made by Chalalán as donations, contributions, and/or dividends, the community profits from the sale of goods and services to the hostel. Among the main income generating items for the community are the sale of crafts, supplies, and building materials for the lodge, and services provided to the company, estimated to total $28,860 annually.
Protection of biota — the company’s keystone — have lowered the pressure on the region’s forest. This can be noted in the end to extraction of commercially-valuable tree species (mahogany and cedars) from the area. The high level of conservation achieved in the lodge’s sphere of influence is linked to the social economic impact exerted by the company on the community’s population, and to the level of environmental awareness reached by those directly or indirectly benefiting from Chalalán-generated economic flows. This awareness is reflected in actions such as regular monitoring of flora and fauna by local guides. Thanks to such conservation initiatives, reintroduction of such species as the black spider monkey, the white lipped peccary, and other threatened mammals has been possible.
Other kinds of contributions
- The business played a key role in attaining recognition of community land rights and plays a leading role in economic planning for the territory
- Chalalán fostered regular water supply in the community, helped construct health posts, granted health loans, facilitated building a school, boosted English language training, and helped implement inter-institutional agreements beneficial to the community.
- Given the social nature of the company, the community considers that Chalalán enabled improvements in living standards as a whole and, in consequence, many families that had migrated to other places returned. Improvements in health, education, and access to basic services entail significant economic value because they improve the learning and productive capacities of inhabitants and they ease the integration of economic agents into regional and national markets, all under better conditions.
Key factors for success
- Availability of financial capital helped support the company on the technical and financial fronts, develop adequate local self-management capabilities and fill several gaps, which limited access to the market.
- The social capital existing in the community helped assimilate a business vision without losing local identity.
- Natural capital was provided by the Madidi National Park.
Source: Latin America and the Caribbean, a Biodiversity Super Power, UNDP, 2010