In the spring of 2020 when Covid-19 spread, the Bolivian government reacted relatively quickly, rapidly halting educational activities, stopping trade and closing borders. But even then the spread was unstoppable and even the most isolated populations couldn´t escape.
The virus had reached some of their most rural groups, including Associations of gatherer communities living on the edges of the Bolivian rainforest that Liberation works with. Many members had become infected. In fact, there were reported estimates of around 90% of people getting sick and estimates of over 500 people in these tiny communities losing their lives due to the virus.
Tight lockdown restrictions meant processing factories were closed, halting incomes, and people were unable to travel into the nearby towns to access essential supplies. , adding an additional stress to these already vulnerable families.
The situation was dire, particularly for the most vulnerable families.
Recognising the increasingly desperate situation for many the Association took decisive action and around 60 of the most vulnerable families were identified. A plan of action to deliver basic amenities to the families including rice, oil, soap and medicines, some of which took 10 hours to reach from the nearest town by land and water, was made.
Once essential supplies had been delivered, the Association Boards turned focused on members and relatives in critical condition. Oxygen tanks were purchased and loaned to local hospitals, hefty medical bills were taken care of and a total of around $4,300 on the purchase of goods and logistics to get them to the families.
A chunk of these outgoings came from the Fairtrade Premium, with relaxed regulations due to the pandemic meaning that money could be distributed urgently without approval from a General Assembly, a flexibility the Associations used to great effect.
Several months later, at the annual assembly the shock and impact of the virus was still very much present. “I got seriously sick, I almost died like I told you…It left me weak”, one member told us, echoed by many others.
Physical isolation combined with low and unreliable incomes often makes these communities the most vulnerableeven more vulnerable when this sort of pandemic hits but the reaction from the Association Boards certainly prevented wider devastation and gave an economic lifeline.
At the AGM Aura Hurtado, a technician for AIRA told us:
“the positive thing from 2020 for us is the sale of a FLO (Fairtrade Labelling Organisation) container that thanks to this helped us to be able to continue working in the association and also to be able to bring a food basket to the families of the AIRA Association.”
Whilst it is undoubtedly the action of the Association Boards and the strength and resilience of the individuals that enabled recovery, the Fairtrade Premium also helped mobilise the relief programme for those most at risk.
Fairtrade can offer some form of economic security as we all face an uncertain future.
When speaking of what was to come next, another member summarised for everyone “hopefully everything gets better, that we do well, that there is production of Brazil nuts and that there is a good price.”