Risking it all

A treacherous journey through Bolivia’s Amazon

Bolivians risk snake and insect bites harvesting Brazil nuts, as lorry drivers face landslides to deliver the nuts.

Editor’s note: This film will be removed on February 15, 2020.

Brazil nuts are one of Bolivia’s main industries. But getting the nuts from the Amazon to Bolivia’s capital La Paz is a challenge of almost epic proportions.

The nuts are harvested in the heart of the Bolivian Amazon, where the shells are collected from giant brazil nut trees. Harvesters face venomous spiders, including tarantulas, and snakes while doing their job.

“When I was little, a snake bit me and I had to spend a month in bed,” says 26-year-old harvester Janco. “I could not walk, the poison was very strong.” 

Janco and his family members use machetes to cut open the shells on the jungle floor. One centimetre in the wrong direction and they can easily lose a finger.

Despite the risks, Janco and his family members take, the money they make is not enough to provide for the whole family. Eighteen-year-old Rommer needs $75 to pay for his university enrolment, but it is uncertain if he will be able to raise the money in time.

Once the nuts are shelled, they need to be taken to the processing plant in La Paz. Truck driver Edgar and his five-year-old son, Alan, embark on a drive across the country.

Deforestation in Bolivia causes huge environmental disruption and along the way, Edgar and his son must cross tributaries and flooded grounds. It takes three days to complete the first 445km of the journey.

“It’s mostly a waste of time, but also of money because every day we take all expenses come out of my pocket. It’s a loss of income,” says Edgar. 

He needs to get Alan back to La Paz in time for the start of the school year. Will he manage?