Rainforest Exquisite Products S.A. (REPSA) is a small Bolivian-based enterprise founded in 1997 in La Paz, Bolivia.
REPSA was incorporated to support the Noel Kempff National Park Climate Action Project, a unique and innovative partnership between U.S.-based companies and the Bolivian government that is designed to demonstrate the effectiveness of conservation in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.
REPSA’s finished products are made primarily with wild harvest and organic certified ingredients from rain forests in the Amazonia High-biodiversity Wilderness Area.
Currently, REPSA offers three products to the retail market: Rainforest Delight, dark chocolate-covered Brazil nuts; Chocofé, dark chocolate-covered coffee beans, which won an award from the Specialty Coffee Association of America in 2004; and Top of The World Coffees, a selection of Bolivian specialty roasted coffees. The company is a certified organic producer under international standards.
Volker Lehmann, the managing director of REPSA, has more than 20 years of experience in organic markets. Read more about his work with REPSA and how a loan from Verde Ventures is helping the business – and all their partners- succeed:
What makes REPSA’s products unique?
What truly distinguishes our products from others is the composition of their principal ingredients. We rely solely on wild harvest and organic-certified ingredients.
Why is it important to use wild harvest products?
Brazil nut trees grow only in a narrow zone of the Amazon basin, across Bolivia, Brazil, and Peru. The limited geographical distribution of the tree is due to the delicate ecosystem that is required for its reproduction, but the adaptation of Brazil nut trees to commercial plantations is not economically feasible because it takes approximately 30 years for the tree to mature.
The wild criollo cacao that makes up our chocolate products is harvested from the rain forests of northeastern Bolivia. It is richer in flavor than plantation-grown cacao.
The Arabica tipica coffee beans are sourced from shade-grown plants grown on small land parcels at elevations ranging from 1,200 to 1,800 meters in the Yungas region of the Bolivian Andes.
What are the impacts of your business on the communities where you work?
REPSA brought the Brazil nut marketplace to a remote village in the Iténez region of Bolivia by guaranteeing market prices for the products. Producers no longer have to depend on fluctuating market prices or market access in Riberalta, a regional commercial center.
Through our work, which began in 2005, 120 harvesters from a local community called Bella Vista have increased their nut production by 300 percent. In 2007, production levels reached almost 150 tons of nuts in shells, and there is a plan in place to double this by 2009.
During the wild cacao harvest season we work with about 300 families in three villages in the same region. They supply us with 90 percent of their harvest (totaling 50,000 kilograms). Local prices increased by 100 percent in three years through our activities.
Do you provide any in-kind contributions, training, or other support to communities?
Our work with the communities ensures the reliable supply of high-quality materials required by an increasingly demanding market.
We provide technical and logistical support, pre-financing of the harvest, and post-harvest technical assistance to Brazil nut and wild cacao producers. While the local villagers already know all about how and where to harvest their crops, REPSA is helping them to get better organized, and is also providing tools, materials, fuel, and food, as well as qualified personnel who have experience from working in larger harvesting operations.
What is the focus of the training and education you offer?
We train the people on the job and also provide educational materials. Our main focus is on the environmental impact and quality of the harvest. Every year we work out programs with local radio stations talking about “best practices” during the harvest season. In 2006, we produced educational materials that were distributed in schools and at our harvest centers. More than any kind of training, it is really the education that is needed.
How has your business benefited from the loan from Verde Ventures?
The loan from Verde Ventures enabled us to purchase larger amounts of products. Instead of more traditional banking methods, this loan uses sales contracts between REPSA and its buyers as collateral. Without the unique support from Verde Ventures we would be unable to operate in this way; Bolivian banks would never accept this system without personal guarantees and higher interest rates.
What was the most important lesson you learned through your work?
Local people are self-motivated and respond very positively to a secure and reliable purchase system. As their incomes have increased they have started new businesses. More people are now able to organize the harvest themselves, without having to depend on middlemen. They are also able to develop other activities throughout the year that also increase their income.
Beyond the harvest, the villagers have also used their extra income to start other industries such as restaurants and “alojamientos” (bed and breakfasts) that are used mainly by tourists from all over the country.
How have you adapted your approach along the way?
REPSA’s work has always been a step-by-step approach, which has proved to be effective. Local communities are increasingly motivated and we are confident that this project will continue to grow.