By Lorena Arroyo
CONCEPCION, Bolivia – Bolivian orchids, with their many and original shapes and exotic colors, have created an option for sustainable tourism and community development in the Chiquitania region in the heart of the Jesuit missions.
The city of Concepcion, located in the eastern province of Santa Cruz, where Jesuits settled almost 300 years ago to convert the Indians, has hosted for almost nine years the springtime Orchid Festival that attracts thousands of tourists eager to see the new varieties, shapes and colors of this exotic flower.
“The idea is to take advantage of the potential of orchids to promote sustainable tourism in Concepcion, avoid depredation and promote the area’s development,” Rubens Barbery, director of the Center for the Promotion of Sustainable Development, or Cepad, said.
Cepad is the organizer of the event, which was held Oct. 9-11.
Although this town, located some 290 kilometers (180 miles) from the city of Santa Cruz, is considered the sanctuary of the Cattleya nobilior, better known here as the chiquitana orchid and elsewhere as the noble cattleya, some of the locals endeavor to create hybrid varieties that are even more exotic.
“Orchids are my hobby. I’ve been working with them for 12 years. I have more than 40 species,” Carmen Deli Olachea, a resident of Concepcion who this year took first and second place at the festival’s 9th edition with the species Enclylia and Cattleya nobilior, respectively, told Efe.
“I have about 600 plants and I want more. I grow them in my garden,” Carmen said, adding that the festival is bringing “more improvements to the town” every year.
According to the organizers, this year the festival has welcomed some 5,000 tourists and flower fanciers, with 45 exhibitors from different parts of Bolivia, Brazil and Argentina. Profits were expected to be similar to the previous edition, which took in some $120,000 in the three days of the competition.
Rubens Barbery stresses the importance of the event, since the municipality of some 16,000 inhabitants between the urban area and the surrounding countryside, whose chief economic activity is raising livestock, has a total annual income of $1.2 million.
For the director of Cepad, this event, which combines orchid displays and sales with rural excursions, theater, concerts and gastronomy, “activates Concepcion’s economy in terms of hotels, handicrafts and transportation.”
The initiative, which has the support of Spain’s International Development and Cooperation Agency of Extremadura (Aexcid) and the Santa Cruz Chamber of Industry and Commerce (Cainco), was launched in 2001 to promote tourism in the area.
The idea arose when Concepcion was still without electricity, recalled the president of Cepad, Carlos Hugo Molina, this weekend at the inauguration of the festival, and began to get organized with international cooperation and the efforts of local inhabitants.
But as well as exporting the cultural and natural heritage, the project seeks to be the first step of a much wider undertaking for the improvement of textile, handicraft and agricultural production in the area, Aexcid director Jose Manuel Rodriguez told Efe.
To achieve these objectives, Rodriguez presented two challenges to the authorities and residents of Concepcion: the creation of a visitors center presenting the natural wonders of the area to spur the development of tourism, and the creation of an in vitro laboratory for the preservation of orchid species.
One of the biggest concerns of the event’s organizers is precisely to avoid the illegal sale of these flowers by some of the locals who pick them indiscriminately to sell them, which could cause the extinction of some orchids, of which there are an estimated 400 indigenous species in the area.
For that reason children are being taught in school to be aware that plants can only be obtained from nurseries that practice sustainable reproduction in order to preserve and study the varieties that grow in this country. EFE