Afro-Bolivians - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Afro-Bolivians of Nor Yungas and Sud Yungas are primarily agriculturists. Cash crops include coca leaf, coffee, citrus fruits, cacao, and many varieties of bananas and plantains. Coca leaf is the primary crop; it is a durable plant, and the same fields can be harvested several times each year. Coca leaves are hand picked and dried in the sun before being bagged. Afro-Bolivians refer to each 30-pound bag as a sexto, and these bags are brought to regional markets, such as those in Caranavi and Coroico, where they are exchanged for cash. The cash value of coca leaves fluctuates dramatically throughout the year depending on the size, color, and quality of the leaves.

During the harvest of citrus fruits and coffee, trucks arrive directly from La Paz to carry the produce to markets. Truck owners act as middlemen, paying Afro-Bolivians a small fraction of what the produce sells for in the city.

Rural Afro-Bolivians partially subsist on their crops and the chickens they raise. Men hunt wild game, and to further complement their diet and add variety, both men and women travel regularly by truck to large regional markets. Besides food, they purchase clothing and household, agricultural, school, and other supplies.

Owing to racism, Afro-Bolivian migrants have a difficult time finding decent jobs in the city of La Paz. Both women and men are often able to get work as domestic servants; however, it is more difficult for men to secure this type of employment. Some men find jobs as shop clerks or professional drivers.

Some migrants maintain important links with relatives in the lowland Yungas villages. By traveling back to their villages, working in the fields during harvests, and trading store-bought goods with their friends and relatives, migrants return to the city with agricultural produce such as citrus fruits, bananas, and plantains.

Division of Labor. Adults and children work year-round at agricultural tasks. Men often organize themselves in groups of two to six and work in their different fields on a rotating basis. The work includes chopping, thrashing, and burning of trees and large brush; clearing fields; and tilling so that the fields can be planted. Women work in smaller groups while simultaneously caring for preschool-age children. Women participate in all but the heaviest chopping and clearing of fields; they mainly plant and harvest. Besides their agricultural and child-care responsibilities, women cook, do the laundry, and wash the dishes. Both men and women shop at the weekly markets.

Land Tenure. Both men and women inherit land, and each family often has several different plots that they work. Ideally, each family will have plots in different environments on the mountain. Most families have coca-leaf fields on the sunny or dry side of the mountain, and other fields in the denser jungle where they grow bananas and plantains.


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