Where unsustainable mining once reigned, ‘radical change’ beckons

Salar de Uyuni

Piles of salt dry in the arid atmosphere of Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni. (© Art Wolfe/ www.artwolfe.com)

In Potosí, Bolivia, most families survive on less than US$ 2 per day.

The local indigenous community in this Andean city is economically dependent on mining — an infamously grueling and hazardous way of life here — but a nearby mine, the country’s largest, will close in just seven years.

It’s no secret: This community will soon need new jobs — and ideally, jobs that don’t damage the environment in this impoverished region.

Fortunately, the nearby Uyuni salt flats — the world’s largest — are a few hours’ drive from the indigenous village in Potosí, and attract hundreds of thousands of tourists every year who have made the photogenic flats something of a social media star.

Now, through a new project, Conservation International is helping indigenous peoples in the region to shift their economic dependence from mining to sustainable tourism, capitalizing on the draw of the salt flats.

The project, which offers business management and hospitality training as well as discussions about gender roles and challenges, has helped indigenous women grow financially and emotionally. Mrs. Betty, the leader of a group of indigenous women taking part in the project, was able to open a café, which currently offers her family supplemental income that will be vital once the mine closes. “This has been the most radical change I’ve had in my life,” she said.

Read more about Mrs. Betty and her story here.

Olivia DeSmit is a staff writer for Conservation International.

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  1. David Lozano says

    Interesting approach. Less than a month ago, I was around the salt flats and Laguna Colorada. My two big disappointments were: far too many references to the infamous Dakar race, which I wish could be changed to a more environmentally friendly touristic offer. And watching car tracks all over the plains, affecting the growth of paja brava and yareta which in addition to extreme strong winds, just provoke more erosion. Urgent need to train those drivers from legal tourism companies and those illegal that come from Chile without permission. The Eduardo Avaroa Reserve must be better protected.

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